Our Disneyland Experience: The Planning Stage – Tickets

Yesterday, I shared our thoughts behind our Disneyland budget, so let’s break that down.

We’ll start with Tickets:  We chose 5-day park hopper passes for 2 adults ($290 each) and 2 children under 10 ($270 each) = $1120 (plus a $5 shipping and handling charge)

I think there are some discounts out there, especially if you live in Southern California, but if you live outside California, just save your inner nerd a little stress and pay what is listed on the website.  I looked and looked, and the only way I would save a little bit of money was to have my California resident cousin purchase tickets using a special savings club she belongs to, then I would pay her back.  The ticket place she would go through would not take a debit card in my name, since I wasn’t part of the savings club.  It was a major hassle for a savings of about $80, total.  YES, that is a lot of money, but it was totally not a battle I was willing to fight.

Can you do the trip well for fewer than 5 days?  Yes.  In the middle of Day 3, while my children were fighting in line for the bajillionth time, I wondered why we didn’t just do 3-day Park Hopper passes.  However, by the end of Day 5, I was seriously considering adding on a 6th day (which you can do if you purchase the upgrade before the end of your last day – and it’s pretty cheap, too).

My advice is to stay for as long as you can afford, but shoot for 5 days.  In 5 days, we were able to ride every ride that was open and every show at BOTH parks except for Peter Pan’s Flight (which has insanely long lines for the entire day if you don’t catch it in the first 10 minutes of the day).  We actually checked off the last of our list on the morning of Day 5.  However, we also went on our favorite rides over and over and over and over.

Next, we’ll talk about trip timing!

Question time:  How long was your Disneyland trip?  Were you able to see and experience everything you wanted to experience? Would you have changed your trip length?  Share in the comments so that everyone can learn from your experience!

Our Disneyland Experience: The Planning Stage – Budgeting

We have been home from our family’s first Disneyland vacation for less than a day and I am still experiencing the Disney high.  I’m completely Disney obsessed. It was AMAZING!  Truly the best vacation we have ever had.  It was everything that I had hoped it would be, and then some.

I’m VERY excited to tell you all about it!  Hopefully it will help you if you are planning a trip to Disneyland!

The Planning Stage –

Our Disneyland trip planning began about 15 years ago.  Back in married years 1 and 2, we lived in Southern California.  On our first visit as a married couple, be bought resident season passes (which were a lot more reasonably priced than they are now).  We liked to go to Disneyland just for the evening to people watch, ride a few rides and have dinner.  After observing the harried parents of young, crying children, we made the decision that our children would have to be able to walk on their own without being assisted by a stroller at any time before we would take them to Disneyland.  We figured that would mean that the youngest would be about 5. 

Our youngest turned 6 this summer, and I had been dying to take my boys to Disneyland for a couple of years.  In fact, in December of 2010, I actually started pre-planning a trip.  Of course, back then we still had my student loans and were just starting to get really good at managing our budget.  My husband convinced me to hold off on Disneyland until I paid off my student loans.  That was reason enough to become gazelle intense.

We paid off my student loans (which had a balance in January 2011 of $27,000!!) this March, a little more than a year later.  I worked my hiney off (creating adoption profiles, in my papercraft template shop, and in my cash envelopes Etsy shop) in 2011/12 to get rid of that debt, and this summer my husband suggested that we start planning our Disneyland trip!!  YAY!

One thing that was really important to us was that we be able to pay for our entire trip in cash.  Absolutely NO credit.  No getting ourselves in debt for a vacation.  No, thank you.

We already had a few hundred dollars in our vacation micro account, and our other micro accounts were either fully funded or looking pretty hefty, so we diverted all additional money directly into our vacation fund.  We also put our “debt snowball” that was leftover after the student loan payoff into the fund.  It was amazing how quickly those dollars added up.

It was important to us that we were reasonable in our budget expectations.  We needed a generous budget.

Let’s face it:  Disneyland is expensive.  Plus, this was our first BIG vacation with the kids, and we wanted to do it right.  I have a tendency to be VERY cheap to the point where I practically give myself an ulcer if my husband wants to order a soda at dinner.  Because, you know, that $2.50 (or $3.99 at Disneyland) is really going to kill me.  However, I didn’t want to have to worry about money while on the trip.  I wanted to be able to buy my kids a Mickey Mouse shaped ice cream sandwich ($4.99) without thinking about the fact that I could feed my family for a week on four of those babies.

I did not try to do the trip as cheaply as possible.

I know, I just lost most of you.  But, stick with me, here!  I did do some things right (ie. cheaply)!

This is a quick budget breakdown:

Tickets: $1125
Hotel: $369
Rental Car:  $326 (we decided to rent a car since ours are very old and unreliable)
Gas:  We budgeted $500, but spent less since our rental got MUCH better gas mileage than our old Jeep.
Food and Souvenirs:  $500 (Wahoo!  However, we came in lower!)

Total budget: $2820
We actually spent $2550, and we were VERY generous with ourselves.

I talk about ticket prices in my next post!  Our Disneyland Experience: The Planning Stage: Tickets

Question Time:  How old were your kids when you first took them to Disneyland?  Did you budget generously, or did you save money?  Did you pay cash?  Share with us in the comments so we can all learn from your experience!


Our Micro Accounts: How we save for expected expenses

A LONG time ago, I wrote a post on our cash envelope categories and what works for us.  At that time, I promised to post about our micro accounts!  This is that post. FINALLY, right?

Let’s recap.  I’m writing these posts to demystify the topic, not because I think I know everything or because we are doing it all right.  I’ll be the first to tell you that we made some poor decisions back when we were DINKs (double income, no kids) and we have major regrets that we hope others will learn from.  Perhaps I’ll post about some of those some day (nothing life shattering, but stupid, nonetheless).  Basically, we know that people have a hard time talking about money, which really sucks when you are trying to get a handle on your finances and you have NO idea where to start.  Why does it have to be so secretive?!  I mean, seriously, people?

You could make your life a ton easier and just take a Financial Peace course at a local church like my sister and her hubby did.  I’m so thankful they took that course, because my sister shared her knowledge with me and started us on our debt free journey.  I have not taken that course, but I did read Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover book and it was pretty inspiring. (You can probably pick one up at your church library, public library or Goodwill.)

We don’t follow everything Dave recommends, but we do like a lot of what he says, like the parts about getting rid of credit cards, using cash for all of our everyday expenses and planning for expected expenses.

For example, Mitch has a business credit card that he keeps with him, but our personal credit card (just one) is frozen in a cup of ice in the freezer.  We just don’t need it.  Ever. We have debit cards if we ever need to use one for some reason (car rental, online shopping, airplane tickets, etc), but otherwise, we are off the monthly-credit-card-use-hamster-wheel. FREEDOM. Truly.

That is all due to our use of the cash envelope system, which I’ve written about at length.  Go read about that.  I’ll wait.

We use online bill pay to pay for monthly expenses like mortgage, debt payoff, insurance, utilities, tithe and offerings, etc.

We regularly contribute to our retirement accounts (right off the top of Mitch’s paycheck and at tax time) and have a lot of life insurance (term and whole life).

And now for the micro accounts:  This is just what works for us, and hopefully it will spark some ideas for you.

Two years ago, we fully funded our little emergency fund account ($1000). We have never had to dip into it (thank you, Lord!) but if there is ever a true emergency, then it is there.  Needing a new microwave because ours broke is NOT an emergency (although it might have felt like it at the time).  An emergency must be serious business.

Last year, we made it a priority to fully fund our Health Savings account.  Our family health deductible is $2000, so we funded it up to $2000.  We do sometimes have to dip into it to pay doctor’s bills, but we immediately work to build it back up again by depositing $50 a month until it is fully funded.  These two steps took a load of stress off.

After that, we started setting aside money for expected expenses.  These are things that we know are coming, but they used to “sneak up” on us, which is pretty ridiculous, but it is what it is.

For example, we pay our entire homeowner’s insurance payment every February.  It’s a chunk of money that used to STRESS me out, but these days I save $100 a month for homeowners insurance.  Our homeowner’s insurance is much less than that, but last year I undersaved, so this year I popped it up to $100 so that we would have cushion. I like security.

We have a Home Maintenance budget category on my micro account spreadsheet that we contribute $50 a month toward.  We don’t live in a fixer-upper, but there are always things breaking and projects needing to be done, so we budget for it.  I want new bark dust this summer, and I just realized that I have the money saved!  Wahoo! {doing the happy dance!}  You know that microwave emergency? The replacement money came out of the Home Maintenance account.

Next is Vehicle Registration, which I totally over-save for.  I can’t remember how much it is, but I save $15 a month so that when registration comes around I’m ready to go.

Our Car Maintenance fund gets a bit of a workout.  We have two 15+ year old vehicles, and they are falling apart.  My Jeep doesn’t have air conditioning and Mitch’s truck doesn’t have heat.  So, we drive the family around in the truck in the summer and in the Jeep in the winter!  LOL!  They still run, thanks to regular oil changes, and if they ever need tires, I’m ready for that expense.  We save $50 a month for this fund.

We love to get our kids gifts, but birthdays and Christmas used to be so stressful.  We were never big credit card users (when it came to extravagant expenses, just life-sustaining expenses), so we didn’t rack up birthday or Christmas debt, but we didn’t buy our kids much, either.  TRUE, Christmas isn’t all about the gifts, but when you love to give, it’s hard to not be able to do that.  These days, we save $50 a month for Gifts.  Discovering Swag Bucks was HUGE for my family, though.  If saving for gifts isn’t gonna happen for you, consider earning $5 Amazon gift cards, just by switching your search engine to Swag Bucks.  One year, I racked up $475 in Amazon Gift cards using Swag Bucks.  I did use about $200 of those for an “emergency” household expense, but that was totally cool with me!  :)

Our final category in our Micro Account is Vacation.  Our family vacations are usually weekend camping trips, a night at the drive-in movies, a day at the aquarium, a trip to visit my brother or sister, etc. Sometimes it’s, “We overspent at Thai food. Ah! Vacation budget!”  Don’t judge.  That’s how we work!!  LOL!  Seriously, though, we just went on a one week vacation at a timeshare in Lake Chelan, WA that was donated to us, and it was AWESOME to pull out $500 for gas, food, entertainment, eating out, etc.  I have never been THAT relaxed about money on a vacation before. I highly recommend saving and paying cash rather than using your credit card.  We save $100 a month for vacation.  I realize that if we’re ever going to be able to take our kids to Disneyland, I’ll need to increase that amount, but I guess I’ll have to reevaluate that, now that I’ve paid off my student loans!!  (Had to plug that. It’s just SO amazing to me! Hee, hee!)

Now, logistically, how do we manage these accounts?  I know I’m old school, but I work with a spreadsheet.  There are online savings accounts and various types of software available for micro accounts, but I’m confident in my spreadsheet, and it works for me.

We get paid once a month on the 15th, so when I deposit our check, I take our cash out for our envelopes, then go home and use online banking to transfer a chunk of money from our checking account to our savings account.  Then, I open up our spreadsheet and enter the amounts in each of the categories.  This is a screenshot of our monthly micro account.  Click to enlarge it. (Oh, the transparency! You guys should really be thanking me for putting this out there!  I feel sheepish. This is awkward.)

Notice that along the bottom I have the links to the other savings accounts. We actually have one checking account, and two savings accounts that I can access through online bill pay: one is our emergency fund and the other is this micro account which is a money market account.  We also have our Health Savings Account through State Farm Bank.

You’ll also notice that there is a lot of money in our micro accounts.  A lot for us, anyway.  Most likely, we will not use all of the money in these accounts, so in December I’ll transfer all but the bare minimum over to another category that we’ll call vehicle savings.  This is how we built up our HSA.  It hadn’t been fully funded until we transferred excess from our micro accounts into the HSA last year.

Let me just continue to say that we do not have it all figured out, and we do still have ginormous HELOC debt, but we definitely feel financial freedom because we know where our money is going and we have a plan.  We won’t be overwhelmed by an “unexpected” expense that we didn’t plan for, thanks to our micro accounts.

And, I also feel the need to tell you once again that we are a family of four, and we make a lot of sacrifices to be able to save, spend and give in this way.  Every family is different, and what works for us may not work for you.  You might make significantly more or less than we do.  Our point is to simply show you what is possible and help you to get your thinkers thinking.  We had many years of scraping by (or, not scraping by, but just crying our way through it and trying to breathe in and out), so we can sympathize with those of you who look at our spreadsheet or our cash envelope categories and feel hopeless.  That’s how I felt when my sister shared her spreadsheet with me.  What I learned is that the needs of her family (of eight) were VERY different from my family, and that I could do something to help make up the deficit between what we spent and what my husband brought home in his paycheck by cutting back on our grocery budget and cooking from scratch.  SACRIFICE doesn’t have to be devastating.  It can be empowering.

Yes, it does help that I have been working on building up my businesses (creating new income), and for that I am incredibly grateful to the Lord.  He opened up opportunities for me and gave me ideas that have eventually paid off for our family, allowing me to bring in a wonderful little income that has been instrumental as we continue to pay off debt.  Perhaps another post?  I’ll have to think about that!

Let me know if you have any questions in the comments.  I’ll let you know what works for us!