It’s way too easy to hold off on financial talks until the kids are in bed, but as their main teachers in life, they need to learn about money from us. While they don’t need to know everything about the family bank account, we do them a disservice if they don’t learn about real-world money until they’re on their own and old enough to ruin their credit score while fulfilling their every travel desire.

Travel is an excellent opportunity to show short-term budgeting across lodging, food, gas, and even outings. Including the kids in money saving and money spending may be one of the best life lessons you ever teach them.

Psst. Involving the kids will take more patience and more time. If you aren’t in the mental zone to argue discuss this, now is not the time to bring the kids into it. Consider having conversations at every stage along the travel planning. However, if Mom has already had a difficult day from life or travel stress, today is not the day.

Downtime at the Hotel Pool
Downtime at the Hotel Pool

Show the kids the travel budget.

Discuss the travel budget with the kids – or “accidentally” let them overhear grown-up conversation. Let them realize what is being sacrificed to be able to take trips, and show them how your family has prioritized travel differently than others. “No, we’re going to not buy XYZ, let’s save that money for travel.” This also helps them realize why some seasons of life will have less or different travel like when Mom’s car needs a new battery or the house a new roof or there is an unexpected medical emergency.

  • Hotel choice. That one may have breakfast offered but for $20 less would you rather just eat something in the room? If you aren’t hardly going to be at the hotel, is it worth getting the biggest and fanciest?
  • Calculate gas mileage. Show them how much gas costs. Is it worth going 20 miles out of the way for the world’s largest rubber band? Let them see why stopping on the way back to get extra groceries for tomorrow makes more sense than Mom going out again.
  • Let them calculate distance. Does it make more sense to head directly there or make a circle to see the sights? How many more hours would this add to the drive? Do you want to get into the hotel at 8 PM?
  • Go out to eat three times a day or eating lunch from the cooler? Fast food trip or microwave quesadillas in the hotel microwave? Even though it adds stress to the grocery store trip, the kids need to see how much their extra junk food costs.

Prioritize trip spending for your specific family needs.

Every family has their own priorities in travel and life. It’s so hard to not make judgements about how it appears other people are spending too much money; or in contrast, how many of us have called someone stingy? Remember to do what works for you not what looks like the best for everyone else.

  • Nature lovers might be willing to pay for a special eco-tour whereas gluten-free families have to spend more on special meals.
  • When the ten year old is obsessed with all things Harry Potter, maybe that high-price one-day Universal Studios ticket is justified. Maybe make the trip a day shorter to off-set the cost.
  • Son #1 needs to know what to expect in travel. To me, it is totally worth another $20 a us to stay at a better, familiar hotel – if it makes him chill a bit and quit asking so many stinkin’ questions.
  • Your little chef may need a fancy meal to inspire her creations.
Picnicking at Edison-Ford Estates in Fort Myers, Florida
Picnicking at Edison Ford Estates in Fort Myers Florida

Look for ways to make the money go further.

When we travel, I definitely look for every possible way to save money, and I’ve made sure to show the not-as-impressed-as-he-should-be husband all the money I save. Every little bit counts as more than nothing, right?

  • Upside gets me cash back, and the front-seat kid can compare gas prices to pick the best gas station.
  • Even the youngest kid can upload receipts on Fetch or the Upside app to get points to exchange for gift cards.
  • Figure out which hotel loyalty programs gets you the fastest free stay.
  • Make a list of museums at your destination are free always or free to you because of reciprocity from your other memberships.
  • Learn about travel hacking together, and discuss why you always pay off your monthly credit card bill.
  • Consider asking for financial support for the youth group mission trip. Family is usually willing to help with the cost – don’t let money keep your kid from such an amazing opportunity to see travel with real Christian purpose.

See travel through the kids’ eyes.

Costly doesn’t mean best. Ask the kids what their favorite experiences have been, and think back to previous trips. My kids’ favorite trip memories are not always the ones I thought would be the favorites. What special places do they bring up often?

  • Look for the local playground and allow for downtime. Slow travel makes for happier kids who can absorb the rest of the busy day you planned.
  • The fancy art museum isn’t worth the ticket cost if your four year old will last only fifteen minutes.
  • Don’t squeeze in that extra destination if it means sacrificing a much-needed nap.
  • Remember this is a family trip not a mom-loves-history trip. Include something for everyone.
Prioritizing Hotel Stay with Kitchens and Enough Beds
Prioritizing Hotel Stay with Kitchens and Enough Beds

Explain your choices to them.

To the kids in the backseat, you’re just driving. Unless you’re intentional in vocalizing your decisions, they won’t know why you made them. Show them the choices and why you chose XYZ. Maybe an added level of understanding might keep them from arguing about what they think you should have done.

  • Tell them that you’re headed across the street to the cheaper gas station.
  • Show them a comparison of the two hotel chains and the perks of each. Was this one we stayed at before really $40 better than this other one?
  • Let them see flight comparisons for why you’re coming back a day earlier. Is it worth $500 more to fly home on Sunday versus a day early on Saturday?
  • Don’t just walk past the candy aisle at the gas station. Show them the ridiculous prices and tell them you’d rather save the $3 for a special vacation ice cream treat later.
  • Discuss why free fun in the hotel pool or a family game night in the room (see the list of some of our favorite games) is the better option over a movie splurge. Memories over money.
  • Practice packing only the family essential items instead of planning for high-price replacement of forgotten items.

Dream about the future together.

Adults are just as guilty as kids at wanting that new thing. You can dream. The latest excitement to come up in our family was the idea of taking a cruise – which the kid have never done. Right now though, it isn’t in the budget. Choices: I could smash that dream or let them research and see.

Don’t just show them the amazing boat sitting in the harbor, let them scheme with you as your look online at the water slides and never-ending buffets. Show them costs of trip length or cruise line or location. It’s only when seeing what’s available can they think about saving up to one day enjoy one themselves even if that means they don’t go until they’re out of college. Not now doesn’t mean never.

  • Make a list of places you’d like to visit and how you’d like to get there.
  • Learn about different countries and famous places.
  • Study about the landmarks, historic places, and must-see sights.
  • Talk to people who have traveled to add places to your wish list.
  • Price plane tickets to see which locations might be more doable without winning the lottery.
Beach Play Doesn't Have to Be Fancy
Beach Play Doesnt Have to Be Fancy

Kids understand way more than we let them. Show them that money doesn’t grow on trees, and let them appreciate the blessing of simple travel even more – or at least try. Remember that the best family travel isn’t necessarily the biggest and flashiest. That’s an important lesson for parents and kids alike!

How have your kids become involved in the travel budget? I hope this encourages you to take the time to teach them budgeting while seeing some amazing places.

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