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Who owns your child’s toys?

I’ve been on a selling spree recently.

Over the past few months we’ve been clobbered with one big expense after another. It feels like being adrift on a small boat in a stormy sea trying to ride out the big waves.

Bringing in extra income here and there has helped us bail out instead of using up (too much of) our savings, or worse, sinking further into debt. And, besides, having our house in complete disarray due to a major plumbing project has helped assign more urgency to de-cluttering.

Long gone are the nice handbags that lent an upscale air to my closet, but rarely served a practical purpose anymore. I sold some clothes and a spare dresser.

I was calculating how much the profits from some unused toys would help when my scruples kicked in and gave me pause: Were the toys even mine to sell?

I figured I had a few different options. I could sell the unused toys and use the money to help pay bills. I could sell the toys and use the money to pay for different toys (say, for Christmas). Or, I could sell the toys and give the money to my son.

One of the toys, a LeapPad, had been my oldest son’s chief birthday gift when he turned four. It was a rare gifting mistake on my part. He had enjoyed the toy when it worked, but it blew through batteries, and I rarely got around to recharging them.

It would sit for months with dead batteries, and he really didn’t miss it at all. He quickly outgrew its educational value, and it just sat, reminding me that it had been a silly thing to spend a good bit of money on (even if I had purchased it used). With its resale value rapidly declining, I wanted to sell it while I could still recoup a good bit of the cost.

LeapPad Explorer

This LeapPad was pricey and rarely played with.

I had spent the money to buy the toy, but I had given the gift to my son. Was it right to sell a gift and then use the money for his parents’ financial obligations? If we were in truly dire straits, perhaps I could justify that.

But I thought about how hard my son was working to earn money to buy new Legos. He spent hours looking at his Lego City book and frequently asked if he could do some jobs to earn money, for which I could only pay a little bit at a time.

In the end, I decided the money had to go to my son.

I told my son I thought we should sell the toy, and he didn’t resist as much as I expected — he realized that he hardly ever used it. Plus, I reminded him that he was working hard to save enough money for a $75 Lego set that he really wanted, and this would put a big dent in that savings goal.

He very quickly jumped on board with selling his LeapPad and other little-used belongings, like a tiny rocking chair he had outgrown.

The rocking chair sold right away through a Facebook garage sale group, and my son suddenly found himself $15 richer. We took the opportunity to sit down on his bedroom floor and empty all of his various banks to count up the contents, something we hadn’t really done before.

We discussed setting 10 percent aside for charity (church or school fundraisers), and then I asked him how much he wanted to save for college, which, for some reason, has been on his mind recently. I suggested he save half, and he liked that idea.

We sorted out all of the various coins and bills, taking the opportunity to learn the names of each and how much they were worth. My son decided to tally the money in a notebook, and then we added it all up. It was a fantastic learning opportunity!

Counting money

We couldn’t believe how much money he had stashed away.

Next, we assigned a purpose for each one of his banks to keep his money more organized. The English post box is easiest to open, so we are using that one for charity — he donates at church weekly.

A little tin bank from Denmark holds a fascinating array of foreign coins passed down from Daddy, and the abundance of Canadian coins that regularly find their way into cash registers here in New York (but get spit out by coin machines).

Bank collection

A variety of banks with a purpose.

We decided on the yellow submarine bank for savings, because it most easily accommodates a variety of coins and bills, and I like the optimism suggested by its large size. Spending money goes to the cash register, which opens only when it reaches $10. That should keep the spending money from burning a hole in my son’s pocket, so he can save it for larger Lego acquisitions instead of blowing it on more Matchbox cars at the grocery store.

Funny story: Once my son was so eager to retrieve the money out of that cash register bank, that he was a little bit overzealous adding new coins. He accidentally surpassed the $10 threshold and had to wait even longer to get his money out. Womp! Womp! He has kind of a love/hate relationship with that bank.

After counting and divvying up the money, we realized that there was exactly enough spending money to purchase the Lego City fire station, with the help of a birthday gift card my son had been saving. He was over the moon excited about achieving his goal.

The LeapPad eventually sold, so he already has a good amount of money saved toward his next goal (his masterplan is to replace his entire city and its assortment of blocks, boxes and other miscellany with Lego).

Lego City fire station

Mission accomplished! Selling old toys helped pay for this pricey Lego set.

I am so glad I arrived at this conclusion about selling toys, because I had a wonderful time teaching my son about money. While I do want him to learn that saving money takes time and effort, I think it’s also valuable for him to learn about buying quality things that have some resale value, and either selling them or donating them rather than throwing them out when he’s done.

There’s something to be said for earning money by working, but selling unused belongings is also a great way to earn some extra cash.

This isn’t to say that my six-year-old has full reign over the decision-making when it comes to his toys. Mom and Dad do have the final say. He decided a few months ago that his imaginary restaurant is “for rent” because he isn’t interested in it anymore. He’s had the nice wooden play kitchen since he was 1 1/2, and over the years we’ve added all manner of pretend food and kitchen gadgets.

He would happily have sold all of that, but I told him he needs to save it for his baby brother who will soon be interested in it like he used to be. Some toys aren’t worth the hassle of selling, so we donate them instead. But, if we do sell a toy that is his, the money will be his.

I hadn’t realized what an impression all of this had left on him until a few nights ago. We had just finished reading On the Banks of Plum Creek, when my son said to me “Ma made a bad choice when she gave Charlotte away, didn’t she?”

In the book, Laura Ingalls’ family is visited by neighbors who have a rather spoiled little girl. The girl wants to keep Laura’s rag doll, Charlotte. Ma, wanting to be polite to guests, demands that Laura turn over the doll, even though it is very special to Laura.

I had to agree with my little boy, and I’m glad I decided to let him have a say in what happens to his belongings — kids are people, too!

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