When we plan for our Disney themed vacations, many of us first set a budget. We asked our Parenting Panel this week: How do you save up for a Disney themed vacation? Do you do anything special to budget for your trips?


Mary Kraemer, is an avid Disney fan and travel consultant with CruisingCo/MouseEarVacations who loves to travel  to Disney destinations with her husband and childrenas often as possible. Mary, writes:

Disney vacations and savings are not exactly mutually exclusive terms in my house… but it’s pretty close (just ask my husband).! I can’t say I’m a "normal" Disney park guest, visiting only once for the "trip of a lifetime." So, my Disney trip planning is not a "one size fits all" approach.

Because I usually spending my time in the parks, my hotel choice is secondary, and my personal opinion is that I’d rather go to the parks more days and stay in a less-expensive hotel than splurge on an expensive hotel and only be able to go one or two days. So, in that regard, I feel like I’m trading off time for money.

Although I have the option to stay onsite at times, most of the times I’ve been to the Disneyland Resort, I stay at a convenient Good Neighbor hotel within walking distance. When I go to the Walt Disney World Resort, I usually stay onsite, but there have been times when offsite has worked out really well, too, depending on the number of people traveling.

Although ticket prices continue to increase, I still feel that an annual pass is the best value for my Disneyland trips (and I have had the Premier pass, which also works at Walt Disney World, when I know I’ll be on both coasts several times in a year). Having the annual pass enables me to focus on having fun at Disneyland rather than worrying about whether I’m getting my money’s worth out of a day ticket. It also lets me rationalize a quick overnight or two—or even just stopping in for a couple of hours—because I’m not worried about losing money if I don’t stay from opening to closing. It also gives me the peace of mind that I will be back again.

I don’t "save up" for my Disney vacations in advance. I do, however, have a Disney Visa card, and I let the reward points accumulate, so I have some "mad money" for purchases (usually food) at the parks. Some of my clients are far more diligent about using their Disney Visa cards, purchasing literally everything with the card so that their reward points pay for their vacations. It can be done! I take advantage of the discounts offered by Disney Visa, and that helps save money, too.

I have one habit that could be considered "saving" for my Disney trips, however. Whenever I do my family’s laundry, any money left in pockets becomes the property of "The Laundry Fairy." And the Laundry Fairy has a Disneyland-themed bank where she deposits all this found money. Just before leaving on a Disney trip, I empty the bank and generally, it’s not a lot, but sometimes it buys everyone ice cream!

Chris, also known as GusMan, is always planning his next family trip to the Walt Disney World Resort and loves to help others plan their trips, as well sharing his experiences. Chris writes:

I have to admit that the first time my wife brought up the idea of going on a Walt Disney World vacation I was wondering how I was going to pay for it. Granted, our first visit was more of a side trip than anything else, but I knew that it was going to be a big expense. I was still open to the idea since it was our first vacation as a family, but I didn’t want to go into a lot of debt either.

For subsequent trips, my finances became more creative in order to make sure that I can afford a vacation. Here are some of the things my family does to help prepare from a financial perspective:

  • Make a vacation line item in the budget – I think this is the biggest help for us. We know that we want a vacation every year. We know it has to be paid in full like any other recurring expense. The best answer – plan for it by putting money aside every month. For my family, I “hide” the money in our checking account without having to put it somewhere else. However, I sometimes think that having a separate account just for the purpose would make it easier. The key here is that if you know what your money is going toward, you are more likely to have the discipline to keep making the payments.
  • Set aside any unexpected money for vacations – Considering that I don’t try to depend on a tax refund every year, I try to consider whatever I may get a bonus. I make sure that I take a good portion of such windfalls and put it towards the vacation budget. Because such bonuses are unexpected, you shouldn’t consider them a part of the budget as much as they should be seen as contributors towards meeting your goal.
  • Sell things that you don’t need. Now I know that this sounds more like a desperate measure than anything else. However, I have been known to sell a few items online here and there that I was not using anymore, stashing the proceeds away for our vacation. One year, I was able to pay for my rental car using garage sale proceeds. (And my basement was de-cluttered at the same time.)
  • Use a credit card that earns you rewards – Many people don’t want to go into debt and avoid using credit cards like the plague. I completely understand that. We are a cashless family, though, and being that I pay off my cards every month the little bonuses we get through those purchases help out a lot. We don’t pay for our hotel rooms during our drive down and back from Walt Disney World (about a $200 savings) and we get a couple hundred dollars in “free” spending money along the way.
  • Consider buying vacation supplies off-season – I know that is more of a tip on spending rather than saving, but we all have our list of items that we need to purchase for the trip itself. For example, I buy memory cards for my camera during Black Friday sales saving a lot of cash. My wife would buy vacation clothes during closeouts from the previous year, setting them aside for the summer months. These are all things that you know you will need later, you might as well pick them up when the prices are in your favor.

Let's face it—every dollar counts these days, and none of us want to go on vacation wondering how its all going to get paid for once you are back home. I found that if I stick to my household budget, have a strong saving strategy, and keep my expenditures in check, I can concentrate on the fun and excitement with my family.

Parenting in the Parks columnist Adrienne Krock’s three boys are now 15, 12, and 9. They’ve been visiting the Disneyland Resort since they were each just weeks old and Annual Passholders since they were 3 years old. Adrienne writes:

We had no plan the first time we went to Walt Disney World. Actually, that’s not entirely true. We prepaid for a package that included hotel, entrance tickets, and food. But what we really did was just put that on our credit cards. The good news is that we’re breaking that cycle.

This time we’re planning our vacation budget much differently We estimated our budget and opened a separate savings account. I do not want to see my vacation money mixed in with any account we otherwise use, because I know we will be too tempted to spend it. If I don’t see it, I won’t spend it. Then I started to fill the account up with money.

  • Every month we put a little bit of money aside in that account before we pay for anything else.
  • We put all our found money in that account. Rebate checks from credit card companies? That money goes in the account. Bonus checks from work? That money goes into the account.
  • Every month I figure out my grocery budget and take the money out of the bank in cash. Whenever possible I do not give the stores exact change. I collect that spare change from every grocery trip or iced tea run. As the change accumulates, I put it in the savings account. You would be surprised how fast change adds up.

I know some families on MousePad talk about making count down counters for the entire family to watch. They figure out how much they need to save and use sticky notes, a paper chain, or a grid that they fill with Disney themed stickers. Every time they meet a savings milestone, they get to something off or add a sticker. This helps the children appreciate the savings and gives everyone more motivation to save.

For that first Walt Disney World trip, much of our sons’ spending money, and even some of the parents’, came from our late friend, Margaret, known as MammaSilva on MousePad. MammaSilva adored my boys and always wanted to give them presents for their birthdays and special events. Whenever she found a reason to give them a gift, she gave them Disney Dollars. Sure enough, some Disney Dollars found their way into birthday cards for my husband and me, too. The boys used the Disney Dollars to select their own special treats and souvenirs. When friends or family ask what would your children like for gifts, suggest Disney gift cards or Disney Dollars. I know my children love to get them and feel empowered.

It's your turn—keep the discussion flowing!

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Adrienne gathered experience taking children to amusement parks when she worked as a day camp counselor and director. She was an elementary school teacher before she started her favorite job: being mom to her three boys. Adrienne, Matthew, Spencer, and Colin visit Disneyland frequently, usually with Dad, Kevin.