The thing I am asked most about, hands down, is how we afford to travel to Disney World. I always reply, when properly motivated, it’s pretty easy to find the money! But there are several, specific things that I do to be able to finance one (or more) trips per year.
Saving FOR the Disney Trip
1 – The Disney Chase Visa
We are a Dave Ramsey family, so we do our best to carry no debt. However, against all of Dave’s principles, we do use this credit card. While there are other credit cards that may give you better cash back options, we prefer this one for the ease of use in financing our vacations. There are two versions of this credit card, a no-fee card which earns 1% on all purchases and a $49 per year fee card which earns 2% on groceries, gas, dining and all Disney purchases, and 1% on all other purchases. Both of these can be redeemed for Disney Dream Reward Dollars which can be used toward resort costs, park tickets and a variety of Disney merchandise.
We use our card to pay for basically everything in our day-to-day lives and pay it off in full each month (actually twice a month due to how our paychecks run). We have never accrued interest, and have earned approximately $800 per year. As with all credit cards though, I must emphasize caution and restraint. There is no point in earning the rewards, when you are paying the same amount in interest.
2 – Disney Vacation Account
Many people are unaware that Disney offers this service. The Disney Vacation Account is a savings account serviced by Disney where you can estimate the cost of your upcoming trip, and Disney will calculate how much you need to save per month in order to reach that goal. You can then set up monthly contributions, or do one-time contributions when you have extra cash.
This works two fold for me. Again, because we utilize the Dave Ramsey plan for our finances, we have a zero-based budget each month. As an incentive to come in under budget on things like groceries, gas and dining out, whenever we do come in under budget I am able to deposit the extra into our Disney Vacation Savings account. I spend less money, and get to add the extra savings towards the next Disney trip!
3 – Coin saving
Lots of people save their spare change, and we are no exception. I bought cheap containers at Dollar Tree, decorated them with my Silhouette and we throw all of our spare change in there. When the time comes, we roll it up and add it to our vacation fund!
Saving ON your Disney trip
1 – Resort savings
Until recently, we almost never stayed on property. I would search and search to find the best deals on nearby hotels and we would stay there. A fair amount of times, we utilized daily savings sites (Groupon, Living Social, etc) to find discounted hotels in Orlando. I will say, we have never been disappointed and often found really great deals on condos and suites, especially in the off season.
Staying in an on-site resort can be affordable as well. During the off season, Disney will offer 20-30% discounts in their resorts, which can amount to significant savings. There are always certain exceptions, the Little Mermaid rooms at the Art of Animation Resort for example, but it never hurts to do the Disney Math when researching your next trip.
Another option for resort savings can be to rent DVC member points. The Disney Vacation Club is Disney’s version of a timeshare. When members are unable to use all of their points, they often offer to rent them. A reputable DVC rental site can help you to determine how many points you would need for a specific resort and broker the transaction for you. I will say that I have not personally done this, but it is on my to-do list when we visit the Animal Kingdom Lodge on an upcoming trip.
2 – Food savings
When we vacation on a budget, I am very careful about where we eat. I will often grab bagels, cereal bars and whatever else we feel like eating for breakfast to keep in the hotel and keep park food costs down. We will splurge on a couple of great, and more costly, meals during our stay, but mostly stick to quick service restaurants to save money.
Disney also offers Free Dining at certain points throughout the year, typically in the fall. It is usually a great way to save money on your vacation, but it is always a good idea to do the Disney Math, especially if they are offering a room only discount at the same time. Depending on how your family eats, you may come out better with other options.
Another perk of the Disney Visa, is 10% savings on dining in many of the table service restaurants in the moderate and deluxe resorts. You must use your credit card or Disney Dream Rewards card to purchase when asking for this discount and gratuity and alcohol are not included.
3 – Ticket savings
There really aren’t a whole lot of ways to save on tickets, unfortunately. We have been fortunate enough to find deals through work place discounts, but even then it is not significant (5-10% on average). Disney really has the lockdown on ticket prices.
The one exception would be military discounts. If a family member traveling with you is active or retired military, they are eligible for significant discounts on tickets. Currently, a 4 day base park ticket with park hopper will cost you $369 (plus tax), where a military price for 2016 is $196 (plus tax). The eligible member may purchase up to 6 tickets, provided one is used by the purchasing member. Proper military identification is required.
Other tips and tricks
1 – Plan Ahead
Planning ahead is really the key to saving for anything. We will plan our trips a significant amount of time prior to going, divide the total cost by the number of months before we leave and put that much money back per month for the trip. ($4,000 trip/12 months = approximately $335 per month to save). Seeing it in smaller chunks helps it to not feel so over whelming.
2 – Budget
Budget, budget, budget. Budget for everything. Look below at the budget I made for a multi-family trip a few years ago. We were staying off site, and adding Universal and Sea World to our plan. This simple spreadsheet allowed me to see everything we might spend money on, exactly how much each family would need in total (note: these prices are no longer valid), and how much my specific group would need to save.
3 – Visit with a Toddler
Okay, okay, here me out. Did you know toddlers (under 3) are FREE? That’s right, free park admission, free food (meaning you are not required to buy a Dining Plan for them, and it is encouraged that they share from your plate), free everything. We’ve taken children under 3 several times, and while it may take a bit more preparation, and you may not be able to ride everything (unless you are willing to ride by yourself while another adult watches the kid), it is definitely worth it for the savings. Many will argue that there is no point in taking a child who won’t remember it, I have to disagree. My children may not remember everything we did on those trips, but I will never forget the pure joy on their faces meeting Mickey or Cinderella for the first time, or riding Dumbo, or any of the other magical experiences.
4 – Souvenirs
You’ll notice in the budget that we have a category for “spending” per day. This is not specifically set aside for souvenirs, but could be. We actually, rarely purchase souvenirs (I prefer the free buttons to commemorate our visit), but when you travel with kids, the occasional stuffed animal is inevitable. It’s easy to go a little spending crazy when you’re in Disney World (feeling carefree is a side effect of being there!), but I always ask myself, “where am I going to put this when I get home?” and that helps me put things back on the shelf!
I hope you have found a few ways to save a few bucks on your next Disney World trip. Believe it or not, I feel that Disney can be affordable for everyone with the proper planning and budgeting!