Family Experiment: Motivating Children to Save and Budget for the Family Vacation
My kids, like most kids I would venture to guess, do not really understand the idea of budgeting and saving. They will earn money doing extra chores, or get money as a birthday present, and immediately think of twenty different things they can impulsively purchase with it. Things they didn’t even know they wanted, needed, before we stepped into the store. Given the amount of Americans who are deep in credit card debt, this impulsiveness is not something that always naturally stops at adulthood. Here’s a Family Experiment we’re tackling: saving for our family summer vacation.
I love camping and really want to go with my kids because there is nothing for you to do other than enjoy each other’s company. There is always a small adjustment period when everyone is getting used to life unplugged, myself included, but then you all settle into truly relaxing. Now that I live on the face of the sun (Texas), I have not camped. 110 degrees does not make me enjoy anyone’s company. In fact it makes me want to tear the face off of anyone within a 100 yard radius. See, I know my limitations. A friend of mine has told me about a place to go camping in Colorado (probably an entire day’s drive from us) that has gorgeous river-front camping. I have made a note in my calendar for January 2014 to decide if I want to try and secure a camping spot for summer 2014. Planning ahead is usually not one of my strong points. Pre-children I would decide on a Thursday to go away for the weekend and then wake-up Friday and go. With children, and their conflicting schedules and needs, this becomes almost impossible. Just the logistics of packing with seven children is enough to make one want to curl up in a ball on the family room carpet and whimper. That can’t just be me, right?
So instead, as a family, we decided that we would like to take a three-day trip to the beach. Vacations don’t have to be expensive or lengthy. And, I really love getting away for short trips. The great thing about going somewhere like the beach, or even camping, is that the days are filled with free activities. This summer my kids have a sports competition that is taking us close to the beach at the end of July, so this made the decision of where to go and what to do even easier. Camping, you’re on our list for next year.
Saving for a short vacation is the perfect time to discuss budgeting and saving-up money with younger kids. For younger children the concept of long-term saving is lost, everything seems so far away. I want my kids to understand the idea of tolerating short-term frustrations and making small sacrifices in order to achieve long-term goals. I want them to understand what this means in real terms, not just parrot my words back to me. However, I have also found it difficult to find real world situations in which they can make and see the impact of their decisions long-term.
What things are we willing to give up as a family in order to have our vacation?
Brainstorming ideas with the kids turned out to be a great way to empower them and show them how much things really cost. Most of the things we have proposed as a family to save money are probably considered small, each one seemingly inconsequential, but the value of the exercise is showing the children how even the small things add up.
I asked one of my teenaged sons to research hotels in that area. That provided a great lesson in why the cheapest option might not be the way we want to go. He learned what hotel amenities are and why some of them are worth paying a tiny bit extra. I set him out on his own to research, decide on his top three hotel options and present them to me. He took this role very seriously and did more researching than I would ever have done.
As a family, we also discussed the fuel cost to get to the beach and back, basically $60 each way. How much it would cost to eat out, etc. My kids’ idea of awesome restaurants are chain restaurants, which usually have coupons or kids-eat-free days. And while it would not be where I would choose to eat, it is their vacation too and if that means they want to eat a gigantic brownie with a scoop of ice-cream, the size of their head for dessert, who am I to argue.
When I proposed the beach vacation idea to the kids, I let them know that as a family we would have to save some money in order to do it. The kids participate in various competitive sports that not only keep us busy, but also eats up all of our “extra” money. Yes, those are ironic quotation marks. So I asked the kids, ‘What can we cut out of our budget?’
Ask your kids this, and then be prepared to laugh. One of my kids responded with “vegetables.” Another suggested “showers,” you know to save on our water bill. That did prompt a discussion about how much energy we consume as a family and how we can use less overall. Our energy provider has graphs on their website where you can track your family’s electricity usage on a daily and even hourly basis. Seeing the spikes on the graph during certain times of the day was eye-opening for the kids.
As an experiment, we set aside one day to be mindful, really mindful, of our energy consumption. When the kids looked at the graphs the next day they saw that not only was our usage down, it had cost us $2 less than usual that day! Normally they could care less about $2 (That’s not even two iTunes songs, Mom!), but just the exercise of saving towards a fun goal had made them aware that $2 will add up to $60 in a month. Which is precisely what the cost of one tank of gas will cost to get us to the beach. This is Win-Win as I now have energy conscious zealots living in my house.
Other ways we have tried to make saving money “fun” by being creative.
Instead of going out to the movie theater we have had movie night at home. We brought a TV out to the back patio and watched movies under the stars.
I don’t know about you, but a quick run into the grocery store always ends up costing me more money than I want to spend. Now, I have told the kids I am ending that habit. If they want something to eat that we don’t have in the house, they will need to find a way to make/cook it themselves or find an alternative meal. This is also Win-Win as they are keeping those reading skills up by searching cookbooks for recipes all the while burning daylight hours.
The kids are now each required to do $30 worth of chores around the house before our vacation next month. All the extra jobs, have price tags attached to them. These are things around the house that need to get done, but are beyond the normal scope of their regular chore responsibilities… scrubbing the back patio, helping stain the fence, painting inside the house, helping to clean-out the garage. The list is long and seemingly endless, but they are things that really need to get done. The big question they all wanted to know, just what would they earn for their $30? All the ice cream and slushies they want, in return. To be clear, I am not handing out cash to them as the chores are completed, just noting that it was done. And none of my children has yet to ask what will happen if they don’t do the chores, will I force them to stand there and watch everyone else eat ice cream? Will I? The answer would be, I don’t know! I hope that I don’t have to find that out.
So far all the kids are motivated to save for next month’s beach trip. I am typing this in the dark because one of the children came by and turned off the lights in the room.