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Read this before taking your kids to the parks


For children, buying theme park souvenirs can be one of the very best parts of their Universal Orlando vacation. But for parents, the constant barrage of merchandise at the end of every ride and around every corner can mean there’s no escape from the pleading eyes and “Can I have this?” requests.

In an effort at preserving family sanity – and also to give our kids some meaningful real-life decision making experiences – we have opted to require our kids to manage their own spending money. Obviously, the younger the child, the more help they’ll need in this, but we have found that the time spent in guiding our children through managing their spending money has meant less hassle for us and a greater learning opportunity for our kids.


Even before heading off on vacation, we build excitement by helping our kids begin saving and planning for their souvenir purchases. Whether the money is a set amount given by the parents, or the child’s own money, or a combination of the two (this is what we usually do), it is helpful for children to know how much they’ll have to spend. And if they’re new to the theme parks, give them an idea of both the abundance of theme park merchandise as well as the pricing, so they won’t be overwhelmed by either.

Once at the parks, kids soon learn that every ride and show and street corner provide opportunities to spend more money. Don’t let this become a burden on your family vacation. In our family, we simply tell the children that our first day (or two, depending on how long we’ll be at the parks) are reserved for rides, shows, and fun, and that there will be designated shopping time toward the end of the park days. Then, when it’s time to shop, the kids have a good idea of what they want – although much of their shopping time is always spent deliberating between equally desirable items because they are spending their own money.


Of course, depending on your child’s age, you may want to hold their money for them, and they may need reminders of how much they have to spend. You may find yourself helping out with some mental math and coin counting in the stores. But as with much of parenting, the time it takes to help them learn how to do it on their own is time well spent.

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Here are the benefits I’ve enjoyed with letting my kids budget and spend their own money:

Experience attractions without the need to shop
Because my kids were managing their own money, they wanted to make sure they’d seen what all of their choices were before actually parting with their cash. So instead of wanting to shop throughout each day of our vacation, they were happy to wait until their last vacation day to make their purchases. This meant that we could zip from ride to ride and maximize our fun time, saving our spending time for later.

Reduced the number of bags
Because my kids waited to do their shopping, wanting to make sure they’d seen all of their possible choices, we avoided what I consider the main hassles of off-and-on shopping: carrying bags of merchandise around the parks or making trips to Universal’s lockers to stash their purchases.

Careful decision making
By the time they actually were ready to shop, my kids had a good idea of what was in the parks, what stores had the coolest stuff, and exactly what they wanted to take home. They avoided impulse buying and thoughtfully considered which purchases would be enjoyed the longest once they were home.

Increased sense of ownership over their souvenirs
Most parents know that children are more likely to take care of items purchased with their own money. My children were able to go home with special items picked and paid for by them, and these continue to be treasured toys and clothes at home. It’s amazing how carefully a five year old can be about keeping his minion shirt clean and well taken care of!

Vacation memories become personal
By allowing my children to select and budget their own purchases, they went home with excited “I picked this out all by myself!” attitudes, as opposed to thankless “Mom bought me this t-shirt” attitudes. And keep in mind that, as individuals with their own special interests, they may surprise you in their choices. I thought my younger kids would all want toys, but special character cups were top choices for mine. And it’s nice for the kids to have a little vacation reminder while drinking their milk at breakfast.

Souvenirs keep the vacation happiness alive long after the vacation is over. Give your kids a chance to spend their own money and make their own choices. The memories are worth it!

If you like this topic, here are two pages in the OI Universal Center you might enjoy:

Shopping and merchandise at Universal Orlando

Wizarding World of Harry Potter merchandise – compete guide

Got any ideas you’d like to add to mine? Leave a comment below!


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About Taylor Strickland

Taylor Strickland is the owner of Orlando Informer, the internationally awarded independent resource for guests visiting Orlando. In this position, he leads the website's overall direction and day-to-day operations, working with a team of writers, editors, developers, and producers.

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