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5 smarter things to buy than a Disney trip

Disney DIS, +0.42% has raised ticket prices again at its U.S. theme parks, meaning that a trip to the Magic Kingdom may be more expensive than ever for many families. And for some parents, it may pay to just say no — and spend that money elsewhere.

On Sunday, Disney’s one-day ticket prices for Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., rose to $99 from $96 for anyone 10 or older, and from $90 to $93 for kids ages 3 to 9; for the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World near Orlando, one-day tickets are now $105, up from $99, and for kids 3 to 9 they’re now $99, up from $93. (Some multiday passes rose in price as well.) Prices at Disney’s other theme parks are also up — a one-day ticket to Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom is now $97, up from $94.

Here are five savvier things parents can spend their Disney fund on.

1. Spend those four days in a national park

There is no doubt that travel has myriad benefits for a family, like getting to spend time together and learning new things — but a trip to Disney is far from the only trip in which you can reap those benefits. Indeed, one of the most economical ways for families to travel together (though, we admit, this may take some convincing of the kids) is a trip to one of the country’s national parks. Most of the time, families can enter the park for $20 (that is per vehicle, not per person) and accommodations can range from camping (even with gear, this can be far cheaper than a hotel) to budget-friendly on-site cabins. Plus, the National Parks Service will provide maps and other educational materials free of charge, guidebooks and other additional learning materials can be purchased on the cheap on Amazon, and you can typically drive to a national park from your home (which with today’s low-ish gas prices is likely to save you big compared with four plane tickets to Disney).

All-in-all, a family of four could spend four days — everything included — at a national park together for one-fifth of the price of a trip to Disney. They can use all that money they saved by not going to Disney to shore up their emergency fund (experts say that families likely want at least six months of living expenses in savings, and a year or more is ideal) and pay down high-interest debt.

2. Invest in a 529 plan

If you’re like most families, you haven’t saved much for your kids’ college — just half of families with kids under 18 have saved any money for college and average savings across all college savings vehicles is only $15,346, a 2014 Sallie Mae study shows. In that case, it may be smarter to sock away that Disney fund into a 529 plan or college savings plan for the kids (after all, the long-term benefits of attending college often far outweigh the benefits of one family trip for your kids) as the cost of even a public, in-state four-year college may easily top six figures.

But put that $5,000 into a 529 plan now and you could end up with a significant chunk of change. Let’s say you put in $5,000 now, and then $1,000 annually. In about 10 years at a modest 4% rate of return, you could have nearly $20,000 for your kids to put toward school.

Of course, it is hard to shun Disney forever, so Buz Livingston, a financial planner at Livingston Financial, says that a compromise may be in order. “Yes most people would be better financially by saving the money…but financial planning includes more than money,” he says. “Maybe you go one year and tell the kids the next year, the money goes in their college fund.”

3. Pay for a resume-boosting experience


College is uber-competitive to get into these days, so parents may want to shun a trip to Disney in favor of funding a resume-boosting (and memorable) trip for their high school kids. McCormick says that they may want to think about paying for their kids to try an arts, music or cultural immersion camp/experience or a one-of-a-kind charity excursion that would help them stand out from other college applicants. Plus, in addition to the actual pleasure and learning, there are the good feelings you get from helping other people. Global Leadership Adventures and ISV both offer plenty of charitable trips for high-school students.

4. Add more to your 401(k)

We know this isn’t the most exciting thing to do with your $5,000 Disney fund, but the fact that about nine in 10 working-age households aren't saving enough for retirement, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security, makes this a compelling option. What’s more, many parents make the mistake of saving for their kids college even before they save for their own retirement, even though the reality is this: While your kids can get a loan for college, it is unlikely you’ll get one for retirement.

Instead, it may be smarter to put that Disney fund into your 401(k) or retirement account even before you put it toward your kids’ college. Wan McCormick, a financial planner at Reliable Alliance Financial in Fairfax, Va., says this could help you retire years earlier: “$5,000 growing at 6% a year will be $38,430.43 after 35 years, which makes retirement just a tiny bit easier,” he says. “Alternatively, saving that $5,000 every year at the same rate will be $595,604.33 after 35 years.”

5. A Caribbean or Mexico vacation

According to a study released in February by the American Psychological Association, parents report significantly higher levels of stress than non-parents (they rank their stress levels at 5.7 out of 10 vs. 4.7 for non-parents) — a finding confirmed by a number of other studies. And a trip to Disney — with the lines, crowds and high cost — isn’t likely going to do those stress levels any good. Instead, parents may want to consider an all-inclusive trip to the Caribbean, which, if you’re a savvy shopper, can be cheaper — sometimes significantly so — than a Disney vacation. Consider: Dozens of four- and five-day, all-inclusive trips (these include food, accommodations, airfare and more) to Caribbean destinations like Jamaica or Mexico (particularly in or near Cancún) can be had for less than $800 per person (check out a site like CheapCarribean.com or Kayak.com for deals), which leaves extra money for parents to pay for the on-site baby sitting that many of these resorts offer.

Source: http://www.marketwatch.com/