Disney on a Budget

Sorry, couldn’t think of a better title for this one. But really… who isn’t going to Disney on a Budget? We all need a break when planning these huge, seemingly expensive trips for our kids. And honestly, those that know us were probably a little surprised when Instagram lit up with surprise pictures of us headed to Disney with our crew. In the past year we have continued to pay down adoption debt (interest-free thank the Lord!) and learned how to live on one income instead of two. But in true Erica fashion I got this little idea under my skin and I couldn’t let it go. I wanted to take my kids to Disney. I wanted to celebrate us making it through the past year and a half, I wanted to celebrate my kids who have been through a lot and are coming out on the other side. And so the wheels started to turn and they really started to turn when I saw that FREE dining was being offered. When you have four kids free dining is a big bonus.

Here is a breakdown of the ways we saved money and planned in advance for our trip. And don’t worry, it will be years before we head anywhere this crazy again. We bought a tent on clearance and will be teaching the kids how to gather firewood and cook in tin foil from this point on. Promise.

1. Plan ahead, look for promotions and deals. We chose to go to Disney in the “off season.” This means the crowds are slightly lower and the resort nightly rates are also lower. To get the best resort/plan for your money it’s important to book 8 months to a year from the time you actually want to go.

2. Pay as you go. When you book a year or so in advance you can set aside a little money each month to pay toward your Disney vacation. We took this a step further by purchasing Disney gift cards at Kroger when we had the extra funds (read: sold something on ebay).

Why buy gift cards at Kroger you ask? In our area we receive 2-4x the gas points when purchasing gift cards. For example, purchase a $100 Disney gift card during 4x fuel points promotion, receive 400 fuel points. This translates to 40 cents off per gallon. Fill up and ta-da! you’ve just saved yourself some money. We made sure to fill our cars up together, thus multiplying the money saved on gas. In the end we saved just over $400 using this method. That’s a good chunk of the vacation right there!

3. Utilize free dining (if it’s an option). We were able to receive a free dining plan for each family member because we watched for the promotion and booked our stay during the promotion. This covered lunch, a snack (Dole Whip!!), and a sit down Table service meal each night. We brought our own breakfast foods to avoid spending money on that meal. We also made sure to split snacks (using snack credits) so we could try twice as many items without spending extra money.

If you can’t utilize free dining, bring your own food for breakfast and lunch and choose to eat only dinner in the parks. Disney has a great policy and allows families to bring food into the parks. Peanut butter and jelly, cheese sticks, fruit and cut up vegetables could all contribute to an easy and quick lunch. Plan to bring your own water bottles as well. You can get free water at the various quick service locations but Florida water isn’t super tasty.

4. Limit souvenirs. Our kids were each allowed to choose one souvenir each, with a $20 limit. We were excited to discover that purchasing a coffee (or using a snack credit) at Starbucks in Epcot or Magic Kingdom gave us a receipt that included a 20% off coupon for the gift shops. We utilized this when the kids chose their items.

5. Buy Disney t-shirts and souvenir items ahead of time. For an entire year I watched for Disney clearance t-shirts and items at Target and other retailers. We paid an average of $2-$3 for each shirt throughout the year. We then packaged these up as a little present for the kids once we arrived. In addition we also purchased a set of 35 Disney Trading Pins and lanyards on ebay for a total of $14. Pins are anywhere from $10-$25 EACH in the park. The kids LOVED trading pins with cast members and continue to trade with each other at home.

6. Plan to stay longer than 2-3 days. The park ticket prices go down drastically with each day you add. When we compared a four day trip with an eight day trip there was very little price difference. We also used a travel agent to book our tickets and received free passes to Disney Quest in Downtown Disney, this is a great way to take a “free” day and explore that area. There are definitely some perks to using a travel agent. We used Jeff Lemmonds – MEI & Mouse Fan Travel, and God bless him, he may have wanted to hide from us after helping coordinate 4 families all going to Disney at the same time. (yes! the extended family came too!)

7. Vacation in the off season. I mentioned this before but we definitely received the best rate this way!

8. Bring your own stroller. Yes, you can rent one, but it’s $15 a day and they don’t recline. You can also rent one from a company but why spend the money? Label your stroller with your name by laminating a bright piece of paper and zip-tying it to the front. There is plenty of stroller parking and it’s really not a hassle. Save that money!

9. Use this trip as a gift. We went right before Christmas and explained to the kids that this was their present. The grandparents still got them Christmas gifts (spoiled) but we limited our gift to one item under $10. Including used Furbys. (shhhh….)

There you have it! There are many, many ways to save at Disney. A quick pinterest search will tell you that, but these are the things that worked for us this time. How do you save money at Disney? I would love to hear your ideas!

Click here to read our experience with Disney’s Disability Access Service Card.

About the author


Erica is an advocate for simplicity, family time, making a cozy home and loving others well. She is the community coordinator for One Orphan, the orphan care ministry of America World Adoption Association. Erica and Calvin have four young children; Elliott, Charlotte, Lola and Liam. They currently reside in Nashville, TN.


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  • Quick service at most places are big enough to share… so you can save big by splitting meals at lunch time. If you are on the dining plan quick service meals are not separated by kids and adults so get an adult meal and share between kids as well!

  • Also… Disney has many “free” things they give out. For example when you check in to the resort… each pirate or princess can pick a wand or a pirate sword with a eye patch. Also at each park look for the button area that offers a cute button to sport during your trip and to take home saying what your Celebrating… (Birthdays, Anniversary’s, Honeymoon, Family Reunion etc.) the kids love picking out the buttons.

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