Sunday, June 30, 2013

Actual Disney Budget

I finally got all my numbers crunched and re-crunched to be sure everything was accurate before giving you our trip's final cost. We were planning to spend very carefully, until the day before the trip, when someone slipped us $100 to make the trip a "little more fun." I won't mention any names, but the kids call them Grandma and Grandpa. Because of this, we bought each of the kids a toy at Disney, in addition to the ones they chose to buy with their birthday money. We got churros twice, so it was little stuff like that that we didn't feel as worried about knowing there was extra. Yea, for being spoiled by grandparents!


Disney Tickets 

We bought our tickets based on the advice of Mouse Savers, which sends you a free newsletter if you subscribe. This meant we got them from a legit source and they were a wee bit discounted. It also meant we got them prior to the higher rates that began in May. We chose a two day pass that allowed us into one section of the park each day. We knew the princesses, who're found in Disneyland, would be a huge draw for Cadence. For Chandler, California Adventure Land (the newer section of Disneyland) would feature his favorites, from Cars to Toy Story. Originally, I stubbornly thought we'd see bits of both parks in one day, to keep costs down of course. But our kids who aren't accustomed to amusement parks, took all of day one to get used to the very stimulating environment. They seemed to enjoy day one, but they were a bit shell-shocked. On day two, they knew what was going on, so they relaxed and enjoyed themselves even more. So worth it.

The kids watching Brave while
waiting for the hotel shuttle

Hotel - near Disney

As you could tell from our photo recap, we stayed with friends and family a lot on this trip and were able to save a lot in the lodging area. This freed up enough money to splurge on three nights at an amazing hotel close to Disney. One perk was a seating area that was separate from the area with our two queen beds, so after the kids went to bed, we didn't have to huddle in the bathroom to figure out the next day's plan of attack! We chose one with a refrigerator, because we knew we'd be making ourselves breakfast to save time and money on mornings when we wanted to get to the parks right when they opened. 


The surprise here was that parking cost $16/night rather than the $10 I'd budgeted for. (I thought I'd called and verified that amount, but maybe it went up after that.) The shuttle cost $5/adult per day and kids road free. So we were able to go back and forth as many times as needed for $20, which meant we didn't have to park at Disneyland.

Hotel - San Fran

We drove to San Fransisco to see my husband's brother and his family. We got a cheap hotel near the airport, but it was still $28 more than we expected.


We filled the car on the way out of town and counted every gas tank except the one coming back into town because we knew we'd be using it for our daily driving. That one we took out of our monthly gas budget. We drove a Chrysler Pacifica, so not the best gas mileage. 


We began our budget by counting how many meals we'd have to eat out and budgeting $20 for each one. Obviously, we were trying to eat out as little as possible so we took some groceries along. I got a little strategic about this because I didn't want to gain ten pounds or watch my kids eat pizza exclusively for thirteen days. The food we brought with us initially was bought with our regular grocery budget. We took: 3 pkgs rice cakes, 2 pkgs bagels, dried apples, apricots, fruit leather & twists, fruit & applesauce cups, peanut butter, almond chips, hint of lime chips, bananas, gum, and raw almonds. I went kinda healthy since I figured we'd be eating plenty of the other. Which we did. :) 

This got us a long way. Before we checked into our hotel near Disney, we got cream cheese to use on our bagels for breakfast and a meal at the park. We only bought one meal at Disney each day and the nifty book below let me know where I could get the most for my money and something we'd all like. This alone made our days at Disney so much easier because we didn't have to do the tired, grumpy hike up to each restaurant only to find they didn't have anything the kids would eat or it was super expensive. I highly recommend getting the book for this purpose, but also to read about each ride before you go. It rates rides by popularity among different age groups, and lets you know if it's scary, dark, loud, or will "muss your do." Really helped me plan for my kids and what they'd enjoy most. 

(Just so you know, I get a small commission if you purchase it from Amazon.)


This included the toys for the kids, extra treats like cotton candy to make a long wait in line go quicker, and my little trip to Ross. There were a few other essential items that weren't food, which all came out of this category. 

I'm super pleased with the amount we paid for all the fun we had. We proved you don't have to spend $5000 to take your family of four to Disney and while I was mostly doing it for the kids, it kind of swept me away. I was the weirdo singing the songs while they played over the speakers. Yes. I can still hardly believe it. And I must tell you, the other thing that made our days at Disney wonderful was creating a custom itinerary here. You pay a little to be a member, and then you can choose which rides you want to do and it tells you the most efficient order in which to do them, saving hours of waiting in line. Since my biggest problem with amusement parks is paying so much to stand in line for the majority of the day, this was a God-send. I even chose the dates we visited based on their research of crowd levels. 

Please use the comment section to ask questions! I'm sure I left something important out, but hopefully it's nitty-gritty enough to give you a good idea how we went about it. 


  1. It's so great that you could create wonderful memories with your family on a budget! Way back in the late 1970s, my mom did the same--only without the great resources you've shared. She built in little luxuries as well, and I remember being thrilled when my grandparents gave each of us (I'm the youngest of five kids) money to buy a toy! What an excellent, useful post!

  2. I love your recap! We've been 4 times over the past 20 years and have found so many ways to cut expenses, so I enjoyed reading your account.

  3. We are taking the boys in May 2014. This will be a huge help. Thanks :-) Such a beautiful family you guys have you look like you had a blast.