Smart Cookies: Girl Scouts Learn Financial Literacy

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The Girl Scouts of America

Girl Scout badges for personal finance achievement at the Ambassador level.

Think the Girl Scouts are all about making s’mores and campground sit-upons? Think again. A new overhaul of the organization’s merit badge program includes learning some decidedly 21st-century survival skills: budgeting, comparison shopping and good credit. “Many people, not just girls, need some basic financial literacy skills,” says Suzanne Harper, director of program resources for Girl Scouts of the U.S.A.

Harper says the average school curriculum today teaches kids little, if anything, about budgeting, banking and credit. Girl Scout leaders worked on the financial literacy program in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, which helped highlight both the need for more education about financial topics as well as where the knowledge gaps are greatest. “There’s a lot of fear among young people,” Harper says. When kids saw that even adults could have their financial stability taken away, she says it made them ask, “How can I keep from having that happen?”

(MORE: Hey, Education Secretary Duncan, Let’s Teach Kids About Money (Not Just Talk About It))

The Girl Scout program starts with kindergarten-age girls and teaches them the basics about money — how much different coins and bills are worth — along with the differences between needs and wants. Harper says the curriculum is progressive, so each girl builds on what she’s already learned in each successive year. In a Scout’s final years of high school, she learns about real-world topics, like how to create a budget for living on her own after college.

They can also earn a badge called “Good Credit.” “I think it’s even harder for teenagers these days because they start getting all these credit card offers in the mail,” Harper says. “It can really hurt them.”

For this badge, girls learn what a credit score is and what factors make it go up or down. Badge-earners also learn how credit cards and bank loans work, and go to family and community members to talk about real-life borrowing situations. “We encourage them to talk to financial experts,” Harper says.

(MORE: Credit Cards for Kids? Don’t Be Childish)

To develop the financial literacy curriculum, Girl Scout educators convened an advisory panel made up of professionals from the banking sector, from nonprofits that focus on financial literacy and from government agencies like the FDIC and Small Business Administration.

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