Fitting It In The Budget

by Adrienne Krock, contributing writer

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!

Visit the Parenting in the Parks forum on our MousePad discussion board, and share your opinions about this topic or many others, or send your suggestions via e-mail. Reader-submitted tips might be used in a future article, and you might be selected to participate in an upcoming article.



  1. By Jimbo996

    How do you magically save for a Disney vacation? Your family budget is already mixed into the family checking account. Your daily, weekly, monthly expenses are automatically used up and any residual leftovers can be used for a vacation. Thus, I don't have a separate budget for vacation. I adjust my spending in anticipation for a vacation especially during the ramp-up when the vacation bills are due. The first expense is the accommodations. There is no vacation without the selection of where you'll stay. I do this at least 9 months out. The second expense is transportation. This should be done within 4 to 6 months of the vacation. You find out the sweet spot for the airfare by constant checking at the travel websites. The next expenses are crucial for the Disney vacation. Reserve your dining online 6 months out. You'll have to pay for Royal Table in advance. The Disney Dining Plan can be reserved 3 days prior to the trip, but do it sooner. Buy your admission tickets 2.5 months out to ensure you can get Fastpass+ reservations 60 days early. Get memory maker 30 days earlier. You pay your bills as you get them.

  2. By DisneyGator

    It all comes down to income for the year. If it's a good year, we're going to WDW! If it's a bad year, we stay home. If it's an average year, it's a 6 hour drive to Disneyland.

    What I'd like to know is the economic demographics of people staying at place like the Grand Cali or one of WDW's deluxe hotels. I'd love to get into one of those, but I just can't pull the trigger on that kind of money. I just figure I'm not making what others do, but that's just a guess.

  3. By candles71

    Quote Originally Posted by DisneyGator View Post
    . I just figure I'm not making what others do, but that's just a guess.

    I think in some cases maybe. Other cases, people choose to stay there and just budget longer for it. A third thought, some just don't know any better. By that I mean the masses who don't do any research ahead of time. They don't know Christmas is the worst time to go to either coast, they think Halloween is slow. You know, the ones who then turn around and give a 1 star rating on Trip Advisor because the were miserable. (If you are reading this it obviously doesn't apply to you. If you ever need a laugh, go read through some of them, but be warned you may find yourself yelling at your screen.) After our first trip, one of Whistler's work associates booked a trip to DL, he spent almost twice what we did because he just booked a package through Costco or AAA or someone. Not knocking packages or using a T.A., but DL is often less expensive and easy to pput together yourself with only a little bit of research.
    Ok, I got caught up in the comments, off to read ADK's article.

  4. By adriennek

    Quote Originally Posted by candles71 View Post
    Not knocking packages or using a T.A., but DL is often less expensive and easy to pput together yourself with only a little bit of research.
    Ok, I got caught up in the comments, off to read ADK's article.

    And see, the first time I went to WDW, I used a travel agent because I was so overwhelmed, even with being here on the boards. Many times, getting a package at WDW is a really good way to save money. In fact, I originally booked my package and was pretty happy with it. From reading around, I figured out the cost and the benefits I was getting and it was a good deal. Then a special offer came out and my agent adjusted my package, saving me even more money.

    The next time we're going to WDW, we are not using an agent, BUT... I'll have a premier AP (wasn't available last time we went,) and I'm staying in someone else's DVC so lodging cost isn't an issue. But you can bet, when it comes time to book a cruise, I know EXACTLY who I will be calling and asking to make all of those arrangements for me. We don't call her the Fairy Godmother without reason.

  5. By candles71

    Oh, yes, when we get to WDW we very likely will use one. DL though is quite easy to not use one. (There are exceptions of course, our Aussie friends for instance.) Oh and I was totally lost in booking our cruise, I was so happy the prize came with a TA.

    Ok, it has been long enough for me to get it together. (You know what threw me ADK. :/)

    As far as budgeting for a trip. Most of ours were listed. Extra money is set aside. Yard sales, spare change, Disney visa points (all regular bills autopay to it), Whistler gets side jobs and that money (minus materials of course) gets set aside. We have to have it seperate. One of the couponing blogs I like actually says she uses an online bank because it is less accessible to her. For us, we pull it out and it is put away. I have this mental block about breaking hundreds, so I ask for em if I go inside the bank. Rebates for products and any other found money goes in.

  6. By adriennek

    Quote Originally Posted by candles71 View Post
    Ok, it has been long enough for me to get it together. (You know what threw me ADK. :/)

    It wasn't any easier to write. But the topic was planned before events happened so it came to be.

  7. By T Rex

    I get paid every two weeks and after I receive a check I typically go to the website and buy a Disney Gift Card - you can buy them in incriments as low as $25 (I usually buy $50 to $100) each time. Then, Disney will mail the gift card to my home address; I typically receive it within about a week after purchase. I put the gift card(s) aside and take them on my trips. You can use them in the parks/resorts a la carte or apply them against a hotel bill upon check-in and although you will end up with a credit once room and tax and other purchases get posted then the credit gradually disappears to a zero balance.

    There is no charge to buying the cards online from the site and they mail them to you for free ("free shipping included" is a delivery option). This is sort of like a "Christmas Club" concept only you're saving for an upcoming Disney trip as opposed to saving for Christmas presents. The cards are good at all Disney resort locations and also for DCL, Adventures by Disney and WDTC packages.

    The only down side is that if you loose the cards or they are stolen you could have some problems but if you keep detailed records Disney has been known to nulify the purchase on their end and even reissue the card. Additionally, if they get lost in the mail you also can have them replaced if you report them lost. Disneyland, where these are actually issued has been incredibly helpful in the past with questions, issues and reissues.

    Another drawback is that it looks kind of stupid to the front desk clerk if you are laying down 30 cards to pay for your vacation but hey, so what!!! It is also kind of fun to see your Disney trip in the form of colorful gift cards in various denominations. Before you know it you will have much of your vacation money saved up in advance on a weekly basis.

  8. By candles71

    Oh, speaking of gift cards, I save up our Disney Movie rewards and order the $10 gift cards when they come back in stock. They are only "in stock" a couple of times a year and sell out quickly, so I just try to watch.
    Don't be embarrased the CMs are quite used to getting multiple gift cards.
    ADK, I figured.

  9. By ericles

    Quote Originally Posted by T Rex View Post
    Another drawback is that it looks kind of stupid to the front desk clerk if you are laying down 30 cards to pay for your vacation but hey, so what!!! It is also kind of fun to see your Disney trip in the form of colorful gift cards in various denominations. Before you know it you will have much of your vacation money saved up in advance on a weekly basis.

    Ha HA! That was me on our last trip to WDW two years ago! The CM was quite nice about it....I have employeed the Disney Gift Card approach a lot. I wish you could add money to them (I don't live near a Disney store where I understand this is a easy transaction) online or over the phone, so I didn't have to keep buying different ones. In any event, this seems to work good for us. Everytime I buy one and sock it away I mentally think "okay, this is two drinks at the pool" or " this is enough for dinner for the two of us". or "one sweatshirt"!
    I also keep a secondary savings account where I stash a bit here & there as it won't be missed. I don't necessarily work towards saving a specific amount for a WDW trip, rather and Iput aside so that when the urge/oppurtunity arrises I can take advantage of it.

  10. By GusMan

    One other item I did not add in my portion is when it comes to actually paying for the trip.

    I am one that keeps track of every dollar spent while at the parks to keep things in within our budget. To make things simple, I charge everything to the room. At the end, it all gets paid for on our Disney Visa card.... which jump starts our reward dollars for next year.

    When we get home, I submit a payment for what we spent...

    Ive just heard too may negative stories about using debit cards, prepaid cards, gift cards, and the like.

    We do give the kids each a gift card for their spending money... that makes it easy to budget for them. They remain responsible for them.

  11. By Mermaid

    We have a "trip fund" little wallet hidden in our room. When we sell something or come into a little extra cash, ir goes into the "trip fund." Once it gets to be $200, I go buy a gift card so I don't have all that cash laying around. We also use our credit cards for all expenses. We have an airline card and the Disney Visa. I know the Disney Visa isn't the best rate of return, but it is an easy simple way to accumulate "free money." We pay off the cards every month so there is no interest. Usually our souvenir budget is whatever we have in Disney Rewards. This next trip, we should have a pretty high balance, due to a longer time between trips and a bathroom remodel on the card so we should be able to pay for a ticket or two.


  12. By GusMan

    No, the Disney Visa is not the best rate of return, but I think its one of the easiest to use when it comes to getting rewards.
    I have a Hilton card as well which the points from that and my business travels is what gives me enough points for the three rooms needed for our trip there and back.

  13. By Tater

    I don't save up for a trip as much as I look for ways to save on the cost of the trip. Looking for room discounts, buying tickets from Undercover Tourist, taking the time to go to Wal-mart in Orlando to pick up food and water to have in the room cuts down on the cost of our meals. One of the biggest ways I have found is using the Disney Visa Rewards.

    I first used the card in 2008, the trip we took then and the one in 2010 we had $250 to spend from the points earned. We put everything on the card and pay it off each month instead of using cash. On our 3rd visit in 2011 we had $500 from the points, I bought Disney Gift cards with those points and used the cards to pay for meals and souvenirs. For our trip this coming November I will be using the points earned to pay for our tickets and part of the room cost. At this time we have a little over $1000 in points it feels like free money since we would still be spending money on all those everyday things anyway.

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