Time for some real talk. Go get your coffee…
For many of us, our income is limited, and it can be a sore subject to talk about.
Trust me, I can’t wait for that dream job that enables me to buy a pirate ship in the Caribbean.
When I first started running in graduate school, I was fortunate to have received Chapter 35—Dependent Benefits from my mom, as she had served in the Army. This allotted a monthly stipend that I could do what I wanted with. Often, it was academic in nature (books, education clearances, or saxophone stuff), car repairs (on a semester basis, it seemed)…or food (because food is great). Basic things to live on. I also had a couple of graduate assistantships that helped, as well. When running came into the picture, I set my budget limits with what I had, and planned my racecation from there. Because of this experience, I try to find deals at every corner, and to really focus on my needs vs. wants: my first Princess Half, I honestly had no idea what I was doing, and went a little hog wild at the expo. Looking back, I should have known better, but I chalk it up to experience and lessons learned. As much as I would like to go bananas and spend every last penny that I have and then some on the ultimate runDisney racecation, I logistically cannot do so. I’m pretty fortunate to have my job that will permit me to not only take the time off for these races (my team and company kick serious ass in the work/life balance department), but to obviously plop a steady paycheck in my lap twice or thrice a month. After the mandatory rent and Metro fare gets budgeted, I sit with my coffee and plan my next running adventure.
Here is how I do it…
My planning begins months in advance, and this begins with registration. Of course, with runDisney, you’re registering six or more months in advance. I keep PHM weekend on my radar at the beginning of the year and mark on my calendar when registration day is. I set aside a little money from my paycheck every two weeks leading up, and I have what I need (and then some if Active fees are ridiculous) come registration day.
I do the registration dance, and boom. We’re all set. Step one is done.
And then we play the waiting game for awhile….while saving more, training, and figuring out my Needs vs. Wants.
Submit days off request. I give my managing staff pleeeeeeenty of notice. In grad school, I’d let my professors know the first week of the semester that, “Hey, I’ll be gone from X to Y. I’ll let you know if something happens.” Everyone was pretty cool about it, and I’d end up bringing my textbooks and computer with me to do work in my downtime. Easy peasy.
Decide on method of travel. My first three Princess weekends were done by flying down to MCO and traveling around by either the Magical Express (when I was on-site in 2013), or taxis/hotel busses/fellow runners offering rides (off-site in 2014 and 2015). Getting around was a big bulk of my budget and a major source of stress. However, these travel fares were needs and not wants. In a perfect world, we’d all be flying first-class. However, we don’t need to be in first class; it is merely a want. If you can swing better seats with miles or points, more power to you!
When it came to flying, I would search for the cheapest tickets that I could find, and fly coach. I would also save money by utilizing my Tetris-level packing skills and squeeze everything into my sports bag and backpack so I wouldn’t have to check a bag, and therefore, save money. (Note to all runners: never check your race gear at the airport! Put it in your carry-on. If your checked bag gets lost and your race shoes are in it, welp, you’re SOL.)
I was fortunate in December 2015 to get a new car, which has killer mileage (40 mpg on the highway). Now, I drive the 14+ hours all the way down I-95, not have to worry about squeezing all my clothes into one bag, and my budget revolves around the pre-trip oil change ($40-ish) and gas prices, which are super budget-friendly in the South. I allot roughly $120 round-trip for gas.
Since these are travel logistics, they are definitely in the Needs column.
I start my search for off-site hotels. I don’t need anything fancy, just somewhere I can stash my stuff and sleep at night, preferably close to the parks. For the last three runDisney trips I have made, I’ve stayed in Old Town where I have found amazing deals through Groupon. I have spent less than $200 for four nights each time. The hotels are a little run down and shady, I’ll admit. but they get the job done. Plus, I am only ten minutes away from the starting area in EPCOT. Can’t beat that!
I need a roof over my head, so the hotel (with a budget of $200) is in the Needs column.
1 week to 1 month:
Now that the bulk of the logistics are complete, it’s time to shift over to the Wants. Here are some of the conversations I have with myself:
–Do I want park tickets? Now that the prices have gone up again, and I was just there in January, do I really want to go back? If so, what parks on what days, and should I get a park hopper or not? Should I spend more time in Disney Springs, which has free parking and a variety of eats and drinks and sees that are just as magical as a park?
–Expo goodies: Do I really want that race jacket that’s $90? Or anything that is seriously overpriced? What types of fuel do I need to stock up on? How many times should I circle the expo a la window shopping? Should I get another pair of socks or another Sparkle Athletic skirt? What are the other vendors offering? What did the DisneyParks blog show for expo merch for this particular race?
–Food: What do I need to make sure I have optimum energy for race day? Should I go to Publix? How much should I buy? If I go to the parks, what am I going to get? Starbucks on Main Street is a tradition…same with nachos in Mexico…am I getting ice cream? How much is in my coffee budget? Or post-race beer and brats in Germany?
This is where precise planning and careful thinking come into play. For parks, this is definitely in the Wants category, and I can take or leave it. I do end up doing parks 95% of the time as post-race shakeout walk, and I stick with Magic Kingdom and/or EPCOT. Depending on the number of parks and days I want to spend, I budget from $115 to $230.
Expo truly depends on if anything catches my fancy. I will typically take a lap around the area and take pictures of anything that looks cool, then step away and ask if I really need or want them. When it comes to runDisney merchandise, I am incredibly picky. I don’t like clothes with loud designs, which runDisney has steered towards the last few years, so I save a ton by avoiding those. Dooney and Bourke bags are out of the question (though the designs are typically spot on.) I do, however, stock up on race fuel and the occasional pair of Thorlos socks. I’ll budget around $35-$40 for those essentials.
I am a bit of a sucker for anything that sparkles. SparklySoul headbands and Sparkle Athletic skirts are usually on my radar, and I can’t resist browsing their vendor booths. I have run with both the skirts and headbands, so I know if I pick up something new, it will work. If I have an outfit in the planning stages, I will pick up something that reflects that. For example, I’ll be running the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler in April up here in D.C. I’m planning on a pink and white ensemble. I’m planning on getting a pink skirt or arm warmers and/or a headband! These still fall under the Wants, but I will set aside $50-$80 if I want to purchase it there, or I can wait until post-race and assess my budget then.
Food is an entirely different story, as this both a Need and a Want. Falling under the Needs category, I try to buy what I can prior to driving down, or raid my cupboard and take with me what I already have. I stick with non-perishables, including granola bars, oatmeal, and certain fruits/fruit snackies. I’ll bring my stashes of Nuun and EnergyBits. If my hotel room has a fridge, I’ll run out and grab some berries and/or a delicious Publix sub. I discovered prune juice last GSC and that gave me the fiber boost that I needed. For food needs, I’ll budget at least $25.
If I am in the parks or Disney Springs, that all falls under the Wants. I have my traditions, like grabbing a vanilla latte from the Main Street Bakery ($5 right there) if I’m in MK…
If I’m in EPCOT, I’ll head to Mexico and get nachos ($11), or hit up a coffee/bakery kisok near the United Kingdom (roughly $10 for a pastry and coffee)…
Other than that, I’m very cognizant of the prices within Disney property. What also helps me is that I am not ravenous post-race, so I’m typically fine meandering the parks without being too hungry. I’ll set aside $25-$30-ish, give or take a few cents, for in-park food.
While I try my absolute best to stick within the guidelines I set for myself, I do set aside a little extra just in case an unexpected emergency arises, specifically with anything in the Needs section of this article, since that is composed primarily of travel logistics. For example, if gas prices fluxuate outside of that $120 limit I set for myself, I’ll have backup money just in case. If those sneaky, hidden fees the hotel imposes catch me off guard, I don’t have to panic because I’ll have the funds to cover it.
I am also a stickler of collecting every single receipt and keeping an accurate ledger during the weekend so I know exactly how much I have left in each area I have budgeted for, and to keep an eye out for erroneous transactions, especially those made at gas stations in the middle of nowhere.
When you finally break it all down, it looks a little something like this:
-Registration: $330 -Park Tickets: $115-$230
-Hotel: $200 -Park Food: $25-$30
-Gas: $120 -Expo Wants: $50-$80
-Food: $25 –Total: $340-ish
-Fuel/Race necessities: $35-40
-Oil change (if needed) : $40
Budget parameters with emergency money and if I utilize all the Wants: $800-$1,100
So that is insight into how I logistically plan a runDisney racecation! It is not an overnight process, that’s for sure. I still end up down in Florida, run the races, and have a magical time, no matter how much I spend. Granted, everyone’s budget is different, so the needs vs. wants may be utilized in other places for other people.
Since we all come from different backgrounds and histories, I am curious to know how YOU plan for a runDisney racecation! Feel free to share your tips and tricks!
See you in a couple of weeks!