What’s the hottest new toy this Christmas? If I were still a kid it wouldn’t matter to my parents. They’d think it’s too expensive and that they could put something together that’s just as good as the original.
As a little kid I was not a die-hard Barbie fan, but as the youngest of three I had acquired quite a menagerie of hand-me-downs. I had my sister’s Barbie, Ken, and Skipper dolls, as well as my brother’s GI Joes. So this collective needed a place to stay besides an old broken suitcase-looking contraption that I kept them in.
When the Barbie Dream House came out that seemed like the perfect solution. But it was not to be found beneath the Christmas tree. The solution? Several of my brother’s album covers leaned upright against one another to create a series of “rooms.” You could only see it in its entirety by standing up and looking down at the “house.” But you had to be careful where you reached and stepped while playing with the dolls. One good bump, and the whole building would topple.
Several years later I witnessed my best friend and neighbor Tracy have her best Christmas ever, when she and her twin brother received brand new 10-speed bikes. With curved handlebars and contoured leather seats, you could catch their new-bike-smells as they glided through the neighborhood.
While the other kids were also getting their new rides that holiday, with labels like BMX or Strawberry Shortcake, my parents knew a way to beat the system. After the festivities were over, my Dad scoured area yard sales for a partially rusted but “perfectly good” townie, the kind of bikes you rent at the beach. It got me from one house to the other, but about 15 minutes behind my other fast-wheeling friends.
I was a prep growing up. The combination of pink and green was my thing, and when Izod began selling their famous alligator shirts I was all in. But I had a hard time convincing my parents to spend the extra money at Christmas on this staple of preppy life. So my mother came up with what she considered a win-win, she would make the shirts herself and not waste money on the designer brand.
Millie Pete purchased knock-off shirts at Walmart and sewed on her personal needle-and-thread rendition of the famous alligator. I wore the runty cross-eyed reptiles but learned not to stand in one place too long at school when I did. That way I avoided the confused looks and questions about what was wrong with my shirt.
You would think my parent’s frugal trend would end once I became an adult, but no. It seems their need to save money is a life-long crusade.
For example during one Christmas while I was in my 30s, I picked up a random package as the next gift to open in our family circle. When I looked at the tag I saw it was from my mother but noticed it also said, “To: Woman.” Millie Pete had purchased the same gift for me as she did for an upcoming White Elephant party, and accidentally put the wrong tag in my pile. Thanks, Mom.
If you are buying for kids this year and they are asking for a popular Christmas toy, consider giving it to them. That simple errand of buying a Zoomer Dino-Boomer, Disney Frozen Snow Glow Elsa, or Mario Kart 8 may take you an hour or two, but that’s nothing compared to the lifetime of explanations those kids will have to conjure up at any alternatives.
My parents may have saved plenty of money over the years by not caving into retail pressures, but they made up for that at the optometrist for all the times I had to roll my eyes at them.