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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Border Crossings: Frugality, Disney, Shopping and other Stuff

It's all about borders and boundaries. To get a grip on your finances, you need to have some idea of what you are spending, even on such necessities as food. But I think boundaries are necessary in another sense as well.

I was thinking about this after reading the post at Get Rich Slowly yesterday about the blogger's paid trip to Disney to see a Disney/T Rowe Price collaboration designed to teach the lessons of personal finance. I wondered--in a comment--if the blogger would (or should) reveal how much his freebies were worth. My comment must have been awfully mild because he did not respond to it (though he did respond to someone who wondered more directly about a conflict of interest). But that potential border crossing--between being an objective blogger who promotes sensible personal finance--and a journalist on a trip made me think of border crossings at Disney more generally.

Disney is FUN. And that's fine. It is also pretty expensive. My family has had only one Disney experience. Years ago, Mr. FS and I delivered papers at a conference in Orlando. We took the children. When the conference was over, we stayed on to go to Disney World, where we saw many of our colleagues. Most of our driving costs were courtesy of our employer. The basic ticket price for a day at the theme park is--I would say--worth it. You get a lot of bang for your buck as far as FUN goes.

What's not worth it are the souvenirs. Food is also ridiculously expensive and you are not allowed to bring anything in. This is not the case at EuroDisney; Europeans would not stand for that. Hotels in Orlando can also be ridiculously cheap. I ran into a colleague who had stuffed 6 or so kids from his blended family into their van. They stayed in a motel a little way out for maybe $60.00 a night. But if you stay on-site as my brother did, you may be spending upwards of $300.00 per night.

What is my point? My point is that you should separate experiences. If Disney is about the park and FUN, then it is not too expensive. Like Jazz Fest (see Mr. FS's post on this), you get a whole day of FUN for your ticket price. If you add in souvenirs, it becomes very expensive. Similarly, and unlike Jazz Fest, it is not a food experience. The food is mediocre to bad at all levels. So we ate at the lowest level we could get away with--and as little as possible. We bought no souvenirs. So we had the FUN, but did not "border cross" to food and shopping.

Similarly, I think the T Rowe Price/Disney collaboration border crosses as well, mixing financial education and FUN. As I said in my comment on GRS, this reminds me of companies that sell overpriced items saying that a percentage will be donated to a worthy cause. Border crossing: tee shirts and charity. You could probably send more to charity if you bought the tee shirt and sent your own contribution to your charity. Having a personal finance "game" at Disney strikes me as trying to go left and right at the same time; they are contradictory activities, sending, I think, a mixed message. In fact, some of the comments at GRS and elsewhere spoke about how cool a piggy bank souvenir would be. Why not buy your piggy bank at the Dollar Store?

Indeed, a frugal tip for Disney goers would be to head over to the nearest thrift store. There you will find zillions of Disney tee shirts, pajamas, sweatshirts--even sweaters in adult sizes. All emblazoned with Disney characters. Many seemingly unworn. My sister-in-law, noticing all the Hawaii-themed tees at a local thrift, decided to buy her souvenirs BEFORE the family trip to Hawaii. There's even more Disney merchandise than Hawaii merchandise.

I really believe that you get the most out of experiences when you respect the boundaries. When we go out to eat, we try to go where the food is good. That would be New Orleans (including Jazz Fest)--or Paris--or Montreal. Not Disney. When I want to shop, I prefer Banana Republic (on sale!) to the Disney Store.

I suppose it is to the advantage of Disney and other marketers to try to make us cross the borders--or even not to notice that there are borders. To promote the souvenirs et al as PART of the Disney experience is to border cross and leave prudent personal finance behind. It is related to the bundled packages (internet, cable, phone, cell phone) that are so financially tangled that not even Consumer Reports can figure out what plan is a good deal.


Duchesse said...

My mother gave the family a trip to Disney for my sons' 10th birthday (nearly 12 years ago). We stayed on site, which maxed our access and fun. (I saw so many parents hauling cranky kids out of the park, with a long drive ahead before the motel.) We ate at Disney's high end restos, served by attractive kids who had NO idea about wines, but were very, very friendly. This made Disney bearable for my foodie spouse, and I admit a Mai Tai made with real fruit juice, in a glass as big as your forearm, is heaven after a day of trudging.

Many of the kids visiting the Magic Kingdom were far too young to enjoy the experience or justify the cost. Why spend that money for a one and a three year old who are just as thrilled at the local water park?

I agree with your idea about 'borders' and it is the marketing strategy with affinity cards, clubs and the like: cross-sell, upsell, add-on.

On another note, Frugal, did you see Suze Orman on Oprah asking people to "take the pledge"
1 day without spending anyting
1 week without using credit card
1 month without visiting a restaurant
Your thoughts?

Suzy said...

Wow I had no idea Disney World was that expensive! I mean, I know it costs money but I haven't been there since high school when we took a band trip to Orlando that included Disney in return for marching in a parade. I didn't enjoy the food there at all and we went to some kind of neat mall for souvenirs plus there was a cheap souvenir place right near our motel. We used to go to Six Flags near Dallas for vacation when I was little(didn't go too many times though) but we were allowed 1 souvenir and that was it. Food was also kept to a minimum and that part I didn't like at all! We used to have Astroworld here and I know people who would pack a cooler with drinks and lunch and leave the park, eat or drink, then go back in for more fun. I guess Disney is too huge for that unless maybe if you stayed on-site and went to the hotel to eat. Guess a trip like that would take some planning!

Duchesse, I think I've met that challenge already! I've gone a day without buying anything(already had it bought though so does that count?!) I've gone months without using a credit card though I use Discover a lot now since it pays 1% or more cashback and I keep it paid off. I'm pretty sure I've gone a month without visiting a restaurant though that's iffy! I may not have made that one but I *think* I did.

I remember deciding early this year to save change and pricing piggy banks! I ended up using a couple of metal containers I've had for years and think look 'cute'..sorta defeats the purpose if I'm going to blow the entire piggy bank savings on a piggy bank! I"m not familiar with the T. Rowe Price program with Disney but they try to market everything nowadays.

Ryan said...

This also is the case in a number of FUN attractions around the country. For instance we would travel to see my grandparents in east Tennessee when I was younger. I am sure along the trip my dad was anticipating telling his cranky kids in the back seat (we children) no to various items ranging from souvenirs to ice cream treats at tourist traps along the way. The billboards are brightly colored banners advocating a breathtaking view at "Ruby Falls" or thrilling adventures at "Pigeon Ford". So as you stated, it is indeed in the interest of the tourist attractions to blur the boundaries and target children specifically. While you have seemed to master the ability to deny (justifiably) your children unnecessary expenses, I think many parents, particularly newer ones may be more vulnerble to their child's "needs" of that new t-shirt or figurine.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Duchesse--What a great gift! And I totally agree with your comment on appropriate ages. I'm still thinking about the Orman idea. Thanks for telling me about it.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Suzy--Wow! thanks for the thoughtful comment! We got a cute piggy bank when a bank opened up here (during the banking boom of a few yrs ago). We also use jars. Not as cute, but functional.

@Ryan--I think there's a difference between fun THINGS to DO and souvenirs. All those attractions are now looked on as Americana, which is no more owing to places like Disney and Seaworld.

Funny about Money said...

Disney parks are really expensive. When I was in high school we lived fairly close to Disneyland, and of course when M'hijito was young we went over there a couple of times.

I doubt if they would search a woman's handbag or a diaper bag, so it would make sense to smuggle in some sandwiches or snacks, packed with one of those blue bags you freeze to put in a cooler. Most of the food is just gawdawful, with the exception of one or two very expensive restaurants. The only one that served edible food was the one inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

The amount of junk people buy in those souvenir shops defies comprehension. But that's always been so: any place that attracts tourists is littered with junk shops, many of them selling fraudulent goods. Here in the Southwest you can buy any number of fake Indian baskets, rugs, and pots made in Taiwan and waypoints. Weirdly, people seem to prefer the ersatz and the junky to real local products, just as they'll buy old K-Mart glassware at yard sales and leave the crystal behind.

Duchesse said...

Just wanted to add, if my mother had not given the gift, we would not have gone. Just too costly.

Meredith@MerchantShips said...

I found your blog via that Disney comment, and I heartily agree on the souvenir issue! I find the best Florida t-shirts right here in my own city's Goodwills, apparently abandoned by the original travelers.

Glad to make your acquaintaince. I look forwarding to reading!

Frugal Scholar said...

@Meredith--Thanks! Just read some of your blog posts. You are a much better homemaker than I ever was/am, but our general philosophies of family life are similar.

Anonymous said...

Hi... just happen to cross your site... I see that you also love Disney... me too...

Im planning to go to Tokyo or Hong Kong Disney this Christmas. Hoho and I found some stuffs from Hong Kong Disneyland here as well:

I will definitely take tones of photos there!!!