Britain seems to be gripped by a shortage crisis. Each week, a different item we’ve become accustomed to getting almost instantly is in danger of moving to the endangered list.
From pies to popular toys, a ‘perfect storm’ combining the pandemic, an HGV driver shortage and log-jammed ports is biting – and we’re being warned that it may result in emptier shelves as we approach the festive season.
I haven’t struggled to buy anything I’ve wanted in the last few weeks from petrol to food, but that’s not to say different pockets of the country aren’t suffering different levels of shortages and maybe I’ve just been lucky and that’ll all change soon.
In terms of toys, in the last week I’ve seen reports of people ‘panic buying’ the most sought after ones ahead of Christmas and recently saw a popular morning television programme interview parents who have already bought thousands of pounds of toys ahead of the big day.
Present overload: We all want our children and grandchildren to have the best – but surely quality over quantity rules apply? (Picture posed by model)
My wife and I have strict rules when it comes to present buying for our daughter Brooke, who turns three next month, as the thought of a pile of birthday and Christmas gifts to further clutter the home makes us anxious.
We’re not the British equivalent of Mr and Mrs Grinch, but worry about the level of imported plastic that loving grandparents, other family members and friends may like to purchase. All well intended, but it can leave us tearing our hair out, especially if our little precious doesn’t actually like it.
Let’s face it, children are on the whole as opposite to green as you can get, even if your intentions are good.
Disposable nappies, half-eaten meals, carting them around in a car to a variety of places to keep them entertained, and the mountains and mountains of clothes and toys, which will one day end up in landfill.
That’s why our rules exist – and they’re simple.
Anyone who wishes to spoil our daughter can do so in one of three ways: by buying one toy, preferably wooden; through money diverted into her investment account which has swelled as a result; or an experience, such as an afternoon at a local attraction.
This isn’t me calling out parents who decide to go to Spoil City – let’s face it, parenthood is challenging enough as it is – but we’ve found that over the years, this system has worked for us.
And I’m not some eco-hippy parent, believing that our habits can in some way save the world – I think it’s just common sense, from an environmental and monetary point of view.
And there’s a bit of money saving and money making going on in our plans.
When it comes to our own gift buying, with Brooke’s birthday arriving in November and Christmas soon after, we list as much clothes and toys she has outgrown from the summer onwards on Facebook Marketplace [read my top 12 tips for using it below] as we can.
So far this year, we’ve sold an old rocking horse, dozens of books, smart designer clothes, a bouncer, a bed safety rail and other raft of other goods.
People turn up, pay cash in hand, and we’re safe in the knowledge that we’ve diverted some items from landfill and they’re going to a good home, while transferring that money made into a secondary bank account.
That then becomes our daughter’s present kitty and we go from there. We do buy some items brand new, but my wife is also good at sniffing out a bargain or two on Facebook Marketplace.
For example, Brooke is hugely into playing babies and buggies. For her last birthday, my wife sourced a double pink toy buggy for £3 that retails for £40.
She picked it up a few minutes from our house and it was like new. Brooke has used it every day since. She beamed with joy when she clapped her eyes on it – she was none-the-wiser that it already had one careful owner, and I doubt she’d care.
When she outgrows it, we’ll list on Facebook Marketplace for the same price and let another child have fun with it.
It teaches a good life lesson as well. In the coming years, I’ll explain to her that’s what we do to get new toys and fun items in.
Before and after: A a couple of minutes of work meant this bike was as good as new
This year, one of her presents is a Disney Princess bicycle that I fished out of a skip and brought home.
Brooke has been asking for one and when I was on a walk recently near our home, I spotted the perfect model with stabilisers in a skip choc-o-bloc with goodies.
I knocked on the door, the people were frantically clearing out their house before a big move and they were delighted for it to go to a new home (I always think you should knock in circumstances like this, just in case).
With a little clean-up with antibacterial spray, tightening of a few bolts and some £2 tassels I bought from Amazon, it looks great – £100-plus saved – and I can’t wait to see her face when she finds it on the morning of her birthday.
Once she outgrows it, I’ll be offering it for free to someone else to get use from it. Full circular economy in action, rather than just keep buying brand new stuff and repeat.
I’d urge anyone reading to give Facebook Marketplace a go – I’m not an eBay user, mainly because I can’t be bothered with the faff of postage and packaging.
I hope that a potential toy shortage could help shift some habits. As an aside, I entered two well-known toy retailers over the weekend and rather than a toy crisis, it seemed like an explosion of colourful plastic toy tat from floor to ceiling.
I walked out of both empty handed and with a serious headache – local independent toy shops, book shops and second hand is a far more rewarding way for me to shop for my little one, but like children, I know all parents are different.
If you really want, you can just convince yourself – and child – that a toy ‘shortage’ has resulted in a scaled down Christmas!
PS – Editor Simon Lambert did quiz me on whether I felt it was safe revealing this before her birthday, but I’ve assured him our nearly three-year-old is unlikely to read This is Money before then.
Top tips for Facebook Marketplace
When it comes to buying and selling, my book Never Go Broke: How To Make Money Out Of Just About Anything is crammed full of tips to make a cash pot from seemingly nowhere, to then reinvest into more items and make more money – or to use as a kitty for something else.
Facebook Marketplace is a great place to start your reselling journey, and here are my essential tips for doing it:
1. Make it part of your day: I only agree to people being able to buy and collect items in my break on the two days of the week I currently work from home, and not evenings or weekends. You’ll have timewasters and no shows, and you don’t want it encroaching on your precious time.
2. Quick listings: Take three or four photographs in good light, it is vital and give it a relatively concise description.
3. Bank the cash: Put the money in your pocket, wallet or purse, and then transfer the money from your main current account into a secondary one. My secondary account is with Starling. That way you’ll see the money stacking up and it’s a great incentive.
4. Price isn’t everything: It is unlikely you’ll sell an item for what you bought it for. Let go.
5. Build contacts on your doorstep: I sold a rocking horse for a fiver that was handed to us by a friend of a friend, and hardly ever used. The buyer was over-the-moon with it and told me she ran a nursery – and she gave me her contact details to send her items we’re listing in advance, to see if they are suitable.
6. It works well in populous areas: If you are in an urban or semi-urban area, the potential buyer base is huge.
7. Stuff that you might not think will sell, could: I listed an old clunky Dyson hoover after upgrading with a new model with no expectation it would sell – after all, it had seen years of use. It sold quickly for £25 after a demo on my doorstep that it worked.
8. Stop binning items: Garages and lofts can become cluttered and the temptation is to just tip or skip it all. Try and make money on it first.
9. Gradually lower the price: If you list an item for £20 but don’t receive any heat, just lower that price in increments. That way, you’ll have a handle on inventory control.
10. Cardboard box system: I have a couple of organised cardboard boxes, labelled ‘clothes’ and ‘toys’. Everything I’ve listed to sell is in them, and if a buyer comes, I can find it within seconds.
11. Have no shame: You can collect items that households leave out with those ‘take me, I’m free’ signs, and aim to make money on Facebook Marketplace with it, with a clean up and refresh. It is likely the previous owner just wants rid in a hurry.
12. Just do it!: You can even list items while watching another episode of a boxset. The thrill of the sale is real. Honestly.