I favor the wood and plastic over the metal swings for two reasons:
2. There are not as many feature options (rope ladders, climbing walls, etc.).
With that being said, there are a TON of options in the way of play equipment in the backyard that are more affordable than a full swing set if you cannot afford a big purchase. Here are a few suggestions along with their typical price range:
Amazon and Hearth Song both have great affordable options priced at $49-$55 depending on length and weight restrictions. These are an AWESOME addition to a backyard of any size and of course require adult supervision if you have it placed high off of the ground. Also a great therapy for children needing to build upper-body strength or seeking sensory input. You can attach them in between two trees, to a clubhouse, or add some cement and a post into the ground! Ours gets a lot of use and the kids can access it just standing on the ground!
Tires, Tires, Tires!:
Teeter Totters & See Saws:
There are a huge variety of different types of Teeter Totters available which cost anywhere from about $50-$200+. Step2 has just put out a plastic one which can be used indoors or outdoors; the TP Spiro Bouncer is really cool and is geared for ages 5 and under. Hearth Song also has a really great affordable weather-resistant spinning see saw! And Little Tikes has a rocker see saw type toy for younger kids.
Sand Box / Sand Tables:
This is one of our favorite outdoor play items and incredibly useful for special needs children as well. We’ve had our table for 7 years now and it’s still in great shape. My kids have spent countless hours in their sandboxes and even once converted it into a garden!
They typically run about $50 give or take a bit and can go up in the hundreds if you want a fancy one. There are two types of sandboxes – the large ones you sit in and the sand tables. Then of course you have water tables, and sand/water tables too!
(TIP – You can buy CHEAP play sand at Lowe’s or Home Depot for about $3 per 50 lbs.!) If you want a cheaper temporary alternative the plastic kiddie pools at Walmart run about $8-15 and work well too – just make sure to cover it so it doesn’t get muddy or become the neighborhood litter box!
Sand Digger Cranes:
Another affordable option for your backyard is a Sand Digger Crane. HearthSong has the best quality and most affordable I’ve seen for about $40 – and it’s made of steel! They also have one listed on Amazon for about the same price. (TIP – You can buy CHEAP play sand at Lowe’s or Home Depot for about $3 per 50 lbs.!)
Don’t underestimate the play power of hop balls!! My kids have spent OODLES of time on their hop balls! You can find them for about $10 in stores and online for elementary age and younger pretty easily. Amazon has all sorts of inflatable hoppers from horses to cows and rhinos! My boys really love their cow hopper!
Geometric Dome Climbers:
On the pricier end of outside play equipment, but still cheaper than a swing set is the geometric dome climbers. You can typically find these priced at about $150+.
Playhouse / Cottage:
Another option to consider would be a trampoline which run in a wide price range depending on size, safety net, etc. – whether a small indoor one or a larger one for outside. You can even buy a trampoline tent to go over the top to let the kids sleep out there at night! First double check with your home insurance and make sure they allow trampolines in your coverage.
Maybe not quite a climbing structure but having a pool is one of the best things we’ve done for our kids in the summer. Overall it was cheaper for us than buying a local pool pass and it’s right in the backyard! We purchased ours half off after the summer season one year and saved a bundle! Again, double check with your home insurance and their rule on pools.
Tree Fort or Clubhouse –
If you or someone you know is handy with some wood and tools you can certainly buy all of the materials you will need for a tree fort or clubhouse for far under $200 depending on how savvy you are! We used old recycled wooden pallets for the bottom of our tree fort / clubhouse and then plywood and shingles up on top – the whole project including buying OOPS paint was under $100!