I received an email from April and thought I would include my answer on the blog for anyone else who might be wondering the same thing.
I was just reading your vacation blog and wondered, how do you budget a trip for WDW and not miss anything??? Help me out, would ya. Thanks.
The BUDGET....sigh. Trust me, it can be done! Here are just a few of my frugal Disney vacation ideas...
I used Mousesavers alot! They have lots of info on the website so be prepared to read. They also have a section of free/cheap things to do at Disney. I think we could have done more from this list and still been happy. Then again, we have an almost 3 year old that is pretty easy to entertain.
We borrowed a book from a friend to help us plan some things out (The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World) It is a huge book with tons of info and I got a little overwhelmed by it all. It covers everything you could ever think of asking about Disney trips. From a comprehensive description of every ride to tips from readers, this book has it all. I loved reading up on the rides to see which ones would be appropriate for Jonah's age. It also pointed out any potentially scary things for Jonah.
Another website to check out is WDWinfo. Once again, this website has tons of information on planning. I liked reading the message boards on this site to glean from the "pros".
If you've been reading the blog for very long, you know that I "coupon". We took food from our cabinets for breakfast and lunch. All we had to get were refrigerated things (milk, lunch meat, fruit, etc). The great thing about Jonah right now is that he prefers Peanut Butter & Jelly over most things so his lunch was easy! We packed our lunches and drinks in a soft sided cooler I found at Walmart for $30 and stuck it under the stroller. I packed snacks in our backpack that I wore. We didn't buy anything in the park. We had already decided this long before leaving and had it set in our minds. (I think this is hardest part of budgeting--the mental battle!)
I have heard from friends that they love getting the meal plan. One friend even told me that part of the "magic" of Disney was eating in the restaurants. While this may be true, we knew that we could do it for cheaper and still have full tummies. This is really a personal choice for individual families.
We used a gift card to eat at Chili's one night....Definitely not our first choice for Disney ambience, but the cheapest choice for us. We only had to pay a difference of $8. I'll take those savings! The Chili's was very close to Disney & our hotel. They had a balloon animal guy working for tips and he entertained us. So in the end, we had a great dinner! No complaints here!
You could always use Restaurant.com (get on their email list and wait to buy until they are 80% off--gift certificates are good for a year) I wasn't really familiar with Downtown Disney restaurants before hand, but found out that some of the restaurants take Restaurant.com certificates! (Don't forget to read the fine print on what you have to order at the restaurant)
I found some "glow sticks/bracelets" in the Target Dollar Spot and bought them. I took them in my bag for the Spectro-Magic/Electric Light Parade at the Magic Kingdom. Jonah had light-up bracelets, but I didn't have to pay the park price. I even shared with some of the people around us that we made friends with while waiting on the parade to start. Considering there were atleast 15 in the pack for $1...I think this was a fantastic way to save!
We took tons of pictures! I will use the photo deals I find out about in the near future to print out pictures of our trip and place them in a book for Jonah to look through.
There are shopping outlets close to Disney. There is a store with Disney CLEARANCE items from the park! The outlet store's name is Disney Character Premiere. Be forewarned this is just like any other clearance rack....it will be "hit or miss" on the items you find. We found a Toy Story shirt for Jonah for $6. Much better than the original price!
There is a place in Downtown Disney by Winnie the Pooh Corner and Rainforest Cafe that you can find cheaper souvenirs. It is basically an alley and everything is under $10.
My thoughts on souvenirs....
Will it be worn? Will it be used? Will I be disappointed if I get home and don't have this? Then it might be a good choice for you...
Will it end up in the back of a closet? Will it end up in the donation/yard sale pile? Will this be gone after eating? Is it useful or is it just another tchotchke? Then it probably isn't a good choice....
I hope that helps everyone! Let me know if you have any other questions and I'll try to answer! Feel free to add your tips in the comments to help April!
P.S.--As far as lodging while at Disney, I can't really help you out. My dad is a Disney Vacation Club member and used some of his points for us. We (and our tight budget) were SO blessed by this! Thank you so much Dad!