Sensible Budgeting for Souvenirs

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My wife walked into our study – so-called the Yankees room – adorned with retired jerseys, souvenirs from baseball games, and posed figures clutching bats and blocking home plate. As she does before mentioning something that she likes, she led with a phrase meant as more than subtext, “I know I shouldn’t be mentioning this…,” and she referred me to the Disney online store where new souvenirs from the Haunted Mansion collection had just been launched. I have a terrible habit of keeping a record of everything my wife mentions that she even has a slight interest in, and putting it in the cart. By ‘putting it in the cart,’ I mean ordering it as soon as she leaves the room – to be delivered for our next Disney trip. In contrast, this time she was adamant that I absolutely not order the really great new shirts emulating the cast members. One was a maid, and the other was the ghost host. So this time, I needed to wait until the next morning to look it up. By then, the shirt had sold out, and my continued checking found it unavailable. Frankly, this was an item that even I really wanted, and although the ghost host shirt remained, it was available only in a men’s small that certainly wouldn’t fit my frame.

Immediately, I was dismayed. Not at the loss of the item – but knowing that if I really wanted to find it, I would probably have to wait months to find it in the new Memento Mori shop. As a reforming hoarder (code: still really terrible hoarder), I constantly need to remind myself to slow down and relax. Even if I couldn’t immediately find an item, more than likely something pretty great would come down the line.

Comic Collector's hoard
Comic Collector’s hoard

I come from a nasty collector’s history. I started collecting comic books in middle school, and really read like crazy during the era when comic book values had been skyrocketing over demand. Nearly any book with a hot character could be relatively assured to increase in price if just held for a few years. My spare nickels all went into a fund for comics, and my collection took over my spare space. I later categorized them by value. Like nearly everyone else, I went to college, causing my spare nickels to disappear. My comic habit eventually stopped. The collecting industry as a whole dried up, and values plummeted. Nearly every hoarder dumped entire collections onto the public, and outside of a few key issues, values dropped. When I returned to check years later, it turned out that only a few books retained any value, and the industry had changed drastically. Comics, like many other industries, were now producing books for the collectors: limited editions, variants, hidden gems. The old practice of holding onto a book for a few years had nearly disappeared – outside of a few key elements. I started collecting again, and my mentality of ‘owning it all’ came back again.

When I first travelled to Disney World, my searching-for-the-souvenirs mentality came back. I decided to focus on only a few items – like the Star Wars themed Mr. Potato Head toys. Seeing it as limited set of five toys, I thought I could buy them and then ‘be done.’ Of course, the line returned to an old collector/hoarder’s worst enemy: retirement.

With any high-demand item, a producer often eliminates an item or two, or changes or replaces a feature. The older one stops production, and supply of an old item ends. As a result, newer collectors seeking to ‘complete their collection’ start to hit eBay to pay crazy amounts of money for items that can complete a collection. My advice? STOP RIGHT THERE! You are going down the rabbit hole. I’ve been there. Don’t follow. If you decide to go down the route of a Disney collection, be aware of a few things before you decide to buy.

Pay only what you would pay to own that item. I’ve been burned on this one too many times. Don’t look at the current value of an item – that will fluctuate. Just because an item sold for a certain number of dollars, doesn’t mean that item is worth that much money. Any number of things could drive the value of an item up or down. If it seems too expensive, pass.

Our Ears Hoard - from Every Trip
Our Ears Hoard – from Every Trip

Focus your collection on to a few limited interest items. Hundreds and hundreds of souvenirs are sold every day at Disney World. It’s relatively easy to fall down a path of collection – thinking that only a few more items will complete any collection. If demand exists for an item, Disney will always make more. That means that your complete Mr. Potato Head Star Wars collection will have a few more variants next year – and re-introductions with slight alterations, too. New clothes, new accessories, a slightly different expression, etc. all get a re-release. No matter how many times a film drops into a Disney vault, it will more than likely get a re-release at some time down the road (Song of the South exempted, of course). If you try to own all the versions of every release ever, you will only get disappointed.

Limited edition usually isn’t that limited. Collectible doesn’t mean resellable. Any item ever sold anywhere can be labeled as limited. It only means that sometime it will stop. It doesn’t guarantee that it can be resold by anyone. In my experience, I usually equate ‘limited’ and ‘collectible’ as synonyms for ‘valueless.’ We really have no ability to know the true number of any item sold, and even less ability to really speculate on possible future demand.

Condition can determine collectible nature. Over the past year, a copy of Action Comics #1 sold for $3.2 million. Another copy sold for $250,000. That’s still a big chunk of change, but nearly every time something is done to a collectible, it drops in value. Remove from the package? Take off its tags? Wear it? Live in a home with a smoker? All of these things can lower the value of an investment. Certainly you should never purchase any item just for the possible increase in value in the future, but any changes to that item may lower its value as a collectible.

Past experience will not guarantee future investment value. I love the Disney World monorail set. When Disney discontinued a few sets, their value increase exponentially. eBay sets of the Grand Floridian, Polynesian, and even the sign set shot up in value. As a result, sales of the Space Mountain set, Epcot, and others went up. Now, they’ve retired, but sales of them on eBay have been relatively stagnant – with only a few in perfect condition able to be sold for their previous purchase price. Too many people saw the potential for investment, jumped on the wagon, and and tried to cash in.

Have a tradition, and maintain it. When I was a child, I still remember going to Jeff Cottrill’s house up the road. On top of a cabinet, the family set of personalized Mickey ears sat. When we finally made it to Disney World, I wanted a set of classic Mickey ears for myself. My parents thought it a foolish expenditure, and instead bought me a shirt. I liked it, but years later, we got a family set – each person selecting a hat. Now, on every visit, we get ears for each person. I have been known to purchase multiple ears for each person, too. For our next visit, each person already has two different NEW sets. We haven’t even left yet. Yes, I have a problem. But with my focus on two collectibles, I can budget for the souvenirs, too. Now all of our ears sit on display, as memories of each visit.

Christmas Ornaments. Don't tell! They're presents!
Christmas Ornaments. Don’t tell! They’re presents!

Don’t be afraid to break stride and buy one or two things outside of your plans. You never can tell what you might run across, and even the tightest of purse strings may open just a bit for an unusual collector. Nearly anywhere a strange item may raise its head. We ran across a Disney outlet in Detroit that had a great assortment of Halloween costumes, Disney pullovers, and items for our upcoming trip. We weren’t planning on anything, but ran across a treasure trove of great stuff!

If you miss the boat, more than likely demand will return it again. This is one that I nearly always have trouble following. I built a monorail train to run around our tree this year. Many monorail playsets have been sold over the years: trains, Epcot, Dumbo, Haunted Mansion, the Tree of Life, and many, many more far beyond the running of the rails. I knew that I JUST wanted the train to run around the tree; that set is nearly always available, although the color choices can vary. When I built that, I longed for the Contemporary Hotel – also available. The Polynesian and Grand Floridian, however… Unavailable. So I hit up eBay. Violating my own rules. I probably spent more on the hotels than I should have, but now my monorail feels complete. Ish. See, the signs outside and the representation of the Transportation and Ticket Center? Still not available. And although I have jumped too far to find those hotels, I now wait patiently for the others to return.

Above all, love what you are doing. I have been a slave to my own collections. Frequently, I have purchased numerous items just to keep up with my collection. My own comic book collection, vacillating between reading for enjoyment and hoarding to keep up with my paces, has often gotten out of my control. Make certain to enjoy what you are buying – and getting only what you – or your family – truly plan on using. Love that Goofy hat? Great. Take a picture – and then put it back on the shelf. Stay ahead of your collecting. And enjoy what you do.

Every time I head to Disney World – we do so with one small suitcase filled with snacks, breakfast foods, and a bottle of shelf-friendly almond mild to put into our coffee. We know that we will fill it with souvenirs and t-shirts. Just remember that when you are opening your wallet – that you are buying mementos that you really want to remember your trip with. But truly, if anyone has a good lead on the monorail Transportation and Ticket Center – or even better, the Lincoln Logs Wilderness Lodge, let me know. I’ve got a spot worked out under our tree this year. Thanks in advance!

Kevin Bastos

Kevin has taught high school since 1998, and loved Disney World since a 2009 visit with his wife and three daughters. He loves the planning stages of the vacation, and tends to focus on details (while his wife manages the big picture). He also collects comic books, and sometimes maintains a blog reading them. You can follow my twitter @kevin_m_bastos.

2 thoughts on “Sensible Budgeting for Souvenirs

  • November 23, 2014 at 8:35 am
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    Disney used to sell special PEZ at the parks in designs you could only get there. Do they still do that?

  • November 23, 2014 at 11:07 am
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    Thanks for a great article! I am a hoarder myself and it’s nice to read about other people with the same affliction. I have the Wilderness Lodge set, a purchase made when I really couldn’t afford it, and I’ve now moved it three times without ever having set it up. I’m not even 100% sure where it is in the house but I know that if I didn’t have it there would be a hole in my heart. Good luck tracking down your T-shirts!

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