With fuel at record prices, many families are curtailing their summer travel plans. If you've got computer-savvy teenagers with time on their hands, enlist their help planning possible itineraries that fall within your budget. Discuss expenses they'll need to track such as airfares, lodging, meals, gas, taxes, attraction entrance fees, souvenirs, etc.
They can compare airline, hotel and rental car rates at websites like www.travelzoo.com, www.kayak.com and www.cheaptickets.com. To calculate gas costs, use MapQuest and Yahoo Maps to estimate mileage between destinations.
Empty closets, earn cash
If your kids continually ask for money to buy more stuff, try the 'one in, one out' rule: If they want a new toy or sweatshirt, they first must get rid of an old one. Hold a garage sale (maybe in tandem with neighbors), sell things on eBay or donate goods to charity. It's not that they'll earn anywhere near what you originally paid for these items; but they'll learn about moderation, valuing and caring for what they already own and, of course, their packrat tendencies will get nipped in the bud.
Many younger kids have no idea where their food comes from - maybe they assume carrots come out of the ground already peeled and sliced. Run your family's own mini-science project by carving out a portion of the yard or a sunny windowsill where they can plant a few vegetables and flowers.
Your local nursery can recommend seasonal, easy-to-grow varieties. Weeding and watering are tasks even small children can handle and they'll be amazed to watch fast-growing plants like watermelons or sunflowers develop. The connection they'll form with the food they'll eventually eat teaches patience, responsibility and pride in workmanship.
To market, to market
Grocery shopping with kids in tow can be a real drag unless you can make it interesting for them. Start by getting them involved in menu planning and meal preparation so they become familiar with fresh and packaged ingredients. In the produce department, show them what the fruits of their gardening labors eventually will look like and point out how much money the family can save by growing your own.
The supermarket is also a good place to learn about comparison shopping and living within a budget. Have your kids clip coupons and make it worth their while by splitting any savings they uncover.
Fun and games
Many family friendly websites provide financial education games you can play with your kids or they can safely play alone. Check out the American Library Association's list of appropriate websites at (www.ala.org/greatsites).
Also visit Visa Inc.'s free personal financial management site, Practical Money Skills for Life (www.practicalmoneyskills.com). It includes interactive games for grade-schoolers (Ed's Bank) through teenagers (Financial Football) that teach math and financial skills in challenging, fun ways. The site also features a parent's resource section that can arm you with facts and suggestions on how best to talk to your kids about money.
Just because they're out of school all summer doesn't mean your kids have to stop learning valuable life lessons.
Jason Alderman directs Visa's financial education programs. Sign up for his free monthly e-Newsletter at www.practicalmoneyskills.com/newsletter.