Theme park shopping: The benefits of letting kids budget & spend their own money

Theme park shopping: The benefits of letting kids budget & spend their own money

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.

Transformers merchandise at Universal Studios Florida.

Transformers merchandise at Universal Studios Florida.

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.

Honeydukes inside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Honeydukes inside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

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.

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 & merchandise at Universal Orlando

Wizarding World of Harry Potter merchandise – compete guide

And for more time saving tips, check out this post:

Preparing your kids for their Universal Orlando adventure — a clever mom’s guide

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


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Great ideas shared here. When we vacationed as kids, my dad would give us a little vacation money to add to our money which we had saved for our purchases. We would see toy junk at gas stations on the way and dad would remind us that if we bought something this early, that our money would be gone when we saw something better.

This taught us to shop around and not spend money without careful thought and consideration.

We also new that my dad stuck to the rules and that this money we had was it.

Our parents also explained the taxes to us as well and that it's part of the purchase and must be considered first.

We have tried to teach our kids these things and even how my wife and I budget for the trips. They understand that we have the entire vacation saved up in cash before we take a trip. They understand that we run the hotels, etc through credit cards to get airline miles but that we pay the bills with the cash we saved up prior to even planning the trip.

I think most vacations, our kids, like my brothers and sisters growing up, always come home with some of their own money and seem to almost never spend all their budget.


Keep in mind the issue of sales taxes as well. For younger children, the parent should cover the sales taxes. For slightly older children, the parent should cover the sales taxes, but also make it clear to the child that more money has to be handed over for the purchase. This leads to a natural civics lesson of what taxes are for and why we have to pay them. Once children have absorbed this lesson, then it is okay to give them more money to 'cover the taxes' or remind them to bring more (for the same reason.

You don't want to have a small child budgeting everything out, and carefully adding up purchase prices, only to be torpedoed by the sales tax.



Great idea!  I will start a deposit, debit system for my kids with chores etc.  If I have to ask or YELL to get something done, then it's a debit.  If it is done without any fuss or muss, then it is a deposit.  The account will max out at $100.00.  We will then buy $100.00 Universal Gift cards and that will be their spending money for the week.  I love it.




The gift cards would definitely make it easier. I guess I'm an old-fashioned parent, though. I prefer making my kids have to actually hand over their cash to make a purchase. I think the kids will more carefully consider if it's worth their money if they have to give up real money. But that's just a parenting preference of mine. I can definitely see where the gift cards would make it easier and faster, without the kids having to count out their money (or risk losing it). Thanks for the feedback!

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