Take your loved ones on the trip of a lifetime by following these ways to save on a family vacation and avoid emptying your entire bank account.

When I got my first Disneyland pass a few years ago, I was your stereotypical broke college student (not Top Ramen existence broke, but rather the penny-pinching, old car-driving, living-with-the-parents kind of broke). Making monthly payments on the lowest-tier Disneyland pass (less than $15 per month at the time) afforded me opportunities to socialize with friends instead of spending hundreds of dollars on going to concerts, clubs, and bars every weekend.

Over the years, I’ve learned Disney fans can enjoy visiting the parks even while on a shoestring budget. If you’re currently trying to save on a family vacation to Disneyland or Disney World, check out these tips for saving money while maximizing your fun at the Happiest Place on Earth:

1. Find Discounts on Tickets

Admission prices start at $95 per day for Disneyland and Disney World, but there are many ways to reduce this cost if you do some research beforehand. If you live in southern California or Florida, then be sure to snag resident discounts (about $10 off the ticket price). If you go more than 3 times per year, then investing in an annual pass might save you money as well!

If you’re visiting from out of the area, then check organizations you have membership with — AARP or AAA– to see special discounts they have available for their members. Disney also offers discounts for military members, veterans and their spouses! Also, children younger than age 3 do not require tickets, so you’re already saving when you bring the family!

If you want to visit multiple parks, you’re probably planning on buying tickets for multiple days. But if you really want to save on a family vacation, I think it’s a better move to buy a separate ticket for each of your first two days instead of dropping extra money on Park Hopper tickets. That way, you can spend an entire day in each park instead of running back and forth between the parks in an attempt to make the extra money you paid for a Park Hopper ticket package worth it.

2. Avoid Paying for Parking

Parking costs $18 per day at Disneyland and $20 per day at Disney World. Even if you’re staying for a single day this cost is exorbitant, so you can avoid this by either taking a free shuttle from your hotel (many off-resort hotels offer this service to their guests).

I’ve heard about people parking at local malls or neighborhoods and paying for an Uber to get there (probably not recommended but it’s worth mentioning). I can’t speak for Disney World, but if you only plan at being at Disneyland for a few hours, you can get two hours of free parking in Downtown Disney and buy lunch on your way out to get your parking validated for an additional three hours (giving you a total of five hours of free parking).

3. Go in the Off-Season

January, February, and September are generally “low season” months for the Disney parks, and just this year, Disney announced seasonal pricing on their 1-day tickets. This means that tickets in low traffic seasons will be more affordable, while tickets in peak traffic seasons (summer and December) will be more expensive.

4. Stay Off-Site

According to The Huffington Post, Disneyland resort hotels cost an average of $532.08 per night and Disney World resort hotels cost an average of $348.30 per night. Can you imagine paying a whopping $1,396 to $2,128 just for four nights in a hotel? Even with the added perks of free parking and the Extra Magic Hour of admission thrown in, this cost is just too much for many families.

But did you know that off-site hotels near Disneyland cost just $161 per night and Disney World off-site hotels only cost $142 per night? This is more than 50% less than their Disney resort counterparts and with a free shuttle thrown in, you’ll save hundreds on accommodations and transportation by avoiding Disney hotels.

5. Pack a Lunch

Disney allows outside water and food into their parks (as long as it’s non-alcoholic and not in a glass container). If park food is not absolutely crucial to your family’s Disney experience, then why not bring your own water bottles, sandwiches, and chips instead of paying $50+ for a lunch for a family of four and $4 for a single water bottle?

Use the money you save on lunch items to instead buy delicious desserts such as churros (my guilty pleasure at $3.75 a pop), Dole Whip, ice cream or beignets.

6. Bring Your Own Stroller

Disney charges $15 per day for one stroller and $25 per day for two strollers. A simple way to save is by simply bringing your own stroller (as long as it’s not too wide, due to space limitations in lines).

7. Buy Souvenirs Online Instead of in the Parks

I’ll admit to impulse-buying a Flower stuffed animal and BB-8 toy at Disney souvenir stores before, but buying a bunch of souvenirs for yourself and the kids costs so much more at the park than online. Avoid paying the “tourist tax” for simply shopping at a Disney resort and get your t-shirts, toys, and other souvenirs on Amazon before or after your Disney vacation.

8. Sign Up for a Disney Credit Card

If you have good credit, love Disney, and are open to applying to a new card before your vacation, then why not get a Disney credit card? The card offers several perks including 0% APR financing while planning your Disney vacation, private meet and greets with characters, discounts on in-park dining, discounts on merchandise, and more.

As you can see, it’s completely possible to save on a family vacation. Disney vacations don’t have to eat up all the trip’s funds in the span of a couple days. As long as you research frugal alternatives beforehand and bring your own items (souvenirs, food, water, stroller, etc.), then you’ll have a blast at the Happiest Place on Earth without breaking the bank.

Written by Kelly Kehoe

Participation Pays Off: How do you like to save money when planning family vacations?

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