Impulse Buys: How Returning Kid’s Purchases Is Costing You Money at Disney World

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With my family right next to me, I spend a lot of time in Disney gift shops when we’re in Orlando on vacation. I’m as much at home on the back bench in the Small World ride as I am in a gift shop at the Polynesian Resort. Through the years I have realized that my vacation time spent shopping for and purchasing Disney items wasn’t nearly the waste of time that returning those purchases was.

The Disney Corporation is great about allowing you to return merchandise with no questions asked, provided the item was not altered or ruined in any way and you have a receipt. I love how I can buy something anywhere on Disney property and return it anywhere on Disney property, rather than running back to the exact store where I made the purchase.

In some ways, they have actually made returning gifts almost too convenient. When I find myself back in line for a return, I’m mentally kicking myself in the pants because, dangit, wasn’t I already in line with this item once before?  Time is money at Disney, and standing in a return line is not my best use of my vacation time.

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My children have been “window shopping” at Disney before they knew what the term actually meant. I advise, “Darlin’, let’s just look around right now. You need to make doubly sure this is what you want before we buy it.” The problem with kids is that they always seem to think they need to make their purchases right then, right at the beginning of your vacation, possibly in the very first gift shop you step in.

A word of financial advise in taking children to Disney…have your kids wait as long as possible to purchase their souvenirs.

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

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Let’s assume you haven’t given your child an unlimited amount of money to spend on souvenirs. Just knowing that will help me sleep better at night! We can then assume your child knows how much money they have to spend, or that you are keeping them informed of how much money they have left until they hit “flat broke” status. It’s a gamble for young children to make purchases early in the vacation. Something else may look so much better after visiting a lot of gift shops.

What looks like the greatest toy ever now may not look so great after three to five days of Disney merchandise overload if they know they only have limited funds left to spend.  Those mental wheels start turning for kids who understand simple math, that if Buzz Lightyear action figure goes back, then they will now have enough money for that Star Wars light saber, which they hadn’t seen four days ago in the same shop with Buzz and Woody.  I think the younger they are, the more likely kids may be to ask to return something, because little minds change their minds often.

Do You Have a Favorite Disney Child, and Would You Admit It?

Now I am a huge proponent of spending time in gift shops shopping. Disney merchandise is fantastic, and they have some of the greatest Disney-character-inspired decorations anywhere on property, especially during the holidays. I claim that the “Disney Effect”  in gift shops entices me to buy things I don’t need, like coffee mugs and t-shirts. There is no better shopping experience anywhere, and going to Disney isn’t just about riding roller coasters.

Shopping is a big part of your overall vacation experience. Imagine being five-years-old, fighting the “Disney effect” in shop after shop, decision after decision. Let’s face it- Disney shopping is tough for all of us, regardless of age, because no one has an unlimited budget. Now if your child does, that’s another discussion for another day…

But returning something when someone has changed their mind? Remember what I said about Disney time is money? Standing in a return line is not going to make you feel like this is the best use of your vacation time, and thus your money.  This Disney vacation is going to cost you a lot of money, so take some Cheapskate Princess advice; talk your kids into making their purchases toward the end of your trip, unless it’s a specific item at a theme park you know you won’t be returning to again. If the toy is in your resort gift shop, then you probably have lots of time to make that purchase.

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And good luck, because those Disney Gift shops cast a Wicked Queen spell as soon as you walk through the door, almost if your money is burning a hole through your pocket. I’ve been under that same spell for the last 35 years, and I don’t see a cure in sight.

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Erin Johnson, our Cheapskate Princess Travel Agent

Erin Johnson, our Cheapskate Princess Travel Agent

Use this link for a free no obligation vacation quote from  Erin, our Disney Vacation Planner with Destinations in Florida travel.  She offers promotions like Disney Trading Pin sets, autograph books, and free Mickey Mouse ear hats for kids under age 17.  We know our readers love free…

Give Erin a call at 214-697-7732, or send an e-mail to erin @ 

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Thanks for stopping by, and we’ll see you in the gift shops, fishing around in your bag for your Disney Visa.


  1. Megan says:

    You might also buy after vacation through the Disney Parks retail phone number!

  2. Tabatha says:

    Maybe it’s my inner-cheapskate in me…but, me and my family are going to Disney for the 1st time in a couple months..and so, I have devised a plan..I love to shop, don’t get me wrong, but I want to spend more time on rides and looking around rather than at I’ve decided to go to the Disney store online to the clearance section and buy my girls a couple trinkets at a very reasonable price and lay it out for them every morning as a surprise..not near the same amount of money, and they’ll never know it didn’t come straight out of a gift shop..=)

    • Amanda says:

      1st time visit? I wouldn’t go near the gift shops, not much anyway. Let me know how you do resisting temptation! Remember, Magic Kingdom Main Street stays open an hour after the park closes, so you can shop then when you couldn’t ride rides anyway. We always look around then while the crowds thin out. Hope you have a blast!! ~A.

  3. Tonja says:

    This might not work for everyone (and this isn’t necessarily a Disney shopping tip more of in general). When I am out running errands and shopping and my 4 yr old son sees something he wants (or I see something I think he would like I use my phone to take a picture (and mentally remember the store; although at DW I might take a picture of the shop to remind me) anyway then I can run back and get it another time, but I’m thinking for our first trip I can take pictures for the things he wants then later let him pick out a couple rather than in the first store and impulse buying!

  4. Jan says:

    My girls had a notebook to write down what they wanted, where, and how much….and on our last day they could choose the item they wanted to buy. That notebook was a godsend, because the night before our last day they would look through and decide they really didn’t want most of it…..a few trips they wanted none of it. It was much easier to talk with them about the practicality of this or that while we were sitting in our room rather than at the store with the item beckoning to their young ears.

    They are now teens and while we use the phone camera now instead of that notebook, the concept is the same. And the result is the same, but now they talk themselves out of it, instead of me, lol.

    If your kids need a little more incentive to not bring home dust-collectors, set a budget and tell them that whatever they have leftover they get to keep. I am always amused at how much they don’t neeeeedddd something when it’s “their” money. Your budget stays the same, and you’re teaching them the value of saving and using money wisely. They get some cash in their pocket to take home and hopefully the discussion on proper spending habits can continue……and that “I don’t need this” kicks in over and over.

    As I said, my girls are now teens, and I have to laugh and admit that I’m the one lately that needs the “you don’t really need this” talk, lol. They’re often telling me we don’t need to do this or that to have a good time because it’s too expensive or not worth the money or whatever. We were just at Disney for Star Wars….they turn 18 in a few weeks so I’m realizing that this is likely our last trip together for a while as they turn their attention to college and getting started in their grown-up life….so I wanted to do the Star Wars breakfast, dinner and Feel the Force…..all quite expensive and really not necessary for them to enjoy their time. So, we talked at length to decide which ONE event was all that we needed….saved me tons of money and we came home with so many memories that those extra events were not necessary to remember what a great time we had!


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