How Eating Girl Scout Cookies Helps Kids Learn About Money

The venerable Girl Scout cookie drive has morphed from simple fund raiser into a personal finance tutorial for kids, lending the organization heightened relevance as it celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.

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Matt Slocum / AP

I’ll never look at a Girl Scout cookie the same way.

For years I bought a dozen or so boxes each selling season, figuring I was helping fund a good organization that introduces young girls to outdoor activities and cultural events. Well, okay, I enjoy bingeing on Samoas too. But I always overlooked the financial education aspect of the girls’ cookie experience, which now strikes me as the most important part of being a Girl Scout.

Learning how to canoe or make a campfire is great stuff. But learning how to set goals and manage money is a far more important life skill, and in recent years the annual cookie drive has emerged primarily as a vehicle for teaching girls about business and finance. What started in 1933 as a bake sale to raise operating funds has turned into a personal finance tutorial.

(MORE: How to Save $2,500 a Year on Lunch)

Last year, in the first overhaul of its merit badge system since 1987, the Girl Scouts introduced a new set of badges for financial literacy. Scouts can earn recognition for:

  • Money management
  • Budgeting
  • Financing their future
  • Good credit
  • Philanthropy

The organization turns 100 this year and has latched onto something important. “The last couple years with the economic situation in this country we realized that girls sometimes get a little scared about talking and learning about money,” Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of Girl Scouts of America, said this week on CNBC. “So we wanted to provide a platform where girls can learn it in a fun way.”

This shift—from simple fundraising to financial education tool—has been under way for some time. But the recession and resulting awareness of how important it is for youth, especially girls, to learn about money put a charge into the new approach.

Students receive little financial education at school and have repeatedly failed broad tests measuring their mastery of basic personal finance and economic concepts. Just 14 states require high schools to offer a course in personal finance, according to the Council for Economic Education. Even fewer require students to take such a course in order to graduate.

(MORE: Is it Smart to Hold Back Third-Graders Who Can’t Read Well?)

Programs like Girl Scout cookies, which bring in $760 million annually and are the largest girl-led business in the nation, can help fill this void. The girls set goals, meet deadlines, work with others, handle money and make decisions on where and how to reinvest the proceeds. This is the kind of stuff that will help them make smart money decisions as adults.

That’s a lot bigger than raising funds for a field trip—and it makes every Thin Mint seem a little less fattening.

4 comments
Rumionemore
Rumionemore

Actually, eating the cookies makes people who eat too many obese. But the girls do much good well beyond the cookie sale. They learn self-reliance, which is what the organization's founder, Juliette Gordon Low, intended: for girls to become as self-reliant as boys. That carries girls much farther in life than just selling calorie-loaded cookies. This said, the Thin Mints are hard to beat.

Firozali A.Mulla
Firozali A.Mulla

Tuesday, 04 September 2012 We have not seen many good days and there are none for some time  European shares fell on Tuesday as investors turned cautious in

the run-up to a European Central

Bank (ECB) meeting, with

the Swiss market lagging after figures showed an unexpected contraction in the

country's economy. The FTSEurofirst 300 index fell 0.3 percent to 1,088.20 points,

while the euro zone's Euro STOXX 50 index was flat. Expectations the ECB will

firm up a debt-buying scheme to fight the euro zone's debt crisis have driven

an equity rally since late July. But the People's Bank of China appears

to be resisting calls for more aggressive measures based on past experience:

the huge stimulus enacted in response to the 2008 global crisis fuelled inflation and a wasteful spending boom. "We

are all waiting for more monetary policy to come out," said Linus Yip,

strategist at First Shanghai Securities in Hong Kong. "We are all waiting

and hope the PBOC will do something." I thank you Firozali

A.Mulla DBA

scoutmom
scoutmom like.author.displayName 1 Like

Thank you for the article! As a 5 year cookie mom, I'm always happy to see positive discussions about girl scout cookies.  Although, I would like to point out that cookie sales bring another dimension to each troop after sales are done.  How to spend the money you have earned!  Each year it is a major discussion amongst the parents and girls about how to spend the hard earned commission in our bank account.  The discussions range from donations to animal shelters, military families, shoe drives, and on to personal troop goals, like campouts, ice skating outings and troop gear.  They also make decisions about investing in materials to make the next year of cookie sales even better (tablecloths, costumes, posters). 

As the cookie mom, I have watched the decision making process transfer from parent to girl.  And as the girls take on more responsibility, even with all of the things the girls COULD spend money on - most of them vote to SAVE a good portion.  They have grasped that you never know what might come up next month, and that we only do cookie sales once a year - no way to earn more emergency cash. 

My last note would be to all of those people out there who pass by a cookie seller, please remember that for some girls it takes all that they have in their hearts to get up the guts to ask you to purchase a box of cookies.  We have one girl in our troop who is painfully shy, and has issues talking to almost all adults, not just strangers.  But, when you set a goal for her and put a box of cookies in her hand, she is a completely different person!  She works the doors of the grocery stores just like the best sellers!  So, please, even if you do not want to buy from a little girl who asks you, please address her properly and say, "No, thank you."  It helps us teach girls lessons in politeness, diligence and communications. 

Thank you to everyone who supports the girl scouts, buys cookies, and volunteers along side of us!!!!

Sara Rose
Sara Rose

Frankly, I think a lemonade stand serves as a better financial learning tool--no cute uniform to lend a "halo" effect, no national marketing marketing machine to fall back on--it's just you, a pitcher of lemonade and a wobbly card table under the hot sun, fighting aggressive bees and competion from the fancy Kool-Aid stand down the block.

And mom doesn't even have your back, because she's the one who made the lemonade and hauled the card table to the curb--because it's August, you're driving her crazy and she's counting the days until school starts again!