Opening your wallet and handing your kids $20 bills gets old.
Case in point: Yesterday when I was getting my hair cut, I observed a young teenager jump off the seat next to me. As his dad took his place, the son asked for $12 to grab a bite to eat next door. Dad, exasperated, said, “12 bucks. It’s just a bagel!”
The son replied, “Dad, the sandwiches are $8 or $9 each and I really want a drink, too.” The Dad sighed and handed over some bills.
When my own kids were growing up it seemed as if my wallet was an ATM machine with $20 bills flowing out. I wanted it to stop! If you feel the same way, work on your kids’ money training while you’re on vacation this summer.
Raising children to be responsible adults involves moving them from dependence to independence. Money decisions are part of this learning process, and a family vacation is a perfect time to involve them in money decisions to help them learn.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”
Here are three ways to involve your kids and teach them valuable money skills on your summer vacation this year:
Pick an expense for them to track.
There are quite a few expenses involved in a family trip. Focus on one the kids may take for granted, since you are the one pulling out your credit or debit card. Are you taking a road trip? Have them track your fuel expenses.
Before you leave, sit down with your kids and estimate the cost of the fuel for your trip. Start with determining the number of miles you plan to travel, miles per gallon of fuel your vehicle burns, and average cost per gallon of gas where you are headed. Afterwards, see how close they got to actual dollars spent.
The lesson: Estimate costs ahead of time instead of being surprised later.
Extra credit: Teach your kids to calculate the miles per gallon your vehicle actually gets versus the estimate. Estimate the cost of fuel based on your vehicle at FuelEconomy.gov.
Compare this to your actual fuel economy at Gas Mileage Calculator.
Track convenience items.
Every time you stop for gas, are you picking up items at the convenience store? Are you buying high-priced incidentals? Bags of chips and energy drinks add up.
Put a child in charge of tracking this expense. You could simply keep receipts in an envelope and add up the total cost.
The lesson: You pay more for convenience.
Planning ahead for easy stuff like snacks can stretch your spending money for the trip. You can use a notebook to compare the prices of bulk food bought in advance to convenience store snacks.
Extra credit: Teach your kids to determine the price of an item per unit so they can compare value. Just divide the cost by the quantity. For example, 2 liters for $4 is $2 per liter.
Go to Math is Fun to use an online calculator.
Choose one thoughtful purchase.
Whether you give your kids spending money or they have saved it up from their allowance or odd jobs during the year, rather than giving them an open wallet, consider giving them a budget for one or two souvenirs from the trip.
Ask them to think about what special treat or souvenir they will pick up on the trip. What would make them happy and help them remember the vacation? This way, they won’t just want to spend money at the very first place they stop. They will learn to discern value.
The lesson: Put thought into your spending decisions. Once the money is spent, it can’t be spent again.
Extra credit: Teach your kids the concept of lost opportunity cost. Once they spend those dollars, they can’t be used for something else. Here is where you need to stick to your guns and not cave to the pressure of giving them something else when they already spent their money.
Holding fast to this money lesson plan isn’t easy. I still remember, after 20 years, a vacation where my son Brian had already bought a souvenir but still wanted a small clear glass bottle full of sand and tiny shells to remember our camping trip to Bodega Bay, California.
I held my ground and didn’t cave. He cried like I’d taken his last breadcrumb when he hadn’t eaten in days. I felt awful! I wanted to run in and buy it for him. To this day, part of me feels like I should still fly to California, find the store, and FedEx the little jar of sand to him.
He’s long forgotten the silly little souvenir. I wish I could! The lesson, however, has stuck with him. He makes wise, well thought-out money decisions to this day.
No one ever said parenting is easy.