Taking your loved ones to a Disney theme park is no doubt the holy grail of all family vacations for moms and dads all over the world. You get to meet all the real life legends of our entire childhood face to face! Mickey Mouse, Ariel, Snow White, rumpled and wide-eyed pirates (like, who isn’t obsessed with Jack Sparrow?) to take photos with, and now with the new Stars Wars theme, you can daringly design your own custom lightsaber and battle troopers one on one throughout the park! Walt Disney’s fantasy has become our own tangible fantasy. And it has a high price tag if you don’t live close by!
The moment you walk through the front gates, you are greeted with some of the most magical characters and photographers who are ready to capture your prince and princess starstruck faces. Since I was a small child, I literally dreamed of traveling to this magical place. But as soon as I woke up, I realized that it could never happen. I lived nowhere near California or Florida. My mother was single and worked three jobs just to feed my two brothers and me and provide a decent life. She did everything she could just so we could have nice clothes or shoes. We just couldn’t afford to hop on a plane and spend thousands on this type of experience. Disney theme parks were for the rich kids on a completely different side of town from where I lived.
So, maybe this dream was more for me instead. Maybe I had to make the fantasy real so that my kids could experience something I never did as a child.
How do you make this wildly expensive dream come to life? People who feel they can’t don’t realize how attainable this truly can be. And, it starts with some basic and simple ideas established upon a hearty foundation of discipline and patience.
Here’s how we pulled it off for our blended family of seven.
If you are anything like my family growing up, the first and most difficult part is the finances. My husband is a huge fan of not using credit cards (thanks Dave Ramsey!). We wanted to make sure this trip wouldn’t be a burden to us afterwards. We maximized our budget, making every dollar count. We changed our lifestyle when it came to eating out, buying nonsense “toys” and things that cluttered our home. We appreciated the minimalist view of having more experiences, rather than stuff. It took a lot of discipline and many failures, but as with any major life shift, we got used to it and it became much easier.
Save all the dollars. We discovered that there were so many ways we can find extra money. When we started calculating and tracking our finances, we quickly realized we had so much extra leftover that we could put towards our trip. Our family loves IHOP pancakes. We love their breakfast. But when we go it’s a good $100 each time! I learned to make amazing pancakes and breakfast feasts at home. The family loved it and we save hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars up to this point by now by eating at home. We really had to grind out what we wanted and stay focused. We try to focus on the grander scale of our goals instead of instant gratification. There are many ways of saving money if you truly change your mindset on living well beneath your means.
Stay focused. Discipline is never easy in the moment, but I’ve never heard anyone say they regretted being disciplined. You learn to get creative when the easy options are no longer available options. The breakfast example to start. Using inexpensive ingredients and making our own dry mix for pancakes saved us so much money. The recipe I used kept me from having to buy boxes of Hungry Jack. I prepped a larger batch and separated them in containers to save time for cooking later. I learned how to cook many different meals at home to keep us from eating out at restaurants.
Supplement your income. Have you ever heard people say over and over they want to take their family on vacation but they can’t afford it? But then don’t do anything about it? So you’ve combed through your income and budget and still can’t find extra money to save. What about a seasonal and temporary second job? When you sit down and “budget your time” you will often find ways of working things out for what you really want in life. I know for me, I cut down my Candy Crush hours by 75% and found time to make an extra $100 to $200 per month doing side jobs for realtors. I also love shopping. I started shopping at Goodwill and other discount outlets to find things to resell online and on Facebook Marketplace. That created an extra $200 per month. That’s equivalent of up to $4,800 per year! I’ve sold cake pops, kids clothes & toys, cleaned houses, couponed, used Ibotta, Ebates...the list is incredible! When you start to look at things differently, you get creative. We have to ask ourselves how we can do things rather than making statements and finding supportive reasons of why we can’t do things.
Subscribe. I hate junk mail and spam. But here’s where you get all the deals and discounts. I like to follow Hip2Save. I am a strong believer of not paying full price if I don’t have to! One day I was scrolling through Facebook and saw the website had posted a savings deal on flights to LAX. We really wanted to go to Disney World in Orlando, FL. The lowest price to Orlando for airline tickets was $269 per person. As I noted earlier, we didn’t want this to be a financial ball and chain for us. Hip2Save posted that Southwest Airlines had flights for under $40 one way. Of course after fees the price went up, but we were able to secure flights for about $117 each, baggage included! So with a little scouting and flexibility, we got a great deal on flights on a trusted airline. I follow Expedia and Frontier as well. You can get cash back here if you use Expedia (among almost any other store you can think of). New members get $10 just for trying it.
Search. Search the web, search advice from friends. Sometimes we get so busy we forget to search online for discounts and deals. They are always running sales, and if they aren’t at that moment, they will soon. So, be patient and wait for the next cycle. We learned about Airbnb from a friend about how you can get unbelievable deals on stays. We initially booked a hotel but found a much better deal with an extra night’s stay, full kitchen, covered and free parking, swimming pool - all for the same price! And just for reading this article you can sign up here to get up to $55 towards your stay for any Airbnb hospitality experience. Check out our stay! We got a suite stay for a hotel room price. We also saved a ton by going grocery shopping and cooking at home. The hotel wanted to charge us $10 per day just to have access to a microwave. We also loved the self check-in option. No waiting in line and the owner let us in early!
Suggestions. Many times certain credit cards will cover your car rental insurance. Before you purchase additional insurance, check with your credit card company to see if it's offered. Keep in mind that you will usually need to use the same card for the transaction. You can also consider a shuttle instead. The last suggestion, though it has nothing to do with the budget would be not to do anything on the first day of arrival. Use that day to relax and rest up so you have a good, fun experience for the days to come. No crankiness from being tired or from too much traveling. Our first day was rough. Everyone was tired, hungry, and irritable. The park was so crowded it led to unhappy moments. However, It’s okay to have a bad moment at Disneyland. Chances are, there are other families yelling at each other and fighting! Just be sure to plan for at least 2 days at the park to get a full experience. P.S. I made the shirts after finding out the cost to have them made. Spent under $40 vs $140!
Just remember this journey of saving, sacrifice and patience is temporary. After your vacation you can go back to latte's and Olive Garden...or your next adventure!