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.