While I haven't mastered seeing Disney on a dime in the literal sense, I can tell you how to save some big bucks.
- When buying your tickets or tour package, DON'T get the Park Hopper ticket option; buy Base Tickets. Most Disney agents will suggest that you need the Park Hopper option, but especially with smaller children, it doesn't matter if you stick with one park per day. If you remove the Park Hopper, your daily ticket price will drop by $10-35 per person, per day (prices vary depending on length of your stay and your package). For my family of five on a four day visit, removing the Park Hopper option saved us $275.
- Skip the water park option. Unless your kids prefer the water parks to the theme park (and most don't), they'll be completely happy with a dip in the hotel pools. Most of the hotel pools have slides, play areas and hot tubs, which are sufficiently entertaining for the swim break families usually take mid-day. Omitting the water park option can save you another $10-35 per head, again depending on the specifics of your visit.
- If your kids are excited to meet characters and princesses, purchase autograph books ahead of time at a dollar store. Any small cute book with blank pages will do. If you buy the books in the park gift shops you'll be looking at about $20 per book, and it's really the autographs kids are excited about – not the books.
- Buy Disney trademarked souvenirs and clothing from the Disney online store before your trip, rather than purchasing from the park gift shops. Bring the items on your trip and surprise your kids with them throughout your visit. The same items that cost upwards of $30 in the gift shops can frequently be found online for less than $10, and the online store usually has free shipping for orders over $75. If you timed it just right, you could probably even have your online order shipped to you at your hotel, and then your kids would have the extra excitement of opening a package .
- Pack in refillable water bottles and snacks! Disney allows this and will not confiscate such items at the gate. You will not find any snack or beverage for sale in the park for less than $3, and the dining plans typically allow just one or two snacks per day. My kids want a snack every 30 minutes and are usually satisfied with a handful of pretzels.