Where’s the Off Button?

You know how the “Help Desk” sometimes suggests you turn your computer or smartphone off and then on when it won’t work exactly as you’d like? A running joke made by Jacqueline’s mother-in-law is to ask the question of highly energized kids “Where’s the off button?” The annual break from school that begins for Ontario families next week brought the question to mind, because at Gifting Sense we see a mid-year break from school, unattached to holidays, as both the ideal occasion to be together as a family, and the ideal occasion to give your kids some perfectly sized lessons about the value of a dollar. Why? Because for many families, “Spring Break” is a period of time when the trade-off between paying for things versus experiences, or vice versa, is front and center.

Parents are their children’s “Help Desk”. Spring Break is a great time to press your family’s reset button in more ways than one.

This vacation, see if you can’t “reset” the habit of doing all the food shopping and meal and activity planning yourself, and then being dismayed when your kids just don’t seem to understand their total cost and true value. Coming at the end of the longest uninterrupted period of classes and bad weather, Spring Break offers staycation and far-flung-travellers alike all sorts of opportunities to discuss the total cost of various experiences, and how they stack up against the cost of everyday living. Here are just some of those opportunities:

  1. Want to see a movie? Show your kids how buying two adult and three youth tickets, in addition to public transit or parking, and snacks at the theatre can easily cost 10 times (yes ten times) the price of an on-demand video rental at home. Some movies demand the big-screen experience, but others can be just as enjoyable in the comfort of your own family room. Give your kids a movie budget for the week and the freedom to spend it as they see fit. You’ll be amazed at how carefully they spend “their money”.
  2. Going to a museum, aquarium or theme park? Show your kids how the collective cost of admission, safe transportation to and from the venue, snacks and even small souvenirs for the whole family can easily add up to the price of that new printer they’ve been after you to buy. Explain that this is why you’d like each of your kids to choose one outing that would mean the most to them. Make a 2-minute-presentation to the family about what they enjoyed most the “price” of having been allowed to go. Encourage your kids to source admission coupons or consider Provincial or State Parks which are often free to enter and offer fantastic hiking and picnic locations.
  3. Going away on vacation? Are you staying in a hotel where all your meals have to be eaten out, or in a condominium where some can be made “at home”? Let the kids participate in grocery shopping to stock up the condo kitchen. Discuss how this week’s grocery bill compares to the grocery bills at home. Divide it by the number of meals you’ll be having in the condo and compare that “cost-per-meal” to restaurant meals. Did they find some restaurant meals disappointing and not worth the money? Did they really enjoy some condo meals, such as seafood you wouldn’t normally cook at home on a Tuesday night? Talk about how the seafood was pricey, but delicious, and still more affordable in the condo than it would have been in a restaurant.
  4. Let them calculate the tip when you are paying the bill at a restaurant– it’s an easy way for them to see in black and white that eating out costs more, and as such should be considered a special event.

Use the fact that vacation groceries aren’t being purchased late at night, or on the way home from work, to teach your kids about the trade-off between eating in and eating out.

Gift Surveys are the free safe tools we developed to help parents teach their kids to think before they buy, even something like a vacation. Because they are completely mobile, your family can even use them en route to wherever you are going, be it the local Cineplex, to visit out-of-town relatives, or a tropical island. Click on the pink or green buttons below to learn how they work and give your kids one of the best gifts ever, a personal spending “off button”. Who knows, they might even thank you in the future by bringing the grandparents along when they are Spring Break parents themselves!


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