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Are we still in a recession? Not sure what the official word is from the money people. But let’s face it, we all po’. How in the love of loot-bags does anyone afford to buy a home these days? I see these ginormous houses being built to the moon and I’m like – what do those people DO? It’s got to be drug money. They definitely don’t have kids. Or maybe the kids are running the meth lab.

Kids are expensive! Of course, my lack of a social life cushions the cost, so it kinda works itself out. But I do have to be cautious of overspending in the face of so many cute outfits and baby gadgets and – my favourite thing on earth besides rhubarb martinis – toys!

How many of you have given your kid a gift, only to watch him or her toss the pricey present aside and play with the damn wrapping paper? How ungrateful. And when your poor, deprived offspring have opened their skyward heap of gifts, don’t they often pick the cheapest ol’ thing to play with first? GAWD. Why waste your hard-earned money? Max is getting one gift for Christmas this year – a telescope. And by telescope I mean an empty paper towel roll.

Here are a few classic – and I mean really classic – toys for your wee ones. Each one fosters imagination and creativity, and guess what? They’re all… wait for it… wait for it… free!

The Cardboard Box. A classic among children everywhere. It comes with a built-in, saloon-style door, and windows can be installed custom. (Well, more like cut-out than put-in… even easier.) The cardboard box is incredibly multi-functional; it can be a house, a cave, a hospital, or a totally pimped out go-cart. For entrepreneurial kids, it makes a kickass lemonade stand. People spend a fortune on these child-size kitchens, but why? Just toss a few pots and pans in the box and your pint-size chef is good to go, money saved. For easy storage, the cardboard box can be folded flat and stored under the couch or bed. Sizes may vary. A refrigerator box = a swagadelic luxury hotel.

The Blunt Stick. Please note: this is different from the Sharp Stick, which is a toy for nimbler kids over seven. The ancestor of the Swiss Army Knife, the Blunt Stick is mega multi-functional. Is it a hockey stick, a golf club, a baseball bat, a fishing rod, or a javelin? All of the above, sports star. It’s also a light-saber for a young Jedi knight. It’s a sword, if your youngster wants to get medieval on another kid’s ass. (Please note: I endorse chivalry and theatre, not bullying.) It’s a baton for your future gymnast, and, for the big-boned child, it’s a trusty roaster of marshmallows. (Oh wait, that’s the Sharp Stick, nevermind.) Best of all, the Blunt Stick is eco-friendly, as long as you don’t snap it from the endangered St. Helena Gumwood.

The Empty Pill Bottle with Macaroni Inside. Note I said macaroni, not pills. Take an empty, plastic pill bottle – preferably one of those chunky, bulk-size vitamin jars – and toss in a few rotini. Whatcha got? Instant maracas! Shake that baby booty! I recommend making a new label for the bottle so others don’t think your kid’s toybox doubles as a medicine cabinet.

The Wooden Spoon. A mere spoon? To the unimaginative, perhaps. This common kitchen utensil is actually a magic wand. Seriously – bang anything with it and that thing magically transforms into a drum. Throw in a stainless steel mixing bowl and it’s a percussionist’s starter set. At Long and McQuade, something like this would cost major coin. But lucky for you, the elves that live in your cupboard dish out this playtime fun for free.

The Pet Rock. A knockoff of the 70s fad. (Yes, this really was a huge novelty in that era.) Create your own 21st-century model by going no further than your own backyard, preferably un-landscaped. Fat ones or skinny ones, bumpy ones or smooth ones, sedimentary or igneous, your child can choose the pet that he or she wants, not necessarily the one that doesn’t shed. Disclaimer: If you live in a glass house, get a cat.

The Imaginary Friend. The success of this “toy” depends on your level of commitment. Start talking to the space next to your child. For example, when I ask Max, “Would you like to read a book?”, I then move my head 20 degrees to the right or left and ask the same question again. At first, Max looked confused. But within days he started to realize – there is someone there. A friend! In two to three weeks, your child will be enjoying the constant companionship of a kid you never actually have to feed. Or give birth to.

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