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THREE SIMPLE STRATEGIES
TO SAVE MONEY
ON NATURAL TOYS

Oh, those "junk food toys!" They can be so tempting. But every time we get tempted we try to widen our perspective, think long term and consider the values we're passing on to our children.

Okay, you say, but cheap mainstream toys are just so much--well, cheaper than their natural counterparts. And there's no getting around it. High-quality toys do cost more than most plastic products. From the hardwoods and natural fibers used as the raw materials, to the child-safe finishes, to the sweatshop-free labor--everything costs more.

But the thing is, they're worth it. So if you think you can't afford them, think again. You vote with your dollar, and these toys deserve your vote. And even if you can't buy them all new, the more your kids have around, the better. Read on for three simple strategies we've used to bring more natural toys into our house:

1) Avoid paying retail for plastic. When you do buy plastic items for your kids (and sometimes it's unavoidable, no matter how hard you try) make sure to get them used. This helps not to create more demand for them. We've shopped consignment stores, garage sales, even the "Exchange" at our local dump. By saving on these items we've freed up money to spend on the healthier, earth-friendly things we really want.

2) Look for second-hand bargains on the good stuff. While you're getting your plastic at thrift shops and garage sales (a.k.a. yard sales or tag sales, depending where you live) keep your eyes peeled for high-quality wooden toys and baby items. Two of our own favorite finds: a late model wooden high chair and a T.C. Timber Funland Farm set. Yes, it takes time to go to garage sales, and it's essential to go early to have the best pick, but you can turn it into a family adventure. Of course, don't do it if it makes you miserable! (One caveat: make sure whatever you buy--whether plastic or wood--is in good repair and meets safety guidelines. Some heirloom toys may contain lead or lead paint, and should be avoided.) Also check out freecycle.com.

3) Start a toy sharing circle. Many of the wooden toys in our house actually belong to other families. High quality natural toys are just too nice to keep in storage, and they're sturdy enough to survive several kids and still be passed on to future generations. For example, Selecta's Picture Cubes and other puzzles have images that are placed directly on the wood and then sealed with a non-toxic finish. (By contrast, the images on some of the less expensive wooden toys are printed on a sheet of adhesive vinyl which is stuck onto the wood--and sometimes peels up. What's more, these are often made in China, where working conditions and environmental standards are generally not as good as in other parts of the world.) There are two ways to set up a toy sharing circle. If your friends' kids are the same age, consider rotating the toys through your homes every week or two. That way the kids always have fresh toys to play with. If your kids are different ages, simply pass things along as soon as your child outgrows them. If you're willing to share, then each household has to spend a lot less to have access to great toys.

One final factor to consider is that you might not need as many toys as you think. Simple, well-made toys naturally encourage a child's creativity and imagination. You'll be amazed how many ways a simple set of blocks will be used. And fewer toys often means less clutter. So go for quality over quantity and give your kids durable, well-made toys that will help them play and learn to the best of their abilities.

Written by: Anne Ha & Joe Thoron

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