Santa, tell the elves to downsize: Excess is out. Frugal is in.
But if this is the year to economize during the holiday season, does that mean our youngest relations have to suffer?
A survey of this year's hottest toy offerings suggests maybe not. Thanks to falling petroleum prices (an essential element of plastic) and cheaper technology, many of the most popular toys can be had for less than $30.
Chris Byrne, an independent toy analyst and editor of The Toy Reporter, says that while manufacturers may advertise their pricier wares, the less expensive stuff is often the most fun for children.
"I always like to say that the hunk of plastic is irrelevant, it's how well the toy sparks a child's imagination that counts," says Byrne. "The good news is that there's a lot of price range out there this year."
Jimmy Neutron Build and Blast Rocket, $19.99. Assemble an air-powered rocket just like Jimmy Neutron, a soon-to-be-beloved animated character (his heavily promoted movie is coming out Christmas week). Mattel Inc. Age 4 and up.
Come Here Blue. $29.99. The dog from the TV show Blue's Clues can wag his tail, raise his ears and come when your child calls. She particularly enjoys hearing the show's theme song. Fisher-Price. Ages 2 to 5.
Dance Beat Drum. $29.99 The drum can produce not only disco rhythms but also funny sounds and preschool melodies. Tomy, age 18 months and up.
2-in-1 Bach 'n Rock Guitar. $24.99. Children can play one of three classical tunes or choose one of three rock and roll hits on an instrument that can serve as either guitar or violin. Fisher-Price. Age 2 and up.
Matchbox Sky High Rescue Playset. $18. Launch your emergency vehicles to put out fires, catch bank robbers or pull a car out of a ditch. Mattel, ages 3 and up.
Key Chain Popper. $19.99. Design and create unique pop-together key chains and necklaces. Wild Planet. Ages 6 and up.
Electronic Chomper My Talkin' Truckbot. $29.99. A truck that talks with its mouth full - of dirt and rocks, that is. Hasbro. Ages 3 and up.
The Incredible Shrinky Dinks Maker. $25. An update of a classic, the kit lets kids make their own tiny charms in an oven powered by a 60-watt bulb. Spin Master Toys. Age 8 and up.
Transformers: Robots in Disguise. $9.99 A new take on the popular robots that turn into vehicles or animals. Hasbro. Age 5 and up.
Bob the Builder Electronic Talking Scoop. $29.99. The preschool television show has spawned a line of construction toys that answer the show's question - "Can we fix it?" - with the reliable, "Yes, we can." Hasbro. Age 3 and up.
Sugarplum Princess Barbie. $19.99. It was just a matter of time before the blonde one discovered Tchaikovsky. Put her on a stand and she even dances. Mattel. Age 3 and up.