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Buying Toys on a Budget 
Posted 11/08/00

I get asked all the time "how do you afford all those toys?".  While I wish I were rich, that's far from the case.  Like you, I'm an average guy, with a wife and kids, a cat and a dog, and a mortgage to match.

Of course, it helps for my reviews to have lots of friends that collect toys as well.  They allow me to photograph and review items I would never have bought myself, which also means I can review things that I might not think are good enough to spend money on.  Then there's those unfortunate times when I spend my own money to be all too disappointed, but that's another story.

There are some tips and tricks to getting your toys at least cheaper than normal retail, if you're willing to be patient, buy on-line and at stores, shop around, and pay attention to coupons and sales.  

Tip 1:  Set a monthly budget and track your purchases.  While some folks stick to their budget with absolute firmness, I'm not such a big fan of that idea.  There's often little opportunity for you to control when certain figures and lines come out, and if you don't buy some things very early you'll be out of luck.  But having the budget will give you something to shoot for, and more importantly, tracking your purchases will help you get a handle on what you're really spending.  It can be very surprising for most folks - it only seems like 5 bucks here, 10 bucks there, but it can easily add up to 200-300 dollars in a month without realizing it.  The first step to controlling any sort of purchases is to understand just where the money is going.

It's also a good idea to review this once in awhile.  If you're doing it on a monthly basis, go back a few months and look at what you bought.  Was it as great as you thought?  Was it something you kept and have been happy with, or something you thought was a mistake?  This kind of retrospective review can help you make better decisions down the road.

Tip 2:  Whenever possible, wait for sales and clearance.  Consider all the Star Wars items we've seen at 25% or less of their original cost.  Yes, sometimes this can be nerve wrecking, and I don't suggest it for those things you simply can't wait to have.  But for those items that you're iffy on, wait and see what Target or kbkids.com ends up doing with them.

A perfect example for me right now are the Dexter's Lab toys at Kaybee toys.  I want these, but not badly enough to spend 9 bucks each on them.  I'll wait, as I know that they'll end up at 3 for 10.  It takes patience, but it pays off big time in savings.

Target is the single best store for clearance items on the shelves.  They cut their prices fairly soon after items come out, working to keep their inventory turnover high.  This is extremely smart, by the way, and is one of the reasons Target is moving up in their market share while stores like Kmart are sinking like a rock.  One of the keys to timing your Target purchases is understanding the markdowns.  When the price reaches $XX.X4 - that .04 being the magic number - the item has reached it's lowest point, and you better snatch it up pronto.

Don't forget Kaybee Toys either.  They markdown a wide variety of action figures, and their discounts can be quite good.  The on-line store sometimes has deals that the bricks and mortar stores don't, so check both places.

Tip 3:  Coupons!  Most on-line stores offer some sort of coupons on a regular basis.  For example, Amazon.com always has some sort of $10 off $30 coupon, and since they have merged with the Toys R Us on-line site, their toy selection has improved tremendously.  I picked up the Where The Wild Things Are toys from them long before they reached our local stores for less than $8 each, even including shipping.  These on-line stores do get their figures early at times - the Mcfarlane Yellow Submarine Series 2 toys are already at Amazon.com, while they have reached very few stores.

If you're looking for coupons, there are plenty of great sites on the web.  I always check Amazing Bargains first (www.amazing-bargains.com), then check out Flamingo World (www.flamingoworld.com).  And Bobbi Boyd over at about.com runs a page as part of her Action Figure Collecting site (http://actionfigures.about.com/hobbies/actionfigures/) that covers coupons and deals.  Oh, and certainly don't forget my page here called Mr. Cheapskate!

Tip 4:  Don't be afraid of on-line buying.  I've already mentioned Amazon.com and Kbkids.com, but don't forget sites like Fandom (www.fandomshop.com) that use coupons, or Action Ace (www.actionace.com).  And if you're looking for an alternative to buying Diamond exclusives from your overpriced local comic shop, there are tons of on-line alternatives.  The one I use regularly and highly recommend is New Force Comics (www.newforcecomics.com).  The prices are great, as is the service.  I haven't used Toy Republic yet (www.toy-republic.com), but I've heard some good things about them as well.
Tip 5:  Don't forget the odd stores.  Big Lots, Factory 2 U, Dollar General, Mazel's and other odd lot stores are selling more and more mainstream toys.  They are often at great prices, and sometimes you'll find items there that you never saw at full retail.  That's because many times the last figures in a series or line get produced after the market for those figures is already dead.  The normal retailers won't pick up these 'tail enders', but the odd lots stores do.  Nothing beats getting something cool at a great price!
Tip 6:  Combine with your friends for greater savings.  Sometimes folks are concerned with shipping costs with buying on-line.  This is where getting together with your friends can really help.  Often on-line shops will cut shipping costs for larger orders, so if you combine your order with one or two friends it will allow you to not only reduce shipping, but perhaps take advantage of coupons only available with more expensive orders.  Also, buying cases of figures can reduce the cost of each individual figure, but you have to make sure you have enough folks interested in ALL the figures and not just the short packs.
Tip 7:  Never, ever, ever, under any circumstances, succumb to Ebay to buy a new toy.  What in God's name was the person thinking that paid over $100 for a Smithers when he first started shipping?  Did they really think that Playmates wouldn't make any more?  Sometimes you may find that hard to get toy does turn out to be impossible to find at retail.  But 3-6 months later, you'll still be able to find it on Ebay and at toy shows, and certainly not at the extreme inflated prices that they will be in the first few days on Ebay.
Hopefully some of these tips will be useful.  If you have some suggestions and tips of your own, I'd love to hear about it.  Drop me an email, or head on over to the Message Board and let me know!
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