By Alayna Frankenberry
Hey parents, you can only say “no” for so long. The earnest pleas of your begging children will eventually whittle down your defenses, the sweltering summer heat will melt through your last shred of budget-saving sanity, and then, despite the costs and the crowds, you'll find yourself standing at the gates of a theme park with a chunk of your hard-earned money in hand. You might as well just accept it, because this is what kids do to moms and dads in July, all across America. But there are ways to treat your kids to the amusement park while preserving their college funds. Just put these cost-cutting ideas to use for your next family trip.
Tips for Saving $ at Theme Parks
1. Admission. This year, Disney and Universal raised the price of their single-day passes to $89. That's no pocket change, and if you're carting a whole family to the park, those admission fees add up fast. What you need are a few ideas for keeping entrance costs under control. Sign up for daily deal sites like Groupon and LivingSocial, and monitor couponing sites like iBotDis and SoNotRetail for special promo codes. You may also want to work out a deal with your PTA or work friends to buy tickets in bulk. Don't forget to cash in on every discount you can – many parks offer price cuts for military families, students, seniors and AAA members.
Of course, the best way to keep entrance costs low is to skip the giant parks and choose a smaller one instead. If you live in the Northeast, for example, Hershey Park and Kennywood Park tickets cost less than half the price of Disney or Universal, and you'll save on travel costs to boot.
2. Food. In some parks, fountain drinks cost over $4 a pop. Choose the refillable souvenir cup and the price nearly doubles. The best way to avoid these costs? BYOB (of the non-alcoholic variety, of course). Carry refillable water bottles with you, and make use of water fountains throughout the day. This simple trick can save a family of four nearly $50 a day.
To save even more, plan to buy your dinner at the park, but pack other meals and snacks. Keep in mind also that many parks allow groups to rent pavilions. If you visit a park on a day when your workplace or school is renting a pavilion, you can enjoy catered foods for half the price of park-sponsored treats.
3. Souvenirs. If you've ever spent hours scouring a park for the perfect souvenir you know that your efforts are often a huge waste – not just of money, but of time. So before you hit the park, try this trick: buy souvenirs beforehand. Older children might protest, but if you present younger kids with mall-bought mouse ears, they're not likely to know the difference.
You can also turn the problem into a learning opportunity by giving each child a treat and toy allowance before they enter the park. They'll learn to budget, and you'll have a solid excuse for standing your ground when their eyes light up at the sight of a life-sized stuffed Dumbo.
At the end of the day, it's the memories you make that matter. Your kids won't remember the fact that they used a coupon at the gate or sipped on water throughout the day instead of $20 worth of sugary soda. What they'll remember is their first time riding a roller coaster, the look on your face when you hit the double dip and what it felt like to finally meet their favorite characters face to face. You don't have to pay full price to make the kind of memories that will last a lifetime. So instead of denying your kids' teary-eyed pleas, surprise them this summer by saying yes to theme-park fun.
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