There are lot of great books and articles about teaching kids to manage money. Like most parents, my husband and I are always looking for everyday ways to let our kids apply what we learned in the books and articles. A couple of summers ago, we stumbled upon a great money management learning experience for our kids.
It was nearing the end of summer and our family was looking at our summer list. You know, the one you create when school gets out - with all the fun things you want to do that summer. As usual, our list was longer than our summer!
Looking at the list, they said, "We never went down to the Cape this summer!"But there was a problem one that my husband and I were not sure whether we wanted to share with our 9 & 10 year olds: we had already gone over our summer recreation budget. We decided it was not a bad thing for them to hear that we'd love to go, but the funds didn't allow. Well, when we told the kids they were disappointed but then my daughter said, I have an idea! We have that huge jar of change down by the dryer “why don't we use that to go to the Cape?!" My first reaction was: Ah kids, they are so innocent! Then I thought, why not? And so our unique Cape adventure was born.
First, we went to the change machine at the local supermarket. To our surprise, our laundry change had added up 205 dollars! Sounds like a decent amount of money but the kids even knew that this was not enough for a hotel and meals for a weekend. Lucky for us we camp! We told the kids that we would foot the bill for the campground for the two nights but that we were going to hand the money over to them and they were going to determine how to spend the money for everything else. Next, we introduced the concept of "want versus need." Now we have had this conversation with our kids before. But trust me when I tell you, that explaining this to them when it's our dime, as opposed to their money that they need to stretch for an entire weekend-- is an entirely different animal! Also, we were able to explain that your wants versus needs are constantly shifting… when you're on vacation you may put a fun activity as a need, whereas on a daily basis this isn't the case.
The second good lesson in money handling came before we left: estimating. How much do you think it will cost us to eat meals out… to play mini golf… to take a bike ride? After they did the rough estimation, they realized that we probably weren't going to have enough money to eat all our meals out and go mini golfing, as they originally planned. Then an amazing thing happened: they said they wanted to use food we had in the house so they'd have enough money to do some fun stuff down the cape or buy an ice cream if they wanted to. Choose pb & j over the clam shack? Yep. When Mom and Dad aren't paying, at least!
Our Cape weekend was a lot of fun for everyone. We did a lot of things that didn't cost a penny; beach, bicycling, kite flying. I have to admit that it was really nice for my husband and I not to be the NO people when it came to spending money. On the second day, after we had spent most of the day bicycling, the water in our water bottles was getting low and warm. We were passing a little store and the kids asked if we could get a cold drink. We said, "it's up to you. Is that how you want to spend the money?" Well, they went in the store and came out empty handed. "Did you know that the drinks we like cost 3 dollars a bottle? We want to save that money so we can get ice cream later." Ahhh, now we were getting somewhere!
All in all, it was a great experience. Our kids did a great job keeping track of and handling the money. But most importantly they learned you don't have to spend a lot of money to have fun. They also learned that when it comes to your money, you have to make a lot of choices. Not always easy and fun ones. But in the end, they thought through what was important to them, made decisions that served the whole family (not just an individual) and they felt good about those choices. Overall, a good lesson for life.