Building a LEGO city on a budget

by admin on November 11, 2019

in Community Articles

(Written by Mark H. Avery)

Am I the only adult fan of LEGO who is on a budget? Am I the only parent who has to have a constraint on my children’s presents? I thought it would be an interesting exercise to see what kind of LEGO city one could build these days with a budget of $500 or even $1,000. For this exercise, I will assume that I would be starting from scratch, owning no LEGO sets at all. I’ll also assume that I can purchase LEGO sets at 20% off the regular list price, which brings the total value of the sets to about $620 ($620 – 20% = $496) and $1,240 ($1,240 – 20% = $992). I’m also limiting myself to sets that I can currently buy at major retailers like Target and Wal-Mart, as well as at official LEGO stores and the Online LEGO Shop.

BUILDING A LEGO CITY – FIRST ROUND PICK OF SETS

Let’s start with the basics. Every town needs and every child wants a police station around, a fire station and a hospital. You should be able to get these around $250 total. The #60215 LEGO City Fire Station is $70, and the #60204 LEGO City Hospital is $100 at full price. As far as police stations, I would go with a standard station like the #60141 LEGO City Police Station for $100, not something like jungle police, forest police, or air police. (And no, I wouldn’t spend $100 on the #60216 LEGO City Fire Brigade.) The above-mentioned three big sets would also give me several vehicles and a medivac helicopter. At full price (hopefully, we can do better), the total price so far is $270.

Depending on what kind of deals I can get, and if I have some money left, I might buy the #60212 LEGO City Barbecue Burn Out at $10 (see below) to have an already designed mini-scene. (The vehicle design from this same set could be used in another color as a utility repair truck of some kind.)

Next, I’d add a few LEGO Creator sets. Let’s start with a couple of houses. The #31080 LEGO Creator Modular Winter Vacation ($35) might be a good place to begin. It is no longer available directly from LEGO, but you can purchase it through Amazon or via local shops. The #31081 LEGO Creator Modular Skate House ($40) is another option. Neither is what I really want in a house but both are at decent price points, and I could rebuild them a little to make them look more like a conventional house. I like the colors of the #41369 LEGO Friends Mia’s House, but $70 for a house seems expensive, especially since I can’t use the three mini-doll figures, and even the animals are not really compatible with Lego City. So, I probably wouldn’t purchase this set. The #31078 LEGO Creator Treehouse Treasures ($30) is a tempting set – if I remove the tree parts and convert the structure into a regular house. Depending on which sets I end up getting and at what price, the total for some basic houses should be around $75.

Now, let’s add the #31097 LEGO Creator Townhouse Pet Shop & Café ($80), which is the big LEGO Creator 3-in-1 building currently available. This would probably be the biggest building in my proposed town. I’d probably also add the #31077 LEGO Creator Modular Sweet Surprises ($40) to add some color and have the beginnings of a real shopping district. The #41344 LEGO Friends Andrea’s Accessories Store ($30), and #41362 LEGO Friends Heartlake City Supermarket ($30) are other smaller stores that are good choices and might fit the budget. I’m budgeting around $140 for stores, so at full price, we are at $485 total.

BUILDING A LEGO CITY – THE TRIMMINGS

I’d be very tempted to buy one of the LEGO City People Packs, perhaps the #60202 LEGO City People Pack Outdoor Adventures (see below). The set goes for $40 but seems to be available on sale these days from several retailers. Fourteen adults and child minifig can help populate my town and add a little action.

I would certainly buy at least one generic LEGO Classic brick box to have pieces to build an original building and to have random pieces available for extra walls and street furniture. The #11005 LEGO Classic Creative Fun set (see below) with 900 pieces for $40 is probably the best price per piece of the lot.

Here’s the one place where I might feel the need to “cheat” a bit and head over to Bricklink.com to buy some windows and doors, both for houses and stores. The LEGO Classic sets have a paucity of windows, so let’s say I spend $40 for them on Bricklink. So far, we are at $120 for trimmings, which brings me to about $610. I’d probably add a #10700 LEGO Green Baseplate for $8 apiece. (I might even consider cutting it to spread out the green space between all the buildings.) So, now I reached the limit of my budget of $620. Again, the actual spending should be $500, as I’m looking to get these sets at a 20% discount.

I wouldn’t bother with road plates with a smaller budget like this. I’d probably use manila or grey folders and draw roads on them. As you can see, with this budget, and with taking advantage of holiday discounts, I should be able to build a nice town for both display and play.

BUILDING A LEGO CITY – DOUBLING THE BUDGET

What happens if I can double my budget to $1,000 ($1,240)? I’d probably consider spending some money on more baseplates and maybe even some road plates. Let’s see how it goes. But what sets should I add?

The #41365 LEGO Friends Emma’s Art Studio ($25) would add another nice store (see above). Maybe I’d consider buying two and either combine them or change some colors and features on the second one, using the LEGO Classic bricks I already purchased in the first round.

The #60232 LEGO City Garage Center at $50 is a LEGO Juniors (now called LEGO 4+) set, but a gas station and car wash would help round out my town and give me three more vehicles (see above). So would the #60220 LEGO City Garbage Truck at $20. So far, that’s $95 for three sets. Then, I would look at some big (at least for me) sets.

The #60200 LEGO City Capital City set at $150 would be tempting. It would give me two buildings, a kiosk, a construction site, and six vehicles, amongst other things. In addition, (if not instead), the new #60233 LEGO City Donut Shop at $90 is a good deal. A toy store and donut shop to add to my shopping area, a construction crane, and four vehicles, including a TV news crew. (I would try to build a little TV headquarters/studio for them with some LEGO Classic set bricks.)

I also really like the new #60203 LEGO City Ski Resort and its colors at $90. I’d have to figure out how to transform it from a winter set to a non-seasonal city set. The rescue base would probably become another house while the sports shop would remain a store. Those three big sets would cost $330 at full price, so we are at $425 total.

For my last $175 or so, I’d probably concentrate on smaller sets. The #41332 LEGO Friends Emma’s Art Stand ($20) from last year could be a nice part of a street or park scene (no longer available directly from LEGO, but you can get it on Amazon). I’ve always liked the #60150 LEGO City Pizza Van ($20). Then there’s the #60239 LEGO City Police Patrol Car ($10). The black and yellow #60219 LEGO City Construction Loader ($10) would add to my construction site. That’s $60 very quickly.

There was a Target exclusive last year; the #40358 LEGO City Bean There, Donut That set. At $20, I thought it was expensive, reduced to $15 it wasn’t bad: four people, a dog, a bicycle, and a little building. It was recently on closeout at $7.50. At this price, I’d buy two for my proposed city.

There are a few other small sets I could add. There’s the #40170 LEGO City Accessory Set ($10) with would give me another bicycle, a fountain, some signs, and a little toll booth. Then there’s the #30364 LEGO City Popcorn Cart, available at Wal-Mart stores for $5.

Still, a few bucks left? Either I’d buy another LEGO Classic box, or I would head back to Bricklink.com for some small trees, bushes, and flowers. Alternatively, I’d purchase a few #40310 LEGO-xtra Botanical Accessories set, although I consider them overpriced. And, if I would have lived near a LEGO store, I’d see what they had on the Pick-A-Brick wall.

BUILDING A LEGO CITY – CONCLUSION

There you have it. No LEGO Creator Expert Modular Buildings, no amusement park, no trains, no airport, spaceport, or seaport. Just a nice, straightforward little town with government services (police, fire, hospital, garbage collection), a nice collection of stores, a gas station, and a few houses. I’d also have about twenty vehicles and a rather nice collection of city minifigures. No, it’s not what some people are showing off on YouTube when they share their LEGO city, but it also doesn’t cost thousands of dollars. It’s a town a kid could enjoy playing with for hours and an adult can enjoy displaying. All within a reasonable budget! Now, if someone wanted to give me a very generous holiday present, a LEGO City train (passenger or freight, I’m not picky) with some extra tracks to circle my town, that would be the icing on the cake.

I should point out that I have not purchased most of these sets for my town – because I already have similar sets from previous years. But some, like the #60233 LEGO City Donut Shop and the #60203 LEGO City Ski Resort is certainly on my shopping list.

What do you think? What would you buy if you were starting a little LEGO city? Did I miss any of your favorites? Your comments are always appreciated! 😉

And you might also like to check out my previous posts:

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Sandra November 11, 2019 at 10:43 AM

Thank you so much for this article. We are on a budget too, and when you and your kids are into multiple themes, things get especially confusing. We have a yearly budget rather than a theme-specific budget. And we also drop hints to friends and family around Christmas and birthdays. 😀

DavidH November 11, 2019 at 12:15 PM

Another thing you can do is to buy multiples of the same set. This gives you more consistency with pieces and colors for larger buildings. City sets are usually very open at the back, which some people don’t like. Usually by buying two of the same set, you can close them up on all sides, and maybe even turn them into a Modular.

Legostuff14 November 11, 2019 at 12:16 PM

I hear you , Sandra. Not only do we drop hints but, it changes periodically. Lol! I’ve alway like the city sets because they can go with anything . From various superheroes and things like space invasion. Right now I’m working on a space station that combines Benny’s space crew and his spaceship. To Alien Conquest meets Galaxy Squad. So, my Christmas list is basically space sets.👨‍🚀🤖👽. What I did to build my city is mix it with my modular buildings. Some sets I create myself like a post office and a news building complete with parking and security. The reason for the news build because of the news van that’s in the grand open of the donut shop set.

brickhead November 11, 2019 at 12:29 PM

I like your approach of starting with some big sets and then using smaller ones as fillers.

Another way you can stay within budget is to restrict the area you’re using for your display. Building a city that’s accessible from all sides (like on a large table), are the most expensive. Especially if you add trains.

If you put your city on a narrow table or shelf next to the wall, you only have to make it look good from the front. A narrow city is also much easier to clean.

LEGOJeff November 11, 2019 at 12:53 PM

Do you use baseplates to tie the sections together? One of my biggest problems is how to flow one section of a display to another. I have seen people just leave plenty of space in between, but I don’t have that luxury. Sections can be separated by roads, forest, lakes, which is usually what I use. But I’m open to other ideas.

BigShawn November 11, 2019 at 2:24 PM

I have a budget, I just never follow through. Haha. But Mark’s way of budgeting might be a better approach. Instead of having a generic budget, have a project budget.

Adam III November 11, 2019 at 2:43 PM

Like others said, the problem is when you have more than one project going on at the same time. If you are only into one theme like city or star wars, etc. budgeting and selecting specific sets is fairly easy. The problem is when you are into several themes at once.

Legostuff14 November 11, 2019 at 4:48 PM

To me the police stations ,fire department and hospitals are fairly simple builds. Sometimes I look at what Lego comes up with and I say ” I can make that “. Except for specialty police stations like the forest police station or the mountain police station. Then I would buy that. I combine my fire station with my Coast Guard Station because of the large fire boat I have and I can make a shoreline so that I have a ocean. I have the prison Island that’s out to. Yes i too have to condense or change scenery to fit certain things in certain ways. I do not use base plates as much as possible because it takes up too much space I guess that’s where the imagination comes in. Except the base plate that comes with the set itself like the building and/ other sets.

gid617 November 11, 2019 at 5:46 PM

Must have been fun to plan this out! 😀 A town like this would have lots of play value too.

Martin November 11, 2019 at 7:41 PM

Another thing is that we can be fairly certain that Lego will always have a police station, fire station, and some city houses. The same can’t be said about other themes. Some sets, like Ideas, the Modulars, when they are gone they are gone. So, if you want them, you have to get them while they are still available.

jabber-baby-wocky November 11, 2019 at 8:16 PM

I’m sorry I missed out on so many of the Elves sets and now they are only available on ebay for high prices. 🙁

Håkan November 11, 2019 at 8:41 PM

Seems like baseplates have mostly fallen out of fashion, although apparently white baseplates would be sold separately next year, according to a rumor.

Alison November 12, 2019 at 7:13 AM

This was a fun read! If I was starting now then I would buy the Friends Italian restaurant as I think it’s so pretty, and quite a different style to the small shops.

Alison November 12, 2019 at 3:40 PM

Oh and I also meant to say, no you’re not the only one on a budget :-). We are on a very very tight budget of money, space and now time as well due to me studying. But that’s ok. There are simply too many sets being released to be able to have them all or even all the best ones, now anyway, unless you have an absolutely enormous house and huge budget. I am still adding to my winter village though, for now. It’s my favourite theme and so my one splurge for the year.

Håkan November 12, 2019 at 7:22 PM

Considering budget, you could occasionally find good second hand deals at thrift stores, garage sales or online listings. But even I have time and space problems, although I might possibly build up a compact space base on my workdesk next to my laptop the upcoming spring. (And put the rest of the collection under my bed or hidden away in cabinets.)

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