Girl Scouting on a Budget: Troop Volunteers Share Their Two Cents
Adapted from a post by Leah Takahashi and Ashley Redfield on Girl Scouts of Northern California’s blog, June 8, 2017
Okay, Girl Scout volunteers, it’s time to talk money—specifically, how to keep your troop’s money in check. (Get it? Check… I hear you groaning over there, but let’s get started.)
As you all know, every Girl Scout troop is unique—the troop’s size and location, the troop leader’s style, and the girls’ interests are all factors that work together to create the Girl Scout experience (and sometimes the spending of hundreds to thousands of dollars). With that in mind, it’s easy to see that a one-size-fits-all troop budget model doesn’t exist—which is why we reached out to our dedicated volunteers, who have generously shared their advice on the topic.
With troop leadership experience ranging from two to eight years and troop sizes ranging from six to sixteen active Girl Scouts, the five awesome present and past troop leaders quoted below have a wealth of troop finance knowledge. We’ve distilled their budgeting savvy into a convenient list of tips to help you plan your troop’s budget for the coming year.
1. Stay organized
Keeping track of all of the money flowing into and out of your troop’s bank account can be as simple as stashing receipts. After making a troop-approved purchase, write the spending category on each receipt or organize your expenses electronically with a spreadsheet. Remember, every so often, council staff are required to check in on some troop accounts as part of our annual audit, so make sure you have those receipts handy.
Carrie Higby, a six-year seasoned troop leader with a troop of nine girls, stays organized by keeping a small binder or ledger with information on all her girls and their families, the troop bank account, and above all, “receipts for EVERYTHING!” Second-year Daisy troop leader Liz LiVolsi agrees and even writes categories on the printed receipts, like “donate” and “spend on troop,” to manage the spending for her 12-girl troop.
Be sure to keep your troop bank account balanced—keep track of purchases and bank statements and check for mistakes or fraud, so that there are no surprises at the end of the year. Frances Lizarde is on her second year of leading a troop of 16 girls and relies on a detailed Excel spreadsheet to make sure nothing goes missing.
2. Know that the fall product sale and Girl Scout Cookie Program are your budget’s best friends
For most troops, the fall sale product sale and Girl Scout Cookie Program bring in the most funding. All five of the troop leaders quoted in this piece emphasize the importance of participating in annual fall product and Girl Scout Cookie Program. With the option of reward cards, product sale programs save a lot of girls and their parents from making out-of-pocket payments.
If you have big goals, like an international trip or attending Golden Gate Bridging, product sales are a great way to earn $$$ (in other words, cookie/fall sales goals = lots of reward card money to fund your next adventure).
3. Plan out your year ahead of time
The number of events and activities your troop engages in usually determines how much you’ll spend. If you’re saving for a big trip, you might consider scaling back on council programs and events, seeing what parents can pay for out of pocket, or planning a council-approved money-earning project. Planning ahead will help you budget and maximize your troop’s funds.
Shannon McMath’s Cadette troop has been saving its earnings from the cookie program and a holiday gift-wrapping project for an upcoming Tahoe trip: “The girls have earned more than enough money for their trip and could’ve chosen a ‘posh’ place to stay, but instead made a more modest choice and will be putting their extra money towards next year’s events and activities.”
Similarly, Carrie’s troop is planning a trip to Disneyland in the fall for a leadership class, and the girls already have their whole year mapped out: “We have two meetings a month, then at least one activity, field trip, or service event a month. October, November, and December are full months with more activities—then again in April and May. We plan four to six activities during the summer months: hikes, swimming, the drive-in, bowling, badge days, skills days, museums, etc.”
4. Be ready for unexpected expenses
Whether it’s your first year leading a troop or you’re a seasoned veteran, unexpected costs can arise and throw off your budget—from Girl Scout Days to cookie booth decorations. So you’ll want to be prepared by cushioning your budget if possible.
Girl Scouts celebrate several special holidays every year, such as World Thinking Day on February 22, Girl Scouts’ birthday on March 12, and Juliette Gordon Low’s birthday on October 31, some of which may benefit from purchasing supplies for projects or parties. And these holidays can really sneak up on a busy Girl Scout, so Liz suggests budgeting money for last-minute celebrations like her troop’s World Thinking Day presentation.
In addition to Girl Scout Days, cookie season also comes with some unexpected expenses. As Carrie notes, it’s important to budget money for cookie sale marketing and booth supplies as well: “In our first few years we didn’t have supplies to run a booth. Table, tablecloth, wagon, overhead display, ‘booth-blinging’ supplies, first-aid kit, travel folder, signs, bags, etc.—all out of personal pocket, not troop funds.”
5. Keep your girls in the loop, but don’t stress them out with the details
The Girl Scout experience is meant to be a fun one, so even though we want to teach girls money management, don’t let them get too caught up in your troop’s budget.
If your girls are on the younger side or aren’t very involved in your budgeting right now, that’s okay—as Shannon points out, “You can’t tell a group of Daisies that they have $1,000 in their bank account and expect them to know how to handle that.” Instead, try out Liz’s technique: she gives her Daisies some sense of their earnings by letting them vote on their next activity.
Similarly, Carrie stresses the importance of keeping her Cadettes in the loop and helping them understand the value of money: “I wouldn’t say [the girls] know exactly how much we have in the account at any given time, but we do give them ideas about the cost of events, badges, etc. and let them decide if they want to spend their funds.”
Money management is a learned skill, and can be eased into as the girls grow older. When Marissa Vessels led her group of six Senior Girl Scouts, she mentions how her girls were very involved in the troop’s finances: “they were responsible for the bookkeeping, reporting out about our finances at every meeting, collecting dues, and staying on top of the budget for each of the projects we worked on.”
Don’t forget, there are Financial Literacy badges to help your girls learn about money!
6. Partner with the parents
Parents are your greatest allies and, just like you, want the best experience for their girls. Frances suggests that leaders “ask parents what they can contribute.” If there’s a program your girls are really passionate about attending but the cost is over budget, see if your girls’ parents would be willing to pay a little extra or help raise the necessary funds.”
According to Shannon, leaders should be as transparent as possible about the troop’s budget with parents. “Set a standard from the very beginning, letting parents know that the troop account is troop money, not individual girl money.” To keep parents informed and avoid misunderstandings, Marissa suggests “having a parent meeting at the start of each semester to talk about what [you] plan to do in the upcoming months and what [your] financial situation is.” Make sure troop funds and bank statements are readily available in case curious parents request them.
And don’t forget to offer parents financial aid options when possible!
7. Use resources wisely
Remember that money is a resource! Consider the items your girls need, the items they want, and the items they have no interest in. For example, as Marissa’s girls got older, they had little interest in badge work, so they instead focused their funds on activities and programs that actually interested them.
Uniforms, badges, and Fun patches can add up fast. Discuss with parents ahead of time to determine what troop funds will cover and what parents may need to pay out of pocket. For example, in Liz’s Daisy troop, parents paid for starting uniform costs but the troop covers badges. And Shannon’s second-year Cadette troop didn’t need new vests, so the troop spent about $8 on badges per girl this year. Shannon notes that her girls’ parents haven’t paid for their girls’ uniforms since they were Daisies.
Shannon also suggests “buying Fun patches after the event and presenting them at your annual court of awards ceremony, rather than buying them before an event,” to avoid having extras if/when girls don’t show up. In addition to through the council store, volunteers can buy patches from outside vendors or other Girl Scout volunteers through Facebook groups.
The thought of budgeting and managing thousands of dollars for a dozen or so girls can be a little daunting—but hopefully the above tips can help you can make cents (sorry!) of the information.