1. Be creative. Sometimes the best toys are made from everyday objects you’ve got laying around the house. Kids love to play house with measuring cups and kitchen implements, and make musical instruments out of things in your junk drawer. Check out the new book Make These Toys: 101 Clever Creations Using Everyday Items, by Heather Swain.
2. Did you know that Craigslist has a Free section? Look there first, then scan the regular “Baby & Kids’ Stuff” listings. If you can’t find what you need, post a Wanted ad.
3. Does your neighborhood have a toy exchange? If not, why not start one? It’s a wonderful way for your kids to meet other kids in the neighborhood, and you to meet other parents.
4. Join a local item-recycling list, such as Freecycle or FreeSharing. You’ll find anything and everything, much of it decent quality. Respond to offers that interest you immediately. When posting a Wanted ad, specify exactly what you’re looking for and how far you’ll travel to get it.
5. Dive into free boxes. Particularly on the West Coast, free boxes are a very popular way to adopt anything from pots and pans to birdfeeders. And if you come across one that’s been filled by a family, you can score lots of kids’ clothing, stuffed animals, and other free toys for kids.
6. Ask friends and family with kids to give you toys their children have outgrown. Hand-me-downs are not just for clothes. And don’t be afraid to post what your kid’s dying to have on your Facebook page. People (especially those without kids) love donating toys to kids and imagining their delight.
7. Make Saturday mornings yard-sale-ing time. Find listings in local newspapers, on Craigslist, and at http://gsalr.com. Show up at the end of “Everything Must Go” sales and see what kind of deal you can cut.
8. Search Craigslist for “garage sale leftovers,” or drive around after 3 pm on weekend days.
9. Pay special attention to estate sales, which sometimes have cool old toys and games (vintage Ouija board, anyone?) for cheap. Ask local estate sale companies to add you to their email list.
10. Are books, CDs, audiobooks, and DVDs toys? Absolutely! You can find all this and more at your local public library. Libraries also often have Free tables out front-a great source for recycled magazines for collages, books, and, if it’s a super-fantastic day, even free toys!
11. Find a good rummage sale or flea market, for plenty of kids toys cheap. Arrive at the beginning for the best selection, or at the end for the best deals. Don’t be afraid to inquire where the leftovers are going.
12. Hit the Dollar Store. All toys $1? Awesome!!
13. Take your kids thrifting. Thrift stores often receive donated toys, games and even bikes, in good to excellent condition. Call to find out what time they put out new merchandise-and when they run sales.
14. Borrow-especially when you’ll only use the item once or twice. Recently, several networks have sprung up to help neighbors borrow items from each other instead of purchasing them. Need a tennis racket or a life jacket? Check such sites as http://www.NeighborGoods.net and http://www.sharesomesugar.com.
15. Marvel at another new Internet resource: the online toy swap. (Whoa! Where was this when I was a kid?) http://www.toyswap.com/works.php 1.
16.If your family is low-income, your children may be eligible to receive free toys for Christmas. Register with such programs as the Salvation Army’s Christmas Angels (http://www.salvationarmyusa.org), the US Marine Corps” Toys for Tots Program (http://www.toysfortots.org/request_toys/toys.asp), or similar local organizations to apply.