Win the Battle of the Gift Shop this summer


Vincent van Gogh toys

It's not enough to take your family out for the day, you have to return laden with armfuls of plastic tat to commemorate your day at the farm, museum or theme park.

So if you're going to avoid wasting a small fortune this summer, you need a five point plan to win 'The Battle of the Gift Shop'.

Family attractions know their onions. You cannot go anywhere without being directed to exit via the gift shop. In most cases you cannot leave the building without dragging your curious children through shelves piled high with the kind of brightly-coloured tat they find hard to resist.

The exit of every attraction is littered with weeping children or weeping parents - depending largely on who won the battle. So if you are going to avoid joining the army of the fallen you'll need to plan your campaign carefully.

1. The never-ever-say-yes strategy

This is by far the best approach if you want to stay solvent. By laying down the basic rule that you never spend money in these places - under any circumstances - over the months and years the children will simply learn not to ask (although they will regale their friends with tales of their skinflint parents and you will carry a reputation in the playground that is akin to Scrooge).

It's the strategy adopted by earlier generations and it's fair to say that no-one was ever scarred for life by their inability to purchase a scented eraser from the Museum of Goodnessknowswhat.

2. The save-it-up-for-something-special strategy

If you are happy to spend something on a present for your child at some point in the holiday, then you can combine a battle-winning strategy with a useful money lesson.

You'll need to start with the end goal: a toy they have been hankering after. Then whenever you pass through the gift shop you can remind them how much better their chosen toy is than anything else on offer.

Serious money-savers will question the necessity of buying anything at all, but surely promising them a bike (especially one you bought for £20 on eBay) is a far better option than spending £50 on an army of small soft toys sporting knitted sweaters.

3. The teach-them-to-shop-around strategy

If you'd quite like to get them something, but don't want to be nagged into spending a fortune, you can set them a budget.

You need to be clear and unbending, and the budget needs to be set well in advance of going anywhere near the shop. However, it means you don't need to spend more than £1 per child for a warm and fuzzy feeling all round.

4. The start-early strategy

This is a successful part of all of the above strategies. Even before you set foot out of the front door, the kids need to know where they stand. If you make it part of the deal in going out in the first place you are far more likely to get their buy-in.

A couple of reminders of your chosen approach during the day, and one just before you hit the shop should see you home clear.

5. Never-surrender

Whatever your strategy don't forget you are dealing with pros. You'll have had a long day, and their ability to stand their ground over the purchase of a novelty pencil sharpener will test your ensure to the limits.

However, even if it's just a small gift, or just a few pennies over the budget, you must never give in and never surrender.

If they scent weakness - even once - then you can be sure that the battle of the gift shop will never be over.