Disney World On The CheapI know I don’t normally post about savings at places outside of Fort Worth, but I just spent a week at Disney World and felt like I had to share some tips. I had an awesome time with my family, but there were a lot of ways I could have saved more money. Here are some of my best tips – learn from my mistakes:

Go on the off season. I went from Dec. 28 to Jan. 3. That’s holiday season at Disney World, which means everything from food to hotel rooms is more expensive. Plus, every park is really, really crowded. The value seasons at the park run Jan. 3 to Feb. 16, and then again from Aug. 14 to Sept. 29. The fall season, from Sept. 30 to Dec. 23, is also a fairly good value.

Food costs will kill you. Or, rather, kill your wallet. A 20-oz bottle of Dasani water is $2.50 in the parks. At the fast-food stands, you can expect to pay $10-14 for an adult meal and $4.99 for a kids’ meal. However, the park will let you bring your own food. We flew into Orlando and didn’t have a car, but luckily my mom drove there, so we had a way to get to the grocery store and buy things like bread and peanut butter to make sandwiches. If you do not have access to a car and are staying at a Disney-owned resort, you can mail a package of nonperishable food items to your hotel in advance of your arrival. I recommend, at the very least, that you include: peanut butter, jelly, bread (pack in a stiff box of its own to prevent crushing), plastic utensils, paper plates, sandwich bags, fruit that keeps well like apples and oranges, granola bars and bottled water. This will allow you to have granola bars and fruit for breakfast, and PB&J sandwiches for lunch. See this website for info on mailing boxes to your resort. Or, use a grocery delivery service, like GardenGrocer.

Skip the Disney Dining Plan. If you plan to buy 3 meals a day in the park, the plan will save you money. However, we found that sometimes we were not hungry for dinner because we ate a late lunch, or we didn’t want breakfast. The dining plan would have been too much food. If you’re mailing a box of food to your hotel, you can probably get away with just buying dinner in the park.

Go for the value resorts. Disney’s on-site resorts have three price levels: value, moderate and deluxe. Our family stayed at a moderate resort, while my mom, sisters and niece stayed at a value. Upon seeing their room, I wished that I had gone for a value too. Our hotel was nice, but not luxurious at all. We did have a mini-fridge and coffeemaker – two things that are missing from the value resorts – but that’s really the only noticeable advantage that I saw. Our room was a tiny bit bigger, but our beds were the same size as the ones in the value resorts. If the coffeemaker and fridge are very important to you, then go for the moderate, but otherwise I’d recommend the lowest-priced hotels. Oh, and if having a table-service restaurant available at your resort is important, then that’s another reason that a moderate might be a good choice for you – the values only have fast-food type places. (We rarely ate dinner at the resorts; we usually ate at the park.)

If you plan to pin trade, consult eBay. Disney World has a “pin trading” program – these are lanyards that you festoon with Disney-themed pins, which you can then trade with Disney employees. Most people usually decide on a theme for their pin collection, like a certain movie or character, but anything that you like will do. The most basic pin starter sets cost about $30 at the gift shops; the set includes a lanyard and about 6 pins. But many people sell Disney pins on eBay for about $1 apiece. Buy up about 15 or 20 of those before your trip – they don’t have to be pins that you like, because you can take them to the parks and trade them.