This is the third in a 3-part series to help you teach your kids money skills as you travel. Today, we’ll focus on your adolescent, between the ages of 14 and 18, who will soon reach adulthood. From 14 to 18, as your child makes increasingly independent financial decisions, they’ll understand their relationship with money. And, their financial confidence will grow.

Travel opportunities are the perfect time to give your adolescent complete independence so they can practice these skills in a safe environment. For children between the ages of 5 and 8, check out our blog on money lessons for your young child. For tips on reinforcing financial skills with your preadolescent, check out our blog on money and tweens.

Let’s dive in.

First thing’s first

When you teach your teen kids money skills while traveling, remember:

Memories are Most Important. As emphasized in our previous blogs, enjoying travel time and creating memories is top priority. This is most true during the adolescent years. In a few, short years, your child will enter the adult world, so embrace this time to strengthen your relationship and make lasting memories.

Kids learn by doing. Especially at this stage, it’s important that your child make increasingly independent decisions so they can learn from the natural outcomes of their decisions. When your child is younger, you have to provide these situations. But now, these situations present themselves. Unless there will be a life-altering consequence, don’t “rescue” them from what you think is a poor decision. They’ll gain much more from succeeding or failing (and recovering) on their own terms.

Money skills involve more than dollars and cents. Your adolescent child is developing skills directly needed to step out into the world on their own. Financial security plays an essential role in a successful transition. This success isn’t as much about the mechanics of money as it is about the knowledge they gain of who they are. A developed and confident sense of self supports the ability to make sound personal financial decisions.

Know Your Adolescent

Your teen has grown and changed over the years. As you add ways to teach your kids money skills through travel, here are some tips on how they learn at this stage.

Your adolescent increasingly embraces independent thinking. From age 14 through 18, your child’s personality and thought process become more complex and sophisticated. At the beginning of this stage, they’re exploring who they are and asserting their individuality. By the time they reach young adulthood, this exploration has hopefully resulted in a strong sense of self. Provide an emotionally safe environment in which they can experiment with money (and other) decisions.

And yet, they conform to their peer group. They want to belong and be accepted. This actually isn’t contrary to their desire for independence. If they have a strong sense of themselves, as discussed above, they’re more likely to connect with peer groups that support who they are as well.

They increasingly engage in future thinking. Your young child was very focused in the present. Over the years, they are able to think more about the future. Towards the end of high school, in particular, your child has a deeper ability to think about and plan for the future. If they have a job and are earning income, they’ll first consider today’s financial decisions. Over time, they’ll begin to realize and think about how income can serve them in the future.

By the time your child reaches their teenage years, there’s really no difference between best practices while on vacation and everyday life. In general, provide opportunities for them to interact with money the way an adult would, making increasingly independent decisions. Let’s look at how these skills might fit into family vacations.

Putting it Together–Teach Kids Money Skills at Each Travel Step

Planning the Trip

Involve your teenager in vacation planning from the beginning. Ask them where they’d like to go and have them research the cost of travel. Show them how to use websites to determine airfare, cost of accommodations and transportation. They can develop a suggested itinerary taking into account all family members’ interests. If you have multiple teenagers, they can collaborate and/or present their plans to the family for a final group decision.

If you’ve already decided on a destination, ask your kids to help you budget the costs. Talk through the tradeoffs as you make each decision. For example, flying on a Thursday might be less expensive, but might decrease your vacation time.

Preparing for the Trip

Your teenager is probably ready to think through their own packing list. With a travel itinerary and access to a weather app, they can decide what they need and pack their own bags. Definitely talk with them about any special items they would need, especially if it’s an international trip. If additional items need to be purchased, they can research these item for cost and features. If you’re paying for the item, make the purchase decision together. If they’re paying for the item, let them make the purchase decision unless something will go awry.

Financial Decision While Traveling

Ideally, your teenager is already making their own money decisions, especially if they are in the upper teenage years. If not, then these short spurts of time away from home provide an opportunity to give them financial autonomy. To structure their experience:

  1. Give them their full spending allowance before the trip. If they use a debit card, put the money directly into their checking account so they can budget the travel money with funds they have. Advance notice allows them to plan their spending.
  2. Discuss ahead of time what expenses they’ll be responsible for and what you’ll cover. From time to time, my daughter invited a friend on a family trip. When they did activities on their own, they were responsible for their own costs, but I covered group activities. Explaining this ahead of time allowed her to budget her vacation money.
  3. Allow your child to make his or her decisions. You might not agree with spending $75 on a sweatshirt, but maybe it’s worth it to them, and they’ll naturally learn about the tradeoffs. What happens when they spend all of their money mid-vacation and beg you for more? Remind them that you provided them with what was in your budget, and you don’t have additional funds to give. They’ll alter their plans for the rest of the vacation, and perhaps learn to budget differently the next time.

Traveling provides a valuable opportunity to teach your children planning, organization, and money management skills–all of which prepare them for successful financial futures. Through the adolescent years, give them increased control over their spending both on vacations and in general. Ideally, when they’re ready to leave home, they’ll step into the world with confidence in their ability to make financial decisions.