Disney was always a huge part of my life. My fantastic single mother made sure of that. I was immersed in the movies, bedtime stories, and of course the park. Walt Disney World in Florida to be exact. I went with my family to Disney World almost every single year as a kid. And then my entire family hit financial hardship. Sometimes I look back at old family albums and see all the trips we would take and think wow, what happened? This happened in 2005 when I was around 14. After at least 8 trips to Disney World, it all stopped. At least 8 times to Disney World and we had never stayed within the world. Luckily I was entering into my teenage years and my main concern was surviving through my “no game playing” mom and “too early” curfew. At 18 I went away to college and I finally entered into adulthood.
So in 2012, when I was halfway through college – I decided I would take my little sister (10) to WDW. Since no one in my family could help there was no choice but to pay it all on my own. On top of the fact that I was paying my way through college. Of course.
What was I thinking?!
I was thinking that I had to share the magic with the best thing that had ever happened to me: Mia.
I spent over a year looking for every tip, trick, and best kept secret to make this happen. And it was happening BIG.
Let’s take a look at the basics of my Disney budget.
If you want something about going to Disney World on a budget, that is on the go with a lot more details, check out my eBook.
Quick note: This is not about planning your Disney vacation but more so about my journey to finding all these insights that I now share with you on this website. I do have a guide to planning a Disney vacation that I will link to at the end!
Remember, this is the first vacation that I am planning on my own. The first thing I do is make a list of the things I would be spending money on aka a budget.
Theme Park Tickets
When going to Disney World on a budget I always suggest driving when possible. Why? It’s exponentially cheaper. But on some trips, that’s just not possible. i.e My sister and I. I immediately knew we were flying to Orlando.
I started the usual ways: Priceline, Airline sites, Travelocity, you name it! Months later I stumbled upon JetBlue Getaways. What a gift! I was able to secure round trip flights from NJ and a week long stay at our hotel for $500 total. If you are from the northeast you know what a steal that is. That’s why I always suggest JetBlue Getaways among other tricks to find heavily discounted flights.
You already know where I purchased my hotel stay from but let me tell you a little bit more about my journey to that point. I had no idea if I should or could stay within Disney World. That would have been a dream! Honestly, if Planning The Magic existed back then I probably could have but unfortunately, it did not. It really was not going to get better than the package I mentioned above. I didn’t know how to swing a Disney hotel. We stayed at the Ramada Gateway about a mile from the entrance to WDW. It was a decent budget hotel with good amenities including complimentary breakfast.
I’ve mentioned this before but I have done Disney and spent less than $200 on my food budget and more than $1000. It’s all about doing the most you can and planning. There are a lot of different options when putting together a plan for your meals that can make the most of your money.
- Complimentary Breakfast
- Sharing meals
- Discounted Giftcards
I implemented all of the above. I spent 4 years as a teenager working at Chick Fil A and still had a great relationship with the owner, so I made sure to go collect some coupons that I then used in Orlando. I broke every day down and had a set plan for our meals. Breakfast was complimentary so that was great! Every day I had a backpack full of snacks and bottles of water. We almost never got an overpriced snack.
I can remember my childhood trips to Disney and all the money that was spent on souvenirs and useless toys. I had to find a way to conquer this problem. I set aside a very strict spending budget. We each had an amount we could spend. To further make sure we did not go over – I took some of it and put it on gift cards. Mia really liked the ability to handle her own money and pay on her own. On top of the control, it’s also an easy way to explain to a young child the value of what they have or what they want.
“This toy is going to use half of your budget and we still have a lot of days here. Are you sure you want this? You can also wait and see if you like anything else, if not we can get this on a later day.”
Don’t ignore this aspect of your budget as it’s the one that is going to creep up on you and send you home with an enormous bill.
I purposely left tickets for last because I had to save what gave me the most headache for last. Theme park tickets are SO expensive. First I had to figure out what type of ticket package I needed. Many people waste money on buying too many days, or adding an option that they never use. I decided to go for the Water Park Fun & More option. That way we could visit the water parks on some off/non-major park days. I really made sure to make a day by day agenda similar to what I did when planning meals, that way I didn’t miss a beat or waste a dollar.
Let me give you a little more background. My sister’s father is in the Navy, to this day. Of course, my initial thought was to take advantage of the steep military discounts for Mia’s tickets. I had to do a lot of research (there are active duty tickets and all these other options), made a few phone calls, and even went to visit the closest base. Long story short – Mia did get a slight discount on her tickets but I had to get them from Shades of Green when I got to WDW. For those of you who do not know, Shades of Green is an Armed Forces Recreation Center Resort on the Disney property. I probably saved $20-40 on her tickets.
I then used UndercoverTourist to purchase mine and I have ever since. With them, you get the same delivery and service as with Disney but you can save up to $40 on tickets. There are other ways to save a little bit more but I will save that for my eBook.
There you have it. My process of planning a Disney vacation on a dime step by step. I hope you got as much out of this as I hope to give. Comment below with any questions or comments and make sure to share this if you think it can help anyone else!
Check out the newly updated Disney on a Budget ebook!