Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Disney: Budgeting for your trip

Hello all. We're back!!

We had a wonderful Disney World trip.
The weather was great.  The crowds weren't too bad and we absolutely LOVED our resort.

I hope you guys like Disney too, because you're going to hear a lot about it in the next week or so. :)
Besides needing to get it all recorded for posterity sake; hopefully, some of the things we learned could help you out on your next Disney trip.

OK, to start, we're going to talk about the B word that everyone hates.  No, not that one - budget!

When we first decided to plan a Disney World trip, our first question was "How in the world do we know how much to save?"  One of our personal convictions is to never put a vacation on a credit card.  We ALWAYS save up for it first and only go on the vacation when we have enough money for it.  Remember a budget is only what you think you will spend.  If you actually spend different amounts, that's OK, as long as you don't overspend on the overall vacation.  In other words, if you spend more than expected on one part, you'll have to spend less than expected on something else.

To start off, we thought about the categories that we would need to pay for.  (And trust me, there are SOOOO many different choices where Disney, or any vacation, is concerned so don't think this is the only way to do it.  It just worked for us.)

You'll have to decide if you are driving or flying.  If you live far away, that decision is probably made for you.  For us, driving in a day was doable, so it was still on the table.  To compare costs, check the prices of airline tickets for the time of year you are going.  Then find out how many miles it is to drive and figure out how many tanks of gas that is.  For us, it was 2 tanks down and 2 tanks up.  You'll have to estimate your gas cost using current gas prices.  You just may have to adjust that up or down the closer you get to your vacation.  Then you can compare the costs of driving versus flying.

We decided to drive so our next step was to budget how much we would spend in gas.  We started out budgeting $50 a tank for gas, but later changed it to $60 a tank, since the price of gas had gone up dramatically.  We assumed we would need 5 tankfuls of gas total - 2 down, 2 back and 1 while we were there.  So our total gas budget was $300.  In reality we didn't need that tank of gas in Orlando, so we only spent $227 on gas.

If you'll remember, we had a hard time deciding where to stay during our vacation - on Disney property or off.  When making up a lodging budget, look up current prices online.  It was very easy to see prices for condos outside of Disney online.  To see prices for Disney resorts was a little more tricky.  I actually had to go through the process of booking a place online (just didn't put in credit card info) and then I could see approximately how much the different resorts would cost.  After comparing prices and weighing all the pros and cons (Disney transportation, etc), we chose to stay on-site at a Moderate priced hotel.

Disney requires a 20% deposit to reserve your hotel, so make sure you have saved up that much before you make your reservation.  I called the Disney Reservation Center to reserve our room and they told me exactly how much I still owed and when it was due.  Moderate priced resorts for a week are about $1700.  I got a deal for 40% off, bringing our total down to about $1000.  So we added $1000 to our budget.

Like gas, this was a tricky thing to plan.  We had to decide ahead of time whether to get the Disney dining plan or not.  I had two choices.  I could get 40% off our room and no dining plan.  Or I could pay full price for the room and get free dining.  We felt like we could eat for a lot less than the $700 difference, we opted out of the dining plan.

Our plan was to bring breakfast food to eat in the room, eat lunch in the parks and eat dinner out in Orlando somewhere.  For the most part we stuck with that plan.  A few days we switched up lunch and dinner (i.e. Orlando for lunch, back to one of the parks for dinner).  We had to estimate the cost of meals in the park and the cost of meals in Orlando.  Then we had to add in the cost of fast food meals on our travel days.  The numbers we used in estimating were: $40 for park meals, $60 for Orlando meals and $20 for fast food meals.  Our total food budget was $820.  In reality, the meals in the park we cheaper - more like $30.  And we ended up eating PB&J sandwiches in our room one day because we were just too tired to go out.  So we really only spent $525 on meals for the week, which was cheaper than the $700 the dining plan would have cost us.  (See below for a note about character meals and the Disney dining plan.)

Disney likes to make things complicated.  If you've been there recently, you know there aren't just "park tickets."  You start with regular tickets then you can add the park hopper option, the water parks and more option and/or the no expiration option.  To confound the process even more, the more days your ticket is good for, the cheaper it is per day. 

Some people just add it all and pay for it all.  We didn't want to do that.  Our kids aren't into water parks, so we crossed that off the list.  Choosing whether to add the hopper option or not was a toss-up.  But we went with the thought that we would just be too tired at the end of the day to hop to another park.  I think that was a fair assessment for us. 

But we didn't just get regular tickets either.

We knew that the price of tickets increases every year and we knew that it's cheaper per day to get longer tickets.  So we opted to get 8 day tickets and add the no expiration option (regular tickets expire 2 weeks after you start using them).  Our thinking is that we would use 4 days now and we can use 4 days a few years from now when we go back.  It makes our future trip cheaper if the tickets are already paid for.  You can see ticket prices at Disney's website; however, that is not the only place to buy them.  We shopped around online and got our tickets through Undercover Tourist instead.  (Keep in mind, you'll save a little bit, but anyplace that advertises extremely discounted rates on Disney tickets is a scam.) 

Also a warning - Disney tickets are outrageously expensive, even with a discount.  Our total for 8 day no expiration tickets for 2 adults and 2 kids were $1500.  If we were to divide it out, it would be $750 for this trip and $750 for our future trip.

The all-time budget killer - souvenirs.  When you are taking 2 small children to Disney World who have a tendency to want everything they see, budgeting for souvenirs can be tricky.  However, we found a method that worked wonderfully for us. 

We started planning our trip back in October.  When we did, we told our children that they needed to start saving up for their spending money at Disney.  We opened special saving accounts for them at the bank and made a deal with them.  We would match whatever they saved up to $100 each.  I'm so proud of our kids.  They saved diligently over the 7 month time-frame and Julie saved up $140.  With our $100 matching and a gift from their Mamaw, she had a whopping $290 to spend!!  David saved a little less but still managed to save $100.  We added out $100 and Mamaw's gift and he had $250 to spend.  Each child was allowed to spend our $100 before they touched their cash.

When we arrived in Disney for the week, we divided their money out over 5 days (4 days in the parks, one in Downtown Disney).  They had the right to spend their money anyway they wanted - all in one day or a little at a time - but we wanted to give them a little guidance.  Julie's budget was $58 a day and David's was $50 a day.  They both did pretty well spending within their budgets.  David spent every penny.  Julie came home with about $40.

So how did we decide what they paid for and what we paid for?  Our rules were we would pay for meals and for one snack a day (ice cream, funnel cake, etc).  Anything else they wanted, they had to use their money for.  That system worked beautifully for us.

Tim and I together had $300 budgeted to spend on our souvenirs.  We spent $237.

Disney has LOTS of special dinners and tours that you can reserve.  They can cost anywhere from $35 a person on up.  You just have to find out what your family feels is important - meeting characters, seeing a show, etc - and pick your entertainment choices based on that.  We went to Mickey's Backyard BBQ and on the Family Magic Tour.  Both turned out to be excellent choices for our family.  We also knew how much those would cost so we budgeted for them.  Our entertainment budget was $300.

Extra expenses always come up.  There are strollers to rent, Disney Photopass CD's to buy, and the list goes on.  Plan for miscellaneous expenses.  Consider them your wiggle room in your budget.

Overall we saved $5100 for our trip and ended up spending $4500.  I think we did pretty good.

Have you been to Disney World?  What are your budgeting tips?


  1. Every young family should follow your blog! So many people don't budget for a trip. We have been guilty of that; just taking the amount of money we had and hoping it would last, often adding expense to a credit card. This is very wise advice Cathy. Well written!

  2. Sounds like you did a great job with estimating your costs Cathy!
    This is so similar to what we did when we were planning our 3-week RV trip across the country... kids spending money included...
    Thanks for sharing. :)

  3. Awesome tips! Thanks for showing us the REAL prices! Can't wait to hear more about your trip! :)

  4. We are going to Disney World this fall and I found this so helpful! I've been going back and forth on what to budget for souvenirs at Disney, we are doing a few days in orlando too so I didn't want my son to spend ALL of his money at Disney. But he has been saving and I think matching the amount they save is great incenitive. Thanks again!