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How we financed a family vacation and taught our kids the value of saving
Visualizing our financial goal helped motivate our children to save for our family vacation. This sheet was mounted on our fridge during our six weeks of saving. - photo by Elizabeth Reid
After pricing airfare for a family of five, my husband and I decided driving would be the cheapest option for our April 2014 vacation. Theme parks were out of our price range and we thought spring was too cold for the beach. So we decided Denver, Colorado, was the place we would visit.

After some intense internet searching, we realized there were many things in Denver our children (ages two through eight) would enjoy. Now all we needed to do was come up with the funds for our trip.

We had some money set aside for a vacation, but we needed more. This is where we got our kids involved.

One night, about six weeks before our trip, we sat down with our children and talked to them about where we wanted to take them and what we would do there. While our two-year-old didnt understand what was going on, the older ones were ecstatic. They instantly volunteered to empty their piggy banks to help finance the trip.

We thanked them for their generosity and then explained we hoped for their financial help in another way. We wanted them to help us save money. We explained that while most of our income was fixed, there were many expenses that were not obligatory and asked them to help us save in those areas. We then brain-stormed together over how our family could save money; everything from turning off excess lights to not eating out was presented, and our kids were on board with the plan.

Thus began six weeks of intense saving; our goal was to save $400. Yes, the trip would be more expensive than that, but we wanted our young children to start with a goal we felt would be successful. As they get older, this goal will likely increase.

We printed off a sheet of paper with $10 incremental squares to help our kids visualize what needed to be saved. At first, when they saw the sheet posted on the fridge, they were overwhelmed. But as each square was gradually colored in, they caught the saving-spirit.

Grocery shopping

We saved a good portion of our $400 goal by cutting out non-essentials during grocery shopping. Instead giving in to snack food impulse buys, we strictly stuck to purchasing only what we needed.

Every time a child asked if we could buy chips, cookies or a treat, we only had to remind them of our goal. Then, as we walked the aisles and explained what we werent buying, we also kept a tally of how much each wished-for item cost. Upon returning home we colored in the applicable squares and congratulated ourselves over the savings.

Eating out

Its tempting to give in to a fast food run when days have been hectic. But during those thrifty six weeks, every time we thought about eating out, one of our kids would remind the family how much we could save if we took a few extra minutes and prepared our food at home.

While the first few skipped visits to the local fast food establishment had our children missing their Happy Meal prizes, our home-made dinners found us talking about all the places we planned on visiting in Denver. The kids quickly caught on to the idea that a trip was way cooler than a plastic toy.

Other savings

Actions like putting clean clothing back in drawers, instead of tossing them into the hamper, and saving on excess wash water helped save money. Turning off the lights in empty rooms and closing outside doors to conserve energy also had parts in our saving goal.

Saving in moderation

My birthday was a few weeks before our planned vacation. At this point, our six-year-old son was so savings-conscious that he suggested skipping any kind of birthday celebration and saving the money. Fortunately, my husband explained that while his intentions were good, celebrating birthdays was still a vital part of our family traditions and that splurging for that once-a-year occasion was OK. My son quickly saw the wisdom of this counsel and didnt begrudge me either my presents or cake.

A great learning experience

By the end of the six weeks our family had successfully saved $400. Our trip to Denver was a success and I believe our children enjoyed it more because they helped save for it. Several times, as we explored the Butterfly Pavilion or walked among dinosaur fossils, our kids exclaimed their delight over the adventures they were having.

While we made some great memories, we hopefully also started our children on a road to financial security. They learned that while saving for a goal can take sacrifice, it can also reap great rewards.