That time of year for making s’mores around a campfire, riding adrenaline-pumping roller coasters and … bonding with the kids over a money talk?
O.K., so maybe that last scenario isn’t as traditional as fireworks on the Fourth of July.
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But just because school is out of session doesn't mean that teachable moments also have to go on hiatus.
In fact, summertime offers up plenty of great opportunities to instill positive financial habits, which is why we asked money pros to share their top tips for using summer fun to teach financial lessons to kids of all ages.
3 Teachable Moments Tied to Summer Camp
If you have grade-schoolers ... Give an overview of the price and offerings of different camps within your budget—then encourage your kid to help you decide which one will offer the best bang for your camp buck.
When Julie Johnson, a financial adviser and vice president of Beacon Pointe Advisers in Southern California, issued this challenge to her 9-year-old son, he opted for computer camp over Lego camp.
“He said, ‘I’d rather do computer camp because it will give me the skills to help me upload my own YouTube videos,’" Johnson says. "He can learn to build Legos on his own time.”
If you have middle-schoolers ... Transportation to and from camp can add up, which is why Phil Buchanan, a CFP and president of Atlanta-based Argent Financial Group, suggests encouraging your middle-schooler to come up with a budget-friendly strategy together.
For example, does it make more sense for your son to attend a day camp, or for the whole family to take a fun road trip to a faraway sleep-away camp? Could he carpool with another kid? And if the camp is nearby, how does public transportation stack up to walking or biking?
If you have teenagers ... When it comes to teens, Anthony Criscuolo, a CFP with Palisades Hudson Financial Group in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., likens sleep-away camp to “a microcosm for the college experience.”
“A lot of the time, there’s tuition—plus extra things, like nights out," he explains. "So give your kids a weekly allowance or budget, and explain that they can’t do everything. They'll need to pick and choose what they want—and once it’s out, they don’t get more.”
3 Teachable Moments Tied to Day Trips
If you have grade-schoolers ... Take advantage of free activities throughout the summer—like local concerts in the park and kid-centric events at museums—and invite your child to help keep costs even lower by packing her favorite snacks to enjoy throughout the day.
As you’re prepping the food, talk about how much money you’re both saving—and what you can use those funds for instead, such as a special mother-daughter outing to the zoo.
Buchanan adds that you can also issue an added challenge by giving kids the option to spend on day trips or save their weekly allowance—with the caveat that you'll match any savings at the end of the summer.
Children prone to spending might learn a valuable lesson, especially if they have more frugal siblings. “My older daughter isn't quite as [money] savvy as my younger daughter, who has already figured out that if you save all your money and bring candy with you [to the movies], it pays off.”
If you have middle-schoolers ... Set a summer travel budget, and ask your children to make the case for taking one big vacation or several day trips, factoring in expenses like transportation and fuel prices.
“Compare the costs," Criscuolo says. "Ask your child: How much would the water park cost? What about the museum? And how much would a road trip cost?”
Another idea? Encourage your middle-schooler to participate in an out-of-town charity event. Johnson helped her son raise money for their local Relay for Life—and he learned valuable lessons about managing cash flow in the process.
“Our very first fund-raiser, we were in the red, because we spent more on baking supplies than we took in,” Johnson explains. “Since we didn’t have money [to donate], we had to think of something else, so we could make more money. Now he’s selling drawings, so he’s learning what it costs for the paper and his time versus what he’s asking for a donation."
“I’ll pay for them to get in, all the rides and food. But if they want to play a game to win a stuffed animal, that has to come from their savings.”
If you have teenagers ... O.K., this one isn't exactly a conventional day trip, but see if your employer will let your kid shadow you for a day at work.
While you're in the office together, Criscuolo says you can take the opportunity to explain everything about your work environment down to the smallest detail, including projects you're currently working on—and what's expected of you. “Teaching [teenagers] about work is a great experience that too many people miss,” he says.
3 Teachable Moments Tied to Theme Parks
If you have grade-schoolers ... Encouraging children to save for a special experience teaches the benefits of delayed gratification from an early age—a strategy Johnson uses with her own kids at the amusement park.
“I’ll pay for them to get in, all the rides and food," she says. "But if they want to play a game to win a stuffed animal, that has to come from their savings.”
If you have middle-schoolers ...Theme parks often give you the option to purchase basic admission, or bundle in add-ons and repeat visits.
So present the pros and cons of, say, a $50 fast pass or a multiday admission package, and ask your child to weigh which upgrades, if any, are right for your family.
If you have teenagers ... Many theme parks post restaurant menus with prices online, so ask your teen to help scavenge the best dining options within the family’s budget ahead of time. You can sweeten the deal by designating any leftover money from the dining budget for souvenirs or bonus rides.
And speaking of leftover funds, encourage your teen to write down everything he's spent his own money on throughout the summer. Once fall arrives, discuss where the money went—and ask if he would do anything differently.
“As adults, that’s exactly what we don’t do enough of—writing down and tracking our expenses,” Johnson says. “If you don't start early, it doesn’t stick as an adult.”
LearnVest Planning Services is a registered investment adviser and subsidiary of LearnVest, Inc. that provides financial plans for its clients. Information shown is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended as investment, legal or tax planning advice. Please consult a financial adviser, attorney or tax specialist for advice specific to your financial situation. Unless specifically identified as such, the individuals interviewed in this piece are neither clients, employees nor affiliates of LearnVest Planning Services and the views expressed are their own. LearnVest Planning Services and any third-parties listed, linked-to, discussed, identified or otherwise appearing herein are separate and unaffiliated and are not responsible for each other’s products, services or policies.