Disneyland and Disney World really are some of the most magical manmade places on earth. As a kid, I cherished the memories of going to Disneyland and as an adult, my wife and I recently went to Disney World for a day we will never forget. I recently came across a question though in a Disney parks Facebook group whose answers shocked me. As a result, I want to ask this simple question. Should you go to Disney or pay off debt?
Our Disney Experience
Last fall, while in Orlando for FinCon, my wife and I went to Disney World for a day. It was an exhausting day, but it was so amazing. It has awakened a new passion in us (OK me) for the Disney parks and we intend to go back to both Disney World and Disneyland within the next year. Then we hope to go again to Disney World in 2022 after they have finished upgrading the park for their 50th anniversary (2021) when our kids are in a better spot to go.
At Disney World last year, we visited all 4 parks in one day and went on a ton of rides. It was not cheap though. We spent over $500 total on tickets for both of us plus food and transportation. Was it worth it?
But we are debt free now, and were then, and pay cash for everything so there were no payments to make afterwards. The only thing we brought back was lots of memories, sore muscles and lots of blisters on our feet.
I got the chance to share our experience on this Report the Magic podcast I guested on. I also share money saving and preparation tips for Disney World.
As a kid, we didn’t take a ton of vacations. Most were us driving to go see family in other states, but twice, we did go to Disneyland which was no small expense for my parents I am sure.
I loved those experiences and I am happy my parents took me as a kid so I get why it is important for parents to take their kids to Disney.
Should You Go To Disney Or Pay Off Debt?
Because of my newfound Disney interest, I joined a Facebook group for planning Disney vacations just for fun. Most threads don’t interest me, but one caught my eye.
On my Facebook feed a question popped up that I typically see in my personal finance group. Since it combined “debt” and “Disney” I was already hooked and had to keep reading. I was surprised though to see it was from my Disney group and not my personal finance group.
With that said, I was still shocked at the answers.
The question was simple.
Should I pay off debt or go to Disney?
No other details were provided regarding the type of debt, details about their family or the cost of the trip. Just that simple question.
It is a no brainer, right? Pay off the debt obviously!
What People Suggested
Well, the first 7 out of 8 were favoring going on a Disney vacation.
Here are the overall results though.
Go To Disney: 43
Pay Off Debt: 26
Certainly, in a personal finance group the answers would be different, but this is more realistic to the general population. There were some answers suggesting a more nuanced approach of pay a portion off and then go but the divide was clear.
People were in favor of justifying the Disney trip over paying off debt.
That very approach though is what led to me getting into thousands of dollars of debt and I don’t want the same for you or anyone on that board. My debt was not because of Disney. It was because I would justify doing things so long as I could afford the payment.
Now that I am on the other side of being debt free, I see that it doesn’t have to be that way.
*Please note, since this is a private Facebook group nothing here is taken verbatim nor any names shared. I honesty don’t think this is specific to this group of people. I think it is a standard question that millions face when it comes to whether you pay off debt or take a vacation.
Why People Go To Disney Instead Of Paying Off Debt
Let’s be honest, when we all think of Disney, we think of fun and magic. When we think of paying off debt, that image is less appealing. While I maintain that paying off debt is no where near as bad as you think it is, the Disney parks are much more fun. Just pay with cash.
There were three common reasons why people suggested to just go to Disney instead of pay off debt. I think there are very telling about people’s relationship with debt though, so I want to discuss them.
Now, as a disclaimer, I do not agree with these reasons, but they are common examples of why so many keep debt around. Also, the type of debt we are talking about is all consumer debt or student loans, not mortgage debt.
1. Your Kids Will Only Be Young Once/Make Memories Now
A popular answer was to make memories now since your kids will only be young for so long.
Now, our kids are 1 and 3 and I have already seen how fast kids can grow up and change in such a short time so I get it. I love that we can take them to Disney in the future. When we leave Costco and are waiting to have our receipts reviewed there is a picture of Mickey, Minnie and Goofy that both kids get excited about when they see it.
How amazing would it be for them to see Mickey or the castle in person? It would be such a thrill for us all and turn into a great memory.
I also know that kids are here for the long haul. While they do grow up “quick”, there is a lot you can do while they are around that makes memories. The stubborn insistence that they have to be “Disney” memories is what is going to hurt you.
Are those memories less valid if you wait 2 years to go?
Ultimately, it is wrong to think that you can only make memories now. It is very possible to make positive memories throughout your kid’s lives even while paying off debt.
In this case, I think Disney memories are one of many excuses one uses to put off paying down debt. If it isn’t Disney then it is going to be something else.
2. You Never Know What the Future Holds
To expand on why one might need to make memories now you never know what the future holds. Your health could turn or an unexpected death in the family might occur.
By going to Disney now you get to enjoy it with everyone in your life. In the conversation there were a surprising amount of people sharing stories of how they were planning to go to Disney one day and before they went, they lost a spouse or parent and regretted not going sooner. That is so disappointing to hear but there is a lot more to life than Disney, so I know they are missing out on many more life experiences with those loved ones.
One of the things I fear most is that unexpected phone call you get where you find out about a loved one’s death or cancer diagnosis. I know that in my lifetime I will get those calls and I hate it. I hate that you will get similar calls too.
I also hate debt, because I know how it erodes away your daily life and reduces your freedom today and even more so, tomorrow. We can’t live our lives in fear of a call that we get in 5, 10 or 20 years while missing our opportunities to put ourselves in solid financial standing to lesson the blow of that horrible call.
We shouldn’t justify bad financial decisions though because something might happen though. I’m not talking about someone who is currently facing a life-threatening illness of a loved one. Do what you must do in that case.
Just don’t confuse that situation though with the question of should we go on vacation this year if we have debt. They aren’t the same.
3. Debt Will Always Be There
The third reason I frequently heard was one that I used to tell myself quite a bit.
That reason is that debt will always be there so you can tackle it anytime.
Debt will always be there if you let it. It doesn’t have to be though.
That phrase alone is why this site is called Debt Free Happens. Debt freedom is possible and it does happen. We don’t have to believe this lie while only lining the bank’s pockets with money instead of ours.
If we simply make the minimum payments though and frequently add to that credit card or take out more car loans, then it will always be there. We don’t want that.
If we prioritize debt though, you will get those other things, but it ends the cycle of debt.
The problem with always keeping debt there is that you have reduced monthly cash flow and you will lose thousands and thousands of dollars towards interest. If you don’t dig into the numbers, you most likely have no clue how much you are losing.
In our story of how we paid off $107K of debt in 33 months I show how much interest we saved by paying the debt off early. In short, we saved ourselves $40,000 of interest.
Assuming we didn’t invest that money, we could take 10 trips to Disney World and spend $4,000 on each.
If we kept debt around, guess what, we don’t get to take those.
So, are you sure you want to put debt off and go to Disney now or would you rather focus on debt for a few years and go many more times in the future?
Why You Should Pay Off Debt Before Going To Disney?
The thought of going to Disney while knowing that you have debt waiting for you at home just doesn’t seem as fun to me. Now, that alone won’t stop many people, so I want to talk about what is most important.
Your overall approach towards money is what is critical here.
If your approach is “live for today regardless of the cost” then you will get exactly that, but you will have diminishing returns as time moves on.
So, let’s say you do go to Disney without addressing your debt. Then what?
What is your next move? Is it really to start paying off debt? Or is it to do something else that once again delays your debt pay off?
If you start paying off debt, great! You will be fine and you have fun memories to look back on.
If you don’t start paying it off, then it wasn’t about Disney at all. Disney was just another excuse and you will be looking for another excuse soon.
It is all about how you approach money and debt. By prioritizing debt and putting in place sound money habits, you will go to Disney. Trust me.
You pay off debt because it is what it right for you, your family and your future.
If an unexpected death occurs, then you will be in a much better spot which is what you owe your family.
Making sure you have life insurance in place, kid’s colleges funded, and no debt is what is best. The memories made from doing that, while different, will ultimately be better than if Disney was your priority.
If you do go to Disney now, just don’t say you can’t afford term life insurance and then go to Disney. Get that term life insurance now.
It Is OK To Take A Vacation While Paying Off Debt
I would be a hypocrite if I said you can’t take a vacation while paying off debt because we did that ourselves 3 times.
While paying off our $107K we went on vacation each summer although not to Disney. Each time we did have a stipend for traveling, which is a long story, but we still spent at least a few thousand more traveling during those 33 months.
Honestly, if we hadn’t traveled at all, then we probably could say we paid off our debt in 30 months instead.
So, why would I be against going to Disney now instead of paying off debt, yet we did it ourselves?
Well, we made debt the priority from the outset and never lost sight of it. Once we paid off debt we kept pushing while making travel a priority too.
…But Start Your Debt Payoff Today
I don’t want you to choose Disney today. I want you to choose your debt payoff today and come up with a plan to go to Disney in the future. Use it as motivation and take your time with it.
That approach will benefit you tremendously because you will be in control. While pushing it off, you aren’t as in control as you would like to be.
Every decision you make will have a tradeoff, but don’t underestimate the power of paying off debt now and taking control of your money.
That will have a lasting impact on your family that will extend far past any Disney magic.