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Thrifty santas turning to swaps to fill wish list

Stephanie Edwards-Musa dramatically cut her bill for Christmas presents by using an online toy exchange. Stephanie Edwards-Musa dramatically cut her bill for Christmas presents by using an online toy exchange. (Associated Press)
By Ellen Gibson
Associated Press / December 16, 2010

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NEW YORK — Stephanie Edwards-Musa finished her Christmas shopping early this year. Her 13-year-old daughter is getting a PlayStation 2 and clothing from Hollister and Aeropostale. For her 5-year-old son, it’s a bundle of toys, mostly “Star Wars’’-themed.

The bill? $45.

Edwards-Musa, a Houston Realtor, found these items used on ThredUp.com, an online toy exchange launched last week. Parent-to-parent swapping sites such as this one are growing in popularity by offering families a way to clear their closets of toys and clothes their children have outgrown in exchange for items cast off by older kids.

“I’ve always been frugal,’’ she said, “but the PlayStation was my best Friday doorbuster yet.’’

Thrifty parents are finding plenty of places to barter on the Web. At the online community SwapMamas.com, hip moms trade goods from baby slings to clarinets without any money changing hands. Swap-seekers place hundreds of listings a day on classifieds service Craigslist.org, while parents just looking for freebies gravitate to the local forums on Freecycle.org.

ThredUp chief executive James Reinhart said the site has benefited from middle-income Americans’ heightened frugality; its membership, now at 50,000, has grown steadily since it debuted in April.

The fallout from the recession still has many parents struggling to balance the imperative to spend less with the desire to give their kids the things they want.

Even in hard times, “parents still want to do whatever it takes to create magic for their kids on Christmas and give them that pleasure,’’ said toy analyst Chris Byrne — one reason toy sales have held steady in the past few years while other categories fell.

Americans spend about $21 billion a year on toys and games, said the research firm NPD Group. Used playthings are not always safe, however. Some product-safety groups caution that it’s tough to guarantee the products meet standards regarding lead and other chemicals.

Still, the secondhand market for children’s clothes and toys generates $3 billion in sales annually. ThredUp’s investors, led by Silicon Valley’s Trinity Ventures, hope the start-up can carve out a sizable chunk.