The holidays can be a hard time on anyone’s wallet. While some may argue “the more the merrier,” holiday spending can often get out of hand. Fearing we’ll ruin the magic for our little ones with a dull gift, we often spend more than we pocket and cave into those impulse buys.
According to the National Retail Foundation (NRF), holiday sales are estimated to increase between 3.6 and 4 percent, for a total of $678.75 billion to $682 billion this year—up from $655.8 billion last year.
But while national spending is on the rise, toy prices haven’t increased much from last year, and some of the hottest toys of the year are more affordable than ever before.
Sixty-six percent of the 382 toys listed in our Holiday Gift Guide are less than $50, proving that holiday gifts don’t necessarily have to break the bank. One of the most highly coveted toys of the year is Fingerlings, from Wowwee. These miniature animated monkey pals hang from kids’ fingers and respond to kids in fun and silly ways. Best of all? They are priced at just $14.99. Other hot toys include Soft ‘n Slo Squishies, which range from $5.99 to $14.99, as well as L.O.L. Surprise! Tots for $9.99. All of these toys and more are included on our Hot 20 list of the hottest toys of the year, so while the prices are affordable, you will need to grab these hot commodities before they are gone.
While competitive pricing is trending in toyland, there are still some big-budget gifts on kids’ wishlists. Take Spin Master’s BB-8 Hero Droid, which retails for $229. This life-size droid from the latest Star Wars films responds to kids’ voice commands, rolls around your home, and more. While the impressive tech and massive size makes BB well worth the hefty price tag, he may be out of reach for some families.
When kids ask for a big-ticket item like this, there are different approaches parents can take. “First we ask the grandparents if they would like to chip in and buy it for them,” says Toy Insider Parent and author of Suburban Wife, City Life, Destiny Paquette. That way, the gift is still given, and the financial burden isn’t solely on the parents.
But if it’s unlikely Grandma and Grandpa are going to chip in, this could be the perfect opportunity to introduce kids to the concept of saving money. “If they want something really big, we talk to them and say that’s not really a holiday gift, but something they should save up for, and we talk about how we can help them achieve this goal,” says Paquette.
Parents can also help kids earn money to put toward that big-ticket item. “Ask your child if there are things that can be sold leading up to the holiday that can bridge the gap,” says Toy Insider Parent and author of Charlene Chronicles, Charlene DeLoach. “If they’re old enough to do chores, such as raking leaves for friends and neighbors, it can help pay the difference for the toy,” she explains.
Another option to consider: “Tell your kids you’ll ask relatives to give them money instead of presents if they want,” says Toy Insider Parent and author of A Geek Daddy, Tim Burns. Hopefully, after pooling together allowances and gifted money from family, kids will be able to afford the toy themselves and learn the importance of being able to save up for items they really want.
Burns and his wife also keep their eyes peeled year round for good deals on toys.“We get a lot of toys in August, because that is when you can find toys that came out earlier in the year being put on clearance,” he says. As retailers make room for the latest crop of new toys in September, they knock down the prices on their older items—which, if you’re lucky, could be that Hatchimal your kid was pining over for just a few months before.
And while the NRF estimates that the average American family will spend $967.13 on holiday shopping this year, up from 2016’s average of $935.58, that doesn’t mean every family will have that kind of budget. How much should you spend? DeLoach has a formula for parents to consider: “Holiday spending target should not be more than 10 percent of two months of salary,” she says. Therefore, if your paycheck per month is $1,000, then 10 percent of $2,000 is $200.
But even 10 percent can be hard to come by for some families. Paquette recommends saving early and cutting back on the little things. “I like to forgo my special treats, like a coffee or eating out, and then I take that money I would have spent and add it to the holiday fund,” she says.
And how do you choose which toys are worthy of your hard-earned dollars? When considering buying a toy for kids, four out of five Toy Insider Parents said they would purchase a toy because their child specifically asked for it. This proves that if kids say they want a toy enough times, parents and gift givers will do their best not to disappoint. Price was ranked as the second most important factor when choosing a toy, while age appropriateness came in third.
However, DeLoach points out that these aren’t the only determining factors when picking out a toy. She says parents should also consider whether or not the toy kids are begging for is similar to something they already own. Another factor to consider: play value. Gift givers should evaluate whether or not their child will actually play with the toys they are asking for beyond the holiday season. For example, if kids just HAVE to have the latest PJ Masks play set, are they young enough that they will still enjoy watching the show for a year or two down the road? Or will kids grow out of it and get bored? These are questions parents should especially consider when buying their child a big-ticket item.
Another tip for the big-ticket items: Buy them STAT. Toy Insider Parent and author of The Rock Father, James Zahn, emphasizes the importance of getting your hands on the hot toys immediately. “You’re probably not going to find an incredible sale price on one of the hottest toys of the season, and if you wait too long, they’re all going to be in the hands of third-party sellers who are scalping them on eBay,” he says. While paying double for a Fingerling monkey will still only set you back about $30, paying twice as much for the latest Hatchimals Surprise pet will cost you more than $120.
But remember, no matter how much you spend, or what you end up buying, not every gift has to be tangible.“I think that parents should spend what they can afford and do the best they can to give experiences instead of things,” says Toy Insider Parent and author of Ben Spark Drew Bennett. It’s important to remind kids that while they have this vision of a Christmas tree overflowing with toys beneath, a family breakfast, a festive movie night, or decorating cookies together are all important parts of the experience and magic of the holidays. As much as we love toys (after all, we write about them 365 days a year!), it’s spending time with loved ones that truly make the holidays special.