March of the First Order at Hollywood Studios

Budgeting for a Walt Disney World vacation seems fairly straightforward. You need park tickets, a resort room, airfare or gas money, funds for dining, and maybe some pocket cash for souvenirs. Worrying about anything more might feel like fussing over details.

Unfortunately, there are times when a trip to the Most Magical Place on Earth can feel like navigating a minefield of hidden costs. We’ve talked about some of these before on Theme Park Tourist—sundries, airport costs, underestimating food costs. However, these are just the tip of the iceberg. The shock of expenses you never saw coming is an unnecessary stress on what should be the vacation of a lifetime.

Budgets may sound intimidating, but the truth is, a good vacation budget lifts stress off and frees you up to enjoy your vacation without stressing about where every penny is spent. If you want a truly foolproof vacation budget, don’t forget to take these 10 surprise costs into account.

1. Time off work

Seven Dwarves marching to mine train

Image: Disney

This is one I have some personal experience with. My husband and I were so excited to plan our first Walt Disney World vacation together. We carefully budgeted for our resort rooms, our dining plan, spending money, and transportation costs. Everything seemingly went according to plan. Two weeks after our vacation, however, we couldn’t figure out why we were suddenly broke.

Neither of us had jobs that offered PTO. We had zero experience even having jobs that offered treasured benefits like PTO yet. In our excitement for our vacation, we completely forgot that neither of us would be getting paid for the time we were on vacation. I know—the things you learn when you’re young. Needless to say, we had to scramble when time came to pay the bills.

If you and/or your spouse have a relatively secure financial situation in a job that offers PTO, this is less likely to be an issue. However, for many Americans, this is one of the biggest areas where a family can get wiped out after a Disney vacation.

Not everyone who visits Walt Disney World has a job that offers PTO. Especially if it is your first family vacation of this type, this is an easy area to make a major miscalculation in your budget. You can save and plan the perfect Disney budget, but if you don’t account for the wages you are losing during your time off, you are going to have some problems with your paycheck when you get back.

If your job situation doesn’t offer PTO, add an item to your budget to cover any wages you are going to lose during the days off for your trip. Save that money up just like you’re saving for the rest of your vacation. This will offer some crucial peace of mind for when you return! It’s like you’ll be paying yourself PTO, and you won’t get caught off-guard by a less-than-magical homecoming.

2. Credit card interest

Kylo Ren being brooding and evil-like

Image: Disney

It’s a fairly common practice—you booked your Walt Disney World vacation by putting everything on credit cards. Maybe you were trying to earn points or cashback. Maybe you planned to pay them off immediately, or maybe you gave in to temptation and booked a trip on credit, assuming you’ll pay it off over the year.

If you aren’t extremely disciplined in paying off your full credit balance every month, using credit cards is going to guarantee a hidden budget item that will increase your costs—credit card interest.  

Experts agree it is extremely hard to eliminate credit card debt using just your minimum monthly payment. An investment as costly as a Walt Disney World vacation is going to leave you in debt for a substantial amount of time if you put the whole thing on credit cards without a solid plan to pay it off—and even if you have a plan, if that plan involves months of payments, you are going to accrue interest.

A Walt Disney World vacation is not worth putting yourself or your family into crippling debt for years. You will save money in the long term by simply saving the funds you need then planning your trip. If you insist on using credit cards paid over time for your vacation, you will need to budget for the interest that will accrue while you are paying it off. In the end, it usually isn’t worth it.

If you want to earn some travel points, save up money for your trip just like you would if you were paying cash. Put it in a secure account where it won’t get mixed up with monthly bill money. Use your credit card during the trip and pay your balance as you go using the funds you saved. Otherwise, you will have a surprise budget item you never accounted for in all that interest.

3. Fluctuations in ticket prices

Friends taking selfie at Food and Wine Festival

Image: Disney

Walt Disney World ticket prices are unpredictable at best, but lately, price hikes have been on the rise. With Disney preparing for the arrival of dozens of hot ticket attractions like Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the Guardians of the Galaxy coaster in Epcot, and more, ticket prices have increased more dramatically than we have seen in years. If you are saving up to pay for your tickets and it’s going to take you several months, you may need to budget an extra $30-80 a ticket in the event of dramatic increases or recently introduced peak-season pricing.

If you see a good Walt Disney World ticket price, do what you can to lock it in quickly (once again—without going into chronic debt. Resist the dark side, Young Skywalker). Otherwise, you may need to consider ticket price fluctuations in your budget. Always double check if your place of work or any organizations you are a part of (e.g. AAA) have access to discounted ticket prices.


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