Managing Kids’ Money on Vacation

So you’re an awesome parent, you’ve saved up enough money to take the family on vacation, and your kids have saveManagingMoneyVacationd up money of their own as well.  How will you manage the kids’ money on vacation?

There’s something really enjoyable about watching a kid browse through a gift store, and buy something he wants with his own hard-earned money.  There’s also something heart-breaking in learning that your child left his wallet in that store last night, with forty dollars in it.

We don’t want them to carry around fifty or a hundred dollars, and we really don’t want to carry it for them either.  On the other hand, they don’t have their own credit cards (well, they didn’t) so they couldn’t just take plastic.  I’ll be honest, we’ve tried a lot of things to help manage our kids’ money on vacation, each with its upside and downside:

  • We’ve purchased Disney gift cards for a trip to Disney World
  • We’ve brought envelopes full of cash, one for each kid
  • We’ve brought along a notebook, and just noted what each kid is spending
  • We’ve put the money into their savings accounts, and brought along their ATM cards
  • When the kids went unaccompanied down to Arizona, we sent them with a check; Grandpa cashed it for them, and gave them the cash

None of these were ideal, but having gone through it all, here’s what I would recommend:

For younger kids, keep the cash they have on hand to a minimum – if any at all.  It might work just fine to put their savings into an envelope, and then keep track of what they’re spending as you go.  It is very handy, however, to take money out of the envelope back at the hotel, so they can see each morning how much money is left.  Younger kids tend to be very visual with their money.

For pre-teens, encourage them to keep some money on them, but not their whole stash.  You could keep an envelope of cash on hand for each in the safety of the room, or you could keep track on paper of how much each kid has left.  You may be inclined to just put the whole balance on a gift card and dole it out at the start – but there’s still a very real risk that the kid will lose it somewhere, or worse — will spend it all in one place.  Having $20 or $40 on hand is enough to do big things, but not enough to buy her way into serious trouble.

Finally, for older teens, encourage them to manage their own money.  Bring along some ready cash, and put the rest in a checking account, a Visa Buxx account, or a Visa Gift Card.  Have them keep track of spending day by day to know where they are on their budget, and how much remains.

What have you used to help you manage your kids’ money on vacation?

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