For all you parents of young kids out there, this blog post is for you. And if you aren’t a parent, it may be for you too - because we all have those moments where instant gratification calls us in the gift shop.
Here in the Seattle area we have some great places to take kids - and when it’s rainy, we have places like the Museum of Flight just south of Seattle right next to Boeing Field. The Museum is a great place to simply walk and look at really cool planes and other exhibits - and when it’s raining, it’s great because you can stay inside and spend a few hours roaming with the little munchkins. I’ve been a regular visitor to the Museum over the last 6 years - we started going there frequently shortly after my oldest son was born.
Why talk about kids and a museum in a blog post on a personal finance website? There are a couple of good reasons - one is about finding ways to create regular ongoing family fun at a reasonable cost, and the second is to strategize about minimizing expenditures in the gift shop near the exit when you visit.
Most families with young kids don’t have unlimited budgets. Family entertainment dollars can’t cover every whim - rather they need to be focused on a few things that are enjoyable to the family. If you visit the zoo, the local children’s museum, the aquarium, or places like the Museum of Flight on any regular basis, you can quickly run up some pretty significant expenses just to pay for admission.
So what is a parent to do? You want your kids to have a chance to see all the cool places in your local community - but you don’t want to spend two arms and four legs to make it happen.
Here are a few ideas to consider:
- If there is one or two places that you really enjoy taking your children, and you go on a regular basis, consider buying an annual membership. In many cases, you only have to go a few times a year for the cost of the annual membership to net you a better deal than paying the daily admission rate. Cost it out, and if you do buy the annual membership, make sure to get your full value out of it. It will be a short term hit to your cash flow, but if you use it often, you will save over the course of the year.
- In many communities, museums or other attractions offer periodic discounts, or even free days for families. Find out when these days are, and get them on the calendar.
- Don’t forget about your local parks - many are free. If your local or state (or favorite national park of forest) charge entrance fees, explore whether it is cost effective to buy an annual pass. If you go often, the annual pass may be very cost effective for you. And for federal and state parks that charge an entrance fee, keep an eye out for those days when they are free.
Trevi Tip: If you visit a place frequently, it may be beneficial to cost out an annual membership rather than keep paying the single day admission rates for your family. If the annual membership is cheaper, and your cash flow can handle it, take advantage of it.
And now that gift shop. Without fail, many attractions have a gift shop right near the exit. It’s very convenient for people to buy things on the way out. But as a parent… oh, it can be so frustrating. Your tired child, after a day of exploring and playing, sees that “shiny” new object in the window of the gift store and they want it. You hear the words “I want that....” and your initial reaction is “no.” Your then find yourself confronting a core meltdown - in the most public of places.
Oh the joys of parenting… you know your child doesn’t need that thing in the gift store… and “no” is the right answer. But they want it.. The pressure is now on you as a parent on what to do, and short of buying it, there is nothing you really can do to appease them. You are stuck dealing with the meltdown.
We visit the Museum of Flight often and we have dealt with the gift store meltdown on many occasions. It’s not a fun thing as a parent. You’d love to buy them that thing they want from the gift shop, but it’s not in the budget. They can’t have everything they want. They really don’t need everything either. They have plenty of toys, and plenty of stuff filling their drawers at home. It’s taken us a while to figure this out as parents - but we have fewer meltdowns now than we have before.
Before we go someplace, we have a conversation with our boys and tell them that either we aren’t going to buy them anything, or, on days where we are willing to, we set a little budget and talk to them about it. And during the course of the conversation, we seek to get their buy-in - essentially looking to them to agree to the rules we are setting down for the day.
Since we’ve implemented this strategy, we’ve had fewer meltdowns and challenging experiences. It’s made life a little better - and it makes those trips to the enjoyable local attractions that much more fun for everyone.
As a parent, it’s always helpful to set those boundaries and parameters up front and have a conversation with your children before hand - get their agreement and “buy-in” to the rules. And then remind them of that agreement.
Trevi Tip: Set boundaries and parameters with your kids when it comes to buying something in the gift store. And don’t be afraid to set the tone up front that you aren’t going to buy anything in a gift store on your visit. And whatever you set out up front with your kids, make sure you stick to the rules. They will call you out on inconsistencies.
Your budget will thank you. And it teaches your children an important lesson - that your budget is not bottomless. Having money conversations with kids starting at a young age is important. They start developing habits around money, and spending, based on what they see - and if you teach them good control over budgeting, savings, and spending, they will benefit throughout their lives from that.