Mark J. (NDD#102) (33 Posts)

Mark was born and raised in Fayetteville, WV. He first visited Disney World back in 1975 and was instantly hooked. He returned several times as a child and now brings his own family as often as possible. Being a new lawyer, however, that isn't as often as he'd like. Mark is married to Sherri, NDM#237.

To provide some concrete examples of how you might save for and save on your next Disney vacation, I thought I’d use our own upcoming trip as an example.  Hopefully, you can look at our vacation plan and come up with some ideas that will help you save on your own.

Our total budget for this trip is just over $4,000.  We’re going to be gone a total of ten days, six in Orlando, and four getting there and back.  We’re driving down over two days, with an overnight rest stop, and doing the same on the way back.  We conceivably could make the trip in a single day, which would save us two nights of hotel bills, but we’ve decided we’d rather spread it out.  Our thinking is that we’d arrive late at night after driving 14 hours and be so exhausted that we’d really not enjoy the parks that much the next day.  Also, my wife, having spent several years as an ER nurse, is more safety-conscious than perhaps most people are.  She’s concerned about fatigue resulting in a car accident.  That would certainly put a damper on our vacation!

Nevertheless, we’re going to make the road trip as cheap as possible.  We’re getting our hotel rooms using a AAA discount.  We have enough Marriot Rewards points to pay for two nights, but we’ve decided to save them for another trip when we might need the savings more.  However, we are still going to stay in Marriot-chain hotels, so as to accrue additional points to our Rewards account.

We’re going to pack our lunch for the first day.  We’ll make the sandwiches and everything the night before and put them in the fridge so that we can quickly put the lunch together the morning of our departure.  We’re going to freeze bottles of water to keep everything cool, then we’ll have the water to drink in the car.  Speaking of water, by driving, we can bring a case of bottled water from home to take with us in the parks, thereby saving $2.50 a bottle in the parks.  I’ve got to have lots of water in August in Florida, and the water from the fountains tastes really bad to me.  We’re going to stay in hotels with free continental breakfasts, so that’s two more meals that we don’t have to pay for on the way down and back.

Disney’s currently offering all kinds of discounts, so we’ve got 40% off of our resort rooms.  It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little kid to stay in the Contemporary Tower and we’re going to do it this trip, Magic Kingdom view, no less!  I simply can’t wait to wake up and see the castle out my window, and watch the fireworks from the comfort of my room at night.  But even with 40% off, those rooms aren’t cheap.  To defray the costs, we’re splitting the trip up.  We’re going to spend the first four nights at Pop Century, then move up to the Contemporary.  We’ve done this sort of split stay before and it worked well.  Disney takes care of everything, moving your bags while you’re in the parks.  All we have to do is check out, check back in, and move the car.

We’re not spending much on our tickets, at least not for the Disney parks.  I bought an Annual Pass last year, although I haven’t activated it yet.  So this way, I saved whatever amount Disney increases its prices by this year.  Back in 2006, we went for a week, but bought 10-day tickets with the No Expiration option.  My wife and I used a few days of our tickets on a parents-only trip last fall, but the kids’ are untouched.  That takes care of their Disney admission this year.  We’ll only have to buy a ticket for my wife.  We could use the remaining three days from her 2006 ticket and purchase a one-day pass for her, but we’ve decided to hold on to that ticket (maybe another parents-only trip?), and just go ahead and buy her a separate ticket for this trip.  We’re also going to spend a day at Universal Studios, and that’s where we’re being forced to lay down some cash for tickets.  However, being retired military, I can purchase our tickets at Shades of Green tax-free (even though we’re not staying there), a savings of 6.5%.

Being Disney Visa cardholders, we can get a 10% discount on souvenirs.  Even though the official policy is that this is only for purchases of $50 or more, in the past cast members have applied this discount to any merchandise we’ve bought, regardless of the amount.  I plan on testing that policy again.  But even if they stick to the single purchase of $50 or more rule, we can save money by delaying our purchases until the end of the day or end of the trip, and purchasing everything at once.

That pretty much takes care of our discounts.  Now let’s take a look at how we financed this trip.  We have $200 a month automatically taken out of our checking account and put into an online savings account.  This account is currently paying about 1% per year interest—not much, but more than our checking or money market accounts are paying.  So there’s $2400 down, $1600 to go.

We’ve got the “Disney Vacation Bank,” a castle-shaped piggy bank with the Fab Five characters that we bought a few years back.  We put all of our change in that bank.  Plus, I’ve made a habit of slipping in an extra $5 a paycheck in there.  It’s not enough that we miss it, but it adds up quickly.  We also put money in there based on any savings we get at the grocery store by using coupons.  We’ve already filled the bank up once and deposited $143.  It’s getting pretty full now; I anticipate emptying it before August and depositing another $130 or more.  There’s another $273.  Just over $1300 left.

The Disney Visa card pays back 1% in Disney Dream Rewards.  We put most of last years’ vacation on the card, as well as most of our Christmas purchases.  A couple of months ago, I began using it in place of my debit card.  I charge everything on it—gas, groceries, fast food.  The interest rate is pretty high, though, so I have to be sure to pay off the balance every month to avoid interest charges that would more than wipe out the 1% cash back.  To avoid being surprised with a large bill at the end of the month, I go online a couple of times a week and see what charges have accrued and pay those off out of my checking account.  So far, we have $121 in Disney Dream Rewards points.  I figure that will be up to about $150 before we cash them in.  $1,177 left to go.

When we were making our reservations, we had to put down a deposit of one nights’ stay in each resort.  We’re also eating at Cinderella’s Royal Table this year.  Unlike most ADRs, that one requires a credit card deposit.  Those charges have already appeared on my credit card statement and been paid off.  That’s a total of $591 for one night at Pop Century, one night at Contemporary, and our lunch in the castle paid for.  Now, we’re only $586 short.

My kids are signed up to take paid surveys through and  Since our vacation last year, they’ve completed surveys that will pay around $30-35.  Not a whole lot, but enough to buy a nice souvenir.  Only about $550 left to go.

The thing to remember, though, is that during the ten days we’re on vacation, we won’t be going to the grocery store, putting gas in the cars to go back and forth to work, shopping at the mall, or eating out.  I have figured that, on average, we spend $68.80 a day on discretionary spending like that.  (Budgeting software, such as Quicken or Microsoft Money, is excellent to track how much you spend and what you spend it on).  Over the course of our vacation, that’s $688 we won’t be spending that can be applied to our trip.  So we’ve covered the cost of the vacation, with a little to spare!  This allows a little cushion in case of unexpected expenses.  Alternatively, any savings left over can be applied to next years’ trip (or maybe that parents-only trip!)

That’s an example of how you might attack your own vacation plans.  An important thing to note is that over $1,000 of our trip came from other sources than our regular vacation savings.  By learning and using little tips like this, saving a little here and a little there, and applying those savings to our vacation, I’ve gone from being the occasional Disney vacationer to the yearly vacationer.  With a few more savings and more time off, multiple trips per year could be affordable for our family.  I hope this example helps you fund your own Disney Driven Life.

Contributed by: Mark (NDD #102). Mark is our resident “how to save money while living the Disney Driven Life” expert.


  1. Mark what a great post! It is very helpful for folks to see how you broke everything down to make your Disney trip affordable. I especially agree with the part that “a little here and and a little there really can add up” over time!

  2. Hmmm. . . may have to get a Disney Bank to work on with the kids. They are getting to the age that they will understand this. Love the coupon idea. That will motivate us to get back on track with clipping and using. Thank you for this and have a wonderful time at Disney in August.

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