Know what you want. A lot of time and money can be wasted by buying up lots of items that you end up not really wanting later. Sit down, examine why you want to start a collection (because you want to relive memories, you want to preserve history, its fun, you want to share your old toys with your kids) and go from there. If you know what you want you will most certainly not waste money buying up sheets, dishes, books and other branded merchandise that later clutters your home.
Be Patient. You have an entire lifetime to collect. The temptation to max out your credit card to feed your toy obsession is fierce. You start to get this feeling that if you don't buy that super expensive piece now, you will never see it again. Remember, if there is a toy up on eBay today, chances are very good it will be there tomorrow. Even the very rare items. You have your entire lifetime to collect. Make sure you wait for a good deal.
Look for lots. Buying things in bulk can save you a lot of money in the long run. Four-hundred dollars for a complete collection of Strawberry Shortcake dolls might seem like a lot. But when you look back at sold items, tally in shipping costs for each individual doll that you might have paid, plus the competition for that one last piece factor, you will have saved money in the long run. This is a pretty obvious tip, I know. But sometimes it is hard to save your money for that big lot.
Never rack up debt to feed your toy wants. Period. You will end up selling those toys years down the road to unload the debt. This doesn't even factor in the interest.
Look for mint. I learned pretty quickly that buying lots of junk lots, TLC dolls and mismatched parts not only drags me down, it ends up costing me MORE in the long run! Trust me, you will feel the same when you have an army of sticky, cancer-spotted dolls. Later you will experience a powerful urge to replace them with mint items. Then you will have bought the same item twice. So save yourself some money and time. Buy mint, buy complete--the first time, if possible.
Buy during market downs. Buy low, sell high. This is an old motto, yes, but I am speaking of entire lines of toys. For example, did you know that Care Bear prices have dropped over 60% over the past six years? Why? The invasion of new Care Bear products of course. On the flipside, Glo Friends have gone up quite a bit this year, with Glo Land routinely going for over $200 as opposed to the $30 it cost last year. So, if you collect in different toy lines, focus on the ones that are being given away at the moment. Do your research and watch the market carefully. Chances are the one that is expensive now will plummet at some point.
Keep an eye on message boards, Craigslist, and local ads. Most of you already do this but it does pay off. You can often find better deals outside of eBay.
Think like a non-collector. I can't tell you how many times I have seen mislabeled lots, hidden jewels among common toys and poorly priced bunches. The best deals come from people who don't collect. They can underestimate values and misspell title words and all sorts of funny stuff. Keep your eye out.
Thrift, garage sale, antique stores, etc. The more you go, the more you'll find.
Observe the rule of halves. Let's say you are looking at a lot of dolls that starts at $5. You have done your research and decided that the lot is really worth about $40. You now have a choice: freak out and bid the highest possible price because you want it so badly you might pee your pants with desire. OR--you can decide what you will pay by splitting the value in half and only bidding that much. Remember to factor shipping into the mix. Decide right then that you will only pay $20 for the lot, no matter what happens. That way you are guaranteed to get a good deal.
Bid on auctions at the last possible moment. If you bid three days before the auctions end, you will pay more. People will try and outbid you. See tip ten and decide what you will pay before you get that rush of bidding excitement. Beware! Emotion makes you spend more. Put that number in the box and walk away. There is another deal coming.
Set a budget. This probably should have been tip #2 but I am too lazy to go stick it up there :) Decide what you can reasonably spend on toys per month. Even if it's a small amount like, say $15. If you have a budget then your options narrow quite a bit. You can't go nuts buying up big lots and getting yourself into debt. Suddenly your goal will be to get as many toys as possible for as little money as possible. It will force you to get a good deal.
Don't focus on what you don't have. If possible, do everything in your power to appreciate the pieces you do have. If you focus on what you don't have, you will always feel dissatisfied by your collection. Dissatisfaction will lead you to spend more money than you should in order to fill that void. Let me tell you, the void cannot be filled. It's better to switch your focus off of it and onto an attitude of gratefulness.
I hope you enjoyed those tips! Happy collecting!