My heart was bursting with excitement. My husband, Rob, our kids, William and Amelia, then ages 3 and 5, and I had just entered "The Happiest Place on Earth." We were all giddy with anticipation. But this happy bubble burst almost immediately, as the children rushed into the first gift shop they saw and started begging for every Disneyland trinket they could get their hands on.
The begging continued through our Anaheim vacation, a grating note in what was otherwise a wonderful trip. And soon enough, we were planning another getaway, this time to Disney World. I knew I had to come up with a way for us to have a blast minus the whiny voices pleading for souvenirs.
Rob and I decided that the solution was to make sure the kids had their own spending money on this trip. We weren't going to simply hand it over, though. Instead, we crafted a plan to help them earn it.
One night after the kids were asleep, I opened my laptop and designed a homemade Disney Dollar, complete with a Mickey Mouse silhouette. Then I glued Mickey silhouettes on two envelopes and added the kids' names so that they each had a place to stash the money. I printed a bunch of the bills on red paper, cut them apart, and left a stack on the kitchen table.
When the kids woke up the next morning, we sat them down and had a chat about the dollars and how they could earn them. On top of their regular chores, they could do such extras as pulling weeds, folding laundry, and washing the car, each of which would be worth a homemade Disney Dollar. The bills could be exchanged for real money when we got to Disney World. Either Rob or I would have to approve the scope of and payment for each job.
Expecting groans of protest, I was pleasantly surprised to see both kids jump up -- breakfast unfinished -- and start looking for chores to do. Amelia grabbed a rag and began dusting the living room. William took the broom out of the pantry and went on a quest to collect every single crumb on the dining room floor.
As the days passed, the laundry got folded and put away straight from the dryer, the chair rail in the hallway stayed clean, and the garden remained wonderfully weed-free.
Six months later, with envelopes full of earned dollars, we set off for Magic Kingdom. When the kids saw something they wanted, they counted out some of their dollars, and we gave them real ones in exchange.
The days were filled with smiles, rides, and many sticky faces after eating Mickey Mouse-shaped ice cream sandwiches but, thankfully, no whining or begging. And the kids got to bring home plenty of stuffed Disney characters, costumes, and action figures.
The best take-home prizes, though, were the lessons learned about just how rewarding it is to put effort into something you want. Chores have ramped up again in the last couple of weeks, as we're considering another vacation. Not to a Disney park this time, but I think my kids will enjoy earning California Cash or Beach Bucks every bit as much.
Originally published in the December/January 2014 issue of Family Fun magazine.