Life Lessons with a Disney Twist: Kids Need a Vacation Budget

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why kids need a budget on a Disney World vacation
Updated for 2017!
Everybody needs money at Disney World. Do your children know how much money they are taking on your next trip? Do YOU know how much money they will be taking? You better, or they will be trying to con you out of your hard-earned cash.

My co-worker, Sara, recently told me she was completely unprepared to take her two-year-old daughter to Disney last May. The trip itself wasn’t the problem; gift shops were the problem. Hey, those are a problem for me and my kids too! She said that her daughter is at that adorable age, all that excitement in her eyes, where she has a hard time telling her no. This seems especially true on a long-anticipated vacation when mom just wants everyone to be happy. So when her daughter asked in multitudes of gift shops if Sara would buy her toys, she said she just couldn’t say no. When she got home and checked her Visa bill, Sara thinks she spent more on toys and souvenirs for her child than what she spent on park tickets. Sound familiar to some of you?
Well, it didn’t sound even remotely familiar to me.

Read: Save Money on Disney World T-Shirts by Making Your Own!

 why kids need a budget on Disney vacations
My parents took me to Disney nearly every summer as a child of the 70s, and they never once bought me any souvenirs. I had to rake yards and wash cars to raise money to buy anything on vacation. Today, my dad would be classified as an extreme cheapskate. We always stayed a 40 minute drive away from the Magic Kingdom with family friends…for free.
To my dad, the trip itself was my Disney gift. Why did he need to buy me a t-shirt when he was paying for my three meals each day?  Why, he asked me, did he need to buy me a Mickey Mouse ears hat when he bought my park tickets? We snuck our lunch into the park in 1976. I remember a trip where my dad bought one large Coke, and we shared that drink with five people. I stood in long pre-FastPass+ lines where it seemed every kid there was wearing the newest Disney shirt that I would never have, and I was Pete’s Dragon green with envy. Man, I wanted everything in sight…
So you would think when I took my own kids to Disney that I would have just gone M.I.C.K.E.Y wild, buying them hats, t-shirts, and everything I never got at Disney World but wanted desperately.
Nope. What my dad taught me was that vacations are expensive, and I better work my butt off if I want to take nice vacations. My dad taught me that I can’t have everything I want, that nobody can have everything they want all the time. Guess what I am teaching my kids?

Read: Free Fun in Celebration Florida: A Cheapskate Princess Guide

tips for Disney moms on vacation
I can’t imagine buying a child everything they asked for, no matter what their age. I mean no offense to Sara, because indeed her daughter is cute. I knew my kids would want all sorts of souvenirs at Disney, and with no jobs, they would need money. So from before our first trip to Disney, my husband and I made our children save some of their Christmas money from relatives. We put part of their birthday money in a “Disney Fund,” and we talked about shopping at Disney for up to a year before we visited.
We still talk about money a lot, because I am 47, and even I don’t have enough money to spend on souvenirs at Disney. Lordy, have you seen the prices on the new PANDORA jewelry? 
Today’s Life Lesson with a Disney Spin? To get to Disney, you have to budget your money. Your children need to learn the same skill; kids need a vacation budget.
Why does your child need a budget for a Disney trip?
  • So you spend all day having fun rather than constantly saying no and feeling like a Disney villain.
  • No one gets to have everything they want, because no one has that sort of money. Kids might as well learn that now rather than face disappointment later on as adults.
  • Children like to know what is going on in their lives. Knowing how much money they have to spend gives them control, which is something they may not get a lot of on vacation.

 Read – Life Lessons With a Disney Twist: Teach Kids to Be Appreciative

kid's budgets for vacation
If there is a positive side to not being at Disney as often as you would like, it’s that you can talk about Disney all you want. Talk with your kids about money.
  1. How much money will they be bringing?
  2. Will you give them any money when they run out?
  3. Will you loan them any more money if they run out, assuming they will have to start paying it back upon return?
  4. Are they responsible for paying for any family activities during the vacation?
  5. Can their money be divided up into a per day allowance so the $$ isn’t used up on the first day?
  6. Can they do any chores before the trip to earn extra spending money?

My teens wanted to see Cirque de Soliel, and when I offered to pay for half their ticket, they weighed their options and decided they would rather spend their money adding the DisneyQuest/water park option to our annual passes. Several years ago, my kids chose to receive fewer Christmas presents so we could stay on vacation a few days longer. We laid out the money facts and let them decide, though it warmed my heart they chose family vacation over “stuff.”

I think giving kids a choice or a say in vacation plans can be a great teaching tool.

Read – Life Lessons with a Disney Twist: Teach Kids to Save Their Money

Disney moms tips for vacations

“We have a budget, and we can’t have it all. Let’s decide what is the best value for our money.”

I keep a small notebook with my three children’s vacation savings written down. We call this “The Column.” My children pretty much keep money on their “Disney Column” all year ‘round. Each day of vacation, we start out at breakfast calling out column amounts. They know each day how much money they have left to spend. Middle child goes by the total amount, while oldest daughter divides her amounts out per day. My husband and I do loan money, up to a certain amount that I know I will get my money back. I know surprise Disney trips look fun and exciting, but they don’t allow for kids doing chores and extra jobs ahead of time to pay for the souvenirs they will want in those gift shops.

We can’t have everything we want. The Donald Trumps of this world have a budget, (funny how I originally used his name when I wrote this article in 2013) and they are holding out on purchasing something, even if their scale is far more grand than ours. Not overspending or sticking to a budget in our every day lives is a life skill. You can blow your budget and make a bunch of purchases with your credit card, but dealing with the bill after you get home will just add to your post-Disney depression.

Sit down with your kids and make a budget, one for them and one for you!

I need reminders about this budget business when I walk into the new Disney PANDORA stores. My Disney Visa card stays is a little nervous….

Read: Avoid These 10 Mistakes That Can Wreck a Disney World Vacation

what kids want to buy on a Disney vacation

We asked our  Cheapskate Princess Facebook Fans if their children had budgets, or did they let them spend whatever they wanted on vacation. Don’t get me wrong, there are some parents (I wanted these to adopt me!) that said they let the kids buy whatever they please, but the vast majority said their children did chores and had budgets.

Here are some of their thoughts, because it always helps to hear from parents who have gone through it before.

Amanda, “You have to put them on a budget! When we went, I had a specific amount for souvenirs each day. I think it was like $30 per park. Once that was gone, it was gone. The kids knew ahead of time that they had money, and it was their decision on how to spend it. If they wanted to spend $100 the first day in the Magic Kingdom, then they knew that meant they only had $20 left for Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios combined. They did very well, surprisingly. They bought what they wanted and didn’t whine or beg for extra.”

Erica, “My kids have to do specific things at home to earn dedicated Disney money (they can also add birthday money, allowance money, anything to it), and that is all they get for Disney. They’ve earned about $50 in about eight months; if they need more, they have to save it for the next trip.”

Jodi, “We have a budget for our daughter. She earns money through out the year with her allowance, extra chores and stuff around the house. Then before we go, she decides how much she wants to spend of her money, and then I go and get gift cards. She can then decide to get whatever she wants. She has actually done better than I thought she would. She earned about $200 over the year and only decided to spend $100 of it, so I was pretty impressed.”

Chris, “We have a budget when I am in charge. My kids know they can push my wife around. I stand firm and can say ‘no.'”

Deborah, “My kids always had a certain amount of money, usually given to them by their grandparents. It was not a lot. I divide the amount of money by the number of days we are there. That is how much they have to spend per day. If they want something on the first day that is more than that amount, they have to wait until they have that much money to purchase it. This method really cuts down on impulse buying and stupid purchases. If they wait the 3-4 days to make a large purchase, it is usually a good decision.”

Laura, “My daughter makes a Disney money envelope, and she puts money that she earns by doing chores, her allowance and any money she gets for birthdays/holidays in it. With that money she gets to buy whatever she wants, but when the money is gone, it’s gone. It has really helped her decide if something is really worth the price.”

Kimberly, “Kids definitely need a budget! Each child gets Disney gift cards for birthday/christmas and they can spend until they are gone. They have total control of their own budget, but they definitely have a budget.”

Rhea, “We are planning our first trip to Disney World. My oldest two will be 7 and 6 when we go. Every time a friend visits WDW, I give them $20-30 and ask them to bring back Disney Dollars. I pay my children for chores or good deeds with the Disney Dollars. Whatever they have earned by the time our trip comes will be their spending money. Children definitely need a budget!”

Read: It’s Time to Disney Yourself, all for FREE!

tips for taking kids on vacation

Amber, “When I was a kid, my parents would let me buy whatever, but mom and I got really good at finding deals. We would talk before we went about the less we spent, the sooner we could go again on vacation, so I would look for things that could be useful and reused, like refillable cups and popcorn buckets, etc. It was never laid out, but I understood that whatever I spent would come out of money for something else. I remember I packed my own PBJ lunch for four days so I could feed the dolphins at Sea World.

I’m planning now for a trip to Disney that is five years out, so we’ll have a lot of time for talking about options. I’m definitely pennywise as an adult, and don’t mind buying sale, used, or eBay items. I’ll do whatever it takes to make the budget and still spoil our kids (and myself!) My biggest plan this far out is to use cash/gift card back apps to stretch our budget. My husband helps by playing video games for swagbucks (oh, what a sacrifice!), and he has family that are Disneyholics that will give us “the leftovers” as their kids outgrow stuff. As we get closer, I plan on using Halloween sales to score princess dresses etc, and Christmas specials for cheaper Disney gift cards, as well as asking for trip- related items for birthdays, or just a cash donation to THE FUND in place of ‘stuff”’I’d normally get.

I know it seems crazy planning this far out, but we decided to do Disney right, and we are aiming for a three week stint to include other parks too. It’s really expensive to travel from where we live up north), so whatever shortcuts and amassing of points I can start now, I will! I’m sure as my kids get a bit older, I’ll start including them on our budgeting, if I can figure out a way to do so that won’t ruin getting to surprise them that year for our upcoming trip.

Speaking of cheapskate shopping, you have got to drop by this Orlando store…trust me on this one!

70% Off Disney Parks Authentic Merchandise? Cheapskate Bargains Galore!

Kayleigh posed a question, “We are in the middle of planning our kid’s first trip to Disney. They will be 8, 7, and 5. We don’t buy things just to get them something on a regular basis, so I sat down to make a budget for them. However, every time I give them a task, they give up and say, ‘I don’t need to spend anything at Disney.’  Because this is their first trip, I know they don’t understand everything that is there and that they will want money. How do I motivate them?”

That’s a great question, really. If you’ve never been standing in a Disney gift shop, of course you won’t think you need to purchase a thing, especially if you have to spend your own money. Kayleigh’s kids just have second-hand knowledge of shopping temptations, and that makes it tough to get the point across. My suggestions:

  • Reiterate that while it doesn’t feel like you’ll be doing much shopping, the wants will start as soon as your feet cross that shop threshold. 
  • If you have any friends who’ve travelled to Disney even once, have them describe how suddenly you feel like you need to purchase items you never knew you wanted. Sometimes kids listen to other people while they ignore you. 
  • Head to and just look at some of the prices. That’s called digital window shopping, and it’s eye-opening in terms of how expensive merchandise is. 

These tips may not fix the problem in time for the first trip, but they’ll quickly understand how important earning money is for future trips. Nobody like to hear “I told you so,” but you may have to drop that truth bombs if their chores remained unfinished. You can’t make them do anything; you can only try. 

And the beauty is if you start now, teaching your children the importance of a budget, they will make the transition into teens and adults with valuable life skills. 


What better place to teach your kids to stick to a budget than on a Disney vacation, home of the Happiest Shopping on Earth!

Thanks for stopping by, and we’ll see you checking out the t-shirts and keychains.

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Amanda Major Cheapskate Princess


Disney’s Cheapskate Princess


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Amanda Major CheapskatePrincess.comAmanda Major is the creator of She remembers her first visit to Magic Kingdom like it was yesterday, because she had a ham sandwich tucked in her shorts pocket. The whole family snuck in their lunch; you can’t make that kinda stuff up. 40 years worth of trips to Orlando later, she is still trying to save money on vacations.

Amanda is a Disney Vacation Club Member and Annual Pass holder. Her amazing husband, band director Carl Major, plus three teen children and two dogs keep her busy. Amanda teaches Leadership to high school seniors in the almost-coastal town of Foley, Alabama. Read about her cheapskating local vacations with this link. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, walking somewhere, or paddling a kayak. Life is indeed a blast. 

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