Souvenir Strategy

 May 11 2018     Anna Pfaehler

Each day I am both delighted and bewildered by my children. 

I’ll start this post with a disclaimer – while I am a mother of two, I am in no way an expert at raising children. Like every other parent, I rely on trial, error, and Google. But we recently had some success worth sharing when it comes to teaching the very basics of financial responsibility.

We took our kids to Walt Disney World. While there we saw a number of people wearing t-shirts emblazoned with “Most Expensive Day Ever.” While admission is certainly expensive, there is also the cost of the stuff. Merchandise is everywhere and many rides exit through the gift shop. This is multiplied by the ease of buying. There is no need to carry money – just tap your “magic band” and the charges go right to your room. The items can be magically delivered too.

This can be tempting enough as an adult but overwhelming for a child like mine who can’t yet tell the difference between their favorite TV show and a commercial.  Here are some of things we did with our children to make Disney a bit easier on our wallets:

Set Expectations

Before going my husband and I talked briefly about keeping extras for the kids in check. In previous vacations, we let the kids buy one souvenir typically at the end of the trip. That was the expectation for this vacation too. I made it known to our oldest that she’d get one something special but that was it. While we did not set a dollar amount that certainly could be done. Our kids are young (1 and 4) and typically what they want is not pricey. We’ll enjoy that while it lasts.

When walking into a store, I’d tell my daughter “we aren’t buying anything today.” When she’d ultimately ask for something, I’d repeat that “we aren’t buying anything today.” It had to be repeated multiple times, but it reinforced that we would get one souvenir at the end of the trip.

Keep It at Their Level

I never used the line “we can’t afford that” for two reasons: (1) At 4, my daughter has no concept of affordability; and (2) someday she’ll be able to Google the cost of a trip to Disney and know that her desired toy is a pittance relative to it. I’m training myself as much as I’m training her.

Instead, if the “we aren’t buying anything today” needed more heft, I’d explain that she already had a really nice tea set or that the toy castle would not fit in our luggage. She understands these concepts. In time I will be able to talk about affordability and budgeting but she needs some frame of reference first.

Teach Values

Once or twice did she persist and resort to the “you never give me anything!” argument. To which I’d remind her that our family values experiences and she is at Disney World for a whole week. I’d then talk about all the great experiences we had so far, which was usually enough to get her to move on from the toy. Perhaps it is just a distraction at this age, but even distractions can be teaching opportunities. Little minds are sponges – just ask anyone who has accidently sworn in front of a child.

When our last day came, we had her buy a thank-you gift for her Grandmother first. Then we told her she could pick out something for herself. She was so delighted and after a week of consideration knew just what she wanted – a doll of “her princess,” Rapunzel.

Practice What You Preach

My husband and I value experiences over objects. We happily shelled out money for photos but bought nothing physical for ourselves. We did not go into many souvenir shops. This reduced the temptation for our kids but also reinforced that, to us at least, vacations are not shopping trips.

As my kids age, my approach will have to change but for this trip it worked well. We had no meltdowns over not getting a toy (or crown, or bubble wand, or dress, etc.). Now if only the toddler would have some table manners and eat his dinner…