American Girl – Not Frugal At All (Or What’s A Smile Worth)

Last weekend we went to the American Girl store in Manhattan to buy my daughter a doll.

Have you heard of this place?

It’s a doll store that specializes in making the doll purchase a full experience for your child. Among the doll choices you have is their Just Like You collection where you pick out a doll that has features similar to your own (or my daughter in this case; I would make one ugly doll).

From the site:

Just Like You dolls help girls share their stories with the world. Every girl can find a doll to match her spirit and look—inside and out. The hair and eye color, skin tone, and outfits and accessories help bring their story, and friendship, to life. These 18-inch dolls are for ages 8 and up.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

Each comes with a story book and a music CD. You can buy girl clothes that match the dolls’; there’s a theater; a cafe; a hair salon; even a doll hospital! Yes, you can already imagine it isn’t cheap! The doll we bought (left) was $90!!

Let me go back a sec and explain how we got here.

Last Spring my daughter went to the American Girl store with her Girl Scout troop. They were able to get a doll’s hair made up and had lunch at the cafe. If you didn’t own a doll they gave you a loaner.

Well, my daughter immediately wanted one of her own!

It wasn’t too hard to say no to her since the dolls are so expensive. But we did strike a deal with her: If she behaved (as best she could) and tried hard in school we would get her one for her birthday. She agreed. Keep in mind we didn’t go overboard for the holidays knowing we would be getting this doll for her birthday. Also, besides the party at home, this would be her only gift from us.

Did I mention the place has like three floors?!?

I went in with strong resolve, vowing to buy only the doll! But man do I have ADD when I walk into a store. They have accessories and dolls everywhere. It wasn’t long before I was asking my wife if we she get another outfit or an accessory too. We came real close but my wife, having more sense than me, said we came only for the doll and that’s what we’re getting!

Yes, it was expensive for what is essentially a trumped up Cabbage Patch kid.

But did my daughter smile when we got home!

I took a picture with her and the doll and it’s one of the most joyful smiles of her I’ve gotten on film. I know this is no excuse to spend money. I don’t think we’re spoiling her since she waited so long for it and we made sure to explain to her that this is an extra special gift, the likes of which she shouldn’t always expect.

Here’s a few justifications for buying it:

  1. We made her wait a while before buying it to make sure she not only deserved it but would still want it and take care of it.
  2. It was the only major gift she’s getting from us for her birthday. We got her small gifts for the holidays but nothing expensive.
  3. Our son is turning one two days before her birthday. Although we do our best to give equal attention to both of our children it’s inevitable that the little guy gets a bit more attention since he’s a baby. The doll is a special present for her for being so great with him this past year.
  4. We had the money in savings and will not be in debt because of it.

If your daughter has friends that own an American Girl doll now might be the time to explain to her she can no longer be friends with them. Unless you want to buy her one too. (Just kidding of course).

What do you think? Are we spoiling her? Are we guilty of “keeping up with the Joneses?”

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Published or updated August 21, 2016.


  1. Father Sez says:

    Teaching your daughter delayed gratification is a major success.

    You are not spoiling her. You have done a small splurge and it was only after she had met her part of the bargain.

    You just have to make sure your daughter does not go into the buying all accessories phase.

  2. I just spent four hours this last weekend at the Grove in Los Angeles where there is an American Girl doll Store while my wife , daughter and her friends went to a show, tea, purchased a doll, dressed it got it’s hair done, etc. It was a pretty strange experience and got even stranger when my four year old son discovered the American Boy Doll.

  3. Michelle Dawn says:

    I’ve never heard of this place! It sounds like it was a very special little trip and not something she just expected to be handed to her. There is nothing wrong with a treat once in a while. I bet that place is like heaven for a little girl.

  4. Glen Craig says:

    @ Chris – Yeah, strange indeed. Those little dolls have a more interesting life than me!

    @ Father Sez – Thanks for the confirmation. She was able to get a new dress from her Aunt for her birthday. I’m cool with other people taking over the accessories!

    @ Dawn – Honestly, the place must be special for a girl. It’s part of the marketing plan and they do it brilliantly! I can only imagine what I’d be like if there was a GI Joe or Transformers store when I was her age.

  5. I’m 18, and I have both a My Twinn doll and an American girl doll.

    The My Twinn doll was one that was designed to look EXACTLY like me – right down to a birthmark mole on my neck. The American Girl doll was simply ordered with my eye and hair color.

    I got mine when I was in 4th grade (on my 8th birthday). I know that for sure because my fourth grade picture in my yearbook has me and my My Twinn doll 🙂 The photographer just about went nuts over that doll – he thought it was great and took two separate photos of me, one with and one without the doll.

    I really loved both of those dolls. I think you did a great job of teaching your daughter that sometimes you have to wait for something you really want.

    (BTW, mine was ordered out of a catalogue, but they sell them online… did y’all consider that option or did you want the experience at the store?)

  6. As a mom of an American Girl fan, let me tell you, the cost is ultimately worth it.

    Number one- although the dolls cost “more” than Bratz, Barbies, or other dolls you can get anywhere- the play quality is way different. My daughter (almost 9) plays the most creatively when she plays with her American Girls. Bratz are all about consumerism and looks- and how to “catch a boyfriend”– as is Barbie at some level. American Girl is about being a girl and exploring what interests the girl themselves. My daughter has been wanting to craft things for her “girl”, help me design clothes for it, etc. I think on some level, it is helping her remain comfortable at being a kid instead of rushing into tweeniehood.

    Number two- you don’t HAVE to buy all the stuff. We mainly have only bought dolls- dresses, playfood, etc has been handmade by us or obtained elsewhere on the cheap. There are tons of patterns (even free ones online @ website!) and knockoff clothes, etc you can find once you get in it.

    Number three- you can have your daughter save up for her doll. My aunt (nicknamed Aunt Moneybags), bought my daughter her first doll- one to look like her when she was 6. Last birthday, we went to AG Place in NYC and my daughter spent all her Christmas and birthday fund on the doll SHE wanted- she picked Kaya, the American Indian doll. This doll has the most meaning for her of any of the ones she has. She did get 3 for Xmas this year. Thru a weird event, a doll ended up on our doorstep from AMerican Girl we did not order- & customer service could not take her back (Nicki, the girl of the year)– I saved it until Xmas. Then, our pastor got her one as a special gift (Addy). And a third doll had been resuscitated from a garage sale (Kirsten- I had to fix her hair and make her new clothes).

    And of course- there are many places you can buy these dolls gently used- ebay, collector groups, etc. I happen to hang out on AG Playthings online and have bought from members there. Once you get into it- there are all sorts of creative things happening, like hosting traveling dolls (we did this a few weeks ago), etc.

    You might consider getting knock offs like the Springfield dolls (Michaels or AC Moore) or the Tolly Tots (Target)- but you will be surprised to hear this is not the best idea. The hair and overall quality is so poor, you will be wasting the $20 it costs for the cheaper doll rather than saving it for the better wigged and strung limbed dolls AG offers. (Full disclosure–I own a Springfield for me- bought at 50% off coupon from Michaels– she is my dress/clothing model since I could never wrestle away the real AG girls long enough for fittings).

  7. Monroe on a budget says:

    Frugal living means you can (or should) pick your luxuries. And I think you handled it pretty well.

    My daughter, now 18, had two AG dolls. At least one she had to pool up some gift cash for.

    I bought her AG-size clothes from local crafters. They didn’t cost any less than I could have bought from the catalog, but they were well-made original design outfits.

    When she got too old for the dolls, we packed them up. But I did not let her sell or give away the dolls. I would be willing to adopt at least one of her AG dolls if she really has no interest in them again.

  8. Free From Broke says:

    @ DivaJean – I can see what you mean about the interactivity with the doll already. My daughter almost treats the doll likes it’s a mirror image of herself. Very interesting. It kind of gives us insight into how she sees the world.

    And I’ve seen the Target stuff. Wouldn’t buy their dolls but maybe their accessories.

    @ Blue – We considered online but a big part of the experience was going to the store and seeing everything there and letting her see the dolls up close before she picked hers out.

    @ Monroe – Thanks for the support!

    It’s amazing how popular the American Dolls are! Before last summer I didn’t even know they existed (such is a boy’s life). I’m glad to hear from the people who have bought them and hear that’s it’s such a positive influence!

  9. im 12 years old and i have 7 american girl dolls. i have the one you got for your daughter

  10. @ Diana – Wow, 7 American Girls dolls? I hope you give them all attention and treat them well!

  11. I think you did a great job. You taught her that she would have to take good care of it, and you also taught her that it wouldn’t be handed right to her. She has to work for it and wait.

    I have 6 american girl dolls, but I have been collecting since I was 8. I saved up all my money every year to get a doll. Then i would get 1 as a gift every year.

    So as long as your girl knows that she has to work for it, she is not spoiled. I think she learned a great lesson! And you just can’t match The AG Place experience.

  12. Seems like there’s a good number of people that have more than one doll. But it doesn’t sound like anyone is spoiled; they were all earned which is good to hear!

  13. i have three american girl dolls for sale and itty baby and some accesories anyone interested

  14. I think it’s crazy to spend all of that money on a toy for a child. Especially the Itty Baby dolls. What child around 3 years old needs to play with a toy that costs more than a nice watch or what my monthly utility bill is. And the clothing is more expensive than what I spend on my actual 3 year old. I think that it is crazy for a child to play with a toy that expensive. The only way I can see it being a good appropriate gift is if the child is much older to understand the value of the dolls, and can work to earn it. And AG are made in China, so they really aren’t any different than the other “lesser” brand dolls.

    • @ Mike – Indeed they are expensive and I agree that f a child can’t understand the value then perhaps they shouldn’t have it. I think the age suggestion is 7 on the AG dolls. I do have to say that the quality is pretty good on the dolls and the accesseries.

  15. How wonderful for your daughter! My eight year old wants an AG doll so badly she can taste it. Several of her friends have them. She insists it is what she will ask Santa for this year.

    Do AG dolls appear to be of good quality? yes
    Would my daughter take good care of it? yes
    Does she deserve a $95.00 doll? Yes, that and more.
    Can we afford it? Hell NO!!! Christmas morning is going to stink this year…I feel like crying.

    • Glen Craig says:

      There may be other ways to get one besides buying new. Perhaps you can check eBay or Craiglist? Or get the whole family in on it and have everyone chip in a bit?

      It does hurt when you know your kids want something and you really can’t provide it. I know how it feels.

  16. Colleen says:

    I have ten American girl Dolls and the twin biddy babies all in good condition

  17. Catherine says:

    Trust me- not spoiled. This little girl down the street has fifteen (15!) american girl dolls, numerous outfits, and accessories. She has a whole room filled with them.
    Then I hear the family saying, “Yeah, we might have to move to a smaller house. This one is really hard to afford.
    Too bad they can’t take back the 3000+ dollars spent on dolls for an 8-year-old.

  18. Catherine says:

    Forgot to mention- I have 2 ag dolls, one my parents bought me for Christmas as a sort of “sorry” present- we had to move, and the first few months were hell for me. there was a mean girl on my street, who teased me like crazy, and I didn’t have any friends for a while. I was 7 at the time, most traumatizing experiences of my life. The next one i saved up my money for. i definitely feel like that’s the way to go: if your daughter wants to get another doll, or clothes, start giving her an allowance if she is good. If she gets $5 every week, she will soon have enough, and be acting better as well!

  19. My 6 year old daughter asked for one the other day when the catalog came in the mail and girls in her class have them. I was into getting her one until we added up the outfits, accessories and doll. It was $275!! I remembered target has a knock off that are $35 and the outfits and accessories are half the price. I decided she will be getting one of those this Christmas and maybe the actual AG doll for her birthday in July. Kind of a test to see how well she will actually enjoy it. I don’t think you are spoiling your child especially if you don’t give into every little want. She kept her end of the bargain and deserved it.

    • Glen Craig says:

      We recently got a new catalog in the mail and our 2 yr old loves looking at it. She’s fascinated with the baby AG dolls. She also says she wants two of them. Luckily she doesn’t know the difference between an AG doll and any other doll she has, for the most part.

      The Target version indeed sounds like a nice test run. You could also eventually go the route of buying a real one and getting the knock-off outfits to help save.

  20. These American Girl dolls should be banned as they are not made in America!
    Boycott this store, spend American dollars in America on true American dolls!

    • They’re called “American Girls” not because of where they are made but because of the story of the individual doll. Each doll is made to represent a girl from a specific time period in America’s past. Oh and THEY ARE MADE IN AMERICA! Get you’re facts trait before you post something like that.

      • Actually Brealin, Sunny is correct. They are NOT made in America. They are made in China. Originally, Pleasant Company dolls were manufactured in Wisconsin, but Mattel’s American Girl Dolls are made in China.

  21. No, you are not spoiling her. I grew up having these dolls. The only time I’d get new dolls, outfits, accessories, and such was on my Birthday or Christmas. Very rarely would I get stuff any other time. I loved all my stuff and I even got the Molly trunk one year to store all my doll’s clothes and accessories. I can say that the doll trunks (or something like it) are a must because they keep things nice and organized! My suggestion would be that when she sees all the new and cool stuff in the catalogs that come in the mail ask her to circle maybe 5 outfits that she might want but also tell her that she’ll have to wait for Christmas or her Birthday to get them. Then you can pass on what she’s circled to other family members for gift ideas. That’s what my mom had me do and I had American girl gifts from just about everyone. Oh and one more thing, when it comes to furniture for the dolls look on Amazon because you can find stuff cheaper for a 12 inch. lol. My mom did that too, I had a set of table and chairs and a desk that she found online somewhere. lol.

  22. I think you did a great job by making your little girl wait and by not going overboard with the gifts during holidays and on her birthday. I’ve seen the opposite with my nieces on holidays. They get so much that they sometimes forget what they have. My older niece “lost” her Nintendo DS and didn’t realize it for several weeks. My mother found it and put it up to see how long it took for my niece to realize it was gone. She had begged for the DS for Christmas. I think that they got so much stuff that they didn’t value what they had.
    I’m 30 and still have the American Girl doll that I got for my 9th birthday. It is in great condition because my parents made me wait to get the doll and didn’t go overboard with other toys. I took very special care of her because she meant a lot to me.

    • Glen Craig says:

      Thanks Ali! It can be hard knowing when enough is enough with gifts but once you go too far the kids spoil easily.

      Glad to hear you still value your American Girl. Proof that when you have to sacrifice a little for something it means more to you.

  23. Annalisa says:

    My daughter is 7, and she has 13 American Girl dolls. I know that sounds INSANELY excessive, doesn’t it? In actuality, only one of the dolls was purchased new, and it was a holiday gift from a dear friend of ours. Her second doll was purchased used on eBay by me for her birthday, and I managed to get it at about 45% off of retail. The third doll was a find from Goodwill and only cost me $15, which was just too good to pass up! The final 10 dolls were purchased all together at an estate sale in La Jolla, CA. Some wealthy older woman was apparently a doll collector, and low and behold, she had 10 American Girl dolls in her collection. I’m sure that the original owner would have been horrified to find that her estate’s executor was selling the whole lot of 10 dolls for $200! Considering what great shape they are in, $20 apiece was a phenomenal deal. My daughter takes great care of her dolls. Most of them are on display and still look like new. I know most people would see 13 American Girl dolls in her room and think we must really have our financial priorities out of whack, but in reality they were great investments; once she outgrows them, they’ll still be worth at least twice what I paid for them.

    • Glen Craig says:

      Wow, those are a lot of American Girl dolls.

      But if you can save them as an investment and your daughter takes care of them then I don’t see a problem with it. Not sure I would buy that many but hey, that’s me (I also used to own a ton of comic books and baseball cards).

  24. Amber Michelle says:

    I agree that you handled it well. I only had one ag doll and my parents were poor at the time and sacrificed for it. I’m 25 married, but I still have it, not that I play with the doll anymore, but it stills means alot to me. I agree with the person who compared ag dolls verses barbies/brats. As long as the girls are in love with the books, it promotes learning that lasts throughout their life. If it is simply collecting the dolls (7, 10, ect.) and the focus is the dolls themselves and not the educational books that create the desire to have the doll, then it is just vanity.

  25. I’m thrilled that you got your daughter an AG doll and that she had to wait a bit for it. I know I won’t find it on e-bay as “sat on a shelf” or “hardly played with.” It sounds like she truly wanted one.
    I’ve always loved dolls and vowed that one day I’d have some again. when I retired I bought my first AG doll and I was as thrilled as any child could possibly be. I’m now in my seventies and have six of them. I sew doll clothes for every kid in the neighborhood and every once-in-awhile I sew for my dolls. Happy, happy pastime.
    Since my grandchildren are in their twenties, someday I hope to pass them on to a great granddaughter.

  26. Barbie dolls come and go, but American Girl dolls are forever. My daughter (now 27) got her first AG doll when she was 6.–Samantha–a historic doll. Other have joined the family since and are now stored waiting for the next generation of children to pass them on to.

    Back then, the doll was $50 and that was a stretch at the time. The lasting power of the doll has more than justified the cost. Listen in on children playing with different dolls. A Barbie play session is based on clothing, boy friends, and very materialist wants. An AG session is often nurturing and compassionate. My daughter was very moved by the story of Nellie, Samantha’s companion–a young girl working in the textile mill in the early part of the 20th century. That translated to concern for modern day textile workers in third world countries.

    My daughter saved for doll accessories. We made our own doll clothes and often made production runs of AG doll outfits as birthday party favors. She learned to shop garage sale and thrift stores for other items. I refuse to pay more for a doll dress than I would for a child.

    A word of wisdom, do not let your child sell the doll(s). Tuck them away for the next generation. It is tempting for a teen to sell an AG doll for 50 bucks at a garage sale–looks like a lot of quick, easy money to a kid. They will regret it when they have daughters of their own.

    My Girl Scouts did an annual holiday project where they would pick a child from one of the area giving trees. They wanted a girl and to give a doll. The first year, they read every gift request from the tree and without exception, every doll request was for an AG doll. In order to afford one with limited troop funds, they fund raised through the year and deferred a troop outing to pay for it. We are fortunately located within diving distance of the AG company in Wisconsin and the annual summer sale. The girls bought a doll every summer until they graduated from high school and made clothing for it in anticipation of donating it at holiday time.

    I was very reluctant to get the first AG doll. The values that have been generated by the dolls, their stories and ensuing activities have more than justified the cost.

    As far as the dolls being made in China–unless you want to make your own doll, I doubt will that you will find any brand of doll made in the US. When Pleasant Rowland first started the company, she was committed to having many of the accessories made in this country. She supported many Wisconsin artisans who made among other things: dishes for Kirsten (later made in Portugal) and Kirsten furniture (later made in Taiwan). When Mattel bought the company, everything was outsourced. AG is now the cash cow that is keeping Mattel afloat.

    PS: I have issues with the Julie doll (1970s) being considered “historic.”

  27. Adasha Knight says:

    I was first exposed to this American Girl phenomenon when living in a cul-de-sac my two-year-old granddaughter wanted to play with some eight-year-old girls. One of the girls had the doll and the others did not, however they ALL wanted to play with it The owner of the doll inform them they could not be in her club unless they had one themselves. This caused the others to beg their parents for one so they could be in her “club”. Even at 8 they have the marketing mentality of the company…
    My granddaughter got one from her parents. She also got a similar doll from WalMart and Target. She never played with her AG doll and when asked why, she said “her eyes are creepy.” Bye bye AG doll.

    I have two girls, now 23 and 20. From about age 8, the 20-year old has been a constant struggle with my trying to instill in her that something is not necessarily better because of the name brand. Guess what? Didn’t work. She DOES, however, realize you can buy the same exact thing second hand for a much cheaper price and get more for less.
    But you did not spoil her. you gave her specific things to do to earn the doll and it was a birthday present. The only thing I would suggest is to not let her refer to the doll by it’s brand-name but more so the experience she went through getting the doll. I have to admit, that experience sounds kind of cool…
    Good job, dad!

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