Land of magic. Land of joy.
Land of spending like a Kardashian on a Rodeo Dr. bender.
Let's be real, Disney is EFFING.EXPENSIVE. No matter how you spin it, you might as well just cut a hole in your wallet and let it bleed money if you plan on visiting the House of Mouse any time soon.
In a way, they inflate prices on purpose, some hypothesize, to try and control the swelling crowds, making it out of reach of the "average American" family income of roughly $59,000 a year. According to a NY Times article published in June of this year, crowd sizes have fallen since the price of one day admission shot up to $107-$119/per person depending on the season.
But, I gotta tell ya, don't feel so bad for Mickey and Minnie. They won't be downsizing to some brightly colored Tiny Home any time soon.
Those crowds are still heavy, friends. And they're spending. A LOT.
So, one may wonder a few things:
How does a person who prides themselves on frugality (me) and avoiding spending, not to mention a person who has been open about slaying debt, take their whole family to Disney World? Knowing the massive expense, how do I justify the move...and how did we pay for it?
Stay with me.....we went, we saw, we Disney-ed, and we lived to tell about it....under budget.
THE BEST LAID PLANS OF MICE AND MEN
I am a fastidious planner by nature. I love lists. I love dayplanners (who am I kidding, I'm obsessed with my dayplanner). But when it came to Disney, I turned the actual planning part over to my Disney-phile husband. He loves Disney. He reads the message boards. He plots the busy times. He knows where the hidden Mickey's are. Yeah.
I'm not that guy (gal).
So, when he said he wanted to take the three girls back to Disney World....for a longer trip than we had done in 2015....I let him take the reigns as far as where we went and what we did. But, I took control of the financial part, largely. I knew, from experience, that Disney was mad expensive and I wanted to control the outpouring of funds as much as possible.
So, we gave ourselves over 400 days to save for the trip.
The first thing we did on the financial side was open a sinking fund through our Disney account. Now, they got rid of this feature (which I think sucks royally, but hang in there with me), but for a time Disney was taking roughly $75 (about $10.75 a day) out of our bank account every week and socking it away. Honestly, we didn't miss it and that added up SUPER fast. We were able to apply that to our vacation account whenever we felt like we had a good enough amount.
Like I said, they got rid of this feature but you can open an account that will auto-draft a set amount and put it into savings for you at most banks. Once you calculate how much your vacation is going to run you (more on that in a bit) you can decide how much you will need to save weekly to have enough to pay your balance 30 days before your trip.
Now, what most people say is "I cannot afford that"....but if you break it down into daily amounts and think about where $11 a day may be going, it starts to look a little more affordable. We made it a regular line on our weekly budget and I cut out Crossfit for a time and Starbucks trips to make it up.
By the time they got rid of the account feature and we had to save on our own, we had socked away about $3000.
How you travel TO Disney is a big part of the cost. You basically have two options: fly or drive. Since driving to Florida from Wisconsin with three kids and helper-grandma in tow didn't sound all that fun, we went the flying route.
We were lucky as helper-grandma (read: my husband's mom) said for her part of the trip she would cover the flights.
This was roughly about $2100 for 3 kids (one under 2 years old, so free), 3 adults with 2 checked bags each and 2 carry on's. Make sure you read the fine print on any flight "deals" that seem uber-cheap, because often they will make up the cost in baggage charges.
We went Southwest. All was good and it worked out to about $420 round trip for all people, excluding the baby.
In comparison, driving would have cost us, with my gas-hog of a vehicle, about $300 in gas costs round trip + $270 (roughly) in parking fees for the parks. So, SIGNIFICANTLY less than airfare.....however, I probably would have had to up my RX for Xanax, so I have to factor in that cost as well.
You think I'm kidding.
It's all in what you think you can handle financially and mentally. Being stuck 18 hours in a vehicle with a bunch of kids and adults with questionable music tastes can be an investment you may not want to make. When I was a kid we drove to Florida for vacation. My mom was really into Celine Dion at the time.
It was torture.
Like I said, daily ticket prices for the various parks at Disney have gone up. However, the ticket prices actually go lower the more days you purchase.
We went with a package deal called Magic Your Way, which allows you to book park tickets and hotel room all in one package. We already knew we wanted to stay on site. Hotels ARE more expensive on site but you don't have to worry about driving to the parks or PARKING at the parks. Shuttles take you everywhere. Another convenience that, if you're willing, you can spare yourselves to save. If you stay off-site, the hotels are cheaper but you will have to factor in the cost of car rental or Ubers.
Our cost for 9 days in a lower-level on-site resort (ours was Art of Animation, which is by no means "budgety" feeling, really) and park visits/park hopper was roughly $6300 or $700 a day for hotel/park/transportation to parks for 3 adults and 3 children.
This amount was due 30 days prior to our first day at the parks and we cash flowed it. So, breaking that down to monthly budgeting, we saved roughly $490 a month towards our vacation fund to pay for this part.
Now, here's where things get ridiculous. The food situation in and around Disney is insane. The costs are ridiculous for everything and we knew this going in. Last time we went we had a Dining Plan, which we had scored for free during one of their promotions, so Go Us! However, the Dining Plan really wasn't ALL it was cracked up to be because we felt we were eating far more often than we needed to just to make sure we were getting use out of it. Plus, it can be a little confusing.
However, getting a FREE Dining Plan saved us at least $1000 on our first trip, so if they run that promotion again sometime I definitely recommend it.
This time around we got smart and we ordered groceries to be delivered to our hotel room. We spent about $300 to get breakfasts and most of our lunches sent right to the room, as well as snacks, beer (for the hubby), and 2 cases of water to take to the parks.
This saved us a TON. We really only splurged on a few nice dinners on our first night and for my middle kid's birthday. Otherwise we ate here and there and paid cash from our spending money fund.
All in all, food outside of our groceries was about $700.
We probably could have cut that back quite a bit by eliminating the nice dinners out at The Boathouse and Teppan Edo. Those were really pricey.
CAN I HAVE THIS PLEASE
The thing that irked me most about Disney, if I had to choose something, was the overall shameless consumerism and advertising aimed at little kids. Everytime you get off a ride you have to walk through a themed gift shop. This is easy for me to walk away from, but the kids not so much.
How we approached this from a parenting and teaching standpoint is each kid (Bridget not included....if we gave her cash she'd just eat it)...had their own spending money saved from their birthdays and a gift of $25 from Grandma. They had to decide how they wanted to allocate that money over the course of the 9 days.
This money went mostly to stuffed animals.
They're girls. And kids.
But, if you ever want to just sit back and "people watch" folks spending gross amounts of cash on cheap crap....sit outside a Disney gift shop sometime because it's just....all sorts of ew. It's a massive cash grab for sure....but, again, we know this going in. It's our jobs as parents to prepare our children for the onslaught of BUY BUY BUY!
You can go to Disney and just take it in. You don't HAVE to come home with any tchochkies. You don't.
Here's where I try my damndest not to be tone deaf.
I know not everyone can afford a Disney Vacation. Especially not twice in 3 years. I am aware that we are very fortunate in this regard. I also know that even with careful budgeting and planning, it's just not financially feasible for some.
When establishing a zero-based household budget, it's always important to have priority items for sinking funds. We typically always have one running, whether it be to buy a new couch, to fund something over $250 that we may want, for tires, for whatever. We were able to cash flow our vacation by allocating our extra funds after budgeted items were taken care of to a sinking fund. Taking into consideration our income and bill commitments, it took us 13 months to save up and pay for the trip. Depending on what you have to place into the sinking fund each month, it may take you a longer or shorter amount of time.
Here's where I also acknowledge that we took a rather spendy trip while not yet being debt free. I know Dave Ramsey would probably have some harsh words for us. Or he'd just hang up on us, who knows.
Here's where D-Ram and I split. My kids will only be 10, 7, and 20 months for a short sliver of time. My oldest is in that awkward age where she still WANTS to believe in all the magic, but part of her wants to dismiss it.....my 7 year old....I can't believe she's 7 already. I blinked and she's 7. Seriously. It goes SO. DAMN. FAST. and having these experiences with them (whether it be Disney or some other place we find magical) is a priority to us. Some things can wait. Their childhood won't. We are going to wake up one day and they'll be off on their own.
We will reach debt freedom. Of that I'm sure. We cash flowed a vacation that meant the world to our kids and that they'll remember forever. Of that I'm sure of as well.
Total Out of Pocket (FLIGHT + TICKETS + HOTEL): $8400
Total Out of Pocket (FOOD): $1000
Total Out of Pocket (EXTRAS): $200 (estimated)
What We Saved On: Food! Big time. That's my biggest take-away. We used Garden Grocer
to have groceries sent to our room for mostly snacks, breakfasts, lunch, and water.
What We Spent On: Staying on site and we also bought tickets for the Christmas Party, which I included in my estimate. This was a splurge on our part but afforded us a night to pretty much walk on to most of the rides because the majority of people seemed to be fighting for space at the castle for the stage show. Pretty worthwhile.
TOTAL VACATION COST: $9600 **
** When planning said vacation we had budgeted $10,000 on the outset, saying if we stayed under that amount we would label it a success. We came in roughly $400 under budget. Woot!