The nice thing about the occasional Polar Vortex is the unplanned bonus time you get to spend with your kids. Last week, school was canceled four out of five days due to the extreme cold. Sure, it was trying in some aspects. This is the time of year when projects start to get rolling at work. Taking a few half days off to watch the kiddos makes you wonder why childless people aren’t dominating the workforce…
…Anyhow, this is not a post about the workforce. We’re taking a break from that, finally.
So, what did we do to keep the kids occupied, while being literally stuck inside the house with -20 degree temps outside? LEGOs, of course! And this is a post that I’m sure will resonate with many of you. Who among you fine readers didn’t grow up with those magical bricks? And those with kids? You probably have a few bricks stuck in your rug naps, dryer vents, and deck planks too…
How to be Frugal with LEGOs
Here’s the thing. LEGOs ain’t cheap. You’ll pay about 5 to 10 cents per brick, and with most kits averaging around 300-400 pieces, you’re dropping $30 for a pretty basic set. The co-branded kits, like Star Wars and Harry Potter are especially pricey, at about 10 to 15 cents per brick.
Some people go absolutely hog-wild over LEGOs. They can be an addiction of sorts. One guy confessed to spending over $45,000 on the fantastic plastic.
From what I’ve read, adults have been using LEGOs as a way to destress and decompress. Building something either from the instructions, or with your own creative blueprint can provide a form of therapy. In fact, I watched a YouTube video with my son about a troop stationed in Afghanistan who had kits sent overseas to him. Now back in the states, he builds sets to keep the PTSD at bay.
So, we know these toys are very expensive, but they’re also a source of joy and can offer some real mental-health benefits. My hope is to keep our little household collection alive and well, but with a frugal spin on the situation.
Step 1: Combine your kits. This is easy enough. If you had LEGOs as a kid and you’re still hanging onto them, don’t let them sit in the attic collecting dust. Dump ’em in with the kids’ collection and be glad they’re being put to use. I had a five pound tote of plastic from my childhood — all classic LEGO space kits. The kids have no problem plugging those gray and blue pieces into whatever they create.
Step 2: Watch YouTube for homemade ideas. We built a sweet little Minion my daughter thought was the bomb. My son and I got to build a LEGO Optimus Prime. There’s pretty much no limit to what you can build with these bricks. In most cases, our own ideas are better than the original kits themselves.
Step 4: Download the official instructions for kits from LEGO.com. Now you’ll know how we spent our free time during the Polar Vortex last week. Papa had a crazy notion that all the random kits combined, including some donated pinks and purples from my daughter’s Friends collection, would be sufficient to build a…. DEATH STAR!!
For some background, the LEGO Death Star kit is massive. (No affiliate link there, btw.) It’s a $500 kit ($500!!!) before tax… and includes 4,016 of the finest black and gray plastic bits you could ever hope for in your collection. But who’s going to deny the most fanatic of Star Wars fans??
This thing actually SELLS. I have a colleague who bought this kit for his sons for Christmas a few years back. They proceeded to drop the completed ball of parts on the kitchen floor, to simulate its destruction. Ugh. A friend of our kids got the same kit just this past Christmas. She’s 5. And LOVES IT. (Apparently, Daddy only gets to sort and supply parts to the builder.)
But ask good ol’ Cubert if he’s going to plop down $535 and change…. Nope. Thanks to LEGO’s altruistic understanding of how the instruction booklets often get lost or shredded by the dog, they offer .PDF versions online. So, I decided to download the official LEGO Death Star instructions and go for broke.
Want to know how many pages this novel is? Two Hundred and Sixty Four!!! Gulp. But we all chipped in though, and before long, the Death Star began to take form. Only this version would be known as “Disco Death Star”, thanks to those beautiful purples, blues, oranges, and yellows that blend in with the grays and blacks that dominate the real deal.
Frugal Shortcuts: A Final Step
Nothing like a Midwest cold snap to reaffirm your love of plastic bricks, right?? Well, to be honest, we got about 75% of this monster completed before we ran out of vital pieces. As Darth Vader said in Episode 3, “NOOOOO!!!”
What’s a loving father and mother to do? We both scoured eBay and Facebook markets for spare parts, of course! Eventually, I stumbled upon a five pound collection of a mish-mash of Star Wars kit pieces. Buy it Now cost? $30. Granted, shipping was $20. Still, for $50, we were able to finish this project 99.7% to specifications (if you are color blind).
And bonus, we now have lots of extra gray panels and parts to begin construction of the Millenium Falcon. (Mrs. Cubert just gave the biggest scoff you’ll ever witness.)
Ultimately, we had little problem plunking down $50 to complete what otherwise would’ve been a $535 kit, if purchased from Amazon, Target, or wherever. Our kids would probably disagree, but the added challenge of hunting to find pieces we weren’t sure we had was all part of the fun.
When you buy the kit – it’s all there in sorted packages. You just do the grunt work. On the flip side, if you try a hair-brained idea like mine, and download instructions with the HOPE of having the pieces, you’ll be playing scavenger hunt for hours in those multi-colored bins.
Oh, that reminds me. One last tip – It really, really helps to sort your pieces by color group before you take on a project like this. Happy building, kids!!