So, You Want to Save on Your Disney Trip…We Share Our Strategy!

Maybe you just booked your next Disney trip and are ready for our cost-saving tips. Or, maybe you’re in the dreaming phase (the phase we’re in about 99% of the time.) Either way, our strategy for saving is useful for anyone interested in vacationing at Disney on a budget.

My husband and I divide up vacation prep as follows: I make the spreadsheet, book ADRs, Fastpasses and hotels, and he figures out how we can pay as little as possible for the trip. It works out well, since I obsess over  eating food, not paying for it! This is our process for saving.

  • We start out by seeing what discounts are available for the time period we’re looking to travel. Either that, or we see a great offer, and decide if we can get away from school and work. As you know if you’ve read this blog in the past, we love the free dining promotion.  For us, it’s better than a room discount because we mostly stay at value resorts, where the room discount is not as deep. That is usually offered late summer through December, and we can usually make a short trip happen somewhere in this time frame.
  • Next we start saving. We have a change jar that gets filled up with extra cash, found change etc. which gets turned in at our Credit Union and put in a separate vacation account.

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  • Meanwhile, we use a rewards credit card for all our purchases, using it like a debit card. We make sure we never carry a balance on (paying interest is the opposite of what we’d like to accomplish!) We used to use the Disney Chase Visa, but changed to a low fee card with a higher cash back rate. 2% doesn’t seem like much but it adds up over the year or so it takes us to save.

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  • We pay for our vacation with discounted gift cards. We buy our gift cards online  (with our rewards card) at BJ’s Wholesale Club for $94.99 per $100.00 card. We also use Ebates, which is a handy way to get cash back on your online purchases (1% for BJ’s) It can be time-consuming to type in all the gift card numbers to pay for your trip, but I just picture myself walking down Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom and the time flies by.

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So here’s a rundown of our savings for a $3000 trip (or about a week for 4 people.) We buy $3000 in gift cards from BJ’s for $2849.70. We get $28.49 back in a check from Ebates, and $56.98 back from the credit card (in a credit or straight cash back) For a total savings of $235.77 or roughly 8%.

So with a little discipline and foresight we have found a way to save a pretty significant amount for our vacation.  We have heard of other creative ways such as setting a budget for food, and whatever you save you put in a Disney fund.  So please share your ways to make a trip to the Magic Kingdom a little easier on the wallet. If you’re interested in getting money back on your online purchases from Ebates (yes, you get an actual check!) use this link here

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Free Disney Dining 2017 Breakdown

Hey Disney fans! Spring has reached our corner of the world and I’ve been out in the garden and neglecting all other things in my life. So on this particularly cool, over-cast day, I’m getting back to the blog. This Monday, the long-awaited arrival of the free dining promotion was released on the Disney website. I wanted to quickly breakdown the details of this promotion and tell you how to still get in on the frenzy.

Disney offers several discounts throughout the year, from room discounts to specially priced packages. But the free dining promotion is by far the most talked about and anticipated. Here’s what it is: a free Disney dining plan for everyone staying in your room for the length of your stay. Free food! At Disney! Sounds pretty amazing, right? So, on to the details to see if you can take advantage of this great promotion.

The check-in dates are as follows: August 21st-September 30th, November 14th-20th, 25th-27th, December 8th-23rd. Your check-in date must fall on one of these dates to qualify. In addition to these dates, if you hold a Disney Chase Visa, you can check in from August 13th and still get free dining!  Book now through July 7th.

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Most resorts are included in this deal. The only exclusions are the campsites at Fort Wilderness, 3-bedroom villas, Disney’s Art of Animation Resort – Little Mermaid Standard Rooms and Bungalows at Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows. Specific resorts excluded are All-Star Movies and Port Orleans-French Quarter. The way the offer works is this: stay at a value or moderate resort and receive the quick-serve dining plan or stay at a deluxe resort and receive the standard dining plan. With the quick-serve, you get 2 counter service meals per day, a snack, and a refillable cup. With the standard plan, you get a table service meal, a counter service meal, a snack each day and a refillable cup. You do have the option of upgrading from quick-serve to standard for about $20 a day per adult.

Ariel's "Part of Your World" at Disney's Art of Animation Resort
Matt Stroshane, photographer

You must purchase a minimum of a 2 day park hopper park ticket for everyone in your party. The number of meals you receive corresponds to the nights of your hotel stay, not your ticket. So, if you have 6 nights booked, but don’t want to go to the parks everyday, you could buy, say a 4 day park hopper ticket and still get 6 days of free meals. In my humble opinion, if you are looking to do a trip on a budget, it is most prudent to book a value resort and upgrade your dining plan. Let’s look at some numbers! We’ll look at a 5 night stay in September for 2 adults and 1 child for all the following scenarios.

Scenario 1: Staying a Pop Century and upgrading the dining plan: standard room and 6 day park hopper ticket with free quick-serve dining= $1931, with the upgrade=$2116

Scenario 2: Staying at Coronado Springs and upgrading the dining plan: standard room and 6 day park hopper ticket with free quick-serve dining= $2264, with the upgrade= $2449

Scenario 3: Staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge with standard dining included: standard room with 6 day park hopper ticket= $3302 (no upgrade needed.)

So, unless you are dead set on staying at a deluxe resort or moderate resort (which offer better amenities, bigger rooms, etc,) the best choice financially is to plan your stay at one of the awesome value resorts. We have heard that Pop Century is the one to book for this promo folks (so, of course, we did!) Another option, if you are not big eaters and are willing to brown bag it everyday, is to take the room discount. This is a great deal for people who would like to stay at a moderate or deluxe resort, are willing to eat cheap and don’t like park hopping. Prices for the same dates with one park a day 6 day ticket and standard room are: Pop Century $1755/ Coronado Springs $2056/ Animal Kingdom Lodge $2513. So, as you see, free dining is not actually free, as you are paying full price for your room, but eating at Disney is expensive. The value you get with this promotion is great if you understand how to get the most value from the dining plan.

As you see, it is possible to do Disney cheap(er). Being flexible in your travel dates obviously helps, as most of these dates are when school is in session. The rooms for this promo go quick so start planning. We are taking advantage of the Disney visa dates and going before school starts in August. And yes, we are fully planning to sweat, wear our ponchos through the storms, and take afternoon pool breaks. We are just so excited about all the new attractions and shows Disney is unveiling this year and can’t wait to go (and eat) again!

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Are you planning on taking advantage of free dining this year? Let us know in the comments!

Money-Saving Tips for Unexpected Purchases

We’ve all been there. You’ve finalized a household budget, everything’s going great, and then…the dryer breaks, or (even worse!) your pet gets sick and racks up a bill at the vet. It’s great when all your budgeting goes according to plan and you can start to sock away some savings for your Disney trip, but life often throws a wrench into our plans. We recently had to purchase a new dryer (such a boring thing to have to spend money on!) We really didn’t plan on having to spend money on any extravagant purchases, as we are currently saving for our Disney cruise in October, but it’s not always an option to hang the clothes out to dry. In this post we’ll share our tips for making those unexpected big purchases as painless as possible.

  1.  Shop around. For our dryer purchase, my husband wanted to buy from a big box store because of the special financing for cardholders. As we were checking out, I looked up the model number of the dryer we were purchasing on a competitor’s site, and found it was $48 cheaper. I mentioned it to the store clerk and he matched the price, no questions asked. Don’t just accept the first price you find. Do some web research, and read reviews to make sure you’re getting a quality appliance. For a recent camera purchase I made, I researched for months on types of cameras, prices of each category and models until I found the right camera, and then held out for a sale of that model. I knew I was getting a good price, because I had been tracking that camera for months.
  2. Do your research. Find exactly what you need. Do you need 12 dry cycles on your new dryer? We sure don’t. Paying for something you don’t need and will likely never use isn’t budget-wise and won’t get you to your dream vacation faster. On my camera upgrade, I looked at all the bells and whistles I could see myself enjoying and ones I don’t need right now at my level of experience. I saved about $500 by being realistic and settling for a more basic model.
  3. Pay cash or get a good financing deal. We’re not really “pay cash up front” people. We just don’t have that kind of savings (duh, we go to Disney every year!) But we have been able to avoid paying interest on unexpected purchases by using store cards such as Best Buy, Lowe’s, etc. They usually offer a generous time to pay off your purchase, interest free. Just be absolutely sure you can pay off the purchase or you will get hit with all that interest. And that..is..no..fun.
  4. Check out Ebay. I have recently become re-obsessed with photography. I wanted to start taking better pictures for the blog and hopefully start vlogging in the future. I have bought a great almost-new lens and a wonderful new camera strap for much less than retail, by using ebay. You should definitely read the auction carefully to make sure of what you’re getting before you bid, and don’t forget to look at the shipping charges. Look at the seller’s reviews to make sure you are buying from a reputable source. YardSaleSign-frames
  5. Local resources. Craigslist, goodwill, yard sales. If you’re okay with used, check out your local thrift stores. Just be sure to test it out before you buy and confirm the store’s return policy. Yard sales and Craigslist can provide great deals but use your common sense when buying used. _DSC0776
  6. For unexpected vet bills, we have used Care Credit, a program that offers low interest loans for vet bills and medical expenses not covered by insurance. Always check if your vet offers any discount for paying cash or having multiple pets. We get a “multi-pet” discount at our vet and it definitely helps out.

We all know that life has all types of surprises waiting for us around the next corner waiting to test our patience and our financial strength.  So when an unfortunate event happens don’t let you first reaction be “that’s it we aren’t going on vacation ever again!”  instead try to come up with a solution that won’t hurt your long term vacation plans.

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Questions to Ask When Planning Your Disney Trip Budget: Part 5

So far in our series of questions to ask yourself when planning a Disney vacation budget we’ve looked at: where you’ll stay, when you’ll travel, what kind of tickets you’ll need and how you will get there. The next question we’ll tackle is, “What will we eat while we’re there and how do we afford it?”

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Food, glorious food. I get pretty excited about planning meals for our trips. My husband might say that I’m obsessive about finding the perfect reservation at the perfect time of day. I love trying new places and revisiting old favorites, but I am aware that all those restaurant meals can add up quickly. Here we’ll look at some options for keeping costs down while still enjoying the culinary delights that Disney has to offer.


  • Consider bringing food from home. In our situation, we go “snack and breakfast” shopping at our local Aldi (a great discount grocery store) a few days before we leave for vacation. We purchase bars, cheese and peanut butter crackers, cheese cubes, salami, toaster pastries, soy milk and cereal, and trail mix, along with drink mixes to liven up our bottled water. I pack a plastic tote with our food, bring some zip-lock bags to pack with snacks each day, load it in the car and we’re set. If you’re flying, we understand you can’t bring all that food with you. Amazon is a fantastic resource for buying groceries and you can have them delivered right to the resort (for a small fee!) Just stop by the front desk and pick them up when you arrive. Another idea is placing an order at Walmart and choosing a store close to the parks. This is the closest one I found. You can set a time to pick up your order and it’s a free service. However you do it, just make sure you have a good assortment of snacks for long days at the parks. It stinks to have a hangry toddler when you’re about to meet Cinderella at the Magic Kingdom.
  • Think about checking out the Disney dining plan. This is a hot topic among Disney veterans. Some people can’t imagine a vacation without it, and some think it’s too much money for too much food. We’re somewhat in-between on the matter. On our first vacation to Disney, we paid out of pocket for our meals. We did some sit-down meals and a character meal, but we ate a good share of quick-service and I felt like we had to be really careful budgeting for our meals. With the dining plan, everything except tips is prepaid, so it feels like you can really treat yourself. On our last two trips, we had free dining. Even though we didn’t pay for the dining plan, I tried to maximize our dining credits. Meaning, I tried to find the most expensive character meals and ordered the most expensive entree at the quick-serve restaurants. We pride ourselves on finding the priciest snacks and meals that we don’t have to pay for!
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    All this food for one snack credit? Yum!

  • The Tables in Wonderland card could work for you. If you are a Florida resident, annual passholder or DVC member, you are eligible for Tables in Wonderland. This card gives you 20% off all food at participating Disney restaurants. It does have an annual cost. Click this link for a list of restaurants that participate in the program.
  • Use the Disney website to get an idea of how much to budget for food. Once you have snacks bought, use the Disney website to look at menus and prices for the restaurants you’d like to visit. You can pretty much budget out every meal you’ll be eating on Disney property. For example, say you were interested in trying 50’s Primetime Cafe in Hollywood Studios. You might decide to have the meatloaf at $18.00 and skip the soda in favor of one of their famous peanut butter and jelly milkshakes ($6.00.) Now you know what you’ll be spending and how much to allow for a gratuity. The Disney Dining Calculator is another resource for meals like buffets, that don’t always have an exact price on the Disney site. You plug in the number of people in your party, and where you’ll be eating for each meal and it can help you decide if the dining plan will be a good value for you or not.
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Entree Menu at 50’s Primetime Cafe

I hope these tips can help you navigate the world of dining at Disney. By no means is it cheap to eat “in the world” but it is good to have some tricks up your sleeve for keeping costs down.

Do Meal Delivery Services Save You Money?

A couple of weeks ago I started getting really curious about these meal delivery services such as Blue Apron and Hello Fresh. My Facebook feed must have felt it because all at once I had adverts for 5 different companies offering $30 off! First 3 meals free! Etc, etc. So, what does a curious-minded budget blogger do? She takes the bait and dives in head first, all for the sake of her dear readers (all 10 of you.)

I got an account with Blue Apron and signed up for 4 family meals a week (each meal serves 4) with a $30 coupon, my total was a little over $100. It seemed pricey to me until I reminded myself that I now had no need to go grocery shopping for the week, except to pick up a few breakfast and lunch items. I tend to buy higher quality meat and produce, which adds up quickly at the old Whole Foods. The other benefit was no meal planning! I was honestly getting in a dinner rut. Mexican night was happening all too frequently and it wasn’t much of a fiesta anymore.

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So when my delivery date arrived and I pulled into my driveway, I was ecstatic to see my meals waiting for me in 2 cardboard boxes. I quickly unpacked everything, looked over my recipes and put all the perishables (kept nice and chilly in an insulated liner and ice packs) away in the fridge. The meals looked delicious, and I immediately picked a Shrimp and Udon Noodle salad to make. These meals are more complicated than what I assume most people with kids are used to making. This is actually a good thing, as meal time has become something to look forward to, knowing I’ll be having a well thought-out, flavorful meal with quality ingredients, with little work on my part. You do still need to prepare and cook these from scratch. The veggies come in their natural state, so get ready to slice, dice and grate.

If you go for the family plan, you will be paying $140 for 4 nights of meals for your family or, just under $9 per serving. Unless you eat at a sit down restaurant almost every night, you probably are paying less than that to currently feed your family. If you would rather receive meals less frequently, it is so easy to change your plan or skip a few weeks. I’m currently trying a couple of different plans to see what works best for us (the 2 person plan might work since my husband rarely has dinner with us, but I like having leftovers)

When you factor in the time you are saving going food shopping every week and meal planning, and the quality of the food, which is probably better than you normally allow yourself to buy if you’re on a budget, it starts to make more sense. I am sticking with Blue Apron for the time being and am really happy with it. Cooking is fun again, and we are eating out much less frequently than we used to. If you use one of these services, let me know what you think! Cover photo courtesy of Basheer Tome via flickr