You eye that shiny new trinket in the Emporium, the park is closing soon, and you end up caving under the pressure. Another $39.95 down the drain just because you HAD to have it in the moment. And now? It’s just gathering dust at home.
Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. If you’re determined to stop wasting your hard-earned dollars in gift shops, here are ten tips to save that cash for something worthy of your souvenir collection.
1. Research before you buy
Start getting excited for your trip by scouting out the latest offerings online. The Disney Parks Blog often introduces new merchandise collections as they are released, fellow park-goers post new products on social media under hashtags like #DisneyMerch, and fan sites (like the DIS!) report on the latest and greatest. Once you browse around beforehand, you won’t be as overwhelmed by choices at the gift shops and you might even already have those few favorites picked out for your purchases!
2. Trick the kids
A fantastic tip a friend of mine let me in on is surprising your kids along the way to Disney with gifts tucked away in your suitcase. Rather than spend a fortune in the parks, try to find discounted options at the Disney Store Outlet, Walmart, Amazon, or any other spot where you search out lower-priced finds. You might surprise them with new pajamas on the first night of your stay, sit a stuffed Mickey on the vanity for them to find when they go to brush their teeth in the morning , or bring out a pin you’ve been saving so they can add it to their lanyard. The hope here would be that this barrage of budget gifts will not leave your kids disappointed (or you feeling guilty!) that they can only pick out a single small souvenir.
3. Download the Shops Disney Parks App
This is a lifesaving tool to have in your pocket. While it’s a key resource for researching prior to your vacation, it also helps to keep you from making impulsive purchases because you fear the regret of leaving that something special behind. If there’s an item you’re unsure about, just bookmark it on the app and you can always go back for it once you get home if you make up your mind that it is, in fact, something you need.
4. Get a gift card
Sure, setting a budget is always a great way to control your finances, but it can be difficult to hold yourself to when you spot something that has your eyes turning to hearts. Force yourself to stick to that reasonable allocation by loading it up on a gift card, this way there’s no chance you’ll exceed your spending limits. Plus, you get to carry around a card detailed with a fun character, which, let’s be honest, will always be better than a plain credit or debit card.
5. Never make impulse buys
We all know patience is a virtue, but it can be difficult to spend your whole vacation dwelling on that one thing you really want. If there’s one money-saving promise you can make yourself, it’s that you will not purchase anything without thinking about it for a little while. Most merchandise is available resort-wide, but even if your special something is only sold in a single shop in one park, you can always loop back around before you leave for the day. This will give you time to decide whether or not you really want to shell out the bills for it, plus you won’t have to lug it around with you for hours.
6. Wait to buy your souvenirs until the last day of your vacation
If you really have the self control, you can wait it out even longer. Obviously, this may not be possible if you were hoping to pick up a bottle of Geir Ness’ signature Laila perfume in Norway and Epcot is not on the final day’s itinerary, but try to stick to this whenever you can. Not only will you have time to see all your options and think out your shopping decisions over the course of a few days, but you’ll have something to look forward to for your whole trip.
7. Don’t fall for discounts
Remember, you’re not saving money if you’re spending more than you would without the discount! I am a self-admitted victim to the Disney Visa card’s 10% discount on purchases over $50 and I’ve learned the hard way that it’s usually not worth it. While Disney doesn’t typically offer gift shop sales, be careful of overcompensating on other spots where you saved. For example, if you got a significant discount on your hotel room or snagged a free dining promotion, don’t use that as an excuse to stock up on stuff you don’t need.
8. Leave no space in your suitcase
If you don’t have room to bring souvenirs home, you won’t buy souvenirs. Simple as that. Of course, there are ways to get around this roadblock you put on yourself, but if you’re determined to stay on budget hopefully you won’t end up buying a second suitcase or paying to ship your items back home.
9. Take advantage of freebies
Shoplifting is obviously illegal, but you can still walk away from Disney with a plethora of free souvenirs! At the parks you can pick up complimentary maps, perfect for tucking away to look at later or even frame as an eye-catching wall accent. Your resort room (hopefully) provides free individual size H2O toiletries, but there are also notebooks, pens, and coasters you can laminate for repeated use back home. Plus, you’ll often come across fun handouts like colorful buttons and stickers that make non-costly keepsakes you’ll treasure for years to come.
10. Skip the useless junk
In my humble opinion, there are just some things that are way overpriced and should not ever be purchased. Ever. First, is anything under the Goofy’s Candy Company label. This candy, while delicious, is not magical by any means; it’s just your average sugared up treat and you should not be paying a markup on it. Next, plush. Yes, they’re adorable, but they’re clutter. Plus, they’re not rare by any means; you’ll be able to buy a stuffed Pluto or Simba as long as Disney exists. And finally, anything you won’t actually use. This is up to your own discretion, but if you’re just going to let that cute Tinkerbell statuette sit in storage, you’re better off saving your money.
No, being conservative with your cash isn’t always fun, but it brings you one step closer to paying for another Disney vacation! What are your favorite money-saving tips when navigating gift shops?
Kate Joseph is a writer from Beverly, Massachusetts who earned her degree in journalism from Simmons College in 2015 and currently works as a copywriter in Boston. After her first trip to Walt Disney World at age three, she famously told her mother, "I don't like this world, I want to live in Disney World." So, she did! During college, she participated in the Disney College Program working as a committed cast member at Disney's Boardwalk Resort for one incredible semester. When she's not traveling to Disney destinations, she likes listening to podcasts, playing with her dog, and enjoying the outdoors.