by Dana George | Updated Sept. 2, 2021 - First published on June 24, 2021
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Saving for a trip to the "most magical place on Earth" starts with a plan.
Back in 1971, you could spend a day at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida for a cool $3.50. According to the U.S. Inflation Calculator, that would be a little over $23 in today's money.
Still, that's not bad. Particularly when you consider that a single day in Disney World in 2021 will set you back anywhere from $109 to $159, depending on the date you choose to visit. If you (and possibly, your kids) have long dreamed of a Disney vacation, budgeting for the trip can be part of the adventure.
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The first step is to use a cost calculator. There are dozens of Disney World calculators online, designed to help you figure out how much your trip is likely to cost.
You'll want to factor in everything, including:
Don't forget to add in extra for emergencies like a flat tire (if you're driving) or a quick trip to the drug store for allergy meds.
Once you have an estimated cost in mind, it's time to budget for the trip.
There's no single way to save for a Disney vacation, and that's good news. Each of the following methods work, so you're free to mix and match in the way that works best for you.
Disney allows vacationers to book their trips up to 499 days in advance (roughly 16 months). Once you pay a $200 deposit, you can pay the remaining balance off over 15 months, with the final payment due 30 days before check-in.
While there's a $20 minimum payment required with each installment, you're free to pay the balance in any way that works for you. For example, you can break the cost of the trip down into weekly payments, make the same payment with each installment, or make small weekly installments with one larger monthly installment. As long as the trip is paid in full 30 days before check-in, you're good to go.
The easiest way to set up a payment plan is to work with a Disney travel specialist. A Disney travel specialist is not an "ordinary" travel agent but one who has been trained in all things Disney. Not only are they 100% commission-free, but a specialist knows where all the best discounts are hiding. The most experienced specialists also allow you to send them your installment payments (which they forward to Disney).
If you prefer to do it on your own, Disney is happy to accept your regular installments.
Another way to save for Disney is to charge your everyday expenses to a rewards credit card offering cash back or credit card miles for each dollar you spend.
Cash back rewards can go toward the cost of your trip, while airline miles offer a great way to pay for travel if you live too far away to make the drive. You can even opt for a Disney Credit Card to earn Disney Rewards points on purchases. Just make sure you pay the card off in full each month so you're not stuck making interest payments.
Look through your budget and decide what you can do without until after the trip. For example, if you're currently paying twice as much for cable as you would for a streaming service, consider cutting the cord and putting the money you save into a vacation account. Any cuts to your monthly budget represent extra money you can put toward your vacation.
Let's say you make a purchase (using your debit card or checkbook) for $10.50. When you register the purchase, write down $11 instead -- and then forget about it. Within a couple of months, you'll have extra funds in your account that can be used for your trip.
Do the same with deposits. If you're depositing $150.50, write it down as $150. You may only have an extra $0.50 in the account, but it's a start.
If you smoke, the promise of a trip to Disney World may be enough to help you stop. Put the money you once spent on cigarettes toward the vacation of a lifetime. Of course, we all have vices we can explore, from expensive coffee from a drive-thru on our way to work to nightly ice cream runs.
Go through your home and search out items you no longer use. Sell those toys, old kitchen gadgets, candles, small pieces of furniture, and miscellaneous unused belongings.
Let's say you go out to dinner regularly. It is estimated that making that same dish for yourself at home can save between $6 and $11 per meal. Now, let's say you usually eat out (at least one meal of the day) five times a week. If you cut that back to three times a week, that's a savings of $12 to $22 per person every week. If you have a family of four, that's $48 to $88 extra that can go into your trip fund.
Consider shopping at discount grocery stores, consignment shops, and farmer's markets as you save for your trip. You don't have to do it forever if it's not your cup of tea, but every dime saved in the months leading up to your vacation is a dime you can spend having fun.
Use the time you spend saving to learn everything you can about Disney World, including the best times of day to visit. Plumping your savings account may take longer than you hoped and may not be easy, but imagine how you'll feel when you come home from your vacation with memories as a souvenir rather than debt.
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