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The Ten-Toy Plan To Parenting On A Dime

I saw, again, that raising a child from birth to 18 costs somewhere north of $300,000. That puts me at nearly a cool million. One million dollars over the next 16 or so years. Having raised my triplets almost to the age of 3, I can confirm that a hefty portion of that $300,000 per child cost is diapers and formula.  You can breast feed and pare that number down, and good for you because you'll save something like $25,000. Not exactly chump change, but not exactly living frugally, either. You can try to cut down on diaper costs, but good luck with that. Its pretty much a fixed cost. You can't exactly leave your child in a single diaper all day. That doesn't work out well. You can potty train as early as 1.5 years, but good luck with that, as well. I'm somewhat convinced that potty training during the time when your kid is forming his own opinions about what and when and how he will do things is an evil trick played on parents just to see how far we are really willing to go in following “expert” advice. Some 100 years from now some scientist will reveal that it was all an ongoing study on how willing parents are to follow “expert” advice that even on its face seems a little like suicide.

So what makes up the part you can control? My guess is approximately $200,000 of that cost comes from toy purchases, as far as I can tell. And after watching my kids react to the old, supposedly far below them developmentally, toys my wife was tagging for resale, I now know the secret of doing children's toys on the cheap.  Of course, you can Google this issue or read the parenting books suggesting you search secondhand stores or one of the abundant resale opportunities like those my wife was tagging for.  By all means buy these toys secondhand. For the first thing, your 3 year old won't notice. Hell, your five-year-old might not notice. For the second thing, within five minutes of purchase the toy you just spent $55 on will essentially be in the same condition as the $5 secondhand toy.

Buying secondhand will definitely save you money.  But the true savings from my plan is that it only involves 10 toys. Yep, 10. That's it. You can feel free to replace any of the following with favorites of your own. Or purchase more if you feel your poor prince or princess is being given short shrift here, but I think this program works perfectly well with 10. If you choose cheaper toys, you can even save more money.

  1. The book Oh The Thinks You Can Think. Because its wacky and creative and fun for both kids and adults. And who doesn't need to contemplate what they would do if they met a Jaboo. That right there is a question chock full of philosophical depth and life lessons.
  2. The book Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. Because its never too soon to teach young kids to say no. The book specifically points out that its one of the only instances where a kid gets to take control. Because that is just what every parent wants – to present as an example to their children an angry pigeon who is quite possibly swearing because he can't do something clearly above his skill level. That doesn't set you up for failure at all. Not. At. All.
  3. A drum set. Its loud, yes, but its quieter when you leave them in front of it for an hour and walk away. Plus, some aunt or friend is just going to do it any way, so you might as well pick one that fits in some dark corner of your house, rather than the really big one that only fits in the family room.
  4. Some kind of electronic learning toy. Because, well, it wouldn't be 2014 if you didn't have a Leap Pad or iPad or Einstein something or other. You don't want to be an embarrassment as a parent right off the bat, right? You can break this out when your friends come over to show how advanced your kids are.
  5. Wood blocks. Wood toys are having their heyday because of the fear of plastic. Therefore, you can show not only how environmentally sound you are, but how concerned you are about childhood exposure to APBs, or something. You can also break these out when the grandparents visit. This short-circuits the “in my day we played with wood blocks” comments.
  6. A kitchen. This is critical, because if you plan on having play dates you need to have a variety of toys. If you only have single-sex toys, well, the play date is gonna suck for that kid of the opposite sex, and all he or she is going to do is hang around the parents. So, ideally, this is a brown color, because if its too girly, any visiting boy children won't want to play with it, and if its too boyie, any visiting girl children won't play with it. And lets face it, play dates are for the adults.
  7. An art easel + markers, paint, accessories. This is a serious recommendation. Art easels are great fun and provide lots of opportunities for entertainment. The school system is a drab, dreary, institutional place focused on the standardized tests we all know prepare us for the #2 pencil-only multiple choice tests we all take as adults. And the arts are underfunded and unappreciated. This may be your kids only chance at creativity.
  8. A ball of your choosing. A kick ball or a ball that lights up in some way is recommended, but not necessary. It can be a baseball, softball, whatever. Keep in mind you only get one, so make it as multi-dimensional as possible (i.e. - don't choose a football or god-forbid a crochet ball).
  9. A multi-pack of Play-Doh. See #7. Plus, fun to eat.
  10. A cardboard box of sufficient size. Make sure its a nice one, preferably corregated, because it will probably get more use than the other 9 toys combined.
So, now that we have that out of the way, I'm sure you are wondering how these 10 toys will keep your child entertained for the next 10 years. The key is rotation.

Choose any two – or three if you really, really must because you feel like your kid is going to miss out – of the toys plus a book and introduce them into the playroom. Let's say Play-Doh, your electronic toy of choice and Thinks.

We are getting down to the real nitty-gritty now, so pay attention.

That should last you a good week. You can do literally 100 things with Play-Doh before kids start to eat it. Once that happens, its time to switch to the electronic toy. Bored with that, its reading time! After you've read that book 150,000 times in a row – and you will, direct them back to Play-Doh.

After a week, switch it up. Take all the toys out and introduce, say, the box, the ball and Pigeon. Make the box a net for a quick game of soccer. Make the box a rocket ship. Make it a friggin box. The kids won't care.

Ideally you'll mix and match well enough that you won't have two creative toys at once, so avoid Play-Doh and the easel being out at the same time. However, having the easel and the box out at the same time is so much fun its like cheating, because you can color at the easel AND on the box. And if you aren't careful on the book as well. Its really like having a fourth toy.

You might worry that someone, be it a friend, or neighbor, or meddling grandparent, will worry you don't have enough stuff for your kids. But if you mix-and-match well and let your kids follow their natural inclination, those toys will be all over the place in no time and pretty much any size room will resemble a construction zone, so no one will notice.


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