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We Paid Cash: A Disney Vacation

We paid cash!A testimony from Lindsay

My family recently returned from Disney World — and are proud to say that we did the entire trip debt-free!

About a year ago, we decided that we would take our two daughters on vacation in the summer of 2013. We kicked around the idea of Disney World, but knew it was a pricey vacation and wanted to pay cash for whatever vacation we took. We starting stashing away extra cash leftover from our envelope system, held a garage sale, and cut back on spending.

We researched great times of the year to visit Disney, and decided that September would be a good time for our family to visit. We found that September has historically been a low month for Disney World and that they frequently offer their “Dining Plans” for free if we elected to stay at a Disney Resort.

We knew that a full week at Disney would not be optimal for our family so we found a 3-bedroom townhome with a water park for only $65 per night and stayed there for the first four nights of our vacation. This enabled us to cook at home and also to travel to attractions other than Disney.

We have a zoo membership through our hometown zoo and used the reciprocating zoo list to visit a wonderful aquarium in Florida for free. In the same town, we visited a free and beautiful beach — Siesta Key. That entire day of vacation was nearly free, and probably was one of our best days!

We rented a car for the first four days then returned the car to the Orlando airport. This enabled us to use the free Disney Magical Express transportation system to travel to and from the airport to our Disney Resort that we stayed at the remainder of the week. This eliminated the need to pay for parking at Disney and also for a car that we would not be using while we were there.

Wal-Mart and Target stores in the Orlando area offer tons of low cost, adorable Disney t-shirts and memorabilia, so we purchased our daughter’s autograph book and t-shirts at Wal-Mart instead of in the Disney Parks. The autograph book was $1.98 at Wal-Mart compared to $10.95 and up at Disney World. The t-shirts were a 1/3 of the price of those at Disney World.

Disney has a nightly electric parade, but the glow necklaces and toys are quite pricey. We bought glow necklaces and wands at Dollar General for $1 prior to leaving and packed them away in our suitcase. Our daughters could careless where their glow necklaces came from, all they knew was that they had one!

We had a wonderful, memorable vacation, and returned home with cash to spare!

Have you saved up and paid cash for something — large or small? Submit your story for possible publication here.

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  1. Janelle Bryant says

    Where did you rent condo from? We’re planning our 1x trip next year & paying cash too & have no idea how & where to find reputable condo rental. Appreciate this post & any further help.

    • Heather says

      We have travelled extensively through the US and worldwide using airbnb.com to rent apartments and condos. It’s local people renting out their properties for you to use. We have a 3 yr old so prefer a kitchen where we can cook.

    • Amy says

      I have a friend that has stayed at the WestGate Resorts in Orlando several times. I think they have several properties to choose from. They have always done the resort preview which gets them some free tickets for Disney plus a cheaper per night price at the resort.

  2. says

    Thank you. This was really useful. We would like to go to Disney but do it on a budget. I’d love to know how much you spent on the total trip if you would share.

    • Jessica says

      We stayed 6 nights and spent 6 days at the parks. That cost us $2,000 in June at a moderate disney resort. A value resort would have been about $300 cheaper and a deluxe about $1,000 more. We did not do the dining plan. We ate a quick breakfast in the hotel daily with food from the grocery store. We ate at Disney quite a bit (counter and quick service). We ate lunch in our room with sandwiches about 2x. We still spent about half of the cost of the meal plan. For us the meal plan was not worth it (most seem to like it though!). Some grocery stores deliver for a small fee if you fly.

      It was the most amazing week ever. So many awesome family memories. It would be easy to spend more or less (I’m guessing). I thought it was worth the expense to be at a Disney hotel.

        • Anonymous says

          I am not sure if my last post went through as my Internet is not working well, but…

          In September, you can often get a free dining plan if you are staying on Disney property. For a moderate resort, this would be a sit down dinner, quick meal, a snack, and a refillable mug per night per guest. We estimate we save over $1,000 each year by going with the free dining plan. It allows us to visit the character meals that we normally wouldn’t want to pay out of pocket for.

  3. says

    Great tips! I know Disney vacations are a hot topic on MSM. I think it is fantastic that you thought of creative alternatives and it didn’t affect your girls’ perception!

  4. marion sauer says

    When we went a couple years ago we told our kids that we would not buy anything in the souvenir shops in the parks.All the rides end in souvenir shops and kids were begging parents to buy them something.This can really add up.We told them that we would go to Downtown Disney on our last evening. Most of the stuff you can get in the parks you can find in Downtown Disney as well.We gave them 30,-$ each to spend at the end and they never asked us to buy things in between. Much more relaxing for all of us.

  5. Robyn says

    Great tips! I’m a huge Disney fan and we’ve also done it on a budget. We went during high season (spring break), and stayed in a condo in Kissimmee. It wasn’t far, and the savings was so worth it for us!

    We packed food to bring into the parks. It was crowded, and we loved going over to Tom Sawyer Island for our picnic lunch, watching everyone waiting and waiting in line for food.

    We also bought t-shirts at Target, and it was a huge savings! Our kids are a little older, so we had them work on the vacation budget with us, so they could see the trade-offs we were making. I got planning books at the library, and at one point, my son said, “Wow, mom, if we bring our own water bottles into the park and refill them, we’ll save over a hundred bucks over the course of a week!”

    Letting the kids see and work on the budget helped them own it. We bought kool aid packs to mix with the water. We also budgeted $50 per kid (we have 3) for souvineers, which was a lot, but they were willing to sacrifice in other areas. (And one of my boys opted to buy a new DSi game for the trip home with some of his money!)

    The kids helped with the cooking and lunch packing, and we really had a fantastic vacation. If your kids are a little older (mine are junior high and elementary age), let them help budget! It really is eye opening, and they become more grateful. (For them, seeing the real numbers made it all more real…rather than mom and dad making all the choices!)

  6. Laurie says

    We Go to WDW every year. We have also been on 1 Disney cruise and have a 2nd one booked in Feb. I have a vacation account where some pf my paycheck goes directly in there and I do not miss it. Most of our Disney trips have been 5night on Disney property and the dining plan and park tickets for around $1500 for 3 of us. We go in Jan when it is cool and no crowds. Our cruise for Feb was $2000. We will do some shore excursions and will have to spend the night in Miami a day before. Once you are on the ship everything is included. Anything Disney is affordable if you save and get some great deals.

  7. Melissa says

    Congratulations on saving for your trip and on your creativity in figuring out ways to save money that worked for your family and your budget! Disney vacations are so much fun! My husband and I are going to WDW during a slow week in mid-November and are staying on property and got the free Disney Dining plan. We can’t wait! I’ve never been there when the park was decorated for Christmas. I’m so looking forward to that.

  8. Jen says

    Out of curiosity, does anyone know if the dining plan is routinely offered for “free” as an incentive? We went about a year ago in December, before the holiday season, and the dining plan was included. We are looking at March of next year. My husband’s company offers some travel planning services. When I spoke with them, they said the meal plans are never included, and we were lucky last time we went. Just trying to figure it out. Btw thank you for the autograph book tip and glow sticks. Wonderful!

    • Lindsay says

      Hey Jen! From what I understand they DO offer the free dining several times a year!! There are SO many great Disney blogs out there, as well as the Disney Moms Panel. While the 2014 may not be out yet, my understanding is that they typically offer them around the same times (usually slow weeks/months) each year!!

      Have a great time!! I am so glad you enjoyed my tips. We had the best trip ever!! I know your family will too!


      • Anonymous says

        They have been offering the free dining plan regularly in the last few years as an incentive during the slow seasons, however, Disney *says* they will be getting away from that in the future. There is never a guarantee that they will have it again, although they are still being rather consistent with it.

  9. B says

    Tip regarding the Bippity Boppity Salon thing. I knew my girls would love this, but it inexpensive. Bought really fancy princess dresses plus accessories (crown, wand etc…)at Target before we left. I curled their hair, did makeup and glittered them up. They were thrilled and I spent less than half the boutique price.

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