Affordable Disney Vacations: Your Vacation Budget Puzzle

I started off this Disney vacation budget mini-series last time by talking about making a budget right at the beginning, because I really think that it is easier to decide what you can spend first…and then plan a vacation to meet that budget. I always tell folks that there are 3 basic keys to making an affordable Disney vacation happen: planning, budgeting, and an open mind. With these three things guiding you, you can really take all the aspects of a Disney vacation and change each as needed until you have a vacation you can afford.

In fact, I like to think of it as putting the pieces of a puzzle together to create a beautiful picture. In this case that picture is your dream of a Disney vacation only with this puzzle there is no right way to put those pieces together! The only right way is the one that makes your dream a reality! Saving money on a Disney vacation is about choices and in some instances, trade-offs: if you want or need to spend more in one area, then work to reduce costs in another.So start off with that budget: this puzzle piece goes right in the center, and all the others will fit somehow around it. Now, let’s look at some of the other puzzle pieces:

When Are You Going?

It may seem as if this goes without saying, but knowing when you can go has a huge affect on the cost of your vacation: some times of year are simply more expensive than others. Typically holidays and school vacations are the most expensive of all….so if you have any flexibility at all, try to schedule your trip during the cheaper times of year if you can.  If you can’t do that, then know that you will be moving other puzzle pieces around this one, in order to make it all work. But no worries, it will all work!

What Disney Deals Are Available?

When people ask me what is the cheapest way to plan their Disney vacation, I always tell them “it depends”. The thing about this Disney vacation puzzle that we’re putting together is, as I have already said, there is more than one way to put the puzzle together.

There are so many factors that go into planning a Disney vacation that you really need to be prepared to do some comparisons. So get out that trusty calculator, and once you have your budget and know when you will be traveling (or at least the general time of year or month) then start with looking at the promotions that Disney offers for that time. Get a quote. Add in one of the Disney Dining Plans if you think it might work for your family, and compare the costs with paying for your food out of pocket. And look at each of the Dining Plans too, because it may be that a different “level” of plan (Quick Service for example) might be more cost effective than another for your family.

Once you have a good idea of your costs staying on Disney property, then look at off-site options. The common perception is that this is always a cheaper option, and it may be for you, but it may not be, especially if Disney has an attractive promotion that works for your travel dates. Sometimes what you save by staying off-site is negated by the things you have to add in: rental car perhaps, parking, food….. You just won’t know for sure until you run the numbers.

Keep in mind that there is also the “value” aspect here: you want the best price but also the one that gives you the best value. It’s nice to save money, but if doing that means a less-than-great vacation, then really, where is the value in that?

Remember the 3 keys: planning, budgeting, and an open mind? This is where that open mind is crucial. You may “think” you know what will be the best choice, but until you actually run all the numbers, you can’t know for certain. And people are surprised about what will save the most money and provide the most value for them all the time!

How Will You Get There?

I always recommend trying to make a decision, at least a tentative one, about your transportation as soon as possible. You don’t necessarily have to book your travel, but having a pretty solid idea of how you are going to get to Disney World….and how much it will cost….is important to know at the beginning, preferably before you book your accommodations or package. This way, you can play with the puzzle pieces a bit more, if necessary until you make them fit with your budget.

Another benefit of doing this early: start watching for ways to save money at the beginning. If you are flying, figure out what your likely carriers are and get on their promotional email list, and/or become Facebook or Twitter fans. Many discounts are given out this way that the general public never knows about. Giving yourself enough time on this part will allow you to jump on a promotion when it becomes available.

Don’t Forget the Tickets

Most people who are not getting a package, try to save money on their Disney park tickets, and it is possible to save a little on the actual cost, by using an authorized Disney ticket broker….but it won’t be a huge savings. What may save you more money is having an “open mind” (again!) about the type of ticket that you buy: maybe you save by not getting a Park Hopper, or the Water Parks Fun and More option. Or perhaps you will benefit from a package promotion where you are saving on your ticket costs that way.

This puzzle piece has a little flexibility…but not much. Whatever you do, as has been discussed in the past, never buy tickets from eBay or Craigslist: tickets that have been partially used are non-transferrable, and you can’t be sure that there are really ANY days on the tickets at all until you get to the gate. Which is too late to do anything about it.

And Then There’s Food

This is a puzzle piece that you can move around a LOT, as there are many ways that you can save money on your Disney dining. Dining plan options, bringing food with you, eating off-site, cooking/eating in, are just a few ways that you can potentially make your trip more affordable.

So as you can see, with planning, that trusty budget and an open mind, you really have all kinds of ways that you can shift and adjust the puzzle pieces of your vacation until you create your Disney dream.

In a few weeks, we’ll talk about ways to save to make that dream a reality! 🙂

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