Saturday, December 18, 2010

Frugal Parents Skip Stores and Swap Toys Online

From USA Today.

"Stephanie Edwards-Musa finished her Christmas shopping early this year. Her 13-year-old daughter is getting a PlayStation 2 and clothing from Hollister and Aeropostale. For her 5-year-old son, it's a bundle of toys, mostly "Star Wars"-themed.

The bill? $45.

Edwards-Musa, a Houston Realtor, found these items used on, an online toy exchange that launched last week. Parent-to-parent swapping sites like this one, growing in popularity, offer families a way to clear their closets of toys and clothes their children have outgrown in exchange for items cast off by older kids."


"Thrifty parents are finding plenty of places to barter on the Web. At the online community, hip moms trade goods from baby slings to clarinets without any money changing hands. Swap-seekers place hundreds of listings a day on classifieds service, while parents just looking for freebies gravitate to the local forums on

ThredUp CEO James Reinhart says the site has benefited from middle-income Americans' heightened frugality; its membership, now at 50,000, has grown steadily since it debuted with clothing only back in April."


"Even in hard times, "parents still want to do whatever it takes to create magic for their kids on Christmas and give them that pleasure," said toy analyst Chris Byrne — one reason toy sales have held steady over the past few years while other categories fell.

Americans spend more than $21 billion a year on toys and games, according to market research firm NPD Group, and many of these items end up getting thrown away or stuffed in basements and attics. ThredUp Marketing Manager Karen Fein says the company expects to save parents $500,000 this holiday season.

Of course, many parents unload their kids' outgrown goods the old-fashioned — and most eco-friendly — way: by handing them down to friends and family.

Used playthings are not always greener, however. Some product-safety groups caution against buying toys secondhand because it's tough to guarantee the products meet safety standards regarding lead and other chemicals. Also, when a resold toy lacks its original packaging, parents may not recognize whether it's age-appropriate or contains pieces that are choking hazards, said Scott Wolfson, spokesman for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Still, the secondhand market for children's clothes and toys generates $3 billion in sales annually. ThredUp's investors, led by Silicon Valley's Trinity Ventures, hope the start-up can carve out a sizeable chunk.

To facilitate a swap, ThredUp provides a flat-rate shipping box a parent can fill with giveaways. The donor lists the contents of the box on the site, where the bundles are organized by age and gender. To claim a box, a user pays $5 to ThredUp plus $10.70 for shipping, and ThredUp e-mails the sender a prepaid shipping label. Members rate each other based on the quality of the stuff they receive.

The emphasis on convenience is a response to what Reinhart sees as "massive inefficiencies" in the used-clothing market. Parents are too busy to spend time "digging through the racks for those diamonds in the rough at Goodwill," he said."


"ThredUp users are quick to point out it's not an anonymous marketplace but a community. On the site's Facebook page, members share pictures and make special requests like "any toys with a ladybug theme." For Snowden, a first-time mother, the camaraderie is as enticing as the dirt-cheap stuff.

"I can ask, 'What toys is my baby going to want when she's 2,' and I get a lot of really helpful responses," she said. "These are like-minded people with their own kids, and I trust them."

UPDATE: Now that I've had time to think about this whole thing, it occurs to me that these parents are merely shifting their consumerism to different sources--they aren't actually learning to do without, or teaching their children about what's important in life. Yeah, sure, kids need clothes, and swapping is what should've been going in since birth, but how many of us need a Play Station 2 just to exist? That gift alone is going to generate hundreds of headaches and heartaches when obtaining desired games for it, or even accessories, becomes difficult at best on the used market.

My father once told me a tale of sisters and a dress: it all starts with a dress (Depression days). Then the dress requires a slip, shoes, a hat, a purse, some gloves, nylons, and pretty soon that dress costs three times what the price tag reads. How many other items can you attribute that train of though to...besides game stations? Gardens come to mind, but at least they pay you back in food.

Yeah, okay, so the Play Station didn't end up in a landfill--but it will some day, along with all the rest of the unwanted, obsolete electronics that choke our world as it is.

Another consideration: how much exercise is that kid going to miss out on (and how much future obesity is he/she going to endure) because of being planted in front of the TV on nice days?

Clothes and toys--swap. Occasional dinners--swap. Ideas, tools, and one-use machines/clothing--swap or borrow. Electronics, especially ones that enslave you to the TV and/or marketing--avoid, or swap to get rid of.

As for the question "What toys is my baby going to want when she's 2?" She will want whatever you give her as long as she isn't exposed to marketing and want creation. Our brains don't fully mature until we reach 25, so we don't really know what we want until then. It's the parents job to teach then what they want, and parenting by consensus isn't really parenting--it's guided consumerism.


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