Saturday, September 24, 2011

Buy Me That: Teaching Children to be Smart Consumers

Visiting the toy store can be a nightmare. The season's hottest toys are strategically placed at a child's eye level where they can't be missed. Excited kids scan the isles looking for something to buy, toys to add to their Christmas lists.
What actually makes toys "hot" has almost nothing to do with quality or entertainment value. Advertising budget determines how popular a toy is. How many times the image of the toy is imprinted in your child's mind-through paper and TV ads-determines how likely they are to want it.
Make your next trip to the toy store a learning experience. Teach kids to be better consumers through fun, simple lessons.

It's the Size of the Package that Matters
More so than the size of the actual toy, the size of the package is what attracts attention. Point out the size of package compared to the size of the toy. Read the small print which usually states that the product pictured is larger than actual size. Talk about value for the dollar. Lower priced toys are more likely the result of less overhead-less advertising and packaging-than poor quality.

This Looked Cooler on TV
Show your child specific toys that she has seen on TV and has said she wants. Compare the real toy to the way it appeared in the commercial. If it is a doll that eats and wets, explain that once the food and diapers run out the doll may not be as exciting. Show her that the joints don't bend, the skin is hard and the doll is heavy, for example.

Avoid the New Toy Trap
If your son is just dying for the new version of his favorite hand-held gaming console, talk with him about it. Does the new system require new games or is it compatible with the old games? Are the new features features that he will really use? Check out reviews and be sure that it is worth the money. Just because it is the newest version doesn't mean that it is the best or most useful version.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Buy Me That: The Power of Toy Commercials

Resist the power of advertising and help your children be better consumers this holiday season.

Because young children don't read or can't read quickly, 30 and 60 second toy commercials send messages through pictures and music. Pretty little girls in matching outfits play in professionally decorated rooms, with two or three friends. They laugh, giggle and have perfect teeth. The message, "If you buy this toy you can be just like us. This toy is more fun than any other." Advertisers aim to hook our kids, who will then whine and beg until we buy their product.

It's mid-September and Christmas-toy marketing campaigns are in full swing. It isn't a coincidence that the new and improved versions of all the same toys and video game consoles-that we spent hundreds, even thousands of dollars on last year-are released in the fall. Introducing new new characters and cartoons is also part of the plan; a multi-billion dollar holiday marketing campaign. The advertising push starts well before the official "holiday shopping season" which runs November 1st through December 24th. In 2010, approximately 37.2% of Americans began holiday shopping by Halloween, according to the National Retail Federation!

Advertising tactics are already working on 3 year old Davison. He calls me at every commercial. "Hurry Mommy!" he yells, "That's what I want."

When I don't run fast enough in response to Rowan's calls to the TV he is brought to tears. "Now, you'll never know what I want!" I assure him that advertisers wont let me off that easily and the commercial will be on again, and again.

When Austin and Cal were little they both prayed to Santa and asked him directly for the toys on TV. They would look at the sky and say "Santa, please get me that." After a pause "He said yes," followed.

Pay attention to toy commercials for the next couple of days. Talk with the kids about them. Check back for some neat tips for helping your kids make smarter choices about what they really want for Christmas.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Crash at the Reno Air Races

Dave is away for an annual guys weekend at the Reno Air Races. Surprisingly to me, today's events ended in tragedy for one 74 year old pilot who crashed to his death, into a crowd of spectators. In anticipation of my sheer panic when I heard the news, Dave called to check in immediately and assured me that he and the other guys were OK. Thankfully I didn't see the news of the crash on the TV or computer before his call. I am so thankful that he is safe. Unfortunately, three others in the crowd died in the crash. The number of critically injured is still unknown. Such a tragedy.
On another note Dave stuck a coin into a penny slot machine and came up $80 ahead. I guess it was his lucky day.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Hippies and Hobos

My parents were hippies and I think it's so cool. I am not sure why but I just do. They went to Woodstock when my mom was pregnant with my sister. They lived on an Indian reservation in Canada for a while too. My Dad was in college at the time, on a football scholarship to McGill University in Montreal.

My mother. Montreal, Canada, 1969.
My kids mix up hippies and hobos. When they see a hobo, a homeless type man with messy clothes and worn shoes they point him out as a hippie. "Wow, look at that hippie," they say. I've explained the differences before but they still don't get it.
I remember our Volkswagon Camper. It had a vinyl bench seat in back and a little stainless steel sink. When I was in college I went through a phase when I wanted to get one and restore it. That was about the same time I had my Volkswagon Jetta with peace signs and Grateful Dead stickers on the back. I loved that car. I loved the Grateful Dead (and still do). I guess there's a little hippie in me too. However, there is no part of me that is hobo.

My sister Krista and me in the back of the Volkswagon Camper, 1973.

Friday, September 9, 2011

It's Raining, It's Pouring, My Sons' School is Flooding

The weather in Fairfax County, VA and the DC area has made the national news yet again. First an earthquake, then a hurricane. Last night there were tornadoes nearby. Today, flash flooding took the lives of at least two people, and has caused immense damage to the area. And it's still raining!
The rain has been pelting all day. It fell at up to 2" an hour and didn't stop. A friend of mine just posted on Facebook that after a day of work at the Pentagon her husband returned to the VRE lot in Reston, VA to find his car under water up to the roof. (Luckily he salvaged his golf clubs from the trunk.)
School is cancelled here tomorrow for a rain day, or a flood day. I'm not sure what to call it. At our elementary school a window broke. An inch of water flooded the cafeteria, according to my 6th and 3rd graders. At Robinson Secondary, my three sons' school, water poured in through a door and headed toward the 8th grade locker bay.
Flooding at Robinson Secondary School, Fairfax County, VA
Cal had his phone ready and took a picture. It was immediately posted on Facebook and generated a comment thread a mile long. The best thing about bad weather for kids is the anticipation that it will lead to a day off from school. The announcement was made on the news early tonight. School is cancelled tomorrow.
I have to admit, although I wasn't wishing for damage to school property by any means, with every falling rain drop I felt like we were one step closer to getting a day off. I am looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow, but I am growing weary of the Northern VA weather patterns.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Pay It Forward

Dave and I watched the movie Pay It Forward. The message in the movie really got me thinking. The general concept is that if everyone does three positive things for random people, lives would get better and doing good would be contagious. I am so grateful for the people who have payed it forward to me and my family this week.

  • I ordered a Diet Coke from the McDonald's drive thru. I pulled up to the first window to pay and was told by the cashier that the person in the vehicle in front of me paid for my order. It made my day.
  • A woman posted on Freecycle that she needed a pack-n-play for a home daycare. I remembered that Davey's was in the basement and that we never use it. She picked up the next day. Then Landon's cell phone broke. I asked Dave to post a wanted ad on Freecycle. It read,"Wanted: Phone with Texting Pad". Landon was not too hopeful and said, "Mom, why would anyone give away a cell phone that they could sell?" Within an hour we heard from someone in our community who had a cell phone for Landon, a like-new Android with a texting pad. I was immediately reminded that there are still good people out there.
  • The person who gave us the phone visited my blog through the URL attached to my email signature. He emailed me for more information about soliciting donations for charity. As it turns out he is the director of  Deeper Missions, a non-profit dedicated to improving African communities by instituting clean energy and water projects, and providing education about sanitation and hygiene. Mission number 4 on the Deeper Missions website...Pay It Forward. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Recycling E-Waste as a School Fundraiser

Do you collect box tops for education throughout the summer and send your kids into school with a zip-lock baggie full on the first day of school? I do. I guess it's my way of giving the program a jump start. I am happy to contribute box tops instead of buying candy or wrapping paper from an overpriced fundraiser. Too often fundraisers pay the school a pittance and generate enormous profits for themselves.
Did you know that collecting electronic waste, called e-waste, can be a lucrative fundraiser that costs the parents nothing? I have been paying attention lately to green living initiatives and how to keep waste, especially e-waste, from our landfills through repurposing and recycling. Because electronics like cell phones, handheld game systems and computers and TV's are frequently replaced with newer, faster models, electronic waste is the fastest growing stream of waste to our landfills.
I opened the junk drawer, and with no effort at all found a collection of 4 old cell phones and 3 empty ink cartridges. I did some online research and found that IF there were recycling programs in our schools this trash could generate about $10. This pile doesn't even include the broken laptops (3), old iPods (4) and other e-waste hanging around.
E-waste we gathered from around the house.
I have to do some more research before committing to a program to bring to my kids' schools. I want to make sure the company buying the e-waste from the school is reputable, is committed to supporting the environment and education, and will give us the most for our donations. I'll post the findings. But I am convinced already. Recycling old phones and used ink cartridges saves the environment but curbing the flow of e-waste to our landfills and makes money for schools. If your school has an e-waste recycling program tell me about it in the comments.