But, as one-day ticket prices rise again this year, most of us are left wondering how in the world we can afford to pay for a trip to central Florida without being forced to sell our first-born child. Let’s face it, Disney will never be cheap. But, if you – like me – can think of nowhere on earth you would rather be than standing on Main Street USA, then you might be interested in taking some simple advice from an accountant / financial planner who absolutely loves Disney too.
If you want to go to Disney on a budget, my best money saving tip is take CASH. If you can, pay cash for everything possible; snacks, meals, and most definitely for souvenirs. Don’t be fooled by the ease of the “Keys to the Kingdom” card when staying at a Disney resort. Remember, just like the local convenience store, you end up paying for that convenience.
The convenience of the card is offered in two areas. First, it charges back to your room. Second, it is much easier to keep track of one card than a wad of cash while in the parks. However, like all things Disney, this too comes with a price. So, let’s talk about possible ways to combat the siren call of convenience.
To make using cash easier, we do two things that you may find useful. First, we create a budget before we leave our house. We know exactly how much we plan to spend on tickets, meals, snacks, and souvenirs – and yes we still buy them. For those of you who just cringed when you read the word budget, think of it this way – a budget doesn’t control you, it is simply a tool that allows you to be the master of your own money. With complete control over what you spend, you have a level of freedom you never could have otherwise. Imagine a trip to WDW without worrying about how to pay for it when you got home! That’s what a budget helps make a reality. It’s OK to spend the money (if you have it) but know what you plan to spend before you spend it, and stick to the plan.
Once you know your budget, take out cash for the budgeted items and use the envelope system. Yes, I’ll readily admit that using envelopes to keep or carry cash looks and feels absolutely ridiculous. But, you’ll be surprised at how quick you get used to it. Here’s how it works. Let’s say you have allotted $20 per day for snacks, and $70 for meals. On top of that, you plan to spend a total of $50 per person for souvenirs for the entire trip. You can create an envelope to hold the meal cash, an envelope for snack cash, and a souvenir envelope. Each day, pull the allotted amount from each envelope and carry in your pocket, or in a daily envelope.
For souvenir purchases using the envelope system, you have three options. You could carry all the souvenir money at all times. You could designate a souvenir shopping day, which is the only day you plan to shop for souvenirs, and as such is the only day you’ll have the money available. Or, you could window shop throughout the week, take notes of what you want and where it’s located, and come back later to purchase it with cash. The option you choose is up to you, but the third option offers the benefit of reducing impulse purchases. Besides, if you make one day your souvenir day, your children know this in advance and you can take advantage of the parks rather than the shops! The more you stay out of the shops, the less you spend, and the less you have to hear the screams of “I WANT THIS: from your children (or even your spouse)! Let’s face it, most gift stores in the parks carry the same thing. Mouse Gears, for example, is a great souvenir place in Epcot that carries just about everything Main Street has to offer. And there are many Disney stores in downtown Disney. It might also be worth remembering that if you are staying on property, you can have the items you purchase delivered at the door as long as it’s purchased 2 days before you leave for no extra cost. Either way you slice it, the key to the envelope system and the planned budget it supports is that once the money is gone, it’s gone – no over spending.
The great thing about using cash is that it reminds you that your money is a limited resource. Each time you hand over a few dollars, you know you only have so much available to use. It’s also deeply emotional. There is something more difficult about handing over a $20 bill than handing over a card to pay the same amount. Face it, it’s tougher to let someone take away uncle Andrew Jackson than it is to let them hold that blue plastic card with an image of Cinderella Castle for a few moments before returning it to your pocket. This will cause you to think about spending those few extra dollars on souvenirs you’ll likely never use or look at again. The benefit of using the envelope system is that you aren’t tempted to dip into a virtual piggy bank, which only puts off the pain of needless debt until later.
Using cash has not only changed how we enjoy WDW, but it has changed our kids’ behaviors too. They know not to ask for more money than already allotted. They also question their own purchasing decisions, which ensures that when they do finally purchase a souvenir, it’s one they really want and will enjoy once we return home.
You don’t have to be Scrooge McDuck to afford Disney, you simply have to act responsibly. Doing so will allow you to enjoy your trip to the parks without regretting it once you return home. And, if you take full control of your money, you can budget your way into another trip next year!
What tips do you have for enjoying Disney on a dime? Feel free to share them in the comments section below.