NerdWallet: Summer Spending Report 2018

Family Vacations Can Mean Big Costs and Little Lies

Americans are planning to charge an average of $1,019 on their credit cards for family travel this summer. As they look at paying about $471 per child for activities, some will tell a fib for a better rate, our survey found.

By Erin El Issa
April 10, 2018


Summer is just around the corner, and for many families this means beach vacations, trips to amusement parks and day camp for the kids. These activities can be fun ways to enjoy the warmer days, but often they’re not cheap, and parents may charge the costs to their credit card, according to a new NerdWallet survey.

In an effort to learn how much Americans are planning to spend on summer activities, NerdWallet commissioned an online survey conducted in March by Harris Poll. We asked 1,194 American parents how much of their summer fun they’ll put on a credit card this year and whether they lie about age to get discounts on their kids’ activities.

Key findings

  • Parents are willing to lie to save money. About 1 in 3 American parents (31%) admitted to lying about their child’s age to save money on purchases, including for movie tickets, amusement parks, restaurant meals and more, the survey found.
  • Families may be taking on debt for summer travel. Over 4 in 5 parents of children younger than 18 (81%) say they’ll be going on a summer vacation and plan to charge an average of $1,019 to their credit card.
  • Kids’ summer activities aren’t cheap. Parents of children ages 3-17 are expecting to spend an average of $471 per child on summer activities (such as camp, sports or going to the movies) this year.

Parents are telling little white lies to save cash

Entertainment can be expensive, especially during the summer months. Going to an amusement park, for example, can costs hundreds of dollars per person, depending on the length of your visit. But many parents admit to fibbing to save money on entertainment for their little ones — almost 1 in 3 American parents (31%) have lied about their child’s age for free or discounted access, the survey found.

Depending on the entertainment in question, these little white lies can mean a few bucks or a few hundreds of dollars in savings. Here’s what parents have lied about, according to the survey:

Be sure to download the app of any amusement park you are visiting, because you can often find additional deals and packages that way.

Kimberly Palmer, NerdWallet’s Personal Finance Expert

Employed parents are more likely to lie than those who aren’t employed (34% vs. 24%) and millennial parents, those ages 18-34, are more likely (50%) to lie than Generation X parents (32%), Americans ages 35-54, according to the survey.

What to do: There are plenty of aboveboard ways to save on family outings this summer. Some credit card issuers offer higher rewards for certain entertainment purchases and may even allow you to redeem your travel rewards for things such as amusement park tickets and access to tourist attractions. Check your issuer’s website and the card’s terms and conditions for more details.

“If you belong to a membership organization like AAA, you can often score discounts on tickets,” says Kimberly Palmer, NerdWallet’s personal finance expert. “You can also plan your trip for a cheaper time of the year, since prices often vary by demand. And be sure to download the app of any amusement park you are visiting, because you can often find additional deals and packages that way.”

There’s still time to comparison shop for the best travel credit card for you and accrue rewards points to put toward your trip this summer.

Kimberly Palmer, NerdWallet's Personal Finance Expert

Most American families are taking a summer vacation this year

Over 4 in 5 American parents of children younger than 18 (81%) say they’ll be taking a summer vacation this year, according to the survey. These parents plan to spend an average of $2,256 on their family vacation or vacations, with over 7 in 10 families (71%) planning to spend over $1,000 this year.

The survey shows that 71% of parents of children under 18 who are taking a summer vacation plan to put at least part of their vacation expenses on a credit card. On average, parents plan to charge $1,019 to their credit card, the survey found.

Credit cards can be a tool to earn rewards on purchases, and they have better fraud protection than using a debit card or cash. However, consumers who choose to put their vacation spending on a credit card should make it a priority to pay off their balance before any interest accrues.

If a consumer charges $1,019 to a credit card, then makes the minimum payment each month instead of paying it off, it would take 68 months — over 5½ years — to pay the balance and cost $452 in accrued interest, NerdWallet calculations found.

What to do: Consider charging travel expenses on a rewards credit card, but only if you pay off the balance each month.

“There’s still time to comparison shop for the best travel credit card for you and accrue rewards points to put toward your trip this summer,” Palmer says. “You can also earn additional points for any travel-related spending while you’re on vacation — whether you go with a cash-back card or a travel rewards card, the right card for you can help you afford your next trip.”

Rewards add up, especially on more expensive trips. An online analysis by Money found that the average costs of going to Disney World for a family of four for four nights add up to $6,360. If you use a rewards credit card, our calculations found that you could earn an average of $107 in cash back, or travel rewards, on these expenses. Here’s a breakdown of rewards on each spending category:

This is only a small return on your expenses, but if you plan to spend this money anyway, the rewards are a nice bonus.

Kids’ summer activities aren’t cheap

Paying to keep your kids occupied for the summer can be expensive, but it’s often necessary, since most won’t be in school while their parents work. About 1 in 3 parents of children ages 3-17 (33%) say they’ll spend $500 or more per child on summer activities (camp, movies, museums, and so on); overall, parents of children ages 3-17 plan to spend an average of $471 per child, the survey found.

As with vacation costs, many parents said in the survey that they plan to put these expenses on a credit card. Almost 3 in 5 (58%) parents who plan to spend money on summer activities for their children ages 3-17 say they’ll use a credit card to pay for at least part of these expenses. Parents plan to charge $460, on average, on their credit card for these activities, the survey found.

Budgeting apps like Honeydue, Digit and YNAB (You Need a Budget) can help you track your spending and set money aside for summer.

Kimberly Palmer, NerdWallet's Personal Finance Expert

Although it’s convenient to charge expenses on a credit card, you’ll want to make sure you’re paying it off each month. If a consumer charges $460 to a credit card and makes only the minimum payment, it would take over two years to pay it off and it would cost $86 in interest charges, according to NerdWallet’s calculations.

What to do: Kids’ summer activities can be pricey, but there are ways to lower the cost and still have fun. For example, you might decide to team up with other parents and take turns organizing and supervising activities for the kids. If you want to enroll your child in camp, check to see whether there are discounts for early registration, and take advantage of sibling discounts if you can.

“You can also leverage the power of apps to help you plan and save money to pay for summer activities,” Palmer says. “Budgeting apps like Honeydue, Digit and YNAB (You Need a Budget) can help you track your spending and set money aside for summer.”

Methodology

This survey of 1,194 U.S. adults ages 18 and older who are parents (670 are parents of children younger than 18 and 585 are parents of children ages 3-17) was conducted online March 1-5, 2018, by Harris Poll on behalf of NerdWallet. This online survey isn’t based on a probability sample, and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, contact jessica@nerdwallet.com.

Credit card interest was calculated with average interest rates data from November 2017 from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. We assumed a minimum payment of 3% of the balance, or $20, whichever was higher.

Average credit card rewards were calculated using data from NerdWallet’s Best Rewards Credit Cards of 2018. Co-branded credit cards were excluded.