Best holiday shopping tip: Skip fad toys for real investments

Fri Nov 25, 2011 1:14pm EST

Greyson Middleton, 3, growls like a lion in the playground as he attends Legoland Florida's grand opening celebration in Winter Haven, Florida October 14, 2011. largest Legoland in the world -- prepares to open to the public this weekend southwest of Orlando. REUTERS/Pierre DuCharme

Greyson Middleton, 3, growls like a lion in the playground as he attends Legoland Florida's grand opening celebration in Winter Haven, Florida October 14, 2011. largest Legoland in the world -- prepares to open to the public this weekend southwest of Orlando.

Credit: Reuters/Pierre DuCharme

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(Reuters) - If you ever plotted to get your kid a Zhu Zhu Pet when there were few to be had or can recall trying to buy a Tickle Me Elmo or Furby in time for the holidays, you know about toys that are hot one day and in the bargain bin the next.

Each year, millions of consumers hunt down the "It" toy, only to see it discarded when the novelty value has worn off. So, what's a gift-giver to do if they want to get something for a child that has lasting value?

Author Silvana Clark of Bellingham, Washington, encouraged family members to pool their money to buy her daughter a $175 set of wooden blocks when she was 3. "Those blocks were a part of her life for over six years," Clark says. "When she was in her 'Princess' stage, the blocks became various castles. When she was into horses, the blocks turned into barns and stalls. During her performing stage, the blocks became a wooden floor for tap dancing as well as a stage."

There are plenty of gifts with staying power: collectible toys, books, stock in a company and even special experiences. Take Lego. Despite the current focus on themed sets, these toy building bricks encourage creativity -- and they also last indefinitely.

Chrissy Freeman, who runs the website ConsignmentMommies.com, says the staying power and durability of certain toys is evident by how they fare when resold -- including Lego. With nearly a week to go on an eBay auction, a North Carolina family's collection of Legos, filling three large plastic bins, has already had 15 bids and was at $720 and climbing.

Among the best resellers:

-- Outdoor play equipment from Little Tikes or Step 2, from cars to kitchens to slides. A Little Tikes Cozy Coupe car retails new for about $50 and years later resells for about

$25)

-- Wooden toys. They typically last for decades with widely varying prices.

-- American Girl dolls and accessories. The sold-out shaved ice stand accessory for this year's American Girl that was selling for $115 is now priced at about $300 from resellers.

-- Fisher Price Little People. They're durable and often passed along. Vintage sets are popular among collectors.

-- Fancy brands of toy trucks and cars are another possibility. But many products purchased as investments only keep their value if you don't open the box -- hardly the kind of gift most children would appreciate.

THINK OUTSIDE THE TOY BOX

If you want to avoid toys, experts suggest musical instruments, artwork and hardcover books as gifts in categories with lasting value, especially because they have the ability to be passed along to others or kept for a long time. For older children, in particular, gold and silver jewelry won't fade into obscurity as Furby did.

You also could consider a gift that keeps giving, such as making a contribution in your child's name to Kiva, which provides small loans to people around the world. After the loan is repaid, another recipient can be chosen -- a process that can last indefinitely and provide valuable perspective about the world and what challenges people confront.

A gift of stock in a company can also be a learning experience. Consider a company your child understands, whether it's the maker of the video game console they have or the soda they drink. Companies like OneShare make it more of a gift by providing a framed stock certificate along with educational tools so your young Warren Buffett can learn about investing by having their own portfolio.

New York City-based marriage and family therapist Paul Hokemeyer, who works with high-net-worth families and children, says experiences make great gifts, such as traveling overseas and having adventures.

"The best gifts parents, especially parents of means, can give their kids are meaningful experiences," he says. "In today's rapidly changing economic environment, our children need to learn that a rich and meaningful life comes from the accumulation of gifts that enhance their emotional life. They do not need material things that teach them success is an outside job."

For little ones, Silvana Clark comes back to the enduring wooden blocks that her now college-aged daughter adapted to so many different uses.

"Our daughter watched very little TV ... yet teachers always told us she had such creativity in her ideas," Clark says. "Yesterday, she called to tell me she built a frame for a door. Must have been all those hours building with blocks."

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The author is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his own.

(Editing by Lauren Young and Beth Gladstone)

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