How to decide when it’s worth spending on your kids' ever-changing interests.

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As a parent, there are certain things you do for your kids. You don’t want to spoil them, but at the same time you want to do special things so they can remember it as they grow up.

I say this as a justification for just spending a small fortune on tickets to see Wild Kratts LIVE, a live version of the PBS show my son is obsessed with. As I typed in my credit card information, I felt a twinge of guilt for spending so much, especially with $50 in Ticketmaster fees tacked on the back end. But then I also thought how this is something that is so special to him, and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

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It can be hard to figure out what a kid is really into depending on their age. You can have an entire “Paw Patrol” themed birthday one week only to discover that the interest has waned a few days later. This has happened countless times for us, especially when it comes to gifts during the holidays. I send out a list of things the kids are into, the gifts come, then we get two weeks of play with “PJ Masks” toys before it’s on to the next thing or back to the old standbys.

Until now, it has been easier to pass on the live versions of other shows he only kind of likes. So this was a huge splurge — and somewhat of a gamble — because the performance is months away. But it’s a gamble I’m willing to take, because as his interest in other things has wavered, one thing that hasn’t changed over the years is his love for Wild Kratts and all things animal related.

[Personal finance columnist Jessica Patel]

I’m Jessica Patel. I’m a parent and a financial expert. Sometimes, those two roles crash into each other. Here’s what I’ve learned about raising a great kid on a tight budget…

  • Experiences rule!

How many toys do you remember fondly from your childhood? Now compare that to memorable family outings, trips, or even local park visits. You don’t have to spend a lot to give a lifetime of memories.

  • Buy toys without limits

Legos are better than a doll or action figure. Not only will such toys last longer in your child’s imagination, you can get in the fun as well.

  • Buy used toys

I’ve done it, and my child didn’t care or notice. I use local mom websites, so I know I’m getting quality merchandise at a deep discount.

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To that end, I wanted to give out some tips to parents when it comes to spending on their children:

  • Experiences Rule. Think back to your own childhood and what you remember. There may have been one amazing gift, but I’m sure you can remember many more things you did when you were young. If there is something your child absolutely adores, then it’s OK to splurge every once in a while to do something special with them. Experiences don’t have to cost a lot, though. Even going to the park or exploring someplace new can be a fun adventure for them.
  • Don’t Go Overboard on Characters and Accessories. Again, we learned this the hard way. I am so glad we didn’t spend the $50 on the Paw Patrol Sea Patroller this past holiday. While he was begging for it every time he saw it in stores, he hasn’t touched his other Paw Patrol toys in four months. Instead, buy the main characters and let them use their imaginations to create a scene.
  • Choose Toys that Don’t Have a Time Range or Age Limit. I’m talking about things that no matter how old you get, your interest in them won’t change. Things like Play-Doh, Legos and other creative toys. When my kids are playing with these kinds of toys, I’m playing right along with them, because there is no age where you outgrow them. (Well, maybe during the teenage years they become “too cool” to play with it, but I’m not there yet!)
  • Buy Used. If you do want to get your child character or show-related toys, try buying used before getting it brand new. Often local moms sites will be selling the toys at steep discounts because they bought the toys and then their kids weren’t interested anymore and now they are just taking up space in the house.

Meet the Author

Jessica Patel

Jessica Patel

Contributor

Jessica Patel is an award-winning editor and writer living in Los Angeles. She previously served as deputy editorial director of T Brand Studio at The New York Times and as Senior Editor and Analyst of Bankrate.com.

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Article last modified on September 4, 2018 Published by Debt.com, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: When to Splurge on Your Kids — and Tips to Save - AMP.