Planning your theme park vacation: Teach your kids the power of budgeting
By Robert NilesWe've talked before about the importance of saving money in advance for your vacation, and tracking your vacation expenses. People who charge vacation expenses to their credit cards, without giving those charges much though soon find their vacation memories tarred by the months and months of bills that follow.
Published: February 12, 2009 at 12:28 PM
Today, I want build on that point by talking this week to the parents on the website.
Downtime's great, and vacations are wonderful by themselves. But why miss a great opportunity to teach your kids a lesson or two? Vacation planning's a great time to teach your children the importance of creating and sticking to a budget. Your kids don't have to grow up to be careless with money, and forever in debt. But they need to learn that lesson from you, if they are to avoid what could be the catastrophic expense of learning it on their own.
I'm a big fan of giving kids a set allowance when going to a theme park, with the agreement that the kids will not ask you for any more money, or to buy anything else, once you're on your trip. If you have kids between 10-14, invite them to sit with you as you talk about your vacation plans and set up your vacation budget.
Why 10-14? Kids younger than that typically don't have the skills or patience for the math involved, and kids older than that typically don't have the patience to sit with their parents for more than a moment for any reason. ;-) So you can leave them out of this initial step.
Decide on an amount that you can afford to give each child, then tell them when and where they will get it. Let them know that they are responsible for their own money from that moment forward. If they lose it or spend it on something they don't want, there's no getting more from Mom or Dad.
If the kids want to spend their own money on the trip, too, that's fine. But I don't try to "even it out" by giving more money to a child who has saved less than a brother or sister. That's a lesson, right there, on the value of saving money during the year, and I don't want to undermine that.
It's ultimately up to you how much of an allowance that you can afford to give. Perhaps it's just a child's regular weekly allowance. Perhaps it's something more. But I do think that this is such a potentially valuable life lesson that you should give your child an allowance on a family vacation, so that they can learn this lesson on budgeting their money.
I don't put the kids on the hook for their own meals - meal time is family time in my household. But if kids want a snack between meals (if it's not too close to a mealtime), that's coming out of their money. Same for souvenirs, carnival games and pay-for-play rides. I buy them the ticket, their meals... and that's it.
Of course, simply providing the kids with their own money is just the first half of the lesson. The second comes in the park, the first time your child sees something he or she wants to buy. That's when I remind my kids that they have a limited amount of money, and they ought to spend it well.
I worked one summer in theme park merchandise, and lemme tell you, I don't know of theme park anywhere that's ever run out of a souvenir in the middle of the day. If there's only one left on the shelf, trust me, there's a warehouse with a 100 of 'em out back. You can take the time to make your way around a lap of the park, to see all that's available before you decide to buy. Plus, remind your kids that if they buy something right away, they are on the hook for carrying it around all day. That fact's usually the one that closes the deal on waiting out an impulse purchase.
You're looking for two results. First, your kids stop bugging you for souvenirs, snacks and extras. (No whining! Yes!) Second, you'll see your kids stop to think before reflexively clamoring to buy. Ad I've written throughout this series, the key to financial responsibility is to think before you spend.
Your kids will have a great time on the family's theme park vacation. I hope that this lesson will help them learn how to develop the financial responsibility to have a great time throughout the rest of their lives, as well.
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