Return on (toy) Investment

Valentine's on a cold winter's day
Valentine's on a cold winter's day

If I had to summarize my #1 function at work in my new role, it’s asking people whether the project they’re trying to do is really worth it. (Often in many different ways, and usually involving Powerpoint.) Although this can make me rather obnoxious to my colleagues (I’m sure), it’s starting to have an impact on the rest of my life. I mean, if you keep focusing on ROI day after day, you start thinking about it even after you come home.

So I’d like to talk about toy “Return on Investment”.

For my fellow parents, raise your hand if you’ve ever bought an expensive toy, absolutely convinced that it would be your child’s favorite toy EVER in the history of the universe. For example, last Christmas I bought Grey a space-explorer set that included two space monkeys. Rockets ships. SPACE MONKEYS. Obviously this would be his favorite toy ever. Heck, it’s practically MY favorite toy ever.

The one time I’ve witnessed the child playing with this toy was when I was idly setting it up and making rocket-ship/monkey sounds while I was, uh, cleaning his room. Right. That’s totally what I was doing.

If I was to create a powerpoint slide for the “Space Monkey” investment, it would look like this:

Returns
Initial opening excitement: 3 (on a scale of 1 – 10 with 10 highest)
Hours of subsequent play: .5 (not including mommy’s)

Costs
$40
1 of Christmas presents (opportunity cost)
Storage space – 1 Ikea drawer

Intangibles
But, but, but SPACE MONKEYS!!!!

Result
Not a good investment.

The problem though (actually, much like work) is that it’s hard to predict the qualifications of a good toy investment. The best toy investments will:

1) Distract them while I’m making dinner
2) Not make a mess
3) Not cause them to fight with each other
4) Be played with multiple times
5) Not take up much room
6) Not be a “screen”

I’m usually willing to compromise on at least two of those when buying toys.

Graphical foreshadowing
Graphical foreshadowing

But recently, I’ve hit the motherload of toy-investment-opportunities for Thane. I’ve discovered a toy that:

1) He plays with at the table
2) Isn’t messy when used properly
3) Grey isn’t interested in
4) He loves all the time
5) Is tiny
6) Is not digital

Stickers. Thane loooooooves stickers. He will spend 30 minutes moving tiny little stickers from one piece of paper to another. Stickers. Dinosaur stickers. Mickey stickers. Smiley stickers. He doesn’t care, he just wants stickers stickers stickers stickers stickers.

He stacks the stickers high on one small area of paper
He stacks the stickers high on one small area of paper

Let’s look at that ROI calculation again:

Returns
Initial opening excitement: 4
Hours of subsequent play: 10 (to date)

Costs
$5 for 400
No opportunity cost
Minimal storage cost

Intangibles
Played with at worst time of day
Keeps him quiet
Does not make noise

Result
Superb. Invest all available capital.

So I totally did. By today, he’d made it through most of the backlog of stickers I had lying around in my role as R&D mommy purchaser. I bought another 50 or so (for $.99), but they only lasted through nap time. So I made a whole separate stop solely in order to lay in a huge supply of stickers. It’s totally worth it, even if the this is just a consumer fad. Stickers would be a great deal at twice the cost and half the utility.


What about your kids? Which toys generate the biggest play-dividend? Which ones were bad investments? How do you decide which toys to buy and keep?

Meanwhile, Grey is writing a story.
Meanwhile, Grey is writing a story.

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