My Financial Journey: Lifeguard at Disney

When I first took off on my Disney adventure (moving to Florida to work for Disney), I remember some folks asking if a big move was financially feasible. You see, I was coming off an income where I averaged $980 per month. This could be a month’s worth of rent! The questions were valid, and I was ready for the challenge.

Wondering how I ended up at Disney? Well, I happen to have written all about that in a previous post. Check that out here! In that post I provide some updates and the process of applying to work at Walt Disney World (WDW). Happy reading!

Now that you’re caught up, let’s get down to business. When I agreed to work at WDW, the role I accepted was a full-time lifeguard at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. The starting pay at the time was $10.25 with an anticipated raise of 50¢ thanks to the union. Soon after arriving at WDW I was making $10.75 per hour.

Having paid off my car and the experience of budgeting $980 a month, budgeting at least $1,032 per month was much easier coming from The Wilds. The $1,032 comes from making $10.75, working at least 32 hours (union requires at least 32 hours on the schedule), multiplying that by four weeks, and taking out 25% for anticipated taxes. I was still in the Marine reserves, so I would make some extra money most months, but I only budgeted about $100 extra. After taking Financial Peace University, I learned financial principles and used a budgeting tool that set me up for success to do this. I was taught to always take care of the “four walls” in the budget first. This includes food, utilities, shelter, and transportation. That’s just what I did.

Before moving to Orlando, I proactively researched housing arrangements to meet my needs within a reasonable price. The Lord really provided! I found an apartment close enough to work which provided a price unheard of. I was paying $803 per month for an apartment that had a washer and dryer in unit as well as other unique amenities. This was a brand new build, so the move-in date was delayed. That price made the wait worth it.

One of the best, and my most favorite, opportunities at WDW was working the Hurricane Ride Out Crew. This crew works during a hurricane, but the benefits of being there are phenomenal. To ride out a hurricane at WDW means to clock in and stay on the clock until the hurricane has passed. We take care of our Guests, we are fed, we are paid to sleep, we are cross-trained for other roles, and we get to make a tough situation “magical.” This was always a great opportunity to make more money. By being clocked in the entire time, we are being paid a ton of hours and earning double pay. I’m pretty sure my first Ride Out Crew resulted in making about $600 in one “shift” during the hurricane.

Ride Out Crew 2016 at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Monorail parked inside for safe keeping.

I loved making more money, but I was always excited to ride out because I did not want to sit in my apartment alone watching the storm. I would much rather be working and be in a safe location that maintains power. If you’re ever at WDW during a hurricane, just know that the Cast Members working have volunteered to do so. No worries!

Does working a job that doesn’t pay much not sound fun to you? I get it, but here’s the deal. I signed up to be a Lifeguard at Disney because of my passion for the product. That may sound cliche, but it’s true. A role with any company becomes simply a job when there’s no passion behind the work or the mission. I can’t say that I subscribe to the saying, “do what what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” You’ll work. That is why I signed up for a role that did not pay a ton. I knew God was placing a desire on my heart so He could teach me lessons I didn’t know I needed.

If I am being honest, one of my favorite parts of Lifeguarding at Disney was the benefits. There were normal benefits like healthcare, 401(k), and reimbursements, but I really enjoyed the unique Disney benefits which allowed me to do things at Disney I probably would never have done. At Disney’s Contemporary Resort, the Recreation Cast was permitted to take out a boat for free while off the clock.

Renting a boat on Bay Lake

There was a place called Cast Connection that housed grocery items which I would purchase often. Items included milk, deli meat, bread, fruit, snacks, and more! I also would find great deals on park merchandise to give as gifts. Another great benefit was the complimentary items such as theme park parking, park tickets, park entry, and costume (uniform) cleaning. Of course there was also merchandise discounts, resort hotel discounts, dining discounts, Disney Cruise Line discounts, and annual Christmas discount coupons dispersed.

This was a very personal experience. I cannot say that years afterwards folks can find an apartment for $803 and meet personal financial goals on a lower paying job. It’s tough. I get it. There is hope! Using the principles I learned from Financial Peace University helped me to transition to a new job and new location. Maybe it can help you too.

Recreation Cast with Minnie Mouse

I won’t say that money was never tight while working at Disney. My lack of budget tracking (going Ramsey-ish) made it that way. It was my own fault. However, God provided a job I loved making money that would pay for my four walls and other things. Plus, there were enough benefits to offset some costs and help out. The experiences I had and friends I acquired made it all worthwhile. Do what you love. You’ll work harder and reap the benefits from it.

Be strong. Love God. Love others.

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