Save money at amusement parks by giving kids a purchase “allowance”

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Paula's ingenious travel money hack works for any vacation, not just a visit to the amusement park!

A few years ago, we decided to designate a certain amount of money for special purchases whenever our family went to an amusement park.  We figured out what we could afford ($25, but $15 would have been more than enough) and then told our children, then 5 and 8, how much they were allowed to spend.  We told them the money was theirs. 

You can imagine their beaming faces as they suddenly received free money. We, the parents, became the money carriers, but allowed the kids to spend as they desired. It could be used for toys or candy or extra drinks, it was their decision. 

It was very interesting to watch them as we travelled the park.  They'd say, "I want this or I want that" and we'd respond by letting them know how much of their money it would use up.  We also occasionally informed them that it was more than they could afford.  What a relief to see them decide whether it was truly worth it to invest in the stuffed Shamu if that meant they couldn't have a frozen lemonade later.  They  took more responsibility in their choices and truly appreciated and reused whatever they purchased.  No more blinking lights which cost $7 tossed into the garbage the following day.  It makes my cheap parental heart leap for joy.

Love it. SO much learning: managing money, delaying gratification, assessing value, understanding scarcity, and extending the pleasure of shopping (which is distinct from the pleasure of buying, but many kids never realize that).

We did exactly this during a recent trip to Disneyland. We also took smartphone pictures of the items the kids wanted (and where the items were for sale) so they could spend the evening reviewing their options before making a final decision. Not only did this help them decide on the item they truly wanted, it kept us from getting waylayed in gift shops every ten minutes.

Related: Enjoying amusement parks with little kids

And: Save money while teaching skills: pay your kids for household jobs


  1. says

    I read something similar in a book a while back. At the beginning of the (long) car ride to the destination, the parents gave the kids a roll of quarters (or, in this case, I guess it would be more like 2 rolls of quarters). Misbehaviors during the trip first got a warning. The second time a misbehavior was addressed, a quarter was taken away from the child. Any money the kids had by the time they reached their destination was their spending money for the vacation. Not only did kids get their own spending money (to help enforce the wise decisions mentioned in the above post), but this technique also helped encourage good behavior during the journey to their destination!

  2. renee says

    This is a great idea. The other thing we do in museum gift shops is shop for their friends’ birthday presents. This allows them to enjoy shopping and choosing, and allows me to both cross something off my list and avoid filling up my house with junk. We usually get away with just one small thing (a pencil or change purse or something) for them.

  3. Meredith says

    We have been low on funds this year and was lucky enough to win free tickets to the circus. If not for those freebies, we would have never gone. In years past, my mother has taken the kids and each has come home with a toy AND a trinket from their snack. I know the total cost for her was well over $100 in extras. We talked about it ahead of time that this was all the money they would get. Each child had $15 to spend and you’d be surprised how much they chose not to spend when all was said and done. I think both came home with over $10.

  4. says

    This could be a good idea to use with younger children too (toddlers) who have the give me give me give meeeees. Maybe taking a piece of cardstock and printing or drawing out boxes to represent the money, and if they want something I could show them how many boxes I would cross off for that item. If they fill their card with crossed off boxes, they are done.

  5. says

    This always works – it’s such a win win solution. Kids learn that even the smallest thing has a price and also teaches them to prioritize within the available budget. It’s sad to see adults absolutely ignorant of money management, so teaching kids early will help avoid financial dramas in the future.

  6. Alex says

    Awesome! I saw some ladies on a coupon board say that they got Disney items at garage sales before going to Disneyland and then had that be their kids’ thing to take home.

    Personally, “we’re not here for shopping” has worked fine for me. Every time you have to walk through a shop to get off a ride I mention that the park is doing that because they want more of our money and it isn’t part of the ride so we don’t have to look.
    She’s had an allowance since 3 1/2 and she routinely turns down things like balloons that she used to beg for.