MintFamily with Beth Kobliner: 5 Money Lessons Kids Learn from Going on Vacation

Airplane landing

If you’re lucky enough to whisk the family away on vacation this summer, your kids will surely learn a thing or two while you’re cruising down the road. Valuable money lessons are around every bend!

Vacations are a great time to talk about saving for a goal or budgeting for a memento to bring back home. You just have to recognize the opportunities.

Here are five financial “souvenirs” your kids may take home gratis:

No Allocation ‘til Vacation  

Unless it’s a surprise trip that you simply must keep a secret, let your kids be part of the trip-planning process. In the months leading up the trip, discuss some ways you can save up as a family (maybe cooking at home instead of ordering in or going out).

And give your kids a heads-up: the last few months before it’s “Bon voyage!” are no-spending months. Period! It’s better to wait for the trip. After all, traveling costs money (and so do all the souvenirs they’re bound to want).

Choose Your Own Adventures

Whether driving to Disney, flying to France, or camping at your local lake, you have endless opportunities to teach your kids how to weigh the costs.

For example, at breakfast you can spend $10/person at the buffet, or buy cereal and milk for $10 total and feed your family for a week. At the museum, you can take a guided tour for $20/person, do the audio tour for $10/person, or use the guide book that you already bought for $10 total.

Explain your decisions to the kids: you’re doing breakfast on the cheap so you can afford the guided tour, which will be far more memorable than scrambled eggs!

Know When It’s a Real Deal

A friend’s daughter loves vintage clothes, but can’t afford them at home in New York City. Turns out they’re cheaper in Paris! (Who would’ve guessed?) Her French lesson: if you shop around, you can get more bang for your buck, er, euro.

Speaking of euros, be sure your kid calculates the dollar-to-euro exchange rate when shopping for souvenirs. Let her see how much she’s really spending, and help her learn how the foreign purchase matches up to prices back home.

Take the Ten Bucks Test

You may want to give kids the reins on this one and see how they do. Give them 10 bucks for a day to spend on souvenirs. What will they buy: a funny T-shirt, a photo with a parrot on their shoulder, a local treat, or a plastic monkey that breaks by the time you get back to the hotel?

Remind them: once the money’s gone, they have to spend their own cash. You’ll be amazed at what cautious shoppers they become! This test will teach them not only about budgeting but also about figuring out what’s more important to them, which is a lifelong financial lesson.

The Going Is the Real Gift

This year, only 65 percent of employees are taking their well-earned vacation (down from 80 percent pre-recession) with one in five workers saying they can’t afford to go away, Career Builder reports.

Without laying on a guilt trip, make sure your kids know that vacations are a privilege. Not everyone can afford to take one. And those who are fortunate enough to travel are often provided with glimpses into lives unlike their own, including introductions to new cultures and experiences—even if they’re only 100 miles from home.

One friend found that while on vacation this summer, her teenage kids were reminded of friends back home who can’t afford to travel and of the sacrifices the family made to be able to take this vacation. They became extra appreciative of the experience. She joked that she’s never heard so many thank-yous!

What money lessons did your kid learn on vacation? 

© 2012 Beth Kobliner, All Rights Reserved

Beth Kobliner is a personal finance commentator and journalist, the author of the New York Times bestseller “Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties,” and a member of the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability. Visit her at, follow her on Twitter, and like her on Facebook.