If you read my post The Mouse and Money you have a better understanding of what your vacation to WDW is going to cost. Disney is amazing and worth it, but expensive for the average family. It’s important to take advantage of some cost cutting measures if you’re looking to watch your budget. The following consists of tips and trips that I utilize when saving for our Disney trips. Everything listed takes place BEFORE the trip itself when you’re in the planning and paying stages. I will do a separate piece just on how to save money while AT Disney because that’s a whole other topic in itself.
We go to Disney twice a year for at least a week and friends and family always ask how we’re able to do this. My husband and I make a middle class income, we have a mortgage, car payments, etc. like many people. My answer to how we afford Disney is simple, we budget everything and we sacrifice.
First Things First: Get the Best Deal on Your Disney Vacation
Book during the value season.
Of course this isn’t always going to be possible depending on when your kids can take time from school and/or you can get time off work but if possible try to book your vacation during the value season or even the regular season. By all means, avoid peak rates. Peak rates occur around major holidays, school vacation weeks, and summer break. Value rates occur the last week of August, the entire month of September, the first half of October, the first and last weeks of November the second half of January, and the first half of February for the most part. There are sporadic value weeks sprinkled March, April, May and June too. Any other time is considered regular season.
Watch for Special Offers
This is so important. Disney offers special offers throughout the year on their website. These offers include 20% the cost of your room, free dining plan with full price room, a combination of the two and sometimes they even offer a free day of park tickets. If you weren’t able to get a special offers when you first book, keep trying. New ones might come up or current ones may have new availability. Disney only allows a certain amount of rooms per offer per resort. People do cancel though so check the website and call as often as you can. If you want to get a bit of an advantage as to when deals are coming out, check out mousesavers.com and subscribe for their newsletter. They will email you when new offers are released.
Consider a Downgrade
Do you have to stay deluxe? Consider how much time you’re going to spend in your room or at the resort. If it’s not a lot than maybe it’s not worth staying deluxe. There are plenty of nice moderate and value resorts that will offer just as good of an experience for sometimes less than half the cost.
Skip Park Hopper
If it’s your first time going to Disney or you’re traveling with young kids, you may want to skip buying Park Hopper. Each park has more than a full day of things to offer and it’s really not necessary to visit more than one park per day. Skipping Park Hopper can save you $200-$400.
Pass on Memory Maker
Don’t get me wrong, I love Memory Maker myself. Someone else takes the photos and they show up right on your phone and you can download or share them as you please. However, any PhotoPass photographer is happy to take photos for you using your own camera or phone. That way your entire party can be in the picture and you’ll always get good shots.
Carefully Think Over the Dining Plan
The Dining Plan is not for everyone but when used as intended it can save you money. I wrote a post on this topic alone and you should definitely check it out to help decide if the Dining Plan is the right choice for your family.
Arrive and Leave Mid-Week
The main reason to do this is to save money on your flights. If you’re not flying this doesn’t really apply. Flights going into Orlando are cheaper Tuesday thru Thursday because the majority of Disney goers are flying in and out on weekends. Business people travel on Mondays and Fridays so avoid those days as well.
Plan a Resort Day
There’s nothing wrong with just hanging by your resort’s pool all day or going out to explore other resorts. Skipping the parks for a day in the middle of your vacation not only saves you money but can provide a much needed break. For more information on how to “Resort Hop” check out my post Quick Guide: Resort Hopping.
Use a Travel Agent
A travel agent can help find deals for you and also update your reservation if a new deal comes out after you have booked that may save you some money. They’ll make all the phone calls for you and they don’t charge anything extra for their services. To find out more about using a travel agent, read my post Q&A With a Travel Agent.
Second: Create a Budget With Your Disney Vacation in Mind
There are so many budget apps you can download on your phone, I use the one my bank provides but Mint (mint.com) is probably the most popular one. A good budgeting app will help you set up a monthly budget that works for your family and help you stick to it. When creating your budget, have your Disney trip in mind. Whether it’s already booked or not, know how much you may already have and how much more you need.
Ideally you will save money before booking but since Disney is a trip that requires more time to plan, many people including myself will book and pay for the trip in the months leading up to it. I have a separate categories within our family budget called “Disney Fund” and “Annual Passes” so I can make sure I set aside money every month for our trips and passes.
Live Within Your Budget
Budgeting doesn’t work unless you work it. My family sacrifices on things other people consider essential in order to go to Disney. For example, we do not buy coffee at Dunkin’ everyday, we pack lunches, we limit how many times we go out to eat to twice a month, and we find ways to save on everything from groceries to local entertainment. This part does require some creativity but I promise it’s not difficult.
Any online shopping I do, I do it thru ebates. All you do is log into your ebate account, you can even download their app, and instead of going directly to the retailers website you go to ebates first and connect to the retailers website thru them. Doing this will earn you a percentage back from your purchase with that retailer. They have pretty much everyone too from Target to Kohls to Groupon and pretty much everything in between. They even have hotels (non-Disney but great if you’re staying off-site), rental car companies, and airlines! If you want to be super crafty, do this: Use ebates to buy Disney gift cards from Target using your debit or credit RedCard. You get the 5% off for using your RedCard and an extra 1% for going thru ebates for a 6% savings. That’s $6 for every $100, but for a vacation that costs $4,000 you’re looking at a savings of $240! Sign up for ebates here and earn $10 back on your first purchase $25 and over: ebates.com
Groupon is my one stop shop for discounts on local entertainment, events, restaurants, and places to go. The money I save using Groupon to find fun things to do for my family I put into our Disney Fund. Groupon suggests offers to you based on your location, some things you may not have heard of either so it’s great to get you out and trying something new. For example, my husband and I just got a Groupon for a wine tasting for two but only paid the price of one. By going thru ebates I saved an additional 6%. Groupon helps make it possible to still have a life while your budgeting for Disney or any other big purchase for that mater. You can sign up for Groupon here: groupon.com.
The rebate app bandwagon is a popular one and if you’re not on the bandwagon than hitch a ride! Apps like Ibotta and Checkout 51 make saving money on everyday groceries and household goods super easy. Browse the app for things you would normal buy or would like to try, purchase the item, scan your receipt and get your cash back. It’s that easy. You can also use the apps in conjunction with any Target Cartwheel deals, Target RedCard 5% discount, and store/manufacturer coupons. This allows you to stack discounts and get products for cheap. Now I’m not saying you have to make extreme couponing your hobby but why pay full price for something if you don’t have to? I transfer my rebates right to be my Disney Fund. To join Ibotta start here and download their app: ibotta.com. To join Checkout 51 visit here and download their app as well: checkout51.com.
Use a Credit or Debit Card that Offers Perks
This option is not going to be for everyone because it requires a lot of discipline, especially when it involves a credit card. If you can do it though, the perks are worth it. I personally do not do this because I know myself and don’t trust that I will pay off the card entirely each time but one of my best friends uses this technique successfully and loves it. If you don’t have one already, find a credit card that offers cash back or airline miles. Make all or most of your everyday purchases and even your payments toward your vacation using this card. Pay off the card as soon as the bill comes in and reap the benefits of cash back or airline miles. Simple, but again, it requires some discipline. I myself prefer to use my debit card. My bank offers changing deals that result in 5-20% cash back when you make purchases with your debit card at certain places. Every so often those places will include expedia.com or hotels.com. If you book flights thru these sites using the debit card you get that percentage back in your account. Ask if your bank offers this and if not, consider finding a bank that does!
Third: Consider Even More Ways to Save
Use Disney Transportation vs. Renting a Car
There really is no need to rent a car. The Magical Express will drive you back and forth from the airport and the internal buses, boats and monorails can bring you all over WDW property. Not only will not renting a car save you the actual rental expense but it will also save you from paying parking fees for the parks and resorts. The buses are not as bad as you may have heard. We have never waited more than 20 minutes for a bus to arrive and we have never been on the bus for more than 20 minutes either. Most of the time it’s a lot less than that even. I’m not saying there aren’t outlying incidents but they are few and far between. The only time the buses can be a hassle is during park close time when everyone is trying to leave at once. A good way around this is to get an Uber, Lyft, or Minnie Van. Problem solved.
Bring Your Own Stroller
It’s $14 per day to rent one at the parks and roughly $75-$100 per week to rent one from an outside company. Airlines will check your stroller at the gate free of cost, all you have to do is ask the attendants at the desk before boarding for a gate check tag. You’ll be a lot more familiar with your own stroller anyway. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen families struggle trying to figure out how to fold up their rentals to get on the bus.
Shop for Souvenirs Before You Go
This one seems strange to some people but it works. You’ll find out quickly that after almost every ride at Disney you must exit thru a gift shop. So even if you think you’re just going to avoid them, you won’t be able to. Every walk thru a gift shop will result in your child wanting something, or even yourself for that matter. There are some really neat things in those shops! So to ward off the temptation and save yourself A LOT of money, consider buying Disney clothes, toys, etc. before you go and bringing them with you.
What I usually do is buy my daughter some Disney toys and stuffed animals at Target or on Amazon ahead of time and sneak them in our luggage. Whatever I can’t sneak into the luggage I have Amazon deliver directly to the hotel. Each day, Tinkerbell comes into our room while we’re at the parks and leaves my daughter a gift on her bed (I can’t take credit for this idea but it’s brilliant so I do it!) This does involve some sneaking around between me and my husband but we get it done. Just be creative. It doesn’t have to be big or expensive, just enough to satisfy her need to want all of the things she sees. We do have to remind her sometimes that she will have a surprise waiting for her when we get back to the room but most of the time she’s pretty good about it now.
As far as clothes go, I have a friend who makes custom Disney shirts for us but you can easily find some great people on Etsy that do the same and don’t charge too much. I also love LuLaRoe’s Disney Collection so I will buy some outfits before the trip to avoid me buying things while I’m there. My rep gives me a discount admittedly and she’s willing to pass that discount onto you! Visit LuLaRoe with Michelle Eugenio and mention MOM Disney for 10% off and free shipping!
Of course there are some things that we have to buy in the parks such as ornaments and pins because it’s means more that way but if you’re looking for something even cheaper to buy that you can collect, consider crushed pennies! The machines are everywhere and depending on where they’re located they have different pictures to choose matching their location. Get yourself a crushed penny book and bring it with you on your trip. I keep a zip lock with pennies and quarters in our park bag just for this.
Opt Out of Housekeeping
The option to opt out of housekeeping is being offered at many value and moderate resorts now. You’ll either get a phone call a couple of weeks before you go or be offered this while checking in. By opting out of housekeeping, Disney gives you credit for either $10-$20 per night for your stay. Don’t worry, they will still come by to empty trash and fresh towels and toiletries are still available upon request.
Go Grocery Shopping
Wait what? Yes, you read that right. One of your biggest expenses at Disney World will be food and the best way to combat this expense is to buy and bring your own. Why buy breakfast if you can have breakfast in your room which will not only save you money but also time so you can get to the parks earlier. Why buy snacks in the parks if you can bring snacks in with you? **Note: Be sure to double check whether your room has a microwave. Some do depending on where you stay. They all have a fridge but having a microwave is a bonus as it opens up your options for food more
There are a few grocery delivery options in the Orlando area that allow you to order your groceries ahead of time and they will deliver them right to your resort. My personal favorite is Garden Grocer. They’re a small local grocery store but they have all the essentials for your vacation and their customer service is fantastic. Once we had something missing and they called down to bell services for us to make sure that it wasn’t still down there. Turns out it was and they just forgot to bring it to our room. It saved me time and a phone call. They’re also very good about making changes to your order. And for the adults, they do sell and delivery alcohol too! The food prices themselves are definitely more than what you see in your store back home and there is a delivery charge but keep in mind you’re paying for convenience and it’s still cheaper than paying the price of food in the parks. To shop Garden Grocer and set up your delivery their website is gardengrocer.com.
Another option that’s gaining popularity is Publix, a chain grocery store in the area. I plan to try them on my next trip actually. Because they’re a chain you’re probably going to lose some of that customer service aspect but I’m hearing that they offer FREE delivery on your first order! To place an order start here and use Disney’s zip code 32830 to sign up: Publix Delivery.
Lastly but certainly not least, there’s Amazon. If you have a Prime account you already have access to Prime Now which is Amazon’s partnership delivery service with Whole Foods. There’s free 2-hour delivery but a minimum purchase of $20 is required. At some point we will try this option as well during one of our trips and will let you know how it goes. Learn more about Prime Now here: Prime Now.
Water, Water Everywhere
You must drink water in Florida, it’s usually hot and with all that walking dehydration does happen. Bottled water can be pricey both in and out of the parks however. Why buy it when you can get water for free at any quick service restaurant and even some food stands (any place that has a soda fountain). Just walk up to the window and ask for a cup of ice water and they will gladly give you one.
I hope my ideas and tips will prove beneficial to you and your family and help you to save money for and on your trip. Now I’d like to hear from you! Let me know what money saving tips and tricks your family uses when traveling to Disney!