The Biggest Summer Money Pit

The school year for most students ends this week. You’ll soon notice more kids than usual hanging out at the mall, walking around town and in your local park.  Have your kids started harassing you to take them to any of these places yet?

Almost as soon as kids get out of school they want to be taken on a summer vacation. The most popular vacation destination in the summer… Theme parks.

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Theme parks can be a lot of fun. I love roller coasters, simulation rides, animal shows (except the one where Shamu kills its handler), and the food. Nearly every state has at least one amusement park the whole family can enjoy.

If you’re not careful though, theme parks can destroy your wallet. My mother in law reported that she paid $82.00 a ticket to get into Universal Studios theme park in Orlando, Florida two weekends ago.  It would cost a family of four (two adults, two children under 10) over $300 just to get into the park for just one day. You’re spending a small fortune just to get into a contained area where you’re forced to spend even more money.

While there may be no truly cheap way to spend a day at a theme park, there are several easy ways to reduce the amount of money you spend while still having a great vacation.

Take tickets for instance. At the gate you’ll spend over $80 at any of Disney’s four main parks, same with Universal Studios. Sea World in Orlando, Florida is about the same. Cedar Point in Ohio is $47. King’s Point is $53.

As you can see the ticket prices alone are expensive. That’s before you get into the park and have to pay for food, drinks, souvenirs, pictures and parking.

The great thing is there is no need to pay full price for tickets. You can always find a deal or discounts on tickets that immediately reduces how much you’ll have to spend.

Order your ticket online to save money and time. You can start by checking out each theme park’s website for discounts on tickets. For example at the gate, tickets to King’s Point in Ohio will cost you $53. But if you buy online from their website you’ll only pay $36 a ticket! That’s a 32 percent savings! All of the major theme parks offer these types of discounts.

This is especially good money saving advice if you plan to visit more than one theme park in a week or if you plan to visit a park multiple days in a row. The more you plan to visit the more you’ll save. For every day you go, Disney will drop the price of its daily rate, same with the other major theme parks.

If you live in the same state or zip code as a theme park that may entitle you to discounted tickets as well. Disney offers reduced rates to Florida and Southern California residents. Busch Gardens-Williamsburg offers similar packages to Virginia residents. Visit a theme park’s website to find out about deals for locals.

You can also find admission discounts at the grocery store, fast food restaurants and clubs you may belong to. During the summer months many theme parks team up with soda manufacturers and businesses to offer rebates and money off the price of admission. Be sure to check with such organizations as AAA, Sam’s Club, Costco, AARP, college alumni groups and military families for admission coupons and cheaper tickets.

Once you’ve gotten into the park and begun to enjoy some of the rides or shows your kids are going to start hounding you for souvenirs. It doesn’t help that the exit to every ride leads into a gift shop either.

One trick I’ve learned over the years is to give the kids an allowance. I give each child the same amount of money and let them decide what to spend it on. Once the money is gone, that’s the end of their shopping trip. This gives children a sneak peek into budgeting and controlling their spending. The kids that spend all their money at the first shop learn from the others the value of holding onto their money and evaluating all their choices.

To save even more money on souvenirs check online. Websites like overstock.com, graveyardmall.com, and disneyoutlet.com offer merchandise from many of your favorite theme parks at significant savings. Use your trip as a chance to check out what goodies everyone wants then purchase them online to save money and avoid the hassle of having to carry it around for your kids all day long.  Take pictures of any item your child requests and then let them review their choices later that night once back at the hotel room before making your purchases online.

Food and drinks can cost you as much as the admission price if you let it. There are hot dog vendors, snow cone carts and restaurants at every turn no matter which park you visit.

Each park has its own set of rules about bringing in “outside” food, but most don’t allow it. I’ve brought in snacks and drinks before tucked away in backpacks or purses and never once been told to throw it out, but it is a risk. I like to bring in empty water bottles to skirt the rules. Once inside I fill them up at any water fountain instead of buying sugary, dehydrating sodas all day long.

You can also pack a lunch and leave it in the car. Once the kids start hollering for food, go back to parking lot (make sure to get your hand stamp that allows you to come back in for free) and have a picnic in the car. Coolers are very handy in this instance.

If your kids can’t wait to eat, look for deals on food along the way. Disney sells fresh fruit for about $1, while turkey legs go for about $5. Many times it’s also cheaper to buy items a la carte. Most food stations offer meal combos and don’t tell you it’s cheaper if you buy the meal without side dishes like fries or a drink.

While you may not be able to visit any theme park cheaply you can save yourself some money with a little bit of planning and research. The biggest opportunity to save money will come when buying tickets. Never wait to buy tickets at the front gate of any park. Check out these popular websites devoted to helping you save money while still planning a memorable trip. Enjoy!

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Keeping Money in Your Pocket,

Nancy Patterson


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