Girl Scout Cookies: How Selling Cookies Teaches Financial Independence

Graphic Designed: Kaho Otake

BRB Bottomline: The Girl Scouts program is one of the premier leadership development organizations for young girls teaching them vital skills in business, personal advocacy, and community. The program is characterized by its flagship initiative: empowering young girls through the sale of their various Girl Scout cookies.  However, many don’t know that the Girl Scout curriculum also teaches young girls important lessons in personal finance and money management, setting a precedent for similar youth financial literacy programs, and making headway into systemic issues of gender inequality and the financial literacy crisis.

We all know the drill: You’re out and about, hungry and thinking about what’s left in your fridge, when suddenly you see the makeshift table, the brown sashes, and the precipitous stacks of brightly colored boxes—complete with smiling girls and carefully crafted cookies. You wrestle with which of your favorites (all of them) to choose and pride yourself on limiting your purchases to three.

From outside grocery stores and standing on street corners, to selling at sports games and outside Berkeley’s campus, girl scouts all over the world sell cookies to raise funds for their chapters. The Girl Scouts Cookie program is the largest girl-led business in the world and sells about 200 million boxes of cookies every cookie season.

All of the proceeds from cookie sales stay local, and the money is used to further the growth and education of the girls who dedicated themselves to entrepreneurship. But, did you know that the Girl Scout cookies program is more than just a means of fundraising and supplying local college students with boxes of much-needed happiness: it teaches these girls life-long lessons of business and financial literacy—crucial skills for powerful women aspiring to break ceilings in society.

Financial Literacy Fundamentals

There is a financial literacy epidemic occurring worldwide, where millions of people all over the world make financial and economic decisions antithetical to their own well-being. Financial education is abysmal. Only 12 states have financial literacy requirements for graduation and only 22 states have economic requirements for graduation, as reported by the Council of for Economic Education in 2018. Thus, much of the slack in financial education, especially among the world’s youth, falls to after-school and independent programs encouraging money management and personal finance. The Girl Scouts are a pioneer in such financial literacy education.

Behind the cookies, the Girl Scouts program has a full-fledged K-12 financial empowerment program that introduces and emphasizes the importance of financial literacy to all their members. Girls can even earn the adored patches that line their uniform through financial education—winning patches such as the “Money Manager Badge” and the “Financing My Future” badge.

Parallel to their Business curriculum, the financial literacy curriculum begins with girls in K-1st grade learning money basics (e.g. the value of coins and bills) and ends with girls in 11th and 12th grade learning how to “create a future budget” and “how to establish good credit.” The program is divided up into age-appropriate categories that make financial literacy digestible and, dare we say, fun. While girls grow up through the Girl Scouts program, they learn concurrent skills applicable both in their education and the cookie-laundering real world. 

And these girls are aware of the importance. The Girl Scout Research initiative conducted their own study on young Girl Scouts and found that 90% of girls surveyed agreed that it was important for them to learn how to manage their money and 88% said it was important to have good financial goals. Young girls are optimistic and eager to learn about how to manage their assets, yet only half of girls “feel confident” making financial decisions, with only 12% feeling “very confident” about their financial acumen. If these girls are willing to learn, why aren’t we supporting them?

Gender Gap in Financial Literacy

While financial literacy is lacking across the whole spectrum, women face certain challenges unique to themselves, such as higher life expectancies, lower lifetime income, and career interruptions, that make a lack of financial knowledge have more harmful consequences. The Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center reports that only 30% of women worldwide are financially literate and this statistic is found in both advanced and emerging economies. This may be attributed to the traditional role of men generally handling a house’s finances, which leaves all women—even widows and single women—at a disadvantage.

This is where the importance of the financial literacy education taught in the Girl’s Scouts is so important, as it encourages a more financially confident generation of girls. As reported by the Girls Scout Annual 2015 Annual Report, 1 out of every 2 businesswomen in the United States,, nearly all of the 40 women astronauts, and 75% of female senators were all Girl Scout Alumnae Some of the most successful and recognizable businesswomen in the United States were Girl Scouts, including the CEO of YouTube, Susan Wojcicki, and the CEO of IBM, Virginia Rometty.

The Girl Scout phenomenon is no fluke: Girls who are financially literate and entrepreneurially empowered are given the tools to be successful in their future—irrespective of what they pursue.

Not the Only Option

However, according to the Girls Scouts’ 2017 Executive Summary, there are about 10-20% less Girl Scouts who come from small towns or rural areas as compared to those who live in urban or suburban areas. And, as of 2018, the annual Girl Scout membership fee was raised to $25 a year. While not excessively high, this still presents a burden of entry. In addition to this, only 7% of Girl Scouts come from a family that makes less than $25,000, and there is a great discrepancy between white Girls Scouts and Girl Scouts of color. This raises the criticism that while the Girl Scouts is an amazing program that plays such a large role in teaching young girls financial independence, it is not accessible by everyone.

In order to sell Girl Scout Cookies, these young women need their parents to take them to locations, help set-up a stand, and watch over them as they interact with customers. For some girls, their parents may not have the free time necessary to take them to sell cookies. This may not be their fault. If a parent has to work long hours to support their children, going to sell cookies during the after-school hours may be out of the question. For many reasons, being a Girl Scout isn’t a necessity. Rather, it is a luxury activity.

That being said, those who worry that these barriers might deter some children from joining and being able to learn financial literacy need not worry as there are a number of other youth programs that also strive to teach the next generation the importance of finances. Many of these programs are free and online, allowing both teachers and children easy access to a wealth of financial topics. Some examples would be Money Smart for Young People, MoneyMath: Lessons for Life, Money Talks, and Jump$tart. While these other programs may not be as large or well known as the Girl Scouts,, they all still serve as important resources for encouraging financial literacy.

Take Home Points

Although the current lack of financial literacy in today’s population is worrying, all hope is not lost as youth programs such as the Girls Scouts teach children about being financially literate. They play a role in overcoming the issue of women being particularly more at financial risk and have a solid success rate as seen by the large amount of Girl Scout alumnae who become successful businesswomen. Despite this however, not all groups are represented equally in the Girl Scouts and these girls of color may lack the same access or opportunities

However, there are other more accessible programs that are striving to teach financial literacy to the youth. Educational programs such as these online education resources and Girls Scouts may play a critical role in fixing the financial literacy epidemic in the youth of today.

Lastly, remember that is it is currently Girl Scout Cookie Season (January-April), so go buy some cookies and support aspiring changemakers in the world.


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