Are you planning a trip to Disney World on a budget? Do you hope to take your children there someday, but you aren’t planning yet because you’re thinking, “Hey, it will be years from now, so we will save up when the time comes”?
My husband and I are planning our Disney trip very differently than the average Disney-bound family. We are planning now for a trip we are going to take in three years! It sounds crazy to have your dates picked out, the hotel decided on, and all major transportation and meal budgets planned out this early. However, it is going to save our household budget big time, and we are going to be able to make the smartest choices for our dream vacation.
If you are very wealthy, a spontaneous trip would be no problem! But if you are still working on reaching your financial goals like we are—and you want to add a trip to Disney into the mix—it is a bad idea to plan your trip at the last minute. And by last minute, I mean within one year of the day you check in to your resort.
When you plan your trip to Walt Disney World well in advance, you can avoid the trap of paying with credit.
And trust me—Disney World is the master of trapping families into financing their vacations.
Did you know that Disney has regularly increased the prices of park tickets about twice a year for the past few years? And the price is only going to go up! Disney invested over a billion dollars updating their systems with the MyMagic+, and they are building quite a few new attractions. This has to be paid for somehow, and most Disney fans expect that it will be the price of tickets that will rise in order to pay for these projects—because this is how Disney has done it in the past.
So, let’s say you are a family on a budget, looking to spend as little as possible on your trip to Disney.
If you have done any research, you know that buying tickets ASAP will save you money on your vacation, because they will be more expensive if you wait. Waiting until the year of your trip to plan for this vacation means that you are pressured to buy now to save money, but most people likely don’t have enough money set aside for Disney if they didn’t plan ahead.
So what do a lot of families do? They put it on credit! However, the amount of money you save by buying tickets before the price increase is not more than the interest you will pay, nor is it worth going into debt. A lot of people intend to pay off their balance every month, but if they can’t afford the trip in the first place—in cash—how likely is it that they will be able to afford to pay off the full balance? It just doesn’t make sense.
When you are using Disney’s website to research and book your vacation, they make sure you know at every step of the process that they have a credit card program. You can even choose a magical card design…it is a silly gimmick, but some fans actually get the card because it features a character. Disney entices you to sign up for this Disney Debt program by offering you 0% APR for 6 months, a new cardmember bonus where you earn credit by spending money, and exclusive cardmember perks.
It is a trap! Disney is the one cashing out on the new cardmember bonus, not you! Plus, you can find other programs that let you experience the “exclusive” rewards that are for cardholders. As for the 0% interest for 6 months…if you can’t save up for your trip in 6 months—despite the fact that Disney is marketing this card directly to you—you cannot afford this card!
Let me say this a different way. Anyone who can afford to pay off the balance of the Disney Debt card within the 6 months of 0% APR offered does not need the card. Just save up and go.
After the 6 months are up, you pay a whopping 16.24% APR. That compounding interest will follow you after your trip like a ghost from the Haunted Mansion. No thanks!
If you have planned the trip years in advance, you will avoid springing the credit trap because you will not feel the pressure to book immediately to lock in deals for a vacation that is just around the corner. Time is your biggest ally when funding a Disney vacation. Purchasing your vacation package early saves you money, but planning for the trip even earlier allows you time to purchase with cash.
Planning our vacation well in advance gives us time to save money.
We absolutely refuse to put a vacation on a credit card—instead, we are saving up. When we have two years to save for Disney (we plan to purchase one year ahead), we have the flexibility to save up a little at a time.
And a little at a time is very helpful. We don’t have to set aside our other financial goals to go to Disney, because there is not a time crunch. No kidding—we even have a piggy bank where we collect change to put towards Disney! We have started a program where we move digital “change” from our checking to a Disney savings account, and we just started setting aside a little bit of money from every paycheck for Disney as well.
Going slow and steady helps us because we are able to save for Disney without cutting significantly from any of our other financial goals—such as paying off our car and saving 6 months of expenses. We do all of these things intentionally, and Disney is part of the plan! We have time on our side, which helps us keep our finances at an even keel.
Having plenty of time also helps for budgeting savings appropriately. Finding the current prices on your resort, dining, park tickets, and transportation allows you to have an idea of how much money you actually need to save up. When you know the approximate cost of your trip, it is easier to correctly incorporate saving for Disney into your budget—you don’t want to save too little, and saving way too much will take money away from your other financial goals. Plan early, and save over time.
We also put our Disney savings into an interest bearing savings account. Because we are planning the trip and saving early, we earn a lot more interest on the money we have set aside. It is a win-win.
Disney also has a savings account called a Disney Vacation Account. It doesn’t earn interest, but you earn a $20 Disney gift card with every $1000 you spend from this savings account. It is comparable to earning 2% interest, but you have to spend that money at Disney. It is hard to withdraw money from the account, which means that you are less likely to touch your Disney savings. However, Disney gift cards can expire, so be sure to do your research before signing up.
Having lots of time to plan allows us to find much better deals.
When you plan your vacation far in advance, you have time to do a lot of research. I very carefully selected the resort we want to stay at when we visit Disney World, and I had time to meticulously compare the on-property resorts to their counterparts off-property. I was able to find the most appropriate hotel for our budget, family, and type of vacation experience we want to have.
When you wait to plan your vacation, you could be rushing this research and planning process because of the pressure to book quickly in order to avoid the ticket price increases. I truly believe that having ample time to research the details of your trip will be able to save you a lot of money.
For example, if you book a Disney Dining Plan without taking the time to research where and what to eat to take the most advantage of the plan, you are actually losing money. You might even find that for the plan to be profitable, you would have to radically change your family’s eating habits. The dining plan isn’t a good fit for every family, so doing your research before you buy it could save you some hassle and money.
When you have a lot of time on your side, you can watch price trends and look out for seasonal deals. If you have more than a year between planning and your actual trip, keep track of what deals Disney offers at which times of year. You can save thousands of dollars when you book during a free Disney Dining window, but the fall dates are announced late in the year when most people have already booked. If you are planning ahead, you will get big hints about when free dining takes place by noting when it happened last year.
Disney Resorts have great discounts during the low seasons. If you plan ahead, you can adjust your dates to coincide with a time of year when both the crowds and the prices are lower. This is easy to do ahead of time (if you don’t have kids in school), and you have plenty of time to request off work and make arrangements.
Planning far in advance also gives you more time to try to get an elusive PIN code. For those of you who don’t know, these codes get you unbelievable deals when you book your Walt Disney World trip. No one really knows how Disney decides who gets these, but if you are on their email list for a longer period of time, you will have more emails sent to you, so hopefully a higher chance of getting a PIN Code. At least, that is my plan… Wish me luck!
We are planning a trip to Walt Disney World three years in advance in order to avoid purchasing the trip with credit, to have plenty of time to save using an interest-bearing savings account, and to save money by taking the time to carefully plan how to get the best deals. If you have kids and want to give them the trip of a lifetime without paying more than you have to, then plan your trip now!
When you are sure you have found the best deals, saved up, and then paid for your vacation in cash, the only thing you have left to worry about is if your child will make you go on It’s a Small World. It’s a good feeling.