Life Lessons with a Disney Spin: Learning Financial Responsibility in a WDW Gift Shop

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Taking the family off on vacation to Disney World can be more difficult than just securing the financing. You haul everybody off to Orlando for fun, maybe a little relaxation, and some family bonding. But people don’t always cooperate with the best made plans, even if you made them months out from your travel date.  Have you ever watched kids at Disney? Let’s lump them into four categories: excited, tired, tantruming, and sound asleep. Lots of children, young and old,  struggle with the change of schedule and surroundings at Disney. I have noticed that one reason they are having tantrums is they want to spend more time looking around in the gift shops. Remember the 1980’s joke about a clue phone…it’s ringing, and it’s for you. Your kids want to shop more on vacation, and you should let them.

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Shopping at Disney isn’t like your average trip to the local mall where you have to drag them in to try on school clothes. On a trip to Disney, there is a gift shop every 30 feet, and it’s stocked with the greatest toys, snacks, clothes, and souvenirs on the planet. Most rides actually empty into some sort of gift shop where the temptation to touch and play can be irresistible for little hands. Sometimes you may have to have to drag them out.

Are you familiar with the concept of mental spending? That’s where you mentally buy a ton of stuff but actually buy very little. I’m over the age of 40, and I estimate I mentally spend $400 a day in Disney gift shops. If that sort of temptation is there for an adult, imagine how hard it must be to be assaulted by so many fabulously tempting items for a 5-year-old. Because I have loved gift shops since I was actually was five, I hang out there when I can on vacation, and I see just about one or two kids per store being dragged out kicking and screaming. Why?  It’s usually because the temptation to buy was too great or they didn’t have enough time to shop.

Life Lessons with a Disney Twist: Teach Kids to Save Their Money

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I stood in one of the two Contemporary Resort gift shops last summer, and I saw a beautifully dressed princess, looked to be about age four, shopping quietly in front of a row full of, just what you expected to hear, Disney Princess dolls. I actually noticed her because she was so well-behaved. Her dad walked up and this is what I heard.

Dad: Come on, sweetie, we have to go.

Princess: Dad, I want to look some more.

Dad: Listen, I paid a lot of money for these tickets, and if we don’t get to the Magic Kingdom soon, all the princesses will be gone, and then you won’t get your autographs.

Princess: Please, dad, just a little longer?

Dad: I’m not playing around here; we have to get moving.

She was a real princess, because she didn’t tantrum her way  down to the carpet in a crying heap. She just set the doll in her hands down and walked out, probably excited to meet some other princesses but sad to leave the gift shop.

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A Disney vacation is expensive. You already know this because you have been saving money for a long time,  and now you only have so much time to spend in Orlando enjoying the Disney fun. You can’t do it all. With the cost of those tickets and hotel and character meals, hanging out in a gift shop will most likely be low on your adult priority list. But once your child sees the racks and rows full of incredible WDW stuff, you may have to drag them out. Kicking and screaming.

Gift shops can be an extremely valuable teaching tool at Disney.

  1. You can’t have everything you want.
  2. Quality items are expensive.
  3. If you buy something at 8 a.m., you will have to haul it around all day.
  4. If you lose or misplace what you just bought, you may not have the money to replace it.

These are life skills, really. Adults deal with the exact same monetary issues just about every day.

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As hard as this may be for you to do, allocate some time during your vacation for just shopping. Don’t be in such a rush to hop on the next ride that you miss out on the fabulous decorations and amazing theming found in WDW stores. We’re not  talking hours here, but give it more than five minutes before you grab a little hand and head out the door.

Use verbal directions to head off tantrums, like “Susie, you have 10 more minutes to look around, and then we need to get going.” Talk with your children before you arrive about just how much time they want to spend shopping and looking around. You may be surprised at the pull the gift shops can have on young ones, and sometimes, you’re still young at age 42. I should know…

And if you have to drag your child out of a gift shop, kicking and screaming, you can take some solace in knowing you aren’t alone. Across the store someone else is dragging a child out just about now. And a gift shop tantrum really isn’t the end of the world. There will be another gift shop up ahead, and you’ll have the chance to try it all over again.

Why Mickey Mouse is a Modern Symbol of Financial Success

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Talk with your kids well before you leave for vacation about money, and the time you will spend shopping. We all have to watch how we spend our time and money, and what better place to learn a life lesson than the Happiest Place on Earth, surrounded by nine billion dollars worth of toys.


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Thanks for stopping by today. Now go grab your kids (or your husband and the dog) and take a nice walk, and talk about money. Talk about shopping. Talk about Disney.


  1. Heather Love says:

    I am usually the one my family is pulling out throwing a tantrum!! Wish I were shopping with you now!

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