Planning your theme park vacation: Step 3 - keep track of your expenses
Written by Robert Niles
Published: November 20, 2008 at 2:58 PM
In our first two installments, we talked about the importance of saving for a vacation
, then daydreamed a bit about where you might want to go
. The next step is to start putting numbers on paper. But before we start looking into the cost of visiting specific parks, let's take a moment to think about how we will manage the information we find.
Theme Park Insider reader Don Neal e-mailed me about a wonderful system that he uses to budget for his family's theme park vacations. With his permission, I'm passing along his system, along with the spreadsheet he uses. Here's Don:
I love to plan, possibly to the point of over-planning. but I have never been let down because of it. It's one thing to know about the parks and the area, but not understanding cost will ruin a trip faster than anything. So to help with [that], I developed a spreadsheet [Microsoft Excel file] that I can reuse over and over with all the usual costs added in, plus some of the ones that no one thinks of.
It tracks the item, quantity, frequency (think days), cost per unit, and the total as a result.
The items that I track are:
- Airfare if flying
- Rental Car if renting
- Gas (if driving, I calculate the mileage at 22/mpg divided into the total x the current rate per gallon plus 10%)
- Hotel on the way to or from if you are driving
- Hotel or condo upon arrival
- Groceries, if staying at a place that has a kitchen (snacks, breakfast, drinks, etc)
- Breakfast, Cost per day x number of days ($4 per person assuming a trip to McD's or eating at the condo)
- Lunch, Cost per day x number of days ($7 per adult, and $5 per child assuming eating at the parks)
- Dinner, Cost per day x number of days ($15 per adult, and $7 per child assuming a Friday's, Hard Rock, or Applebee's type)
- The frequency of these can be dropped if park packages are purchased or meal deals bought.
- Putt-Putt: who doesn't go to Florida or Myrtle Beach and not putt-putt, $10 a person x frequency.
- Movies: This is about a 50/50 with us but I always budget for it. $10 a person x frequency
- Parks: Filled in based on where you are going. Add additional lines if multiple parks are in order.
- Shows if applicable, cost varies.
- We always budget spending money. This is where your money can disappear rather quickly. The $30 shirts, $20 hats, $20 key chains. We set aside a certain amount up front. Usually $100-150 per adult and $50-75 per child depending on available finances.
- Parking fees and tolls: $12 a day. This one slips a lot of people's minds as well. Can add up fast between trips to the beach in FL, parking at the parks, and such.
- Forgotten items: $5 a day. Shampoo, a toothbrush, throw away cameras, bandaids, and so on. Always something that gets forgotten.
This usually gives people a much larger number than what they are prepared for but it lets them get a true idea of what the trip is going to cost. I have helped several friends doing this and they all have come back praising the process. It only takes 15-30 mins to look up airfare, hotels, and park fees. Also if you plan to pay in cash, saving up so that you don't come back owing MC or Visa $5k-10k. We are going to Disney in June and are already saving up for it. We pull out the money and organize it in envelopes so we know what's what and are able to track it. Some people would think that's more effort than it's worth, especially on a trip where you are wanting to relax and not think about money, but we did this last year and came back with $80 in our wallet. Can't beat that. And I didn't owe anyone a thing when I got home. Nothing but great memories and time with the family.
I've put Don's spreadsheet up on Theme Park Insider for readers to use for their vacation planning. You can make several copies of the spreadsheet, one for each potential destination or trip length you're considering. That way, you can make a solid, apples-to-apples comparison about trip costs.
And then, once you've made your choice, your budget will be set and your family soon ready to roll.
Next week, we'll start filling out these categories by pricing individual park options.
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