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Cheap Toys For Toddlers Who Don't Know the Difference

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Christmas. The birth of Jesus. And the crucifixion of your credit card.

In spite of these uncertain economic times, we're spending more than ever on crap for our little crappers. But why? Forget our desperate need for "stuff" and thoughtless overspending, our kids have NO TASTE. In fact, most tots are downright tacky! Think about it. You give your youngster a big, expensive gift only to watch him toss it aside to play with the wrapping paper. And when your poor, deprived offspring has opened his skyward heap of gifts, the first toy he wants to play with is the one from the dollar store. I know mine does. Max is straight from the trailer park.

So this year, I'm taking advantage of his poor taste and giving him just one gift for Christmas: a telescope. And by telescope I mean an empty paper towel roll.

Here are a few other classic - and I mean really classic - toys for your tweedle-dummies. Each one fosters imagination and creativity, and guess what? They're all free! So you can save your money for booze. Or college, whatever.

1. 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 multifunctional; it can be a house, a cave, a hospital, or a totally pimped out go-cart. For entrepreneurial kids, it makes a kick-ass 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.

2. 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 multifunctional. 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.

3. 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 toy-box doubles as a medicine cabinet.

4. The Wooden Spoon. A mere spoon? To the sadly 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. Comes with free microphone setting.

5. The Pet Rock. A knockoff of the 70s fad. (Yes, this really was a huge novelty in that era. Probably on account of the rampant drug use.) 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.

6. The Empty Paper Towel Roll. There's pirate treasure on your countertop, between your toaster and your microwave. When the last paper towel is pulled from the roll, BAM - you got yourself a telescope, matey. Arrrrrgh you ready to sail the high seas of awesomesauce? For a miniature telescope, head on over to the bathroom.

7. The Imaginary Friend. The success of this toy depends on your level of commitment. Start talking to the empty space next to your child. For example, when I first asked Max, "Would you like to read a book?", I then moved my head 20 degrees to the right or left and asked 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.