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Set financial game plan before trip

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Question - We're going to be taking our two children, ages 10 and 7, on a long car trip to Disney World. We've saved to cover the cost of the hotel and meals, but we're afraid we're going to overspend on souvenirs and treats to keep the kids happy along the way, not to mention when we get there.

Any tips on how to avoid busting the budget on junk?Answer - First, let Dr. T put in a good word for long car trips. Although parents dread the sound of backseat squabbling and the "Are we there yet?" chorus, it seems that children actually like family vacations.

In a survey of 300 children ages 7 to 12, the advertising firm of Saatchi & Saatchi asked the kids about their worst vacation experience. Most agreed with the response of one 9-year-old: "I don't think there could be a vacation I wouldn't like."

Children enjoy being with family - "Your parents seem nicer and less likely to punish you" - says one 8-year-old. And kids appreciate having a say in planning the trip: "Mom is cool - she always asks us where to go."

Take advantage of this good feeling to deal with money matters before they become a source of friction on the trip:

- Lay out your game plan. Tell the kids what you're willing to buy in the way of souvenirs - maybe one T-shirt for each of them or postcards from each stop. They'll have to use their own money for anything else.

- Plan to collect souvenirs that are relatively inexpensive and easy to find yet will still bring back pleasant memories of the trip after it's over. Key chains, pins or snow domes come to mind.

- Give the kids their regular allowance ahead of time (something that's easy to forget in the rush of preparations). That way they'll have pocket money and won't have to bug you. To avoid wasting (or losing) money, they should bring only as much as seems reasonable to spend.

- Buy off your kids with this "fine" solution to backseat rowdiness: Give each child a roll of coins at the start of the trip. Each time one of the children gets out of hand, collect a coin. (Use the accumulated kitty to buy an occasional family treat.)

You can't always buy peace among siblings. The Saatchi & Saatchi survey showed that as kids get older they appreciate companions their own age, so you may want to bring along a friend as a buffer if that's feasible.