On a sweltering Thursday afternoon, Douglas Zeldelon and his wife, along with his parents, decided to take their two kids to Ripley’s Aquarium in downtown Toronto. This was the family’s first visit in two years because of the pandemic.
With the lifting of most provincial COVID-19 restrictions, tourist attractions across Canada are seeing a surge in the number of visitors. Parents are looking forward to making family memories with their children again during the summer. But the rising costs caused by inflation mean that families have to make adequate plans and consider their budgets before deciding where to visit.
“I bring them here at least once in a year,” said Mr. Zeldelon, who lives in Pembroke, north of Ottawa. “We have not been here since the pandemic started, so it’s a good thing to be able to visit again.”
While his two children visited the aquarium with their grandparents, Mr. Zeldelon and his wife decided to enjoy the panoramic views from the top of CN Tower, just around the corner. But Mr. Zeldelon told The Globe that the summer fun comes at a cost for the family’s budget.
“It is usually expensive for us because we are four in number,” he said. “The kids love places like this so we try to do things we could afford.”
To visit the aquarium and CN Tower, the family spent more than $200. Mr. Zeldelon said the family budgets around $2,000 each year for recreation.
“The budget is not low but we wish it could be low,” he said. “My wife and I work together and when we have saved up enough money, we try to do some fun things with the kids.”
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Robin Taub, a chartered professional accountant (CPA) and personal investment expert, said it’s noticeably much more expensive to visit a tourist attraction than it was last year.
“This [year] will definitely be different if you have two or three kids that you need to take to these places and spend money on tickets, candies and food,” she said. “You also need to add the cost of getting gas if you are driving, which has increased over the last few months.”
Ms. Taub said parents taking their children to fun places this summer can take some steps to manage their family budget and expenses.
“If you think you will be visiting more than once, it’s much more reasonable to buy a season pass which allows for multiple visit throughout the year,” Ms. Taub said, adding that buying tickets online helps save money while group visits may also include some discounts. “You may also consider bringing your own food and snacks or eating at home as a way of cutting down costs because food prices are usually expensive at recreational places.”
Precious Myers, a Toronto resident who often takes Indiia, her 7-year-old daughter to recreational destinations in Ontario, said she is considering getting a season pass to save costs. Ms. Myers’s last visit to tourist attractions at Niagara with her mother and daughter cost more than $200. But to save cost, she said she brought homemade meals instead of buying at the venue.
Grace Peacock, communications director at Canada’s Wonderland, said the prices of the season passes change throughout the year. Every August, the amusement park launches sales for season passes for the next year.
Ms. Peacock said this is normally the best time to buy because the prices are lowest. “There are usually some deals or extra incentives for people who buy their pass when they go on sale,” she said. “We also have a payment plan for [instalments] for the season pass which runs over a 12-month period, mostly during the August sales.”
Ms. Peacock said their price tags for tickets have not been affected by the pandemic but noted that prices are dynamic. For example, weekend tickets are more expensive than weekday tickets.
“Visitors should keep this in mind if they want to save some money,” she said. “It’s usually a better time to visit in the spring than the busy summer months. We also have different meal plans visitors can purchase to save money.”
Kathryn Mandelcorn, a cash flow strategist and financial planner at the firm Spring Plans, said the first step to managing budgets for recreation is to determine what a family has for discretionary spending.
“Setting up a budget is okay but not super effective if we don’t know what we can afford to spend in a year,” she said. “It’s important to know what you need for your fixed bills, food and other expenses before setting aside an amount that you need to spend on family fun.”
Ms. Mandelcorn said families can set up an account they can always contribute to either monthly or on every pay day.
“It starts with setting a goal of all the things you want to do and then looking at what money you have available,” she said, explaining that this helps the family make informed choices and be intentional with any fun activity they choose to do.
Ms. Taub, who recently authored a financial literacy book for parents about how to teach their kids about money, said it is important to teach them the difference between needs and wants and how to be financially responsible and independent.
“You need to be an important financial role model for them because kids are watching, listening and learning from us, especially the way we behave around money,” she said. “Take some time to explain to them how things work and [what] their costs are, because they may be asking to do all the fun things but are not aware of how expensive they are.”
Ms. Taub suggests other free or cheap options families could explore with their kids. “There are a lot of things you can do that are free or less expensive and still achieve the goal of having fun in the summer with your kids. Playgrounds, city water parks, beaches, or a walk for an ice cream are still fun things to do.”
Mr. Zeledon said Canada’s Wonderland is their next tourist destination and the family has budgeted $350 for tickets, food, ice cream, candies and parking fees.
“You know Toronto is generally expensive,” he said. “But at the end of the day, what really matters is to have some special fun time with the family.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly described Robin Taub's financial literacy book.
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