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Souvenirs for Kids Without Pain: Some Hard-Won Advice

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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.

Other Tips

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!

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Evan Levy

Evan Levy likes baking cupcakes, hanging out with her family, and all things Disney.

39 thoughts on “Souvenirs for Kids Without Pain: Some Hard-Won Advice

  • I wish this worked on husbands. 🙂

  • Each time, my kids have taken whatever money they have saved. Depends on the child as to how much that is. Before the trip, I also take all the coins from the “coin jar” to the bank–they can take that money, also. With my oldest (almost 9 at the time), I divided her money and gave her a portion each day to spend how she pleased. After day 1, she had a very good understanding as to how quickly that money could go and she spent fairly wisely on things she really wanted. With my younger kids, I held onto their money. Overall, I was surprised they were pretty thoughtful when it came to spending. I will add that I brought along a “super sale” Disney t-shirt or two that I’d purchased for each child at either Walmart or the Disney store for about $5 each. That took care of the need for new, overpriced Disney clothes. I also bought “ugly” pin trader sets from ebay so we didn’t have to spend money on pins to trade, just pins that they really wanted to keep…

  • Our strategy is simple: we don’t go into the stores! You guys are all right that the souvenirs are things we will never use at home, so we avoid stores like the plague. This means not visiting Downtown Disney (If you don’t want to shop, what’s the point?) and never ducking into the stores on Main Street at MK.

    Now there are some stores you simply can’t avoid, primarily the ones at the exits to various rides. The key here is to be 100% focused on YOUR NEXT RIDE. “But Mom, I want to see…” can easily be quieted with, “We have Fastpasses for Space Mountain and if we don’t get there in the next 5 minutes we’re not going too be able to ride!” or some other such thing. This takes the kids’ attention away from the shop goodies (heck, if you’re fast enough you can be out of the store, dragging your child by the hand, before you’re done with your explanation) and puts it back onto the next attraction.

    Trust me, our kids would get the ‘buy-me’s… but we don’t let them! What usually ends up happening is that we get to the last day of the trip and then remind the kids that they each get a souvenir, The last day we’ll spend a minimal amount of time letting them look, and then that’s it. End of story.

    Oh yeah, and we’re real hardcases with the ‘no, you already bought something so too darn bad if you want something else’ line. Yes, it might break your heart, but if you follow through with it once, the kids will KNOW you mean it next trip.

    And just so we don’t seem like mean, spiteful parents, we do vacation a lot (once or twice a year, attempting to get to WDW or DL at least once a year) so there’s always a ‘next trip’ on the horizon. 😉

  • We’ve made the mistake of NOT buying when we saw it…and paid for mail order (shipping is reasonably priced – but does add to the cost compared to having bought it in on property).
    Sometimes the item is not available in the locations you were planning to go next – and you have to make a trip back to get the item. Not always convenient (loss of time and/or cost).

    We now BUY it when we see it, because (as long as you have the receipt) you can return it to almost any Resort or Theme Park while you are still there, if you change your mind or find something more precious. We make any returns on the last full day there (not the day we’re rushing to leave).
    (note: always ask if the item you are buying is returnable at your Resort or at another Theme Park if you plan to do this. We’ve always be told “yes” – but there might be exceptions.)

    That being said, our favorite NOT returnable souvenirs are pressed pennies (costing 51 cents each: 2 quarters and the penny that gets pressed).
    This is our favorite listing of all the coins:

  • We do the gift card idea. We buy the card and put $20 on it when we book our trip (usually a year out). Then any money the kids get through the year goes on the card. Birthday money, report card money, whatever. We give even them the options for things like birthdays and Christmas…do you want that big party at Chuck E Cheese or do you want the money I would have spent to put on your card? I’m sure you can guess what they choose. Then by the time we get to Disney they have plenty and I have no issue saying “once it’s gone…it’s gone”.

  • Our first trip as a family my daughter was 3. We created a list of things we had seen in videos, in books, in friends pics that she would “need” while in The World.
    The list included particular snacks (X# per week), Face Painting in each park, Temp Tattoos, a small plush, a tierra, a necklace ring or necklace, a pin, .. You get the idea. We made coupons for each item and my daughter carried them in her little backpack. Each time she saw something she wanted, she pulled out her packet of coupons and handed me the coupon. It worked magically. We did this her first 2 or 3 trips and after that she knew what her “budget” was. Anytime I help a friend plan their visit, I reprint the coupons with their child’s name.

    • I love this idea! My girls are 2, 4, 6 and we will be making our first trip to Disneyland in a few months. The two younger kids don’t have a concept of money but the coupon book is a great idea so they still have to ‘pay’ with something to get the item they want. I would love to have a list of ‘coupons’ that you use.

      • We used this idea really effectively on our last trip when our children were 10,10 and 5, but with a twist.
        I was too lazy to print coupons so I raided our Monopoly set and instead of giving our girls real cash they had monopoly notes (each day for the little one and the whole lot for the older ones). When they wanted to buy something they gave me the note and I bought it on my card and gave them small change. That way they had their ‘own’ money but I wasnt worried about them losing it. Will probably do it again next month even though they are now 12,12 and 7.

  • We go the budget route also, but with a little twist. We tell our kids that we will spend a certain amount of money on “extras”(usually around $50). They then have the choice to take the money and spend it on things (like my son decided to do this time) or experiences like The Pirates League (like my daughter decided to do). During the year, they also save some of their weekly allowance to bring on our trip. They can then spend this money however they please. Although we advise them to wait and make sure that they want something before they buy it, the decision is ultimately theirs. Of course, this has led to some “hard lessons” in the past, but we rarely have issues now!

  • For my 9-year-old, I agree to buy one shirt per trip. Anything else he wants is on him. It is amazing how many more chores he is willing to do to earn money for a Disney trip. He can decide how much he wants to earn and how much he wants to spend each trip. This has worked well for the past two years (three trips). He is very careful about how he spends his hard earned money, and by sticking to the one shirt deal, I can afford to surprise him if want to.

  • Our two children are married now with little ones of their own but their first trip to Disney was when they were 3 and 4 years old. We did a combination of all the suggestions. However, our primary guideline was: are you going to wear/use that once we get home? “Yeah, we all love Goofy and that hat is fantastic but when will you wear it again?” It made them think carefully about their purchases.

  • Great ideas everyone!! We are envelope people. We do everything in envelopes all marked. I put money in each one for each day of food we will need. If we don’t spend it all extra goes in next day. Kids had their envelopes with spending money also- but i held them. Lot of times we had them save birthday and or Christmas money for the trip. We would put some in and they would put some in so they got the idea of using their own money too. We also did the pin route. I bought 50-75 pins one year on Ebay and we used these as traders. Much cheaper then buying pins at the park for trading. Doing pin trading with cast members was fun and took the place of shopping sometimes. The boys had cork boards at home and when we returned they would organize their new pins- was fun. There are also lot of free or next to free things to collect at the parks. Some may seem silly but my son who is 19yo now has turned into a Disney History fanatic and having some of these older things are great. Son has a great button collection from over the years. Most buttons are free and they give them out for all kinds of occasions- birthdays, first visits, park anniversary’s so on. Park maps are excellent to collect. We have park maps from every park since our first trip. I have added to their collection over the years by going to Ebay and buying maps from parks in other counties and buttons from other parks we haven’t been to. Never overlook things- I have napkins from WDW from the Millennium. Stickers and post cards are great also. You just have to experiment and see what works for you and your family and most of all have fun!!

  • For trips with my nephews and little cousins, we often have them take a photo of things that they *have to have right this second*, and then walk away from it. The adults in the group will also take a photo of the SKU and price.

    Towards the end of the trip, we go through the photos and pick out the thing(s) that they still *have to have right this second*, and dependent on that trip’s budget, we work with them to figure out what to actually buy. Even at 5 and 6, my nephews had a great command of the idea that they could get that awesome monorail set and nothing else, or a few plushes/shirts/toys/etc. It seems to limit the amount of impulse shopping, and helps keep everyone on budget.

    Additionally, since we have the SKUs and the prices, if we can’t find it again, it’s out of stock at that moment, and isn’t available online, we can order it by phone/email through the merchandise guest services group once everyone’s gone home.

  • My 6 year old saved all of her own spending money for our trip. She saved tooth fairy money, birthday money, money she found on the sidewalk etc. Over the course of a year she saved over $100. Because she saved the money herself she took her time deciding what she wanted. I was very impressed with the things she picked out and what she wanted to spend it on. She too was happy with what she got and still plays with the toys and wears the t-shirt.

  • My child lacks self control with money (rare for her to pass something up). Last trip she had a set amount to spend. At each iteration of “I want it” I said “Let’s take a picture of it, then on our last night you can look through the pictures to figure out what you really want [that fits in your budget].” It worked for us and I plan to do it again on our next trip.

    • I am so stealing your idea, lol! Pure genius!

  • One quick suggestion: since you can get most souvenirs after you get home as well through the WDW Parks Merchandise line: 877-560-6477 (toll free) (for further info)

    Take a picture of the item. Then take a picture of the sku/barcode for the item. The child could then save for it for a future trip or buy from his/her allowance…

    • This is a GREAT idea! We’ve used this service in the past. One word of caution: be sure to figure in the extra cost for shipping!


    Go on ebay and buy a disney pins lot of 50 (or more) – and a few lanyards — will probably cost .50 to $1 each pin.

    My kids really got in to this and enjoyed checking out which pins each cast member had. They each traded for some really cool ones. Each night they would take off their “keepers” in the hotel room and put on diffeent ones they were willing to trade. The result of this (free) pin-trading was that my kids didn’t have the desire to buy something in every souvenir shop. Instead they traded with the cashier or someone else and we spent a lot less $$$ on souvenirs than I had planned!

    • I was looking at some of these last night so your post caught my attention. I am so worried about buying pins that aren’t genuine though. How do you check if you buy them online? I know more or less what to check for on the actual pins but the lots they show are not always pics of the actual items you are going to get

      • Check the seller ratings… As long as the seller has a good history with a majority of good ratings there’s not much to worry about.

      • Thank you Ryan 🙂

      • I also check the origin of the seller. If it is in the US, I have a little bit more confidence. Once I find a seller I trust, I usually stick with them. Also, check out the seller ratings and comments.

    • We went to the discount authorized disney stores in one of the outlets near the parks and loaded up on all the pins for my son and his collection. Pins there cost $3-$5 each rather than the $5-$10 at the parks. Most of the pins are from previous years rather than the most current ones but my 5 year old did not care. Also we were abel to buy pins to commemorate our previous trips to “catch-up” If you have time to hit the large outlet like 1-2 exits north of the park on the Interstate, they have a pin discount store which is selling authorized Disney products and all much cheaper. We buy a few pins at the parks when they are special for us and current but most of them, including the starter set and lanyard came from the outlet discount store at half the price :).

    • How and what is the trading pins about?

  • I’m rather comforted to see so many folk doing similar to what we have always done. I never offer my ‘system’ as advice as I know it wouldn’t work for everyone – I only have one child and it’s just the two of us who go to WDW every year so much simpler. She gets a $150 for a trip. Anything else she wants she has to save from allowance, birthday or Christmas money etc. She is now 10 but was 6 when we made our first trip and I gave her a little note book. The first few days, whenever we saw something she wanted she would ask for help to write down what it was and the name of the store in the book. When we left the park if she still wanted it, it was her choice to buy it. Two major factors seemed to have an impact on her spending trends the first trip:
    1) It is so much harder to spend money when it’s not somebody else’s (lol) and
    2) After a walk around a park for a day, suddenly the “have to have” didn’t always seem so urgent anymore.

    As she was so young the first time I made a multi colored paper ‘pie’ chart and as she looked at spending money I would show her on the ‘pie’ how much of her spending money would be gone if she bought whatever it was. That seemed to make more sense to her than just throwing the figures around.

    Now she is 10 and a little too wise for me and I confess to having been negotiated with very cunningly when there is too much vacation left at the end of her money! But it does show just how young a child is able to grasp some concept of budgeting and we have a system that works.

  • Our method actually works better on me than it does on the kids. For the trip, we’ll put a modest amount (like $10) into envelopes for each day of our trip (not counting departure day). Each morning, they get the envelope for their spending. We have park hoppers and a promise to go to any park on our last day, so the Big Desired prize doesn’t have to be bought “on the spot.” Then we open the trip with a visit to World of Disney where we will buy a shirt for each of us that isn’t part of our “allowance.” (We also get one ice cream treat a day, covered by the family funds. Candy is on your own!)

    The cool thing is the amount of carryover money that you seem to have by day 3 or 4 when you didn’t spend all of your previous envelopes!

  • Best idea from my wife for our trip to Disney with our son when he was 4 and then 5 years old. We hit the outlet outside the park and bought a bunch of cheaper Disney gifts and every morning “Mickey” left a new gift at the door of the hotel for him when he woke up and was a good boy the day before. Did not totally kill the “Please buy this!” at every store in the park but did reduce it significantly since he was getting a new small “gift” every day of the trip and he felt it was from Mickey for being a good boy. It was so fun watching the magic as he ran out of bed to the door of the hotel to see what he got form Mickey that day. We must have spent $15-$20 on the small gifts at the discount store for 4-5 days of gifts. Since oru flight landed early afternoon we just hit one right off of the expressway one exit away from the parks and my wife ran in while I sat in teh car with my son. Now if you child is in the 6-14 range, of course this is not the same but basically our approach is we buy nothing during the day so as not to carry it and we promise to hit the main store (i.e. on Main Street leaving Magic Kingdom) at the end of the day and he can have something. Often the demand for something at the end of Pirates of the Carribbean ride or after a Tomorrowland ride goes away if you move quickly out of the store and focus on the next ride :).

    • I love this idea. I wish I had thought of this when my daughter was younger. I just really like the idea of your son’s “gift from Mickey” every day. So special!

  • We let the kids browse throughout the trip…then on our way home we go to DTD to make the final selection and purchase. This seems to work out nicely b/c we don’t have to carry the purchases through the parks AND the kids get some Disney ‘magic’ to have in the car for the trip home.

    • This is the one argument in favor of the common souvenirs through the parks . . . you can count on finding it again at DTD!

  • We give our children $10 a day to spend. Each day they get the $10 and then they have to choose whether to spend it that day or to save it up to buy a bigger souvenir.

    The biggest thing that surprised us the 1st time we did this is that you will quickly see the spender/saver differences in your children. I had 1 child who spent the $10 each day…combination of snacks and small souvenirs. The second child would check everything out and each couple of days would purchase a larger souvenir that might cost $12-15, plus maybe a snack at one of the parks. The third child saved up all her money over the entire trip and on the last day purchased a couple of items from our resort gift shop and took the rest of the money home to put into her wallet/bank.

    For us, the most important part was making it clear to the children that the spending money we gave them was it. We wouldn’t be buying snack treats in the parks, we wouldn’t be helping them buy a more expensive souvenir, and if they lost their money – it wouldn’t be replaced.

    Clear expectations have helped make all our trips very pleasant and at this point, the girls know the drill so well, we don’t get asked for stuff during the trip. We don’t have tantrums at gift shops and we don’t have the “gimme, gimme, gimme” syndrome we sometimes see at the parks.

    Great topic to bring up 🙂

  • We go the fixed-budget route. There are no exceptions to the budget. So, if we encounter the can’t-live-without-it play set when the money is gone, the answer is “no”. We also use cold hard cash for the “budget” so that they can see the material impact of a purchase.

    Our trips are one week long. We try to keep them from buying anything the first time they see it. The first several days are “shopping”, not “buying”. But, we make a point to visit each park early on in the trip, so they have a sense of what is there. In exchange for this “shopping not buying”, we also promise that, on the last day or two of the trip, we will re-visit any gift shop they care to visit so that they can buy the thing(s) they decide they want most.

    Of course, this was harder when they were younger than it is now. I distinctly remember my daughter wandering Mouse Gear in the shopper’s equivalent of a diabetic’s sugar coma, needing to BUY SOMETHING RIGHT NOW, no matter how little she actually wanted it, just because she could. Getting out of there sticking to our “not the first time” mantra was very hard.

    • But, there’s no such thing as totally without pain, unless you never say no. And, unless you’re a Rockefeller, you have to say no some of the time.

  • We use the gift card just as Christine mentioned. Our son is 7 turning 8 and he gets it. We encourage him to look the first couple days then come back because you never know what you might find.

  • What we did is we gave each child a $50.00 disney gift card. They wehre told they could buy whatever they wanted as long as it fit in our suitcase. Each time you make a puchase it shows the balance that is left on the receipt. We had to help the 4 year old but the 8 and 13 year old got it. It worked really well for us.

    • We, too, gave each of our boys (5 and 8) a gift card. They understood that we would pick up the tab for food and snacks, and that this was their souvenir money. As long as you explain the parameters ahead of time (and stick with them), it really does eliminate the begging for additional toys.

  • What we did on our first two trips (our kids were 6 & 7, then 7 & 8) was they got $100 each in $10 bills. We gave it to them at the beginning of the trip, and tried to visit a store, pardon me “retail opportunity” each day.

    Every time they wanted to get something, we clearly showed them how much of their money it would take, and reminded them that there were x days left and we still hadn’t been to y and z parks (“You can get that, but remember that will take 3 of your 10 bills, and we still haven’t been to Epcot or the Magic Kingdom yet.”)

    This worked really well for us and we didn’t have any meltdowns over souvenirs for the whole trip (though we funded the $100 to each child so you could say we bought our freedom).

    • Hi, honey!

      This trip they are funding their own money with Christmas/Birthday/Allowance. Since we are Canadian, they can transfer any multiple of 20 dollars out of their piggy banks for ‘Disney money’ (US dollars).

      I really loved how we stuck to our guns when the money was gone and that there was no whining! I also love that they made what we thought were crazy purchases (10 bucks for a balloon? Really?) that they enjoyed immensly.

      Aside: they also got one t-shirt each on the last day of both trips. We will probably do that again.


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