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Disney on a Dollar Store Budget

Friday, August 18, 2017

That's right, I said Disney... on a dollar store budget. Anyone who knows me knows that when it comes to Disney World, I'm like a child. I obsess. I dream. I plan my entire year around the next trip I get to take. For most, the price tag alone is enough to drive you away. It was for me as well, that is, until I discovered some of the secrets I'll share with you today. Disclosure: I have gone to Disney World on many different budgets, with many different plans. However, whether all in one trip or spread over multiples, I have utilized every tip I'll share with you. Listen closely, my friends, I see a trip in your future!

Let's start with the most important and probably the biggest money saver there is - FOOD! A few years ago, while doing some of my obsession research, I discovered the amazing world of Disney Dining. I will tell you, it completely overwhelmed me. On Pinterest alone, there are thousands of posts on Disney restaurants, "best of" food lists, the Disney Dining Plan, etc. The first time I began to research, I almost threw my phone down and cried. After staring at websites for hours, I still had no idea where to go or what to do. Then one magical day, I found the light at the end of the Disney Dining tunnel. I'm referring to what Disney is now calling the "Free Delicious Offer". Yes, I said it - FREE.

Before we get into all the details of how to get free dining, I want to make sure you have an understanding of the Disney Dining Plan (DDP), for any Disney newbies. The Disney Dining Plan is something you can add on to your Disney vacation package (typically including a resort stay and park tickets at minimum). The DDP typically includes Table Service Credits, Quick Service Credits, Snack Credits and refillable drink mugs for everyone on your reservation. Don't worry - for those of you who have zero idea what I'm talking about, you can read all about the Disney Dining Plan in our post here.

Now that you have a better understanding of what the DDP even is, let's talk about how and when to get it for free. Historically, the FREE dining plan package has been offered for resort stays falling sometime between August and December. By that I mean, over the past five years, the dates have been similar but never the exact same. In order to score this awesome package, you typically have a booking window that opens sometime between spring and early summer. Now, if you're anything like me, you're saying to yourself "that's great and all, but HOW do I actually get this?". You really have three options. Option 1 - you can obsess over Disney blogs, insider tips and websites that give you a heads up when it MIGHT be announced, and you can pounce on booking a reservation the second it is truly announced. Option 2 - you can take a chance on booking a reservation and pray that it actually ends up falling during your reservation time, then immediately call the booking line to have it added to your reservation on the morning it rolls out. If you choose this option, good luck with the hold times on the phone. Grab a cup of coffee, a book, maybe a movie or two. It could take a while. Option 3 - also known as my favorite option. You can find a Disney-obsessed person who happens to run a blog (ahem - me.) and keep up with our updates on when this magical plan will be released. Once you hear confirmed rumors from our email updates, you can contact an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner and have them book a reservation for you, AT NO COST TO YOU. That's right, I said no cost to you, which brings us to my next money saving tip.

I can tell you honestly, I will never book another Disney World trip on my own. With all the options, and the website sometimes running quite slow, I just can't handle the pressure. I was lucky enough to be introduced to a wonderful Disney Vacation Planner who has made my booking process incredibly simple. What's the benefit, you ask? Everything. Number one, their service is completely free to you. Disney pays their commission, so you get all their knowledge and skills for absolutely no cost to you. Number two, they have magical powers. Yes, that's right. I have used the same Disney Vacation Planner for years, and I could not live without her. She made my first booking experience incredibly easy, and she saved me every bit of hassle of getting the FREE Disney Dining Plan added to my booking. I had heard that the dining plan was historically given out free between a certain set of dates. On a leap of faith, I had her book a vacation package for me that fell within that time frame, but I let her know I was really interested in the free dining. The morning I found out the Free Dining Plan had been announced, before I could even call her, she sent me an email to let me know she had already added it to my booking. She's basically my Fairy Godmother. End of story. If you'd like your own Fairy Godmother, you can find mine at Air and Sea Travel - ask for Robin. You can thank me later. 

So, you've reached out to your Fairy Godmother, you've booked a vacation package, now what? That's not at all where the savings stop. I have a few more tricks up my sleeve. For me, half of the fun of Disney World is all the planning, shopping and crafting I get to do during the months before my trip. In my opinion, this is where I save TONS, and I mean TONS of money. To begin, I create a Disney Vacation Planning Binder. Yes, I'm that much of a nerd. For me, the designing part of the binder is a thrill. However, I understand that not everyone gets that excited about it. For those of you that would prefer a pre-made template, send us an email and we'll send you a FREE copy of our most recent binder.

My next money-saving step is to start SHOPPING! Got your attention now, don't I ladies? You read it right. As I've mentioned in previous posts, I have a toddler. This is one of the most fun parts for me. I love making sure she is fully decked out in Disney clothing, princess dresses, etc. for everything we do in the parks. If she's meeting Cinderella, you can bet she'll be dressed to suit. I also LOVE using my Silhouette to create precious shirts for her to wear in the parks. Check out our Instagram page for pictures of what I made and what we packed on her most recent trip. Other than shopping for clothes, there are a few items I never leave home without when heading to Disney World. You can find a complete list of those items and where to get them in our Disney Packing List post here. Trust me, when you get to the parks and the kids are screaming for literally everything they see in every store or every street cart, you'll be glad you planned ahead.

My next step is crafting, and who doesn't love crafting? Just like with the outfits, I like for my daughter, and admittedly myself, to have a different pair of ears for every day in the parks. I have tried just about every way of making ears I could find, but my newest favorite is Floral Wire Mickey Ears. You can find a plethora of these beauties on Etsy, but they'll typically cost you at the very least about $20 a piece. No thanks. I love the fun of designing and crafting my own. It has been trial and error, but I've finally got it down! You can read all about how to craft these puppies in our Floral Wire Ears post here. Also, check out our Instagram page for a few of the other types of ears I've tried out.

My second favorite item to craft for every Disney trip is a customized autograph book. These bad boys will cost you upwards of $10-15 if you buy them in the parks, and they're generic. Sure, they have a cute theme on the front, but the inner pages are blank. I used to find a deal for a 20-page photo book for only $5.99. I then created my own front page template and inner pages with cute miniature pictures of Disney characters on each page. With my daughter being so young, this was a great way for her to associate each character with their picture. I have to say, watching her light up when Doc McStuffins signed her name beside her picture made the entire trip completely worth it! If you'd like a FREE front page template for your custom autograph book, check out our post here.

One of my favorite money saving tips comes from an idea I've received from many other bloggers. I admit, at first I was skeptical and thought it was just another money making scheme. Boy, was I wrong. If you plan your trip with enough time, you can utilize this trick to its full potential. Have any of you ever heard of the Target Red Card? If so, then you are already aware of all the benefits that come along with having it. However, I have a new benefit for you. The Red Card can be used at Target to purchase Disney Gift Cards at 5% off. Now, I know 5% doesn't sound like much, but it adds up. For every $500 in gift cards you purchase, you save $25 with this trick. When you book a Disney trip, you only have to pay a $200 deposit. Even working with an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner, you can pay your balance in increments (or in full) with Disney Gift Cards. You've basically added an extra discount on your vacation just by purchasing gift cards with the Red Card. You can also purchase discounted gift cards through a website called In my experience, finding Disney Gift Cards on this site is hit or miss, but when you do, it is completely worth it. Hey, I'll try almost anything to save money! If that means checking a website like a complete stalker, I'm not afraid!

Now, with all your new money-saving tips in hand, it is time to book your next Disney Vacation. Remember folks, I'm obsessed. I'd love to hear all about your experience and any extra tips, pictures or requests you have to share with us! Leave us a comment below or send us an email!


  1. Great tips! Love Disney and can't wait to go back!

  2. I'm so glad that I live this close to Disneyland because it saves me so much money. I don't have to stay in hotel. My best recommendation for everyone is to save money on drinks because that is what you're going to actually be getting the most of. Espically when it's hot it's just go ahead and buy an insulated lunch box and some reuseable ice and go ahead and pack it full of drinks and that means if you have to bring an extra cooler and rent a stroller then so be it because soda is so expensive and so was the water. You can go into some of the quick serve locations and get free water but it's in a cup and you can't take it with you and some of the rides. Literally I spend more money on beverages and Disneyland than food.

    Also if you're starving and you don't want to spend money on food cheapest thing to buy is a pretzel or a churro they will holdyou over long enough until you can get home or get back to your hotel and eat.


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