PBS Kids GO! It's My Life
Spending Smarts: Toys, Gadgets, and Sports Gear

Video games, skateboards, MP3 players-They can be a blast to own, but those prices add up fast. Here's how can you control your spending and get the most bang for your buck:

Find the best value
How do you decide what's worth buying when it comes to toys, games, and electronics? Well, let's first ask this question: How much fun and enjoyment are you going to get out of it? An item that you use once and toss aside isn't a good deal at any price. On the other hand, something with a large price tag could turn out to be a bargain-as long as you use it for years to come. Here's an example:

Item: A Frisbee
Price: $5.00
What you do with it: Well, you're not really into Frisbee, you just wanted it because all of your friends have one. In fact, you don't really ever use the disc at all, despite the fact that you "just had to have it" when you saw it in the store.

Item: A hockey stick
Price: $50.00
What you do with it: You use the stick all the time, on ice in the winter and on cement in the summer. The stick is sturdy and lasts a couple of years until you grow tall enough to need a new one.

So, which purchase was the better value? Well, $5.00 is less than $50.00-but this isn't the point. The $5.00 you spent on the Frisbee is wasted money, because you never used the disc! The $50.00 you spent on the hockey stick is money well spent, because you got tons of use out of it.

Remember: It doesn't matter how cheap something is! If you NEVER use the thing you buy, you might as well as be throwing money out the window. The next time you're tempted to buy something, make sure you have a realistic idea of how much use you'll get out of it.

Here are some more solid ideas for keeping your toy, electronics, and sports gear spending under control:

Don't be first
It can feel good to be the first person in school to have the latest gadget or toy. Others might envy you, and you feel cool as an "early adopter" of the new technology. Unfortunately, a lot of gadgets and games never catch on, and a few months after they come out, get replaced by another product or system. This is why it's best to wait and see what products survive, so you don't spend your money on something that flops. The later generations of electronics are always better and less expensive than the first, anyway!

Look for quality
When we're shopping, we should be looking for more than just a low price tag. We should also be looking for high quality stuff. Let's go back to the hockey stick example. On the rack next to the $50.00 stick is one that costs only $20.00. Shouldn't you go for the cheaper stick and save $30.00? Well, let's compare the two sticks:

  • The more expensive one is sturdy, well-built, and looks like it could stand up to some punishment. $50.00 is a lot of money, but this stick will probably last for years.

  • The cheaper one has a plastic shaft instead of wood, and it feels a little wimpy in your hands. It stands a good chance of breaking, which would mean you'd be out the $20.00 you spent on it.

In this case, it sounds like the more expensive stick is the better value, because it's high quality while the cheaper one is poor quality. Of course, if you know you're only going to use the stick once or twice, you could buy the less expensive one and save the difference in price.

Remember: Getting good quality does NOT mean always choosing the most expensive option. Most of the time, neither the most expensive nor the cheapest item will be the best bargain. You've got to compare quality as well as price to make sure the item you buy is a good value.

Try more than one store
Being a smart shopper means more than just comparing items at the same store. Let's say you know exactly what you want: a specific karaoke machine. The electronics store at the mall sells it for what seems like a decent price. But how do you know some other store isn't selling it for much less? The only way to be sure it to try the other stores too. You could stop in, call, check the newspaper ads, or go online to compare the price of the item at lots of different stores and mail-order companies (be sure to include tax and shipping costs).

Avoid the "impulse buy"
An impulse buy is something that you buy on the spur of the moment, without giving it much thought. Ever wonder why there's so much stuff for sale right next to the cash registers in stores? It's because the stores want you to buy this stuff at the last second -- before you have time to change your mind. You can avoid the impulse buy by taking a few minutes to think about what you're about to spend your money on. Put the item down, take a walk around the store, and ask yourself a few key questions:

  • Do I really want or need this thing?
  • Is it something I've been interested in for a long time, or just a sudden, unexplainable urge?
  • Do I want this exact thing, or do I just feel like spending money for the heck of it?

Remember: The less time you spend thinking about a purchase, the more likely you are to waste money on things you don't really need or want. So cool off, take a minute, and think before you spend.

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