Living with credit, Travel

Money and credit games to play with the kids

Erica Sandberg

A family vacation can be costly. If you satisfy your children’s every wish, you’ll spend more than you intend, which can turn into excess credit card debt.

Instead of dragging everyone down with a long list of denials, how about trying these six money (and credit) games to build up your family’s awareness of costs and spending:

1. Wait! It costs what?
Before leaving home, tell the kids that you’ve allocated a certain amount of money for the trip. Cover where you’re going, what you’ll be doing, and how long you’ll be away. Then ask each to write down a figure of how much he or she thinks it will cost, from start to finish. The child closest to that number wins a prize.

This is an easy way to get your children to realize that you’re spending real cash for this vacation. They may even be shocked by the price. Disney theme park tickets cost how much?!?! Explain how you accumulated the money for the family trip, and if you’re using the cards, how you plan to pay off the bill.

2. Make your trip interesting.
While driving to your destination, explain that you want to use your credit cards wisely during the family vacation because you don’t want to come home to a bigger-than-expected bill. Hand one of the kids a tablet or smartphone and bring up the minimum payment calculator available at Have everyone shout out financial scenarios for the person holding the device and run the numbers:

  • You come home to $1,000 in debt and your credit card has a 15 percent APR. If you paid only the minimum, how much would it ultimately cost in finance charges? Would you believe $370 and it would take 4.5 years to pay off that $1,000? Tweak the payments to see how it affects finance charges and payoff dates.
  • Now calculate the interest and payoff date for $5,000 and 21 percent APR. If you pay just the minimum it would cost $6,261 and take 16 years to pay off your vacation! Higher balances and APRs should elicit gasps and an interesting conversation. After all, that could easily pay for an entirely new vacation – or two.

3. Deal masters.
Across the country, you can find major discounts on events, admission, meals and just about anything else online with sites like Groupon, says Cindy Livesey, a frugal living expert and founder of

She suggests putting the kids on a mission to locate the very best discounts while you’re on the road. The kids can identify something great to see, do or eat with the coupons and promo codes.

With this game, your children will learn to be smart consumers while also seeing what’s available regionally, such as a barbecue joint in Memphis or Cuban fare in Miami, at the lowest price possible.

4. Best budgeter.
Livesey also suggests a budgeting game that’s perfect for places like amusement parks, where kids often clamor for extraneous souvenirs and treats. “You can adapt it to the age of the child,” says Livesey.

“Little kids can have play money that parents can exchange for real when they want to buy something, but give older kids a fixed sum of real money and a clear message: Once the cash is gone there will be no more, so analyze each purchase before you make it.

“Whoever ends the day with most left over gets a cash bonus for the next day,” she says.

5. Minibar madness.
Staying at a hotel with a minibar? Instead of yelling, “Don’t touch one single thing in that fridge or else!” pick up the pricing card and let the gauging guessing games begin. The can of soda for $3, a candy bar for $4 and a jar of macadamia nuts for $8 is great for hilarity.

After the laughter dies down, head over to the nearest drugstore and buy the same items at a tiny fraction of what it would cost you from the minibar in the hotel room.

6. Delayed gratification.
Airports can be a budget killer, especially when there’s a flight delay. The kids will want to quench their thirst with a $6 bottle of water or visit the gift shop. Play this game instead: Tell them anything they don’t spend at the airport, they can have in the bank for use at your destination.

Compare the cost of an expensive sit-down meal at an airport restaurant to the price of some protein bars, bananas and refreshing water from the drinking fountain. Instead of spending in the concourse, they can save that money for a water park ticket maybe or something else they really want in your destination city.

This game teaches about smart financial choices and that it’s usually best to wait for something better.

Finally, if you grow weary of being so interactive and the kids just want to plug in and tune out, encourage them to play games like the apropos Road Trip to Savings, in which the player meets the economic challenges of a month on the road. Other options? Money Metropolis is an interactive world that teaches spending and saving techniques, and for the sports fans, consider Financial Football and Financial Soccer, which cover money and credit management in unexpected ways. They’re all free on

Happy travels!

See related: 4 wrong money messages for kids (and 4 right ones), 5 money-saving credit card tips for savvy family travelers

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