If you travel with kids, you’re likely to have a bout of the “gimmies” at some point during your vacation. Your kids are likely to want everything they see and you’ll be trying to stick to your budget. How can you manage the “gimmies” while still allowing your kids to have some shopping fun?
Buy before you leave home: One of the best ways to minimize the “gimmies” is to play “Secret Santa” (or substitute your child’s favorite character). Purchase several souvenirs before you leave home and then surprise your kids with something each day. You can either really surprise them by putting the items in the room along with a card from “Santa” when the kids aren’t looking, or you can just pull an item out of a bag each day. Either way your kids are likely to be thrilled and having something new each day might help to tame the gimmie monster.
You can purchase your “Secret Santa” items inexpensively if you plan ahead. For example, if you’re heading to Disney World, shop the clearance sales at your local Disney Store, Wal Mart, or Target for cheap T-shirts, hats, sunglasses, beach towels, figurines, light up toys, etc. If you don’t have a store nearby that represents your destination, then get creative. Maybe a seashell nightlight will work for a beach trip, or a stuffed dolphin for a trip to SeaWorld. Think about where you’re going and try to come up with some ideas that are representative of that area.
Young children in particular won’t know the difference between merchandise bought at home and that found at their destination. And some kids might even get excited about the “uniqueness” of their item. I know a family that played “Secret Santa” and gave their child a certain light up toy they had found at a store near home. It wasn’t available at their destination and other kids kept asking where he got his toy. He spent the week happy that he had something no one else had. Mom and Dad spent the week happy that they had only paid a couple of bucks for the toy compared to $20 on vacation.
Buy only on the last day of vacation: Another way to calm the shopping monster is to make it clear to your children that you won’t be buying anything until the last day of the trip (or the last day at any given destination) and remain firm on this point each time a child asks for something. This gives kids an opportunity to see what’s available in all the places you visit. Have them keep a list (or you can keep it if they’re too young) of all the things they see that they might want including where you saw it and how much it costs. On the night before your last day, pull out the lists and go over them together. Tell your children that they can pick their favorite two (or however many you can reasonably afford) items and you will purchase them the next day. Chances are that by this point in the trip they won’t even remember most of the things they put on their lists or they’ll wonder why they ever thought some of it was so great. You might find that only one or two items have really stuck with them over the course of the trip as “must haves.” This strategy forces kids to prioritize what they really want and saves you from spending money on a lot of junk that will just end up in the bottom of the toy box in a few weeks.
Give kids a set amount of money and no more: If your kids are old enough, give them a set amount of money to spend for the trip and let them decide how to use it. If they want to blow it all on something the first day, let them. Or maybe they’d rather buy lots of little things over the course of the trip. Let them know that the decisions are theirs but once the money is gone, its gone and the Bank of Mom and Dad is closed.
Most kids can earn and save their own money for trips. Older ones can take part time jobs or baby sit, while younger ones can do extra chores around the house. They can stockpile birthday and Christmas money and their allowances. You can make it clear than any money they save is theirs to do with as they choose. You can either supplement their savings with a set amount or go cold turkey and tell them that any purchases they want to make must come from their earned money. This not only teaches saving skills, but it also teaches kids to be thoughtful in their purchases.
Collect freebies: Kids love collecting stuff. They can collect napkins with logos, shells, stickers, activity sheets from restaurants, handouts from museums, maps, brochures, decorative umbrellas from drinks, souvenir cups and popcorn buckets, and any other doo-dads you encounter along your way. Once you start looking for this stuff you’ll be surprised at how many freebies come your way. If your destination is kid-oriented, like a theme park or water park, you’re likely to find even more because there will be far more activities and handouts made for kids. When you get home, put the items in a scrapbook with notes about each item for future reference. Even if all the junk ends up in the trash in a few years, it’s better than throwing away that $30 toy that got played with once.
Buying souvenirs for kids does not have to break the bank. With a little pre-planning and some firm ground rules, you can have a great vacation, bring home some great memories, and keep more of your money.