Before you leave for Disney World, you will tell your three adorable children that each is allowed to buy one souvenir costing under five dollars while there. They will acquiesce gracefully, proceed to thoughtfully choose one souvenir apiece the second day you are there, and never ask to buy anything else during the trip.
At what point did you start laughing hysterically? (Or if you didn’t, and you recognize your own family in that depiction, please let us know promptly how you accomplished it!)
Souvenirs–or, to put it bluntly, buying stuff–are one of the biggest delights and biggest headaches of a Disney World vacation with kids. Good intentions, not to mention your budget, can fly out the window in the face of the adorable stuffed Pluto that you didn’t see anywhere else, or that pin that will round out your collection so nicely, or those pajamas that match your daughter’s furry slippers.
What to do? There’s no one right answer, of course, but you can make it easier on everyone by keeping the following in mind.
Set a budget.
“Tell me something I don’t know,” you are now saying. We hear you. But there are different ways to do this, some more successful than others.
Kids often have trouble with the concept of money. (News flash: so do many adults.) One way to help is to illustrate a nebulous idea ($5.00) with concrete evidence (e.g., $5.00 equals 3 Disney cookies). That will give your child a sense of what she has to spend. Do this kind of exercise (several times) before you leave on vacation so the child is used to equating a certain amount of money with certain items.
This will all be for naught once you actually set foot in the gift shop near Space Mountain, of course. However, give your child a set amount of money to spend ($20). And it is important to figure out ahead of time exactly where this money is coming from: Is it allowance? Are mom and dad chipping in some? If this is the amount that your child really has, then stick to it. Set some guidelines.
Now think about some rules. Many parents caution their kids not to buy the first thing they see, which seems like good advice. But what if on the first day little Trish sees something at Animal Kingdom that isn’t sold back at the hotel? Should she buy it? Should you cave and give her money? There’s no one right answer, but you will come upon many situations like this, where your child insists that, ”If I get this one thing I will never ever ask for anything ever again.” Regardless of whether mom or dad says, “Yes,” it’s one reason you see so many meltdowns on vacations–there’s just so much stuff and, frankly, who doesn’t want it all?
If your child is 100 percent sure this item is The One, then fine. Make sure she understands that it means that if she buys this item today, then she can’t buy something tomorrow. But if she’s wavering, find out where else it’s sold, then do the “live with it” scenario. Tell your child if he still wants it in 24 hours, he can get it. If nothing else has managed to replace it, it’s a go.
Now let’s say your child has accepted these rules–but the money is gone on the third day, and on the fourth, he sees a Mickey Mouse play set he can’t live without.
Well, clearly he can live without it (although at that moment he may feel like he can’t), so here’s where you need advance planning for just this kind of situation. Since you know this kind of thing will come up, figure out some solutions ahead of time.
Some parents put aside an extra amount of money for situations like this. They can either give it to their child (“it’s for special treats”) or buy it themselves and put it away for a later date. One word of advice: always put aside some “extra” money for the end of the trip. Maybe this is money that you put aside ahead of time. Maybe this is a birthday check or part of your child’s allowance.
Then decide how this item will make an appearance—on the plane on the way back? Right then and there? If you present the item while you’re still down there, make sure your child knows it’s a one-time thing so he doesn’t expect money to just keep appearing every time he wants something.
And remember (surprise!) that sometimes you will just have to say no. Your your child has lived through disappointment before, she will live through it again, and she will absolutely survive without that Daisy Duck sticker set if need be.
You can try to ration money so kids have a little to spend each day. For some kids, it’s the hunt; for others, it’s the acquisition. Know thy child.
Also figure out: Who holds the money? Do kids get it all at once?
Some parents set aside shopping days rather than spreading it out. Kids can browse, keep lists, and then purchase, say, on the third day and the last day of the trip. This technique makes it easier for some kids—the decision has been taken away. This gives them a chance to plan out what they really want.
Sometimes it really helps to get kids to focus on why they want something—it’s hard not to be acquisitive when faced with aisles and aisles of Disney merchandise. If you point out, however, that your son never wears a watch, or that the bathing suit your daughter is admiring only goes up to size 2, you can help your child in the right direction.
You can also give kids a little money to buy gifts for other people—it takes their minds off themselves and still fulfills the shopping urge.
So set rules and stick to them, but leave a little wiggle room; it is Disney World, after all! Budgeting and planning are important, but so are some little treats along the way.
Do you have any tips on kids and souvenirs at Disney? Let us know!