Most travelers keep their fingers crossed for the next great promotion and discounts to be released in time for their vacation.  While these offers can often save guests big bucks, there are a few little ways to cut costs while you‘re actually in the parks.

Disney Cost Cutting Tip #1: Bring Your Own Eats

You can bring your own food and non-alcoholic beverages into the parks.  These days I tend to just buy as we go, but during our stroller-touring days, we’d load our mini-cooler with bottled water and juice boxes and stash it in the storage basket along with a few quick snacks like granola bars, Goldfish, fruit snacks, etc.  I’ve even seen guests bust out a picnic on a bench complete with sandwiches, fruit, chips and drinks.  While we ate our main meals at the restaurants, both table and quick service, our rolling snack bar saved us time and money when we were ready for a little nosh.  I do suggest budgeting for some classic snacks, though.  It’s just not a Disney trip without a churro and a Mickey ice cream bar!

ŸGet Park Wise: If you’re feeling thirsty and not toting around a cooler or bottle of water in your bag, counter service restaurants will provide you with free ice water.

Disney Cost Cutting Tip #2: Customize the Dining Options Disney Gives You

If you’re stopping for lunch at Cosmic Ray’s, did you know that you don’t have to order the meals listed on the menu?  Disney offers up a lot of food in a quick service meal, and sometimes you don’t necessarily want to fill up before hitting the Magic Kingdom mountain range.  While a grilled chicken sandwich with a side order can cost around $10, opt for just the sandwich and knock a couple bucks off your total.  Double cheeseburgers the only thing on the menu board?  Ask for a single and save a bit on calories and coins.  If you still want some fries or apple slices with your entree, consider sharing your meal and splitting the cost.

ŸGet Park Wise: Check your restaurant receipts!!  I don’t know the rhyme or reason, but on several occasions over the last few trips to Walt Disney World, we’ve received coupons for 20% off our purchase at the “main” gift shops at each park and World of Disney in Downtown Disney.  The coupons had the odd caveat of having to make your purchase before 1:00 P.M., but if your little one has his eye on that monorail play set, this can save a nice little chunk-o-change.

Speaking of goodies for the kiddos…

Disney Cost Cutting Tip #3: Bring Gifts from Home

With flashing lights and bright colors luring you into the gift shops at every turn, it’s easy to get caught up in a buying frenzy, especially when your little ones are looking up at you with puppy dog eyes and Mickey Mouse plush in hand.  While we still pick up a few souvenirs at the parks, I tend to stock up on Disney treats before our trips (I have a sixth sense for Target clearance, and I kind of stalk our Disney outlet).  I leave them out after the kids have gone to bed, and they wake up to a new journal featuring the Fab Five or a Cinderella necklace.  I even really nerd out and sprinkle a little lime green pixie dust or Mickey confetti around their gifts.  They feel like rock stars getting special treats from the characters, and they’re not so into the stores because they’ve already gotten something new.  A little geeky?  Probably, but they and I are both milking this tradition.

ŸGet Park Wise: Pick up some glow sticks and light-up toys for after sunset.  Those rolling carts of seizure-inducing light-up toys are like kid magnets.  Luckily, mine are as mesmerized by the snap-crack-pop of a handful of glow bracelets.  Bonus!  They spend a good 15 minutes pre-parade or fireworks making all kinds of necklaces, crowns, bracelets and anything else they can imagine instead of asking me “How much longerrrr???”

Disney Cost Cutting Tip #4: Souvenirs on the Cheap(er)

We always like to bring back a little something fun for our friends and family back home.  Since I often bring back items for co-workers, I tend to get everyone the same type of gift.  I usually hit the consumables section of the gift shops.  You can always find a multi-pack of some type: flavored coffees, teas, chocolate bars, etc.  I buy a pack and split it up.  Add a Mickey lollipop (also sold in multi-packs) and a Disney Parks pen (yes, you guessed it, from a multi-pack), and you’ve got gifts for five friends for around $30.  Even better, your friends aren’t stuck with a dust-catcher from a trip they didn’t experience.

Disney Cost Cutting Tip #5: Regulate Spending with a Gift Card

I usually recommend this for parents asking about spending money for their kids, but it also works for adults who can get a little spend-happy.  Not that I know anyone like that.  Start with a gift card containing a certain amount on it for each day.  Leftover money can carry over to the next day and so on.  You could also do just one gift card with a set amount for the trip.  With kids, they’re often more picky with their purchases when they know they only have access to what’s on the card.  Maybe the same will apply to you.

ŸGet (Pre-)Park Wise: Many guests have had luck purchasing Disney gift cards at Target when using their Target credit or debit card to gain a 5% discount.  Some warehouse stores such as Sam’s also offer Disney gift cards at a small (think: a couple dollars) discount.  Not a huge savings, but those few dollars can start your next trip fund!

What are your best tips for cost cutting at Disney?