How to Afford an American Girl Doll
A lot of parents are hit with sticker shock when they see the whopping $115 price tag ($125 with tax) for that brand new American Girl Doll their child wants. “$125 for a doll?” they ask. Thankfully, there are a lot of ways to get your hands on a doll cheaper. We’ll start out with the easy ways, and work our way to the harder (but more rewarding) options. We also talk about options that haven’t worked for us.
1. Free Shipping at AmericanGirl.com
A few times a year American Girl will offer free shipping from their website. Shipping and handling for one doll alone from their website is around $12. So what makes the additional savings to buy online cheaper than in the store, if it is still the same $115 price? Taxes. Online, AG charges a ridiculously low tax rate – around 3% – whereas if you buy in store, you have to pay state, city, and special business area taxes of 8-12% depending upon where the store is located. Thank goodness Congress hasn’t passed that online sales tax bill, right? Sign up for their email list to be notified when the free shipping happens (and be prepared to be bombarded by sub-par offers until the 2-3 times a year you get the golden Free Shipping email).
2. American Girl Doll Store Coupons
American Girl has changed around their coupon scheme, so instead of getting them at checkout, they are now sending them in their newsletter. For the last four quarterly installments we have received a newsletter containing a 20% off your order of $100+ coupon. Note that only some customers receive the newsletters with the coupon, not every one has it. It will say right on the front if there is a coupon, so don’t bother searching through your newsletter if it isn’t on the cover. The coupon itself is great if you are going to buy a doll or any substantial amount of goodies. Your $115 doll is now $92 – a whopping $23 off! And there is no stated limit, last time we bought three dolls and saved $69. Wow!!! How to get on this elusive list for the coupon-containing newsletters? We don’t know. We suggest registering a new account online or at the store during checkout if you are getting a newsletter without.
You can also get coupons through the American Girl Doll Rewards program. After rackingup $200 worth of purchases, you get a $10 off coupon. They are emailed to your email address. Read our review on the program below for more information. Unfortunately, these coupons are not stackable.
3. Garage Sales
Unfortunately, these have largely been a bust for us. First, you have to find one that actually has AG dolls. With Craigslist’s searchable garage sales, you can find those pretty easily if the seller listed it as an item, but there is no guarantee that it is actually an AG doll (not one of the dozens of knock-offs on the market). They almost never list the price for the doll online, so it might not actually be a bargain. If you drive all the way out to the place, you’ll probably find that some earlybird frequent garagesaler has snatched it up already. The dolls are almost always used. You can waste a lot of time and effort here for the slim chance of a bargain.
4. Thrift Shops / Antique Malls / Flea Market
Some truly amazing bargains can be found in these stores. However, they have even more drawbacks than garage sales. There is almost never a way to find out if a particular place has AG dolls for sale. You’ve got to be a regular thrift store / antique mall / flea market circuit shopper for this option to pan out, otherwise the costs of time and gas money vastly outweigh any potential savings.
eBay is great at having a large selection of dolls readily available in a wide variety of conditions and prices. It is easy and convenient, and usually no taxes. You don’t have to pay retail price, which gives your wallet some much-needed relief. The downside is, there usually aren’t any true bargains here. Due to the nature of eBay, you pay exactly market price for a doll. Sure, there are highs and lows, but you aren’t going to find a like-new doll selling for $30.
Another consideration is shipping. Even if the doll is marked “free shipping,” you are still paying the actual shipping cost for the doll, it is just folded into the price. Since shipping for a doll runs from $9-$25 depending upon the method, you’ll end up paying more than buying a local one.
Finally, you can run into the bad-buyer or bad description problems. Over-inflated shipping costs, items lost in the mail, item not as described. Then there is a whole laundry list of things to look for when buying a used doll to make sure you are getting an authentic item in the advertised condition. There are often undisclosed defects that the buyer may not even know to look for, like the beginnings of silver eye, eyes that stick, holes in the torso that have been cleverly re-sewn, hair loss, dry hair, loose limbs, X’s on the doll’s bottom, etc. So many things to look for, in fact, that we have devoted an entire guide to it.
We’re also going to burst your TLC doll bubble. There is the perception that you can buy a TLC (aka a doll in need of repair) on the cheap from eBay. That isn’t exactly true. The low end of the market for AG dolls is over-inflated. There are thousands of parents scouring eBay for AG dolls with “TLC” or “repair” in the title looking for beat-up dolls on the same theory as you are. There are so many bidders looking for that really damaged doll that they compete and end up overpaying for a bad doll. Why get into a bidding war over a doll with silver eye, terrible hair, and a detached leg for $45 when you can buy a much better doll for $50 that doesn’t have TLC in the title? Sure, the first doll is $5 less, but after a restringing kit, new wig, and trip to the AG Doll Hopsital for new eyes, you end up paying a lot more in the long run. Even if you don’t fix everything on a TLC doll or do it entirely yourself, you still end up paying more.
This isn’t to discourage you for eBay – it is a great place to get a doll below retail price – but we just want to point out some common pitfalls.
Hands down, the best option for buying a new or used AG doll is your local Craigslist if you live in a large urban or suburban area. We’ve scored some really incredible deals from Craigslist, such as $30 TLC dolls and brand new dolls for $85. That being said, it is a lot of work.
First, there is a lot of worthless or overpriced junk listed on there. Some people try to sell their used AG doll for over $200 when you can walk in store and buy it new for $125. There is handmade and non-AG clothing, used AG items, doll furniture and accessories, all of which you have to wade through by skimming titles and reading the description.
Second, there can be long dry spells. We’ve gone months without there being a single good offer, then had several in one day.
Third, you have to move quickly when the bargains occur. There is usually only one bargain priced-doll, so you’ve got to be first in line to email or call the owner. An hour later, it will be gone. We suggest you set up the Craigslist email notifications based on the words “American Girl” so you can browse through the offerings as they are listed.
Fourth, Craigslist is always buyer beware. While we haven’t had any problems, be on the lookout for scammer trying to pass off fake dolls and potentially dangerous situations. Try to meet in a public place, during the day, and let someone know where you are going. Pay in cash. Bring along a friend, your ferocious-looking dog, or at the very least, some pepper spray. It’s almost always a nice mom looking to make a quick buck off her kid’s old things, but you never know.