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, the troop’s location, the troop leader’s style, and the girls’ interests are all factors that work together to create the Girl Scout experience (and sometimes spendings 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 two cents on the topic.

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With their leadership experience ranging from two to eight years and their troop sizes ranging from six to sixteen active Girl Scouts, these five awesome present and past troop leaders truly possess a wealth of troop finance knowledge. With that in mind, we’ve distilled their budgeting savvy advice into this convenient list of tips to help you plan your troop’s budget in the coming year:

1. Stay organized

Keeping track of all 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 is 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 twelve-girl troop.

Be sure to keep your troop bank account balanced – keep track of purchases, your bank statements, and check for mistakes or fraud, so there are no surprises at the end of the year. Frances Lizarde is on her second year of leading a troop of sixteen girls and relies on a detailed Excel spreadsheet to make sure nothing goes missing.

2. Fall Product Sale and Cookie Program are your budget’s best friends

For most troops, our Fall Sale Program and Girl Scout Cookie Program bring in the most funding. Whether they have Daisies or Ambassadors, all five troop leaders emphasized the importance of participating in annual Fall Product sales and Girl Scout Cookies sales. With the option of Reward Cards, these 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 going to 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).

Looking for tips on how to sell more during fall product and cookie sale season? Check out these tips from a 2,000+ box seller.

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 have a big trip you’re saving for, then 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 – either way, planning ahead will help you budget and maximize your troop’s funds.

Shannon McMath’s Cadette troop have been saving their earnings from cookie sales and their Christmas gift wrapping money-earning project for their upcoming Tahoe trip: “The girls have earned MORE than enough money for their trip and could have 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 they already have their whole year mapped out: “We have 2 meetings a month, then at least 1 activity, field trip, or service event a month. Oct/Nov/Dec are full months with more activities. Then again in April and May. We plan 4 to 6 activities during the summer months; hikes, swimming, 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, be prepared by keeping a cushion in your budget if possible.

Girl Scouts celebrate a couple 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 need supplies for projects or parties. 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, table cloth, 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 then expect them to know how to handle that.” Instead, try out Liz’s technique where she gives her Daisies some sense of their earnings by letting them vote on their next activity.

Similarly, Carrie stretches 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 of 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 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 with parents regarding the troop’s budget, “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 we plan to do in the upcoming months and what our financial situation is.” Make sure troop funds and bank statements are readily available in case curious parents request them.

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 focused their funds on activities and programs that interested them instead.

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 the starting uniform costs but the troop covers badges. While, in Shannon’s second-year Cadette troop, they 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.

For patches, Shannon suggests “buying fun patches after the event and present them at your annual Court of Awards ceremony, rather than buying before an event” to avoid having extras when girls don’t show up for the event. In addition to the council store, volunteers can also buy patches from outside vendors or other Girl Scout volunteers through Facebook Groups.

The thought of managing and budgeting thousands of dollars for a dozen or so girls can seem a little daunting, but hopefully these tips help make cents of the information. Thank you again to troop leaders Liz LiVolsi (Troop 33666), Carrie Higby (Troop 30838), Shannon McMath (Troop 10280), Frances Lizarde (Troop 31806), and Marissa Vessels (Troop 30035, now graduated) for sharing their wonderful financial insights.

What budgeting advice would you add to our list? Let us know in the comments!

Psst – We love to hear from our volunteers, so if you’d like to contribute to The Trailhead, feel free to email us at trailhead@gsnorcal.org.