All this talk of ice cream brings us to our third area – frills. If you have your plan for a budgeted family road trip in place and your food lined out, frills might attack your budget in the form of souvenirs or the new DVD purchase in a truck stop display that grabs your attention or some other activity or diversion for passing long miles.
One year, my husband’s company closed up, and he was the last manager to leave. He was given a nice severance package for staying until the end. Rather than getting a new job immediately, we started discussing if we wanted to live where we were living or live in a different place. We did not respond in the typical manner to being unemployed, but rather decided to take a 3 month road trip. We visited family and friends, many national parks, and spent time together, also allowing my husband time to recover from the stressful plant closure and decide what he really wanted to do. In light of being unemployed, our kids got the message clearly that we would not be purchasing any souvenirs except one Christmas ornament per child…so to choose wisely and to not ask for anything as we visited many sites in about 30 states. (We did spring for a couple education items from a national park gift shop that were science oriented, but those were bonus and it was home educator Mom and Dad who couldn’t resist. The kids were rewarded for just looking and not begging).
Here are some of my favorite tips for managing the expense of impulse purchases on a road trip.
Fuzzy memories – My kids love, even the teens, the fuzzy pictures that you color in with markers. They lure them on every trip. So, rather than giving in to the impulse, I plan ahead. I purchase some unique boredom busters AHEAD of the trip at a more economical option, such as a dollar type store. I have even dug out long forgotten items from our own closets or shelves.
Passing the time – I have also learned that, if I give my children a tote of their diversions at the start of the trip, they will burn through them quickly. Instead, I pack a “Mom” bag. It has my sanity ammunition in it (known to them as “surprises for the stops” when we are well behaved). This way, after a successful stop, I can reward them with a treat from Mom’s surprise bag. It might be a fuzzy poster and markers, a book, a car game, a mini etch-a-sketch, maybe a new music or read-a-loud CD or movie (if you have a player).
New things to view – Consider selecting books on tape and DVDs from the library before you go, and also from friends (summer swap) to have fresh viewing material without any cost. Another option is Red Box DVDs. They are economical and you can trade them in along the route easily, as Red Box can be found many, many places.
Teaching tool – We have used the temptation of souvenirs to teach our children budgeting. Consider giving your children their “allowance” of cash before you leave. Tell them, “This is what Daddy and Mommy have decided to give you toward treats and souvenirs for this trip. YOU get to decide what you want to spend your money on rather than asking us. If you spend it all on candy at the first stop, then you will not have money for something more fun at one of the neat places we will be visiting.” If this is appropriate in your family, also consider giving them a way to earn extra money before the trip through special chores, working for a neighbor, or some other fundraising efforts.