Mike's hack may make that trip to Chuck E. Cheese slightly more bearable:
After my 4.5 year-old son's friend's Chuck E. Cheese birthday party, I went home with a pocket full of tokens. Later that week, when my son was helping me with laundry (one of his chores), he noticed when I took the pocketful of tokens out of my jeans and put them into our laundry room change jar. Out of the blue he asked me if he could have tokens in place of his chore money. BAM it hit me! This would be a great way to teach him to save for a goal.
Game tokens are a bit easier to understand than actual money because he knows what a token is worth to him. It's a lot more concrete then saying you need 80 quarters to get Lego set X. So I told him I would give him 1 quarter and 1 token and when he earned all the tokens we would go to Chuck E. Cheese to use them. This worked out really well and I think it has helped him learn about saving towards a goal as he started to get excited as we got towards the end of the tokens.
The other thing I think it has helped with is that he doesn’t shortchange himself just because he has money to spend. So rather than giving up on the $20.00 Lego set to get $10.00 set RIGHT NOW, he has learned that he has to reach the goal to get the prize. Surprisingly he has never asked to go Chuck E. Cheese early.
Keep in mind (up here in the Seattle area at least) there are Sunday newspaper coupons for Chuck E. Cheese where you can buy tokens at a discount.
If you're not into attaching the tokens to a particular establishment, you could create a home-brewed system with poker chips and a prize or outing.