My family and I have been home from our Walt Disney World & Universal Studios vacation* for three days and I still feel like I’m recovering from a hangover.

The soundtracks to It’s a Small World and Spider-Man keep playing over and over in my head.

I’m exhausted from all the early morning wake-ups in order to get to the parks before the massive crowds and blazing sun.

My legs are still sore from all of the gazillions of miles we walked and it will take days of cardio to work-off all the butterbeer I drank in Harry Potter World and my week-long Disney diet.

While my eating and sleeping was a bit “off” the one thing that wasn’t was the budget. I am happy to report that we came in $100 under budget for this vacation. And here are 3 quick tips to help you do the same.

How we did on our family vacation budget

*By the way, we did a ton of research in advance and the best park ticket prices we found were at UnderCoverTourist. We even shared their prices with AAA and asked if they could match or beat them – they couldn’t. I highly recommend getting your tickets through them to save the most money.

1. Plan ahead

Decide in advance how much you are willing to spend and stick with it.

Discuss together as a family (especially if you have older children) and set proper expectations. You need to decide how much you’ll need to cover travel costs, food & drink, hotel costs or vacation rentals through Airbnb or VRBO/HomeAway. You need to do some legwork to make sure all of your costs are covered.

We know that eating at the restaurants at the parks are expensive so we planned ahead and made reservations at two restaurants in advance. For our other meals, we planned breakfasts in the Airbnb condo we rented. We also cooked two dinners to help keep our dining budget down. And our daughter was willing to pack peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every morning for us to keep in our backpack to snack on as needed. I love this about both parks…you are allowed to bring in your own food and drink (no coolers). AND if you ask any of the food/drink vendors in Disney they’ll give you free cups of ice water!! Since one bottle of water costs $3 at the parks we saved a ton of money by refilling our own water bottles with the cups they provided.

2. Track your spending

Rocked our budget on Disney vacationIt seems like it should go without saying, but how will you know if you are under, over or right on budget unless you track your spending?

The best way to do this is old-fashioned cash.

While I don’t carry around all of my money I have budgeted for the length of my vacation I certainly suggest taking out how much you want to spend that day and only carry that amount and no more. This way you can quickly calculate how much you’ve spent and how much you have left for the remainder of the day.

Using cash is a great way to ensure that you won’t overspend. According to Dave Ramsey, “A study of credit card use at McDonald’s found that people spent 47% more when using credit instead of cash! Using cash is also great for your kids. Consider giving your child(ren) money each day, or if they older give them money for the entire trip, cash in advance for them to spend on souvenirs or ice cream. This way once the money is gone it is gone. What a great way to teach our kids early how to budget!

3. Make adjustments as needed

vacation budget EpcotNow there is nothing I dislike more than being over budget. I especially don’t like it early on in my vacation.

Remember the point of a budget isn’t to be confining or overly restrictive, but to keep you in check so you aren’t still paying for your vacation months after the magic has ended. Instead, the budget gives you the freedom to spend without overspending.

But if you have an unexpected cost pop up and you end up overspending one day then be sure to adjust the remainder of the vacation’s budget accordingly. Otherwise, the overspending can quickly carry over into the next day. It is critical to make any adjustments necessary to keep your budget on track.

So, while I am still on the road to recovery from our busy, but super-fun vacation I am not suffering from a financial hangover. By following those three simple tips we were able to come in under our planned budget. Now I can begin planning our next vacation! Any suggestions?