Here’s a family vacation strategy to consider…Give your kids a budget!

When you’re traveling with kids, you’ll undoubtedly get lots of “I want this” and “I want that” at every tourist stop, stand, and kiosk. Even though as an adult, you have the experience to understand that many trinkets are a waste of money, your kids may not understand that. Plus, with suggestive marketing everywhere you look (TV, advertising, instant downloads, powerful packaging, etc.), there are invitations at every turn to buy, buy, buy!

Unlimited spending is probably a dangerous route, regardless of your financial means. Setting some guidelines and parameters up front with keep everyone in check as you enjoy your trip. Assuming you want to buy your kids some souvenirs to help them remember the family time, go ahead and give them a pre-set spending amount. The amount matters less than the principle, and by giving them a budget, you’re saving yourself from endless negotiation later. Plus, you’re giving your kids some great financial management skills, which are critical to their development.

Too often, we send kids off to college, hoping that they understand how to manage checkbooks and spending limits, without having taught them these skills. By giving them a vacation budget, and by using it as a guiding principle to help them make smart decisions along the way, you teach them how to set priorities and how to think both short- and long-term. It’s important not to exert too much control beyond the amount – let your kids make mistakes now while the cost isn’t too high. It teaches them about disappointment in a safe environment where you can ease them through the process and teach them valuable coping skills when things don’t work out their way.

This worked magic last year on our family’s 10-day vacation. First, let me say, I prescribe this to any and every family. In the computer age, we’re never far from work, and especially in the self-employed world, I’m constantly connected. Armed with spreadsheets, kid-friendly tourist guides, and my husband’s invaluable navigation skills, we had an incredible time.

The “vacation budget,” presented as gift in advance to each child, worked beautifully. We announced each kid’s budget before we left. The amount is discretionary, of course, but we presented it with a fun poem about the wonderful adventures they were about to experience, and told them we’d keep track of their budget on a sheet of paper, but that they were in complete control. Our trip was to California, so we wove in some of the sightseeing highlights, and kept it on a kid-friendly level. You can customize based on your destination and plans, but here’s ours to see one example:

From the Bay Bridge to Rodeo Drive,
There’s Lots of Fun in Store for You.
Sightseeing, great meals, family fun,
Huge trees, dolphin shows, cousins too!

On your Family Adventure on the West Coast,
You’ll see, smell, and taste lots of treats.
We can guarantee a most fabulous time for all.
Shamu the Killer Whale, we’ll all get to meet.

So…here’s a credit for Forty Dollars,
That You Can Spend How you Wish.
We’ll keep track of your account for you.
So your money doesn’t get eaten by fish!

It is a great way to teach and reinforce money management skills in real life situations, and to avoid being the heavy at every request. You could see them weighing options, wondering about what the next souvenir shop might hold, and wondering if something was worth it or not.

Definitely a good example of a parent-child win-win. How do you manage vacation spending for the kids?

Editor’s Note:  I originally published this several years ago, but wanted to feature it again, because it’s one of my favorites 🙂