Travel can be a great learning experience. Asking your kids to help research and execute arrangements on a future trip can be an even better one.
Learning about actual costs involved in the average family vacation can be an eye-opener for kids. By planning all or part of the trip, kids can gain an understanding of how to bargain hunt, budget and save money.
Here are a few ideas to help involve the kids in family vacation planning:
Create a realistic budget. Share your vacation budget with your kids, and explain why it is set at that dollar amount. For example, you don't want to overspend because you're saving for home renovations later this year. Work together to create a more detailed budget for costs such as accommodations, transportation, food, special event tickets and souvenirs.
Map out your trip. Once you set your budget, have the kids investigate potential locations and their respective costs. A trip across the country might have high transportation costs but low accommodation costs. The kids can come up with a few different options. Also, research discount packages and other ways to save money. If your particular destination might benefit from using a travel agent, put that call on speakerphone so the kids can learn what to ask. Check out these tips for saving on travel, and use this online calculator to help plan your spending.
Feed those piggy banks. Before the trip, teach your kids the importance of saving money by setting aside a portion of their allowance to help pay for their special purchases on the trip. Also, help them understand that if they would like to purchase souvenirs, they can save money to help pay for one of those items.
Plan for the unexpected. Help your kids plan a budget for a trip that is fun yet allows leeway for the unexpected. For instance, they might spot a new activity on the trip that's better than the one they budgeted for. If it's more expensive, they'll have to make a choice and determine how they'll get back on budget.
Have a smart discussion about credit. For older kids, particularly those who might already be using credit or debit cards under parental supervision, the trip is an opportunity for a more extensive lesson on using credit wisely. For example, explain that credit cards may provide more safety than cash when traveling, and that they offer theft and fraud protection.
Make travel planning a family tradition. When you return, discuss how you stuck to your budget and how you could improve next time. Consider starting a family vacation fund to help save for future holidays. Get your kids involved by having them set aside small contributions from their allowance funds.
Bottom line: Travel presents a great learning experience, especially in the planning and budgeting phases. Teaching kids the importance of making and sticking to a budget when traveling will help make them seasoned travelers in the future.
Jason Alderman directs Visa's financial education programs. To follow Practical Money Skills on Twitter, visit www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney.