American Girl Dolls are so expensive ”“ starting at about $100 ”“ that any mom who hasn’t cracked the secret to growing money in her garden will want to get the absolute most out of her doll investment. Nothing feels worse than entering your daughter’s bedroom and seeing Julie or Rebecca’s feet sticking out from under a pile of rarely used toys.
Buying an 18-inch tall doll for your child is a surprisingly complex matter. That’s because American Girl, a spectacularly well-engineered brand, has created an irresistibly inviting world of dolls and doll-related merchandise that will be hard for any family to avoid.
Once you’ve gone down the slippery slope, I offer you some of my wisdom for surviving the American Girl craze:
- Too young to know the diff? For a younger girl who won’t know the difference, buy a knock-off brand doll at Target or Toys R Us and don’t look back. My daughter loved her Toys R Us doll for quite a while, and then around age 6, she realized she wasn’t “real”. For a four-year old, one of these $40 imitation American Girl dolls is perfect.
Unfortunately we moved past this doll and my daughter treats her “fake” doll like a second class citizen, and doesn’t permit her to wear the “real” clothes. At least we had a few good years together.
- Bring in reinforcements. Make sure grandma is in the loop on this whole ordeal. If you take a multi-generational outing to an American Girl store, Granny might start footing the bill for some of your doll’s expenses, such as ear piercing.
- Piercing and tattoos are extra. I’m absolutely not kidding about the ear piercing. You can pay $16 extra dollars for your doll to arrive with pierced ears, but if you’re like, “Oh that’s crazy,” and then a year later, you actually have become doll-crazy, you can send your doll in for ear-piercing or take her to an American Girl Salon, with 18 metropolitan locations, and have it done.
- Affordable health care FOR YOUR DOLL. Listen to these words: Buy the American Girl brand hairbrush. Also? Don’t ever ever unbraid Molly’s braids. If your child does something horrible or accidental to her doll, there is an American Girl Hospital to send your doll to for repairs to her head or body parts. She’ll come back good as new, and with hospital discharge papers! If your child is old enough for allowance, you might consider having her pay for the service herself to help ensure she treats her sidekick better in the future.
- Get creative. Lay down some rules about what you’ll buy and what you’ll make. “Use your daughter’s doll as a way to jumpstart her creativity,” says my friend Ana. “Instead of buying the playsets and accessories, encourage her to make her own.” Maybe you can team up to sew a set of matching flannel jammiesÂ instead of forking over the cash once in a while. A bunch of Pinterest moms have figured out some easy DIYs. This is a fantastic round-up of 60 American Girl DIYs. I mean these IKEA salad bowls used as midcentury-style chairs pretty much killed me.
- Shop off-brand online. Browse alternative sources for doll clothing when Sophie or Sophia needs some new threads: I’ve found matching girl and doll outfits on Zulily and Amazon at completely reasonable prices by searching “18 inch doll clothes” rather than the brand; Etsy and Ebay are good ones; Facebook has Buy, Sell, Trade American Girl (support) groups where moms are helping each other make their collective investment in the dolls last longer.
- Just like that guy selling Prada from his raincoat. Whenever you shop at the American Girl store or website, hang onto the packaging and shopping bag for dear life. Repurpose it whenever you gift your discriminating child doll accessories from Target.
- Take the doll with you. If you never let your precious mini me out of the house, it’s going to provide less play value. Encourage your child to pack the doll up for a sleepover, to take it to Grandma’s house, or even to a baseball game.
I’d love to see any other tips you’ve discovered by being an American Girl doll parent in the comments.
Whitney is the proud parent of two children and the grandmother to one American Girl doll and one crappy knock off.