How to Enjoy Disneyland on a Dime

by Jeremy Hartley · 8 comments

mickey mouse
Disney is known as “The Happiest Place on Earth”, but for some, it’s also known as the priciest place on the planet. And the prices seem to go up each year either. I wouldn’t be surprised to see $20 burgers one of these days.

There are obviously plenty of ways to lighten the load though. Families have enjoyed Mickey’s home for 60 years now, and many have developed ways to enjoy their time while holding on to their cash. Here’s a few ideas to consider when heading to Disneyland and California Adventure. (Here are a few more ideas for amusement parks in general.)

Food and Beverages

My wife and I rarely eat at Disneyland due to the high marks ups, so we’ve developed a habit of eating before and after we are inside the park. We’ve found that stopping by Subway or Chipotle provides us a hearty lunch at half the price of Disney restaurants. Sandwiches and burritos are very filling, so why not grab some early lunch before you head in? BONUS: You don’t have to make it the night before either. And if you feel like splurging, might I recommend the Matterhorn Macaroons? They’re filling and at one of the best snack bargains, you can grab one at under three dollars. They’re located in the Holly Jolly Bakery at the end of Main Street.

Helpful Items to Pack

Because summer is fast approaching, don’t forget to bring sunscreen. If you forget, you can purchase some at the Baby Care Centers (located in both parks), but you’ll be paying a premium. We’ve found clip-on fans on Amazon that attached to strollers that are life savers for cooling off your toddler on hot summer days. Come already dressed in your Disney gear so you can avoid the temptation to spending tons at the gift shops. Check out Pinterest for helpful iron on ideas for creating your very own Mickey shirts.

Souvenirs From Home

A fun way to remember your magical day is getting a souvenir for the kiddos. Due to the high prices of those plastic goodies, we’ve found cheap Disney-themed souvenirs at Target and Walmart to bring in beforehand. These are fun and cheap little surprises throughout the day and will usually keep your toddler from beckoning you to enter the gift shop located on almost every corner. Right now your local Target is enthralled in Finding Dory gear to prepare for the upcoming movie. Stickers, light up toys, and coloring packs can be purchased for only a buck. If you’re staying later for the parades, bring your own glow sticks or necklaces. If you have toddler girls, consider purchasing those Belle and Elsa dresses before entering those magic gates. At around $20 a pop, they’re still a bargain compared to the $37 dresses in Disneyland. If you’re feeling frugal, check out your local consignment stores or thrift stores. My wife just scored two dresses for under $10 recently. Score!

What helpful tips do you have for saving at “The Happiest Place on Earth”?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Ashley Eneriz says:

    Great tips! We are going on Tuesday and can’t wait to use your advice 🙂

  • Ty @ Get Rich Quickish says:

    Bringing souvenirs from home is absolute genius! I guarantee I’ll pull that trick out of the back next time we hit Disney.

    For us we always packed sandwiches, chips, apples, and bottled water in the bottom of a stroller. Now that the kids are older, I guess we’ll need to use a backback instead.

    • David @ says:

      Let us know how your kids respond! I bet they’ll love the surprise and they will have just as much fun with the toy!

  • Paul says:

    Save on parking by parking across the street and walking over or park at one of the Disney hotels where they offer free shuttles.

    Also look to buy tickets ahead of time wherever a discount is offered. Sometimes deals are offered for certain credit cards or for alumni associations.

  • AS says:

    This is all just playing into the game of teaching our children that a holiday is not camping or running on the beach or a pool or visiting with family but an expensive holiday of frenetic activity amid cement and crowds. So you saved a few bucks on lunch – Disney will still be a ridiculous rip off. Yes, go to Disneyland for a day if you are in the area and get it off your bucket list but all the articles that talk about little savings here and there or, worse yet, “amortize” the expenses (per day) by paying more (staying longer). It’s not just about the money – you are teaching your kids how to live and vacation.

    Ask yourselves before you decide to go – how much is in your college fund? Can you send your child anywhere they’d want to go without question? Is your mortgage paid off? Financially independent? Yes, yes, and yes. By the way, our friends went to Disney World recently for a week – our family is going overseas this summer for the same cost.

    • David @ says:

      Whether you choose to take your kids to a Disney theme park or take them overseas for a vacation is a choice you make. You are right that you are teaching your kids how to live and vacation with that choice, but this is not what this article is about at all. This article is for people who want to stretch their dollar a bit once they’ve already decided to go to Disneyland. Wouldn’t you want to save too if that’s the choice you made?

      I don’t see Jeremy (the author) advocating people give up saving for their kids and their own future just to go to a theme park here. That would have been inappropriate.

      Perhaps you can write an article for us on our consumption choices. I’m sure many readers can learn a ton from someone who managed to become financially independent by making smart choices, but that’s a totally different article.

      Let’s just take this one for what it is – saving money at Disneyland.

  • Pam says:

    Bring your own drinks and snacks! They allow you to bring food and if you have a stroller anyway you can pack an insulated bag with juice boxes, fruit/nuts, etc. You can even pack sandwiches or others to help you get through the day without having to eat at the park.

    We always fly down as a family and then go to Target and stock up on snacks, water, etc. and pack a bag to take each day. Much easier on the pocket book!

    • David @ says:

      I thought about that too but unfortunately, their current policy, as noted on their website, is that no outside food is allowed except specific food for guest with specific dietary restrictions.

      Still, no problems if you stock up inside your tummy though! 🙂

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