Millions of families are finding it difficult to take a family vacation these days, as we all continue to look for ways to cut back on unnecessary expenses. The good news is that there are fantastic family travel deals at every turn, and this year's fall break or winter vacation could very easily cost you less than what you would have paid last year.
If the shaky economy has made you more reluctant to finance a vacation solely on credit, you're not alone.
"We're going through a national mood change, where too many people were cavalier about tackling debt and we're all waking up at once," says Daniel Ray, editor-in-chief of CreditCards.com, the Web's largest credit card comparison site.
Admittedly, the least fun part of planning a vacation is figuring out how you're going to pay for it. But coming up with a plan and then sticking to it is very empowering, say financial experts, and parents should look for ways to involve the entire family.
"Vacation planning is full of opportunities to teach kids valuable personal finance skills," says Janet Bodnar, who writes the "Money Smart Kids" column at Kiplinger's magazine and is the author of "Raising Money Smart Kids." "The most important thing kids need to learn about managing money is how to make choices, which comes up all the time in planning a family vacation," she says.
Here are 10 smart moves to help you finance your vacation and boost your family's money IQ:
Work Toward a Common Goal: Turning your vacation fund into a family project is a great way to teach kids how to save. "It's very hard for anyone, even adults, to save for a rainy day because that goal is so abstract," says Bodnar. "It's so much easier when you're saving for something tangible like a vacation." Think about simple ways to save here and there to meet your goal. Get in the habit of collecting your loose change in a vacation jar -- better yet, let the kids decorate it themselves. Organize a family garage sale.
Encourage your children to let you sell their unwanted toys on eBay or Craig's List. As you track your progress, says Bodnar, "keep pointing out all those valuable life lessons. Small amounts really do add up over time. Having patience really can pay off." If kids are old enough to understand how credit works, reiterate that every dollar saved before your trip means a dollar less that you'll have to repay later.
Another great reason to enlist your kids' help in saving up for a vacation is that they will probably enjoy the trip even more.
"There's definitely a link between how much effort and sacrifice goes into something and our appreciation for it," says Bodnar, "so it's an excellent idea to find a way for kids to have some skin in the game."
Look for Teachable Moments: Why are we driving a few hours to a lake resort instead of flying to the Caribbean? Why this hotel and not that one? How are we going to pay for this?
"It's very important that kids get to see their parents' decision-making process in action, though you always want to keep the discussion age-appropriate," Bodnar says. When children are young, there's no need to get into specific numbers. But as kids get older -- and certainly by the time they hit their teens -- Bodnar recommends bringing actual costs into the conversation.