24 Thrifty Toys for a 2‐Year‐Old

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Disclaimer:  We do not let Gv play with these toys unattended and I am not making any claims about the safety of these ideas.  Use your best judgement when searching your own house for cheap baby playthings. 

When I wrote the last thrifty toys post only a few months ago, I had more than 20 ideas to choose from.  That meant I already had a head start on my next installment and boy, was I glad, because gee whiz, Gv just keeps getting older and that means coming up with even more ideas than the previous time!  

Although many of the 13‐month and 10‐month toys are still going strong, Gv's interests continue to expand, which means I'm forever exploring the house in search of new discoveries for her to tinker with.

Although I've been pretty successful in this quest, it's truthfully been Gv who has made many of the discoveries.  Here are 24 of her current favorite time‐occupiers, most of which were completely FREE:


To be honest, this toy has been floating around the place just about since the girl was born.  It all started out as something new for her to chew on, but lately it's received renewed interest as exactly what it was designed for: combing hair.

Glitter Jar

I think Gv is still a bit young to have one of these actually calm her down when she's upset (and besides, who wants glitter when you can have Mommy's milk?), but she still enjoys shaking it and holding it up to the window in order to admire all the swirling sparkles.

To make one, just fill a jar or plastic bottle with some glitter glue, glitter, and warm water, then shake it up really good to dissolve the glue.  Run some super glue around the inside of the lid before you screw it on to create a tight seal.

Piggy Bank

We actually give Gv real coins to use for this, and I have to say that she seems to be pretty accurate with her coin recognition already.  I totally did not expect that (we just figured she'd enjoy dropping the coins into the slot), but it's been pretty exciting to observe.  She'll spend giant chunks of time with this activity: dropping the coins in, asking G or I to get them out, then dropping them back in again.

Don't have a piggy bank yet?  Try this idea to create an inexpensive personalized bank for your little saver.


Sometimes this acts as a phone (it does have the same numbers on it, after all!), sometimes it becomes a cash register, and sometimes it's actually just a calculator (usually when G has his own out to grade Calculus papers).

Besides giving Gv something new to play with, I've noticed that she gets awfully tickled when she sees numbers that she recognizes.  Gosh, there goes that learning thing again...it just sneaks in where you don't even expect it!

Threading Noodler

I wrote an entire post on this one, and it's still something Gv plays with almost every day.  Besides threading and un‐threading the noodle slices, she has recently discovered a way to pop them across the room with her fingers.  I expect this toy to last a while; it's just perfect for introducing patterning and sorting as early math skills.

Spirit Shakers

There's a pretty decent chance that you've picked up one or two of these shakers from a pep rally or sporting event, but even if you haven't, they're pretty inexpensive to buy.  While these are definitely a common staple in a dress‐up bin, they can provide tons of fun for a younger child as well.

Gv enjoys shaking hers as an accompaniment to the music we're listening to each day, or even while we sing the ABCs.

Combination Lock

You might think we've been spending too much time watching The Italian Job or are training Gv to be a little safe‐cracker, but she pulled open a drawer one day and discovered this all on her own. 

Although she can't unlock it herself yet, she enjoys twirling the dial and carrying it around as an item in one of her bags.

Old Keys

Yes, keys can be gross.  Obviously, if your little one is still enamored with putting everything into his or her mouth, then you want to hold off a bit on this toy.

This is another of those items that Gv discovered in our junk drawer.  At first, she was just excited to carry them around in her bag, but lately she's been spending quite a bit of time going around from door to door, trying to unlock each and every doorknob.

She can't really reach the deadbolts well enough to try fitting the key into the slot, but who cares, when it entertains her for such large chunks of time?

Old Cards & Purse

If you have any old, empty gift cards, or even just some of those "fake" credit cards that come in the mail, they can provide your toddler with quite a bit of imaginative play.  Pair them with a wallet, purse, or toy cash register and you'll increase the fun.

This is one of those toys that I feel will last for years, especially when Gv starts to play store.

Containers with Screw‐On Lids

This is an easy one for pretty much everyone to find.  Gv loves to screw the lids on and off containers (& then fill them with things like rocks!) and I love that when she's done playing, I can just toss it all into the recycling bin, where it was destined to end up anyway.

Squirt Bottle


That's how long Gv will spend squirting things with water.  We have several towels hanging up around the house and I'll let her spray those, otherwise we head outside to squirt everything on the porch as well as give all of the the outdoor plants, grass, trees, and backyard fence a good spritzing.

Dry Erase Board & Markers

Besides drawing things freehand, Gv finds all sorts of objects to trace on these boards (like puzzle pieces), as well.

I have an entire class set of these from my classroom, so this has been another one of Gv's earliest toys.  She pretty much spends a good part of each day "writing" and drawing her little heart out.

To make your own dry erase boards, you can get a piece of tile board from a home improvement store (they'll cut it for you for free).  See if you can find other parents to split it with, because one board will be plenty for several families to use (these are also great for playing Pictionary‐type games with!)

Teach your little one early on to replace the marker caps by listening for the "click" and to only keep the markers in a certain spot.  Our rule is to "keep it on the plastic" and Gv knows to spread the shower curtain liner out before she starts to draw.

Vase & Flowers

I've had this little vase full of fake sunflowers on the piano for years, and one day Gv climbed up onto the bench and pulled them down.  I watched to see what she would do with it, and to my surprise, she dumped them all out and then started arranging them back in the vase.

This is another activity that she engages in just about every day.  If you don't have a vase and flowers already handy (at least one that wouldn't devastate you if it got broken), then your local dollar store probably has a decent selection to choose from.


You know that cotton that comes in vitamin bottles?  Well, we always put it aside to use for most of our cotton ball needs.  Sometimes Gv enjoys just pulling it apart, and sometimes we use it for crafts, like these, these, and these.

It's something you're likely to have and probably just toss anyway, so why not put it to good use first?

Zippered Pencil Case

Gv loves to fill hers with rocks, but the possibilities are endless when you hand your toddler a little bag to hide treasures away in.  An added bonus is all that natural practice with zippers he or she will be getting!

Change Purses

Gv has had a special fondness for these pint-sized purses for some time now.  I'm still on the lookout for an inexpensive one I can buy her that can be just for her very own, but until then, I'll let her carry mine around while we're at the park or playground.  

I used to let her carry them around at home, but then she discovered the zippers led to all sorts of interesting things inside...and although she generally replaces everything where she found it, I'm not really in the mood to have a stray credit card or my driver's license sneak its way into the bottomless pit of the couch cushions any time soon!

Old Hairspray Bottle

I use an old hairspray bottle filled with water to "do" my hair everyday and Gv was so interested in all the goings‐on that I finally gave her her own bottle so she could "do" hers at the same time.

Besides all the happiness she experiences from this toy, it allows me to get dressed in peace!

Empty Soap Dispenser

I originally filled this with a bit of water, but then realized that Gv was perfectly content to pretend with just an empty dispenser.  She not only "washes" her hands at her little sink, but will often use it to clean up all of her dolls and toys, as well.

Spiral Notebook & Pen

One of the things Gv is hardly ever without, this little spiral notebook (from the $1 bin at Target) and a pen are perfect for her to record all the exciting events that happen during the day.

A future reporter, perhaps?

Rubber Band Ball

Yes, this is another of those items that you wouldn't want to leave your child alone with, but it's very simple for me to keep an eye on Gv as she takes the rubber bands off this ball (allowing me to get a blog post written!) and then to help her put them all back on.

It's great for developing those fine motor skills, too!

Reusable Shopping Bag

You never know what will get pulled out of the bag next! (This collection sports items from her toy boxes, from the kitchen cabinets, from the top of the desk, and even the bathroom!)

We pick up lots of these at events and festivals around town, so we can easily spare one for Gv.  This is another type of bag that she enjoys filling with random things (and it's big!) and usually when she's filled it all up with discoveries, she'll bring it over to one of us to show off all her treasures.


I know, I know.  I heard your gasp.  But remember, we let Gv play with lots of things while we're sitting next to her that we wouldn't leave her alone with.

A belt is just one of those items, but it's really neat to see her already figuring out how to make it work.  She'll wrap the thing around waist and then try to buckle and unbuckle it for quite a long time!

Photo Album

Gv loves looking at photo albums of people she knows and loves (she usually makes a request for the You book every day ‐ it's the album of her first year, which she dubbed "You" because so many pages had pictures that we described as "That's You!").  However, that photo album is meant to look at together and not touch.

A great friend gave her a baby photo album right after she was born (similar to this) that I was able to fill with photos I printed out at home and she loves carting it with her just about everywhere she goes.  Not only will she name all the family and friends within its pages, but she loves to take the photos out and put them back in, rearranging them in her own personal style.

If you don't have an awesome baby photo album like this, I bet a mini album from the dollar store would work, too!

Tong Transfer

I gave Gv an extra set of kitchen tongs and she loved simply snapping them together to her own little beat, but then one day I showed her how to use them to pick up small items and then transfer them to another location.

It's one of her favorite activities these days.  She especially likes doing it with the magnet letters off the fridge and a foam ABC puzzle (from the dollar store) we gave her for Easter.

So there you have it, 24 new thrifty toys for your toddler.  Go ahead and "shop" your home for some frugal treasures of your own ‐ you might be surprised at what you find!

It seems like every day Gv makes giant leaps in her development, making me wonder how long these types of thrifty toys will continue to entertain her.  What do you think?  Do we have years of household toy discoveries yet to come, or is the end just right around the corner?  I'd love to hear - leave a comment or email me at lisahealy (at) outlook (dot) com.

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