This post was sponsored by Capital One. Opinions were not directed by the sponsor and are, as always, my own.
That copy of your bill that the hotel slid under your door during the night? Have your kid take a nice long look at it.
It’s reality, itemized. And isn’t it about time your kids understood reality?
It’s actually past time for my kids. I grew up in an era when I was well aware of the costs of the things I wanted to buy, but my parents didn’t elaborate much on the sacrifices it took to afford those things. Likewise, when I was first starting out as a dad, I didn’t dispense too many money management lessons at the dinner table.
Well, those days are gone, and should be.
The earlier you teach your kids basics about money and how to manage it, the better. And there are few things better than travel to illustrate those lessons. So whether you’re heading to the corner store or a different corner of the globe, here are some handy ways that travel teaches kids about money.
Bringing your kid to a wholesale store teaches a lesson about retail price.
I wear a bandana when I run because I’m, you know, basically bald, but I digress.
A single bandana costs me five to eight bucks in a retail store (though I refuse to pay more than five). The other day, I was walking with one of my teen daughters through what is affectionately known as Manhattan’s “human hair district” and stopped into a wholesale headgear shop. Piled high on shelf after shelf were cellophane-wrapped packages of bandanas – none of which I was technically allowed to buy as a retail consumer, but still, I needed to know, how many were in each pack, and how much were they?
A dozen for three bucks, the clerk said.
My daughter’s eyes and mine went wide at the same time.
Since you’re being kind enough to read this I’ll do the math for you: I pay five bucks for a 25 cent bandana. The store makes $4.75 on that bandana, I emphasized with my daughter as we left the store (though of course the store has overhead and payroll and other costs that eat into that $4.75 profit, which is a lesson for another day), but with the reality of wholesale and retail costs in her head, she now has a much better perspective. So the next time we stroll into a hotel or museum gift shop she just may be thankful that you’ve encouraged her to ask herself, “Is this souvenir really worth x to me when I know the store likely paid y for it?”
Want new tech for the road? Trade in the old stuff.
While many of us can stomach bringing old luggage or garments on a trip, most of us would rather not hit the road with old tech. If your tablets or smartphones are getting long in the tooth, “they could be worth a couple hundred bucks,” suggests digital lifestyle expert Katie Linendoll. “Many internet trade-in sites and retail stores will offer gift cards and even free shipping for your old tech through something called ‘recommerce,’ aka reverse commerce,” she says, adding that “if you can make money off old things lying around, do it!”
When your kids are constantly bombarded with high menu prices, it has an impact.
A vacation exposes your family to a wide range of high-priced food zones: airport eateries, theme parks, sports stadiums, restaurants, that little alcove next to your hotel’s front desk that unapologetically charges way too much for a Snickers bar, and so on.
After seeing menu after menu with these high prices, your kids may be so desensitized that they won’t notice them after a while, assuming that this is just the cost of being on vacation. However, there may also come a moment, as it did with my daughter a few years ago, when she was looking at a lunch menu and demonstrated something I hadn’t seen in her up until that point: self-restraint. I seldom ask my kids to limit themselves to entrees of a certain price range when ordering from menus, but that moment when I asked my daughter why she wasn’t getting the lamb chops and she said, “I don’t want you to have to pay that much, dad,” that was a moment worth waiting for.
Not coincidentally, because food costs tend to creep up at home, too, my wife and I find it sobering and somewhat interesting to see how our credit card company has broken out our spending into categories, especially when they make that little pie chart including the enormous slice that represents our food spending. We make it a point now of sharing that information with our kids whether we’re home or on the road, and tools like Capital One Enhanced Transactions, which you can view with their mobile app, will give you a quick glimpse of your spending categories so you can make real-time spending adjustments if you realize certain costs are getting out of control.
Ration or revoke phone data while traveling if necessary.
While in Toronto a couple years ago I got a text alert from my wireless phone carrier alerting me about a data overage on our family plan. The alert also made me aware of the culprit, one of my You Tube-streaming daughters who didn’t realize her phone was no longer on airplane mode (Pro tip: During daily sightseeing make your kids switch their phones to airplane mode, ensuring that Wi-Fi is toggled on if you want them to have that option.) and to make matters a little worse this alert came at the very beginning of our trip as well as very early in our billing cycle. While I blame myself for not taking preventative measures to control our data spending on that trip, we did use the data overage as a teachable moment and restricted our daughter to very limited data usage during that trip, and also got her to agree to pay for some of the overage. While receiving text alerts on vacation can be jarring, it’s useful to sign up for any alerts that are linked to your spending; Capital One is among the companies that’ll send you text and email alerts, if say, your account balance has taken a dramatic dip.
Bring your kids to destinations and neighborhoods where the cost of living differs significantly from home.
Sometimes all it takes is a fleeting vacation moment to impart a lesson about money to your child: Say, driving through a suburb lined with mansions, especially when one of them conveniently yields the sight of a family close in age to yours jumping on an enormous trampoline or splashing around in an equally enormous in-ground pool. Such scenes can remind your child, without your having to say a word, that there a benefits to working hard for your money and saving it. Likewise, it pays to visit neighborhoods where residents have less and are visibly getting by with less. Again, this can be done wordlessly without your having to overexplain to your children how fortunate they are compared to many others in the world.
Use a souvenir allowance to teach lessons about budgeting and interest.
Among her money management tips for travelers, Traveling Mom founder Kim Orlando notes that after her kids spend their $50 vacation allowance, it’s gone, unless her husband can be manipulated. My wife and I have a similar system and a similar problem, as I can be sweet talked as well.
As the years have gone by, however, I’ve noticed that my kids don’t always spend what I call their Destination Spending Allowance (DSA), which naturally leads them to ask if they can have that leftover money when they get home. The answer to that is “no,” but the fact that my kids were perhaps inadvertently saving their money gave me an idea: If during the course of a family vacation they wait until the last day of the trip to spend their DSA, they get a small bonus to supplement that spending. If they end up not spending part of their DSA at all, they get to spend it on their next vacation, again with a bit of “interest” from me tacked on for their willingness to wait. And while you can informally hold on to their unused DSA and give them interest bonuses out of your own pocket, you can also consider putting all your kids unused DSA funds into a money market account that earns actual interest, like Capital One’s no-fee, FDIC-insured 360 Money Market account that earns 1% APY on balances over $10,000 – but realistically for the purposes of what will likely be a more modest DSA – the account will earn .6% on balances under that amount.
While on vacation institute a “earn as you burn” program.
No matter where you stay on vacation –resort, hotel, vacation rental, hotel, campsite – chores crop up that mom and dad always seem to end up doing. Well, if your kids want to get that tan (or avoid a burn) while lounging poolside or at the beach, have them do some of those chores, and earn as they burn: Pay them a “Chore Bonus” to supplement their DSA. Just think about all the time-consuming and borderline distasteful things you have to do just to keep your vacation lodging from turning into disgusting, disorganized mess… and have your kids do those things for a fee.
Have them unpack the suitcases, keep the bathroom tidy (which may include drying off surfaces in the bathroom when they get them soaking wet… imagine!) and, something so easy even the littlest of kids can do it, habitually doing a sweep of the room, picking up all the shoes and piling them in the corner so no one snaps their neck after tripping on sneakers left in the middle of the floor. And if your kids are older, you can even give them a “chore bonus” to get lost for a little while so mom and dad can have a little quiet time. You call it a bribe if you want. I call it a priceless vacation enhancement with a small price tag.
With two different funds, you can illustrate the value of only spending your winnings.
If you’ve ever gambled for real money, then you’re probably familiar with the strategy of trying only to spend your winnings, if and when you get them, and leaving your initial gambling budget intact. If you give your kids both a Destination Spending Allowance as well as extra Chore Bonus cash, you can suggest a similar strategy to them: Buy souvenirs only out of your Chore Bonus fund and avoid touching your DSA so you have more of it to spend later and potentially earn interest on it.
Have fun experimenting with these saving and spending tips – and, yes, gimmicks – when you travel.
If you have favorite strategies for teaching your kids about money, thank you for sharing in the comments below. If I get enough feedback I’ll do a follow-up post and will of course give you credit for your tips! Thanks. ~ PE