4 Money Lessons Kids Can Learn on Vacation

Family vacations can be a great opportunity to teach kids about money – from planning to budgeting to spending.

A family of four walking along a sunny beach

When you imagine your next family vacation you probably picture yourself lounging on a beach as the kids play in the sand, or taking in the culture and sights of a new city or simply riding the Big Loop roller coaster after a generous serving of fried dough.

Wherever you go on vacation this summer, you’re hoping the experience will be relaxing and fun – and a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

But even as you put your feet up and relax a little, you can also teach your kids some valuable lessons in money – what it takes to save for something big and stick to a budget.

And since only 17 U.S. states require students to take a class in personal finance, it’s up to parents to teach kids how money works and opportunities like a family vacation can be a great way to get started.

Here are four ways you can teach kids about money on your next vacation:

1. Involve kids in planning the trip – including the budget

Start by letting your kids know how much you have to spend on the trip and which destinations reasonably fit within that amount (Hawaii’s out but the California coast is in, for example).

Once you decide on a destination, let older kids research what the family can do and see at the destination. Next, look at the cost of each activity and determine what’s affordable within your family budget. It could be eye-opening for kids to realize that going hiking is free while spending the afternoon at the aquarium is over $100.

2. Set up savings goals for the trip

While researching the trip your kids might discover that going whale watching and visiting Disneyland would stretch the budget too far. And this is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate how spending goals can be reached by cutting back on other expenses and earning extra money.

Ask your kids if there are ways the family could afford to pay for both activities, and then offer a few suggestions. Maybe you’ll agree to seek out less expensive dining options at your destination or decide to cut back on movie theater visits before the trip.

Kids could also flex their entrepreneurial muscle to earn money toward the goal by mowing neighbors’ lawns, pet sitting or setting up a lemonade stand at the local farmers market.  

See related: How to Make Money as a Kid 

3. Get kids involved in booking airfare and hotels

Not all children will have the patience to sit down and pour over airfare and hotel fares, but as much as possible, getting kids involved in this process will be a good lesson in comparison shopping. Is the family willing to take a 6AM flight to save $400? And while the resort with the cool pool might be appealing, is it worth it to splurge on accommodations instead of spending that money on attractions?

4. Designate a daily spending budget for kids

The temptations are endless on vacations – first there’s the cotton candy, then the glow in the dark souvenir magnet and let’s not forget the tie dye t-shirt. Kids will understandably want it ALL. But if given a budget, of say, $20 or less a day – kids will have to make decisions about what’s worth spending money on and what’s not.

And if your child sees something for more than $20 that they can’t live without? Encourage them to either bring along allowance money or earn extra spending cash before the trip.

Real Memories

Family vacations provide a host of lasting memories – like the time the whole family parasailed over the Caribbean or got lost in the back trails of Yellowstone. That’s part of why we take vacations, to bond as a family.

But with very little effort, kids can (often unknowingly!) also gain valuable financial skills. Lessons that will serve them well as they enter adulthood when they need to save and budget for bigger purchases. Purchases that extend far beyond the amusement park fried dough.

What to do next…

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Kerry Flatley is the owner and author of Self-Sufficient Kids. She has a BA in economics, an MBA, a certificate in financial planning, and has been investing ever since she landed her first job. Kerry also has two girls, ages 13 and 15, who have been receiving allowance – and learning money management – for the past seven years.