I have five very tech-savvy kids in my house.  We use video games as both a reward for doing chores and good behavior, as well as to make our homeschool curriculum a bit more engaging.  With the cost of most video games for popular platforms in the $40 – 60 range, it can be a family’s most burdensome entertainment expense.  Here are some of the tricks we’ve used to keep fresh games in the arsenal, without paying much out of pocket.

Free Apps

When I won an iPad 2 in a sweepstakes earlier this year, I was pretty certain I would use the thing for work, and not let the kids touch it.  After seeing all of the learning applications available for kids, however, I realized that it could get them away from the computer and regular consoles, for some quick game play that would actually teach them something.  I downloaded the DealNews app for my iPad so that I can easily check to see what free iPad apps are out there each day and download them directly to my iPad.  (You can do the same thing with your iPhone or Android-based phone, as well.)  We get 2-3 games daily (some of them valued at over $7 each), and I’ve never paid a penny for them.

Free Online Sites

I have a slew of bookmarked sites that the kids can go to from our computer, and they could spend hours playing the games they find there.  One popular site with hundreds of games is miniclip (note that there is NO educational value here, and you’ll have to monitor that the games are appropriate for the age of the child.)  For pure educational value for the younger kids, we also adore sites like SesameStreet.org, Nick Junior, and PBSKids.org.  Older kids enjoy DisneyXD.com and Nick.com.  There is no fee to play most of the games here, but there are ads; be sure you teach kids how to keep from clicking or disable your pop-ups to avoid confusion.

Rentals

If you have much older kids, or they have grown tired of free online games, you can rent video games instead of buying them.  Gamefly.com offers video game rentals for a monthly subscription fee (in the style of Netflix), and is an affordable option to getting new games from the store.  If you want to rent a game for a night or two, I suggest checking into RedBox, which just started offering video games alongside its movie rentals.

Garage Sales

We have accumulated quite a few games via the traditional yard sale, as parents seem to think that games that haven’t been played in a while need to go!  We pick up games for the Wii, Xbox 360, and for kid systems like the Leapster 2 and VTech Motion console for just $1-4 a game.  There is a slight chance that a game won’t work well once you get it home, but most people are honest, and we have only run into one issue.

Swap Sites

If you don’t mind giving up old games to get new used ones, a swap site can help you trade up for a small fee.  I have never used one of these services, but Googling “swap video games” will get you lots of results.  Just be sure to read reviews and make sure there is adequate inventory before you relinquish your old faves.

Another way to trade up is to give your gently used game to Amazon.com for a store credit which can be used towards the purchase of a new or used game through their site.  Just check their Trade-In Store to see what they are looking for.

Any time you hit the local game store to buy a new release, keep in mind that the game may flop, and your kids may not like playing it, at all.  Keep the risk to a minimum by gaming the way we do – frugally – at least until they are old enough to buy their own games.  There’s no reason to pay $50+ for a game for a preschooler, in my opinion.