If you're like my family, your kids have gotten a hold of a Sharpie and the toy ads and have let you know exactly what they want this year.

Or, maybe you're minding your own business, painting, or making dinner, and you hear "Mom, hurry! Come here, quick!"

So you go running across the house, thinking your precious child must be bleeding or stuck under the couch, only to see a commercial for the newest Hot Wheels toy on TV.

"You should get me this for Christmas or my birthday."

Gotta love them, right?

I went out this past week to scope out some of the popular toys to compare prices and to see which stores are carrying what.

If you have a daughter, you can always fall back on Disney Princesses.

The newest to join the ranks is Merida from "Brave" -the crazy haired, strong-spirited teen determined to write her own destiny and only marry when she is in love with the man of her choosing. (It's about time they get it right.)

There are plenty of Merida toys this season, including dolls, dress-up clothes and a bow-and-arrow set.

Lego brought out a new line geared more toward girls called Lego Friends, with several play sets including Heartlake Stables, Olivia's House and Heartlake Vet.

Speaking of Lego, they have another line called Monster Fighters -play sets include Vampyre Castle, the Ghost Train and Vampyre Hearse.

I was pretty surprised to see some old-school stuff - like Furby, Rock'em Sock'em Robots and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Leapfrog's newest in educational items is the Leap Pad 2 Explorer, which looks like a mini iPad.

I personally love the Leapfrog products. They're educational, fun and cover a large age range (3-9 for Leap Pad), so they can be used for years, which makes it a little easier to swallow the nearly $100 price tag.

Supplies seemed to be pretty good right now.

But a friend with several daughters said the Monster High Dolls, for instance, are really popular and have become hard to find closer to Christmas. She said she sees them on eBay for triple the retail amount after the stores run out.

There are some ways to make finding the popular toys easier.

Timetoplaymag.com says Friday afternoons are a good time to shop because the stores are more stocked for the weekend, and you beat the weekend traffic.

Check online to see where toys are in stock before driving around town. Many stores offer ship to store options or same-day delivery.

A good idea I found on msnbc.com is to enlist your friends. Swap lists with them. If one of you finds something on the other's list, grab it and swap later.

Don't wait until Black Friday. If you see something you know you really want to buy, grab it. Otherwise, somebody else might beat you to it.

Popular toys 2012

Here are some price comparisons done Wednesday and Thursday in Tucson stores.

For toddlers

• Master Moves Mickey, ages 2 and up, $49.99 at Toys R Us; $49.97 at Walmart; $59.99 at Target; $69.99 at Kmart.

• Thomas & Friends Steam 'n Speed R/C Thomas, ages 3 and up, $39.99 at Kmart; $44.99 at Toys R Us and Target .

• Jake and the Never Land Pirates - Jake's Musical Pirate Ship Bucky, ages 2-5, $38.89 at Walmart; $39.99 at Toys R Us; $49.99 at Kmart.

Toys for girls

• Doc McStuffins Time for Your Checkup Doll, ages 3-6, $29.99 at Toys R Us; $44.99 at Kmart.

• Lalaloopsy Silly Hair Star Doll, ages 4 and up, $49.80 at Walmart; $49.99 at Toys R Us and Target; $59.99 at Kmart.

• Barbie Photo Fashion Doll, ages 6 and over, $39.99 at Toys R Us and Target.

• Monster High Ghouls Rule Dolls, ages 6 and over, $24.99 at Toys R Us; $19.97 at Walmart. Target and Kmart didn't have the Ghouls Rule line when I was there, but did have others.

• Lego Friends, Heartlake Stables, ages 6-12, $59.99 at Toys R Us; $49.99 at Target; $45.70 at Walmart.

Toys for Boys

• The Amazing Spiderman Mega Blaster Web Shooter, ages 5 and up, $15.97 at Walmart; $15.99 at Target; $16.99 at Kmart; $19.99 at Toys R Us.

• Air Hogs Battle Tracker, 10 and over, $84.99 at Toys R Us and Target; $69.88 at Walmart.

• Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures, ages 4 and up, $9.99 at Toys R Us; $8.99 at Target; $7.99 at Kmart.

• Lego, Monster Fighters, The Vampyre Castle, ages 9-14, $90.97 at Walmart; $99.99 at Kmart; 109.99 at Toys R Us.

• Hot Wheels Terrain Twister, ages 8 and over, $99.99 at Toys R Us and Kmart; $79.99 at Target; $79.88 at Walmart.

Electronics for kids

• Leapfrog Leapster GS Explorer, ages 3 and up, $69.99 at Kmart, Target, Toys R Us.

• Leapfrog LeapPad 2, ages 3-9, $99.99 at Toys R Us, Kmart and Target; $99 at Walmart.

• Vtech InnoTab Learning Tablet, ages 3 and up, $69.99 at Toys R Us and Target, $99.99 at Kmart.

• Nintendo WiiU will be released today. 8 GB Basic Set Console $299.99 at Target; $299.96 at Walmart. Toys R Us price unavailable.

App Toys

• Little Tikes iTikes Canvas, ages 3 and up, $39.99 at Toys R Us, Target and Kmart; $34.97 at Walmart.

Money saving tips

Set a budget per person in your family. Stick to it!

Get one thing they really want and a couple smaller gifts.

Young kids don't care about brands. Take advantage of that.

Shop around. I've seen as much as a $20 difference on some toys.

Most stores have their own line of toys for a lot less.

Don't forget the classics. Packs of Play-Doh start around $3.

Gifts that engage kids like arts and craft supplies are fun and can be pretty inexpensive.

There is nothing wrong with buying used.

If you have a large family, draw names.

Don't forget to send in rebates.

Get wrapping paper and bags at the dollar store.

If you can't afford it all at once, layaway is back. Just watch fees and payment schedules.

Only get gifts your kids will still be interested in after Christmas morning.

Some popular toys have smaller versions that cost less.

Reader Ann Irwin suggests having back-up items on the shopping list.

She also said to keep receipts together to make it easier to add up what you've spent.

Look for last year's version of certain toys like Leap Frog's LeapPad and Leapster. You'll save about $20.

Check the discount stores like Big Lots or Ross. They carry a lot of name brand items for less.

Star reporter Angela Pittenger, our "Centsible Mom," shares tips, ideas and news about how Tucson consumers can find value and stretch their budgets. Send suggestions, ideas or questions to her at apitteng@azstarnet.com or 573-4137.