Summer playing: When to buy

By Mir
March 19, 2009

The very pretty Kristen writes:

Hey Mir,

I have a 2-year-old and want to get her some summer/outdoor toys and was wondering if there is a good time of year to buy them and which sites/stores are good for bargains? Is it better to wait until closer to the season (i.e. May) to get some deals, or is it better to buy now? The toys I’m talking about are ones I’m sure your kids played with – like a bubble mower, picnic table, maybe one of those sand/water tables., etc.

Thanks for your help!

Ahhhh, the Big Plastic Toys of Summer. I remember those days. In fact, I vividly remember saying those words no one ever told me I would need, as a parent: “No, you may not sleep with the bubble mower. Because I said so.

The answer, of course, is that now is the wrong time to buy. And now is exactly the right time to buy. Clear as mud, yes?

Allow me to elaborate.

Now is the wrong time to buy. Stores are just now breaking out their shiny, new summer stock, and nothing is on sale when it comes to those ubiquitous summer toys. You’re not going to find a bargain at Target right now, for example. If you absolutely must have a particular popular thing, and/or if you want it new, then yes, you need to buy it now before it sells out. But you’re not going to save any money.

Now is the right time to buy. Spring cleaning is all around us, and it includes countless folks discovering that they’re taking up precious garage space with toys their kids outgrew five years ago. Now is exactly the right time to hit Goodwill, Craigslist, eBay, and local yard sales for cheap goodies. This is a boon if you don’t mind buying used—which is always going to be cheaper, anyway—and have the luxury of time to sniff out what you need/want.

The real bargains on new stuff are always most plentiful at the end of any given season. So I stock up on goggles and water pistols at Target in September, personally. And while I’m a big proponent of buying used (better for your wallet, better for the environment), there are certain items I don’t want to acquire second-hand. For example… my kids used to love the Slip-N-Slide, but I always bought a new one at the end of every season, because I never did figure out how to keep one mildew-free for more than a single summer. On the other hand, it seems like every kid in America has a bubble mower at some point, and by picking those up used, we always had several so that everyone could mow at once.

Happy hunting, Kristen!


  1. Preschools and churches in our area are starting to have their Spring consignment sales. These are awesome places to score play toys if you get there early enough. Maybe not quite as cheap as yard sale prices but there’s a lot more selection.

  2. And here I thought I had the only kid who wanted to sleep with his bubble mower. You know, they’re good for winter, too. “Helping” dad with the snowblowing and all.

  3. I have a $3 Little Tikes slide (old, but great condition), a Step 2 playhouse and a slide/swing combo ($75 for both), and a basketball goal ($10), all bought used from yardsale or craigslist. If you use a RSS reader, put what you are searching for into craigslist, and the bottom right part of the page will have an RSS button, that way you are notified when that item becomes available. Also, if there are small broken parts, you can many times replace the parts from the company website. However, it would be $10 to ship me one piece for the basketball goal, so I may use duck tape or something….lol….

  4. If you’re a member of any local parenting email groups, you can also send out an email asking if anyone has those items they’d like to sell. If my neighborhood email list is a good example, you might even have people offering to give them to you if you’ll just come over and get it out of their yard!

  5. I spread the word about what I’m looking for to my yard sale-ing friends and we all keep an eye out for the items on our wish lists.

  6. I second the suggestion for church and mom’s groups consignment sales. Some states/areas have tons of them but you just have to keep your eyes open. You might also check kids’ clothing resale shops because they often carry outdoor toys, etc. Another option along with craigslist is

  7. thanks Mir and all the pretty readers!! This helps a ton.

  8. Craigslist Craigslist Craigslist. We got almost all of our summer toys for our 2.5 yo for next to nothing on Craigslist (except the sand toys which I got last fall for 75% off). No one wants to throw out those giant turtle sandboxes or Little Tikes climbing cubes and they last forever. We got said climbing cube with slide which retails at $230 for $30 bucks last year. Yes it’s faded, but who cares? The turtle sandbox was a garage sale find for $10 and the tricycle cost $2 and a few minutes with a magic eraser to clean it up.

  9. Target drops summer toy prices right after the Fourth of July. In the meantime. . . consider posting a wish list on the daycare bulletin board. Like other said, a morning of garage sales can produce a ton of plastic toys, easily cleaned with the amazing Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Good luck!

  10. list consignment sales by state and county. Some states have many listings; others none but this is a great resource. I worked my consignment sale at my church a few weeks ago, the big outdoor things are always the first to go but there are also a lot of ride on toys and push toys available. One of my frind’s husband was mad at her purchase of another pice of “plastic yard cr_p” until she offered for him to stay home with the three children all under the age of 5 for the summer. He then asked if she needed more!

  11. I have a bubble mower, a shopping cart, and a couple of Cozy Coupes in the yard…make me an offer…(train table in the basement…)

Bargain Hunt





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