American Girl Dolls Rule Our House (And How We Keep AG Costs Low)

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American Girl dolls have become one of my daughters’ go-to toys for several years now – and I couldn’t be happier. We’ve been an American Girl house for four years. Unlike the girls’ (usually short-lived) obsessions with other toys (I’m looking at you, Aquanauts), I will definitely be sad when my girls grow out of their AG dolls.

My three girls benefit from their American Girl dolls obsession in many ways:

Desire to learn and try new things

American Girls, through the movies and books, have exposed the girls to different cultures, times of history, and new ideas and activities. Grace encouraged the girls to try French macrons, and her story made them want to help more in the kitchen. Kit propelled one of my daughters to write more. Several of the historical American Girls (Samantha and Julie) have taught lessons on the challenges that have faced women, and these stories have opened gateways to terrific conversations with my daughters. For the girls’ birthdays, my husband and I took them to Chicago to visit the American Girl store. The girls were each given a gift card to spend, and they learned to budget their money. We also practiced manners at the Afternoon Tea at the store’s restaurant.

Promote sharing

Let’s face it: American Girl dolls – and their “stuff” – are expensive, and with three girls, the cost quickly multiplies (see below for how we’ve kept costs low-ish). American Girl encourages my daughters to share doll clothes and accessories. The girls have a few special outfits for their dolls that they don’t have to share, but the rest of the doll clothes are “community property.” They also share horses and cars and furniture.

Encourage creative play

My daughters use their American Girl dolls to play school and house. Sometimes the dolls are babies, and other times, the dolls have parts in whatever imaginative game the girls are playing.  American Girl dolls have also helped reduce my daughters’ screen time. We’ve never allowed a lot of screen time for the kids, and being able to suggest they go play with their beloved AG dolls helps minimize that even more.

While I was writing this, I wondered if I was the only one seeing benefits from American Girl dolls, so I asked my daughters what they’ve learned from AG. Here’s what they said: “To be kind and nice and generous,” “People who are different can be friends,” “How people in other times dressed and acted,” and “Don’t pull on the doll’s arms.” (The last one came from my six-year-old, and now I’m wondering what she’s been doing with her dolls…)

But what about the cost of American Girl dolls?

Let’s be honest: there is one hurdle about my daughters’ American Girl doll obsession – the cost. While we’ve minimized costs by requiring the girls to share their dolls and doll stuff, there are also a few things we’ve found to keep costs manageable. Some clothing and accessories can be purchased by “off brand” companies or craft shows for much lower prices. Anything that fits 18-inch dolls can be used with American Girl dolls. The library is a good place to find American Girl books, and many streaming services and On Demand can be used to watch the movies.

One of the best things to keep costs low is to shop at the annual American Girl Benefit Sale. The sale is held every summer with the proceeds benefit the Madison Children’s Museum. I’ve been to the sale the last two years, and the deals are amazing, usually between 30-70 percent off! Basically, I’ve been able to get the girls’ Christmas shopping done at one place in a few hours and not spend anywhere near retail. A few pro tips:

  • You have to get tickets for the sale in advance, and tickets sell out fast (follow the Benefit Sale on social media for dates). Everyone, even kids, needs a ticket to enter the sale. Cell phone reception is bad inside the warehouse, so if you’re coordinating what you’re buying with someone else, you’ll need to do it before you enter the sale.
  • Review the list of available items in advance to develop a shopping list. It’s an overwhelming warehouse space, and without a plan, you’ll be lost. The list of items, and any limitations on how many of certain items you can buy, is published a few days before the sale.
  • Bring a few HUGE bags to carry your stash. (I like the large blue IKEA bags.) In the past, things with wheels (strollers, carts, etc.) have not been allowed in the warehouse during the sale.
  • Wear comfortable shoes and dress in layers. The space is huge and not air-conditioned. With a lot of people and little air movement, it gets very hot and sweaty.

Do your kids have an obsession with American Girl dolls? Have you seen any benefits to American Girl? How do you keep costs low?

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