Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Spending Smart: How We Afford Disney

I know no explanation is needed. I know our money is our money and how we spend it is our priority. However. I feel that when you're fundraising for adoption AND going to Disney World that it can seem unaligned. I know we recently started a financial type class in our Bible Study at church and that many people in our class commented on the amount of trips our little family takes. They said they didn't realize how we spend so little on travel and how we DO maximize savings etc. I know I mention it often in blog posts but I thought it made sense to explain it ALL in one post that I can then link to in the future! I know I talk a lot about saving money and spending wisely and I never want anyone to get the wrong impression about our family and our spending habits.

Here is how we personally afford our Disney vacations. Disney is actually cheaper for us right now than going to the beach! We are also blessed that Zach works for Aflac so the trips we go on through them are FREE for us as well! Some of these are tips that can help YOU make Disney vacations happen...and some are things that only apply to us because such savings options may no longer be available.

1. Bulk Tickets: Several years ago I started stashing away money just in case we decided to send Kye to private school. I thought if I had the first year's tuition saved up then we would better be able to make a clear decision on what was BEST for him without being concerned about coming up with the tuition expenses. We prayed a lot about that decision and ultimately decided to go with public school (you can read about our decision making here!).

It just so happened that soon after we decided on public school for Kye that I heard Disney was doing away with their "no expiration" ticket options. So guess what I did? I worked out ALL of our family trips through 2020. I factored in roughly two small trips a year with one larger trip every few years. I figured up roughly how many tickets we'd need for the parks and I purchased a big order of Disney Tickets.

I purchased them through Undercover Tourist which typically has cheaper prices than directly from Disney and they are equally legit. I was able to get all of our needed park tickets through 2020 with park hopper and no expiration for around $50-$60 per ticket by the end of all of it. Tess isn't even three yet (so she's still free to get in the parks right now) and she has a solid 10 days worth of tickets ready for her once she turns three.

It was def a value to take roughly the cost of one year of private school tuition for ONE kid and be able to buy Disney tickets for a family of 5 for 5 years haha!

Even though such tickets are no longer available, you can still get discounts on tickets on occasion. From both Disney's site directly (they recently had a promo for 4 park days for $79 a day!) and from other such sites like Undercover Tourist. Disney days get cheaper the more days you visit the parks so it would make sense to take one longer trip with more park days within that trip than to take multiple shorter trips if you are trying to budget wisely and make that dollar stretch! It's also wise to take a child on their first visit prior to age 3. When they are younger than three they enter the parks for free and also eat for free at any restaurant where you pay per person. On that same note, it's also wise to travel with kids before age 10 when they become an adult ticket price!

2. Timeshare: Back in 2010 Zach and I purchased a timeshare in Tennessee. We had been traveling with timeshare companies on incentive trips since early in our dating relationship and we felt, at the time, that the purchase would be worthwhile for our family and the amount we enjoyed vacationing.

It was the first thing we paid off when we started Dave Ramsey. And for MANY years it really and truly was a solid investment for us. Not only did we get to use our points for vacations but we also could book extremely cheap trips on good deals through RCI's site. They offer last minute getaway trips at very low prices and Orlando is the timeshare capital of the world so we've always been able to stay very, very cheap near Disney.

Recently our timeshare company was bought out and the value of our timeshare (for OUR use) has diminished. We're no longer offered those deep discount deals so the past couple of years we've been just using our points to stay on properties that are owned by our direct company. This means we don't pay any fees to exchange and we are technically staying "for free" at that resort. We do owe fees every year for the timeshare but it's something we've always had to pay and have money set aside monthly to cover the expenses so we don't consider the cost of staying at the resort an out of pocket cost since the amount to pay for the fees is already factored into our budget each month.

We are actually looking into getting rid of the timeshare. I am NOT recommending to purchase a timeshare. Now that we aren't able to access the deep discount deals it's def not of value to us to justify the cost of the fees each year to own.

3. Off Property: We only typically stay at the timeshare location once a year. We don't have a lot of points (we bought a small package with the company when we purchased) so for our second trip of the year we stay at other off property locations. You can find rental property for VERY cheap. For our November trip we stayed closer to the parks than we've ever stayed (We typically stay in the Davenport area but this time stayed at Indian Creek) and were still able to stay for 8 nights for right at $1,000. Vrbo is where it's at for booking!

Yes $1,000 is a lot of money. BUT for a 4 bedroom home with your own pool and within 10 minutes to Disney World? And for 8 nights? Def a bargain! Visiting at times when it's lower crowd season helps cut down on our costs for accommodations because rental prices are lower when there are less people renting! This was also the largest and longest Disney trip we've ever taken. I had been saving for a long time for this trip (even before our decision to adopt) and we had the money set aside for this purpose :)

4. Ebates: Ebates is where it's at. I consider all of my Ebates earnings my "Disney Money." It's FREE to use Ebates and you earn cash back for any purchases made through their site. It adds up FAST and if you get their emails or have their app then you will also see special times that certain places give more cash back. This comes in so handy at the holidays. I do most of my shopping online and I typically earn around $200 from Ebates every 3 months. Guys. That's around $800 a year in Disney money. FOR FREE.

If you've never signed up with Ebates you can do so here!

5. Budgeting: Not only do I have Ebates earnings, but I also budget wisely. When our kids pick going to Disney over having a birthday party then the money we have set aside for the cost of their party instead goes to spend at Disney. I love the challenge of getting good deals and enjoy getting awesome gifts at a great price. I spend under budget on holiday gift giving (birthdays and Christmas) and rather than just blow that extra money on something, I put it into Disney spending as well! We also have a travel account set up that gets money put aside into it every month. Again this is part of our monthly set budget. Travel is important to us and something we prioritize as a family. We don't eat out often. We get good deals on clothes and other items. Because we'd rather put aside more money for travel!

6. Disney Gift Cards from Target: I take the money I earn from Ebates and use it to purchase Disney Gift Cards from Target. I purchase them online from Target's website which typically gives me 1-2% cash back through Ebates ;) Then I use my Target Redcard to pay for the gift card purchases which knocks 5% off my total. Recently I helped Zach's family do this to save money on their Disney tickets for our upcoming trip. Courtney bought two days at the parks for a family of four (2 kids, 2 adults) and the 5% savings saved her $40!!! It adds UP!!!

You can use Disney Gift Cards for just about everything at Disney. Stores. Restaurants. Tickets. Hotels. Anything on Disney property takes the gift cards (even several stores at Disney Springs!). By planning ahead and purchasing gift cards prior to really helps save money while ON the actual trip as well. If you know you have a Disney trip in the future, why not go ahead and buy gift cards along and along so when you are ready to go you already have all the money you need? Zach and I joke that the gift cards make it feel like we're not spending any money at all since it's all pre-paid!

7. Use Discounts: Disney offers discounts for Annual Passholders. This year we were visiting the parks enough times to justify one of us becoming a pass holder.  Duh, that person was me ;) This means my no expiration tickets get saved for the future which will cut down on our spending costs once we run out of those tickets. Having the annual pass gets me FREE parking (a $20 a day savings since we don't stay on property). It also gets a 20% discount on merchandise. And a 10% discount on several dining locations!

The Disney Visa also offers up some discounts. I have a Disney Visa ONLY to use for these perks. The rewards for it are terrible. If you're looking for the best rewards card then I recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred. We use this for ALL of our purchases (and pay it off every month and keep track of our spending on an app). This allows us to earn points that we could redeem for Disney spending if we wanted (but we save them to use for flight travel).

8. Eat Cheap: We most often bring food with us on our trips. We also go to the grocery store on arrival day and stock up on food. We bring food in the parks with us to cut down on spending costs. Even if we have a reservation on Disney Property we will bring in food for the kids and just Zach and I will order food or we've even all eaten our own food and just ordered desserts to be able to have the dining experience without the cost. This works great at places where you want the atmosphere but not the expense. We booked a 2:30 PM T-Rex reservation one time. The food isn't actually all that good so we ate lunch prior and then just ordered a HUGE dessert to share! Most of the restaurants allow for this and we've never had any problems (some places DO charge a per person price so be sure to read through when make reservations).

9. Be Mindful of Purchases: Disney knows how to get you. They have SUCH cute merchandise waiting for you at the end of each and every ride or experience. I do very little on property shopping. Now that I do have such a great discount I'm purchasing more at the parks but typically I find little prizes for the kids in the dollar spot at Target or on clearance after major holidays online. I keep an eye out for Disney things and stock up throughout the year to surprise the kids while on our trips. I also purchase all of our Disney gear on discounts throughout the year. I love themed shirts and outfits and am very mindful of how those costs can add up. Zach and I have discussed it and I would rather buy the cute Disney stuff than other clothes for our kids so rather than have spending money set aside for school clothes...our kids will be wearing Disney clothes at school ;) I also am known to wrap up Disney outfits as gifts ha!

10. Maximize Time: We live close enough to Disney to make short visits but even in those short visits we try to maximize our time the best we can. Rather than spreading things out and spending more nights (which means spending more money on our stay) we try to do a LOT in a short amount of time. We will schedule events for arrival and departure day. We will get to the parks when they open, break for naps, and stay till close. We try to fit as much FUN into the days as we can which also maximizes our savings AND makes the money we are spending last longer. Disney doesn't charge ticket prices based on how long you stay for the day. So why not stay as long as possible and make that ticket price last?

There is also no rush for their meals. You are paying for the experience...take your time and enjoy it! We have stayed so long at a character meal that we ended up seeing all the characters twice! It was a perk of taking our time and enjoying it! All you can eat buffets are all you can relax and eat and visit and just soak it all in. Heck, if you time it right you could get two meals out of it haha!

We are a very budget minded family. Every dollar has a purpose and a place. We are careful with our spending and mindful of where exactly it all goes. Travel is a top priority for our family and it's something we aren't willing to change or sacrifice. We'd rather eat Ramen than stop traveling! I hope this post not only gives some good tips for other families who live close enough to Disney to drive and keep the trip cheaper...but that it also helps those who may be judging us on our spending choices to understand just how we're able to travel to Disney so cheaply :) At least for now! I mean when 2020 comes around I'm already nervous about how drastically our ability to travel to Disney will diminish! Maybe we'll just move down there so we can be Florida pass holders ;)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Kye's 8th Birthday Letter {From Mommy}


I have LOVED the year of 7. I read somewhere that it's the "golden age of childhood." While I agree that it was wonderful with you, I also believe life with you will only get better :) You are so smart. So kind. and SO FUN. I couldn't imagine my life without you in it and you are truly so special to me!

This year was filled with many "tough stuff" moments for our family. It has made me appreciate you in an even deeper way than before. You are always steady and are such a shining light for us all. You step up when needed and just have this easy way about you where you can feel a room and understand what is needed to make a tough moment lighter, or a hard spot easier. When life got stressful for Mommy at times you'd always hop right in to help without even having to be asked. When Daddy had his back surgery and was struggling with other health concerns later in the year, he never had to worry about you taking care of us girls :) You are the man of the house when he's away and you wear that hat beautifully. It's almost like a peak into the future and the man you will become. Your future wife and children are so blessed! 

Just as much as you may act mature beyond your years, a more silly side of you has really come out this year. I remember looking at boys your age now and thinking about the CRAZINESS that this stage of life would mean for us with a boy at home! While you aren't nearly as hyper and silly as many of the boys your age, you do have that wild streak and it's so funny when that side of you comes out. You enjoy making us laugh and have a lot of energy! You are much more into sports now (and have announced that football time is here...ahhh!) and still have that very competitive spirit. While you are very active, you also still very much enjoy your solo time. You are proud of being an introvert and need your time to yourself. You love to read and it's a hobby I hope you always continue to enjoy! 

I love all of our quality time together. We have our nightly chats where you always confess any poor choices you've made throughout the day. I'm not sure why you started having these nightly "confessions" but it makes my heart so happy that you know you can tell me anything and that you feel comforted by sharing those things with me. Of course 99% of the time they really aren't anything major, but I want you to ALWAYS know you can share your heart with me ANYTIME. I'm here to listen and to love on you. Even if I may not agree and even if there are consequences to decisions you make...I'm here. 

You have grown so much this year. You're now in the current size for your age and aren't "the shorter one" in class anymore. You started age 7 with all of your baby teeth and now your smile has completely changed as you've lost your top and bottom front teeth and have replaced them with adult ones. You are growing up on us and I'm not too sure I like it ;) I still picture you with those chubby baby hands and that paci in your mouth along with that bald head! You are still, and always will be, my baby. My first born. My special boy! 

You are SO thrilled about our decision to adopt a baby brother. You have always wanted a brother and I cannot wait to see you in this roll. You will be such a great example for him and someone he will admire and look up to. I know it'll be a special bond. You are such an awesome brother for your sisters and I know you are ready for the house to be more balanced ;) I can't wait to see you with a little baby again. The love you instantly had for Tess when she was born was just so precious and I can only imagine the sweetness to come when we add this last baby to our crew. You are so good with all children and  are always looking out for your sisters. You are especially protective of Tess and are constantly saying "Oh Mom, she's SO CUTE."

I am thankful for all the fun memories we made this year together. Our solo trip, just us, was special time but it also showed me that you really are growing up. You have your own interests and they line up with Daddy's in a lot of ways more than they do with mine. And that's okay! It's wonderful to see you have such a strong bond with your dad and I know how much he hopes you share a similar bond to the one he shares with his dad. I love seeing you together and love that you guys have such a blast! I'm thankful you and I have our "date" time. Our froyo. Our talks. I know our bond is strong and that it's something we'll always share. We think in such similar ways and our minds work in a way that connects us and always will! It's so neat to have someone "get me" the way you do and I know as you get older you'll also be thankful to have someone who understands your perspective the way I can! 

You continue to amaze me with your school work and how learning comes so natural for you. You enjoy learning but you especially enjoy explaining things to others and helping them learn too. Most importantly you have a passion for teaching God's Word to others and that has made me SO PROUD. You have such a strong faith and have no hesitation about speaking to others about that. You are bold and unashamed. You wrote out verses about baptism to share with your class at school. You gave a lesson to the ladies of our church and have spoken from the pulpit a few times now. You LOVE public speaking and are SO good at it too! I cannot WAIT to see how you use this amazing talent that the Lord has blessed you with! You make Daddy and I unbelievably proud! 

As we look to the year ahead I am only excited. I'm excited to, hopefully, finish our family. I'm excited for you to hold that baby brother in your arms. I'm excited to have trips to Disney and the beach and maybe even skiing. I'm excited to see you enter 3rd grade! A grade that has so many great memories for me. I'm excited to watch you look out for Britt at school and see how much you will continue to grow and change this year. I have no doubts that you and I will continue to be close and that you will only continue to grow closer in your relationship with God. You are an example to SO many and I'm so thankful that you are our first child. It's a true blessing to have you lead your sisters down such a positive path. You aren't just an example for them, but for ME too. I look up to YOU in many ways. Especially in your faith!

I am honored to be your mom. I thank God every night for the gift of you and never take a single moment of it for granted. When I was a little girl I knew I wanted to be a Mommy but being your mom has surpassed even my most wonderful dreams of what motherhood would mean. You are a light and a joy and I savor every second of your childhood. It's hard to believe that we are halfway to you DRIVING!!! While it's easy to look back and be a little sad about letting go of my baby boy, I'm only excited for the days ahead. I know you will continue to shine and make us proud and that you will ALWAYS be connected to our family unit (you still say you plan to live next door...and I'm not complaining! ha!). You can do ANYTHING your heart desires. You are worthy of love and of the happiest life this world can bring. I cannot wait to see where your path takes you. As long as you continue on the path for God then you will be storing up those treasures heaven!

I love you so, so much Kye and am so blessed to be you mom!


Mommy xoxox

Past Birthday Letters:


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