If you’re reading this, chances are you are a sucker for Disney merchandise in life, and then once you hit the Walt Disney World resorts you become an absolute kid in a candy store. EVERYTHING becomes a must-have Disney souvenir and is immensely cuter within the Disney World bubble. Add that daunting realization that you’re just not sure when you’ll be back and there is the pressure to buy-buy-buy! All of this happens within my adult brain. The adult that KNOWS how expensive this trip is, the adult that understands we WILL be back to WDW and also knows that there’s a mountain of bills waiting for our return home. Interestingly enough, the husband and I are traveling with two AWESOME, yet less rational kids. Who although they never ask for much and earn their own spending money before we leave for the trip, the desire for some of these awesome park souvenirs oozes from their precious little faces. How do we keep the Disney magic alive and still manage to spoil them on this vacation all while not breaking the bank? Two words-planning ahead.

It’s important to keep in mind that it’s the Walt Disney World Resort that is magical. It’s the sights, the smells and the excitement surrounding you, where the magic stems from and not the shiny souvenirs. The Mickey sweatshirt itself isn’t stitched together with pixie dust woven into the fabric, so why not bring in some fun Disney merchandise from home? Surprise your kiddos (and husbands and wives too) with items that they aren’t even seeing in the parks and be the coolest, hippest, most thoughtful parent/spouse ever?! You have all of your other important Disney planning dates marked in your awesome Disness Daily Agenda Book, now mark in some reminders to also start looking for some cool merchandise!

A great place to start is ShopDisney.com. You can usually find sales happening and coupons hitting the mail, your inbox or being posted on the Get Down to Disness planning group Facebook page. This awesome website is a GREAT place to find official Park merchandise. Hey, if you can get bubble blowers, shirts, autograph books or ears at a DISCOUNT -that would not be offered on your vacation- snag that up! This also gives you the power to reward great behavior on the fly, quiet a burgeoning tantrum or just make yourself look REALLY good all while saving some time and cash. Always be sure to check out their sale and clearance section on the website, you won’t believe the goodies that find their way there!

Your local “big box” store is also a great place to find what I lovingly refer to as “trip enhancers.” Many times you can find amazing, super cheap Disney themed glow sticks, bubble blowers, bags, and treats at an incredible discount. Pull these little surprises  out when the sun goes down, or in the middle of an unexpectedly long, hot wait and you will be an instant hero. My favorite thing to do is to have as many “light up” options as the number of nights we will be at the parks. We call them “Nighttime Spectaculars.” It’s become something the kids look forward to every night even though it may just be a Dollar Tree glow stick, finger lights from Target or light up Minnie ears from Ebay. The kids are now not coveting the carts full of light up whirligigs any longer because they already have their “thing” to flash around at night. If you’re not into matching shirts, you can find loads of adorable Disney gear at so many big box stores and can surprise the family with fun, new Disney gear in the morning while everyone is getting ready.

We are also big pin traders, which can be a very expensive hobby even for the folks like us that are simply trading for pins that are just cute. This is another great opportunity to do some pre-trip shopping. I buy lots of pins from respectable, reputable sellers on Amazon. You’re pretty much guaranteed to get pins that your family will be okay trading away. I also love perusing the various Disney online “yard sale” groups on Facebook. Many times you can find sellers who are actually selling in package, brand new pin sets. I love using these cheaper finds as surprises while we are traveling to Disney World. What better way to build the excitement even more than having a Disney travel bag full of items to use and enjoy as soon as we arrive.

My mission this year has been collecting wearable Minnie ears for the kids. It’s taken several months to collect enough that each day the girls can open up a new set of ears to wear at the parks. We’ve all seen the price tag on park ears. Although they ARE adorably authentic, one pair can blow a kid’s spending money budget pretty quickly (if you must have the real deal, buy ahead from Shopdisney.com with a promo code). I have had so much fun looking through Etsy at handmade ears and buying unique sets that I know the girls won’t find anywhere at the park.( There’s also loads of online tutorials if crafting is your jam.)

Believe me, this isn’t to say that we don’t still buy special, fun items while we are at the parks. My restraint is not nearly THAT strong. However, with some planning ahead you can spread some more unexpected Disney magic to your family all without breaking the bank. Psst…be sure to get some extra magic for you as well, you’re never too old for finger lights, Minnie ears and pixie dust infused sweatshirts. ºoº