Saturday, March 17, 2018

Skills You Need that Girl Scouts Learn Selling Cookies

If you are like most people in the country, at some time in the last month or so you have been approached by a cute young salesperson and asked if you would like to buy some Girl Scout Cookies.  Make no mistake about it, Girl Scout Cookies are big business for the Girl Scout Councils (local non-profit corporations that recruit and train leaders and girls, provide programming, administer the program locally and own and operate Girl Scout camps).  My council gets 2/3 of its revenue from product sales, the overwhelming majority from cookies.  However, cookies are not just fundraising, cookies are part of the Girl Scout program, and much effort has gone into making the necessary evil of fundraising into an educational experience for the girls.  Our Financial Literacy program teaches skills that all adults need, particularly in dealing with finances.

Skill #1—Goal Setting

One of the first things each Girl Scout is asked to do each cookie season is to set a goal.  For the little ones, the goal is often  a trinket on the prize sheet but when we talk about cookies we talk about things they would like to do and how many boxes of cookies it takes to make that happen.

Studies have shown that people with clean financial goals get further than those without them.  Having something to aim for gives you direction, and achieving small goals gives a sense of achievement.

Skill #2—Decision Making

Even in high-selling troops, cookie money is limited, and the girls are supposed to have a major voice in how it is spent.  We sold enough cookies to go to the zoo or to the aquarium, or to have a painting party.  Now we have to pick.  

One of the reasons people get in debt is because they don't make decisions, or at least don't make good ones.  They pick the zoo, the aquarium and the painting party, even if they only have money for one.  

Skill #3—Money Management

As girls get older they are expected to take on more and more of the financial management of their troops.  They learn how much money is spent on un-exciting things like copies, training, or meeting supplies.  They learn to budget the cookie money, plan fundraisers, and allocate funds to both needs and wants.

The bottom line on budgeting is allocating limited cash, and much of it has to be spent on boring things like the electric bill or insurance.  When there isn't enough money for the things you need or want it is time for a second job or a side-hustle of some sort.

Another money management skill the girls learn is how to count money.  Don't laugh, so many of these girls (mine included) have come up in a world where payments are made via credit/debit card and cash is rarely seen.  While being able to count back change may not be as useful a skill as it once was, it is still needed.  Talk about a real-life math lesson--and yes, the adults do watch the cash box but the older the girls get, the more they should be handling the money.  

Skill #4—People Skills

In order to sell someone cookies, you have to ask.  I tell the teens "Make them tell you 'no', often they will decide it is easier to say 'yes'".  They notice that while there are people who actively seek out cookies, there are others who don't look at the table until someone says something.  Girls learn to talk to strangers, to explain their product and to upsell--"your four boxes are $16, would you like to make it 5 for an even $20?".  They learn to say "thank you" or even "thank you anyway". We have girls who really hustle cookie season after cookie season and sell thousands of boxes of cookies.  Wouldn't you like to hire one of them for a sales position with your company?

Skill #5—Business Ethics. 

The Girl Scout Law says we will be honest and fair, and we enforce that during cookie season.  While we upsell, we do not "forget" to give people change, though often they offer that $1 as a donation. We help our fellow Girl Scouts and we put a lot of emphasis on following the rules. 

I'm a paralegal and I do criminal defense work for people who can afford to pay big bucks, usually because of success in business.  I wonder how many of them wish, after they have need of our services, that they had been more honest and fair, friendly and helpful, considerate and caring?

Yes, the girls learn a lot by selling cookies, but I for one am glad cookie season is over for another year--and glad that my daughter's trip to New York this summer will be about 1/3 paid for with cookie money.  
Disease Called Debt

Friday, February 23, 2018

It's Girl Scout Cookie Weekend

Guess what I'm going to spend the weekend doing?  Yes, this Girl Scout Leader/Mother will be supervising as her daughter works cookie booths.  No matter where you live in the U.S. our goal is for you to be accosted approached by a charming Girl Scout who is practicing her real-world skills of goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills and business ethics.  As leaders are told time and again, cookies aren't just fundraising, cookies are Program.

Different troops give different amounts of emphasis to cookies, though often cookies are what people think about when they think about Girl Scouts.  Unfortunately, fund raising is necessary for most youth activities or only kids whose families have money could participate in many things.  Since you will hopefully be asked to buy cookies this weekend, I though I'd tell you a little about them.

Who Gets the Money for Girl Scout Cookies?

The lion's share of the money earned by Girl Scout Cookies goes to local Girl Scout councils.  These non-profit corporations are responsible for recruiting and training leaders, recruiting girls, providing programming, enforcing standards and they are the entities that own and operate Girl Scout camps. 

Councils employ both professional year-round staff and temporary camp counsellors, and for most councils, employee pay is one of the biggest expenses.  Of course the other big expense is the camps.  My council owns three of them and they are well-equipped facilities with full kitchens, cots with mattresses, cabins and platform tents. One has horses which have to eat daily, even if girls are only at the camp on the weekend.

The amount of money that goes to the troops--the groups of girls who actually sell the cookies varies depending on the council and on the incentives set by the council.  Here, we sell for $4.00 per box and our troop proceeds start at $0.50 per box and can get up to the mid 60's depending on the number of boxes sold, whether we participated in fall product or registered early last year and whether we waive prizes for individual girls.  Individual girl prizes cost about five cents a box.  

In some ways, that doesn't sound like much, but when you figure that around here, selling 100 to 200 boxes isn't a stretch, tell me another fundraiser we could do, especially with the under ten set, that could earn us $50 to $100 per girl, mostly from people who are not family members. My daughter has a friend who really needs fundraisers in order to take the troop trips and she regularly sells over 500 boxes a year.

How Much Do Girl Scout Cookies Cost?

It depends on local councils.  They each negotiate with the bakers (there are two bakers that make Girl Scout Cookies) for the best price/terms they can get.  Then they look at their needs vs their expected sales vs what they think the market will bear, and after factoring all that in together, arrive at a price.  Right now, most councils are at $4.00 a box for most cookies and $5.00 a box for gluten-free cookies.  I've heard one is as low as $3.50 and some are $5.00.  

Do Girl Scout Cookies Support Any Groups but Girl Scouts?

Not directly.  As noted above, most money goes to the councils and the councils do not donate money to any other groups. Troops are encouraged to use part of their cookie proceeds for service or "Take Action" projects.  Generally speaking, troops are not allowed to donate money to another organization or individual.  They are allowed to use troop funds to purchase things for other groups.  

What If I Gave Up Sweets for Lent?

Girl Scout Cookies freeze well.  

Can Vegans Eat Them?  What About People Who Keep Kosher?  Those Who Can't Have Gluten?

Both bakers have some vegan cookies.  If girls in your area are selling Samoas, Tagalongs and Do-Si-Dos,  you live in a Little Brownie Baker council.  Little Brownie Baker's Thin Mints are vegan.  All Girl Scout cookies baked by Little Brownie Bakers are certified as kosher dairy; except Thin Mint cookies which are certified Kosher Pareve.   Little Brownie Bakers offers Toffee-tastic® cookies, which have been certified gluten-free by the third-party organization, NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) and verified through testing as meeting the FDA guidelines for labeling gluten-free

If the girls in  your area are selling Caramel Delights and Lemonades, you are in an ABC Baker council.   Girl Scout S'mores™, Lemonades™, Thanks-A-Lot®, Thin Mints and Peanut Butter Patties® are made with vegan ingredients.  ABC also offers the Gluten-Free Trios Girl Scout Cookie, which is certified by the Gluten Free Certification Organization, produced in a dedicated gluten-free facility, and meets a 10 parts per million standard set by the Gluten Free Certification Organization.

While ABC's cookies made with vegan ingredients do not contain any animal product ingredients, they may be produced on equipment that is also used to produce items containing dairy ingredients.

But I Can't Eat Cookies Because...

Those charming sales associates in Girl Scout vests or tshirts should be able to offer you an alternative--if you can't eat them, treat them.  Each troop picks a charity to receive cookie donations.  These range from food pantries and homeless shelters to our overseas troops.  

Happy Girl Scout Cookie Weekend; enjoy your cookies!
Disease Called Debt

Friday, February 16, 2018

Low Cost Brokers: Robinhood vs Motif vs Stockpile

Until recently, one thing that kept small investors from investing in individual shares of stock vs mutual funds was the fees charged.  Most brokerage houses had a minimum fee per transaction and if that transaction only involved a few shares, the fees made it cost-prohibitive.  The advent of the internet and electronic trading has made it possible to reduce those fees considerably, to the point that it is possible to buy a single share of stock in one company or even fractions of shares.  Let's take a look at a few of the companies set up to serve small investors.


Stockpile charges $.99 per trade, and offers a large selection of stocks, though not the entire market.  The market they seem to be trying to reach is that of the young and inexperienced investor.  Stockpile's website includes a "Learn" section which includes articles on such topics as "What is an Exchange?" and "What Is NASDAQ?".  The articles are short, informative and easy to read.

Another way Stockpile reaches small investors is by offering fractional shares.  As of this writing, Amazon stock costs $1448.69, which is more than I want to invest in any one company.  Stockpile allows me to pick any dollar amount to invest, so that I could invest $145 and get 1/10 of a share of Amazon, or $14.50 to buy 1/100 of a share.  

A unique feature of Stockpile is that they offer gift cards, either physical or virtual.  With Stockpile I can choose to give you stock in Disney rather than Disney bling.  However, when you go to redeem the gift card, you are allowed to invest that money in any stock you please, so if you prefer Universal to Disney, go ahead and switch (and you don't even have to tell me).  

Stockpile does not charge account maintenance fees and they do not offer IRAs.  However, they do offer custodial accounts for minors.  With these accounts, an adult custodian is responsible for the account, but it is owned by the minor.  Minors can be given their own log in information.  The only difference is that when a minor tries to enter a buy or sell order, the request is routed to the custodian for approval.  

If you want to get started with Stockpile, clicking this link will give you $5.00 worth of whichever stock you want.

The main disadvantage of Stockpile is that trades are made at the closing price the day you order them.  You cannot make a quick choice to get out NOW, and, if the market drops noticeably between the time you requested the trade and the time it executes, you may find that you don't get the price you were expecting.

Stockpile charges $.99 per trade, so if you are buying a very small amount of stock it could get expensive on a percent of assets basis.  I recommend a minimum investment of $100.00.  Other fees include a 3% debit/credit card fee (though you can transfer money from your bank account at no cost) and a $2.99 gift card fee.  While there are other fees, these are the ones most investors will be most likely to see.


Motif's claim to fame is enabling small investors to buy fractional shares of a variety of companies in one basket, dubbed a "Motif".  Motif offers some professionally designed motifs as well as many designed by ordinary people.  If you design a motif and convince others to buy it, you will get a sales commission.

The minimum amount of money necessary to invest in a motif is $300, and each motif can contain up to 30 different stocks.  

Motif recently changed its fee schedule.  Now, you can get commission-free next market open trades of both individual stocks and professionally designed motifs.  If you want to trade in real time, professional motifs will cost you $9.95 per motif, a motif you build is $19.95 per trade or if you want to trade single stocks, the fee is $4.95 per trade.

For larger or more active investors Motif offers "Impact" or "Motif Blue" accounts.  An "Impact" account is a fully-automated portfolio what is automatically rebalanced and which has a composition that changes as you age.  Regarding the cost of an Impact account, Motif says "The fee structure for a Motif Impact account, that provides a fully automated portfolio aligning your financial goals with your values, is 0.25%, expressed as an annual fee rate."  A "Motif Blue" account is one in which you pay a $19.95 per month fee in exchange for three "free" real time trades per month, plus real time quotes.  If you would like to try Motif Blue, click this link and you will get three months free.  

Motif is now charging $10 per quarter for each account that is under $10,000 and which has had no commissioned trades in the last three months.  In my opinion, that cost is high, percentage-wise, if your account is much under $5,000.  

Right now I own eight professionally designed motifs, most of which were purchased when Motif was offering them at no commission as "motifs of the week".  I also own one that I designed, which I did pay a commission to purchase.  Today I made my first use of the commission-free trade service and used my accumulated dividends to buy a fraction of a share of NVIDIA.  

If you would like to try Motif, use this link; you'll get three months of Motif Blue (and then you can decide whether to keep it or not) and I'll get one.

Motif's strength is allowing you to spread a moderate amount of money among a large number of stocks for a relatively low amount of money.  However real-time trading will cost you, and fees will disproportionately affect small accounts.  


Robinhood is a smartphone app only (for now) brokerage.  They are planning a webpage but it is not live yet.  The app is available for both Apple and Android phones.  

While Robinhood does not offer IRAs, it offers margin accounts and is in the process of rolling out options trading and crypto-currency trading.  

Stock trades on Robinhood are in real time but most users are not allowed more than three day trades (buying and selling the same stock on the same day) per five day window.  Trading on Robinhood is commission free, which makes it easy to buy and sell one share of stock at a time.  

One nice feature is "instant deposit".  Once your bank account and Robinhood are linked, you can deposit up to $1,000 into your Robinhood account and have instant access to it.  When the market fell quickly last week, I deposited an additional $200 in my account and went shopping.  I did not have to wait for the check to clear.

Robinhood offers a margin account, known as "Robinhood Gold" Besides allowing you to borrow money with which to buy stocks, a Robinhood Gold account allows you extended trading hours and a larger instant deposit.

I find the Robinhood interface to be easy to use.  When I log in I see my account balance, along with how much it moved that day.  As I scroll down I see each company in which I own stock with a notation of how many shares of each I own.  There is a small graph that shows whether the stock is up or down for the day, and the latest price per share.  If I click on any company, I get a graph that shows its movement in the last day, week, month, three months, year and five  years.  I can click to buy or sell.  I can scroll down and see what my equity value (shares times share price) is, and how much my average price per share was, and my percentage return both in total and today.  I can see my history with the stock, along with an earnings chart.  Often there are links to articles about company.

If you would like to invest via Robinhood, use this link and we both get a free share of stock.

So, Which Is the Best?

Honestly, it depends.  I have accounts with all three.  Right now, I have little reason to use Stockpile.  My Motif account is almost $10,000 and with their new pricing structure, I plan to bring it up to that level soon, thereby eliminating the quarterly charge.  For people who have an account big enough to avoid Motif's fee, I'd recommend using it to purchase fractional shares, as you can do so without commission.  If you do not have that much money and want to be able to purchase fractional shares, I'd recommend using Stockpile for that purpose.  

For purchasing shares in companies you can afford to buy full shares of, I'd recommend Robinhood.  It is free, easy to use and trades in real time.  The only downside is that you have to use a smartphone, at least right now.  

Motif is the only one of these companies that offers IRAs, but unless you have $10,000, the fees get high.

If you are interested in opening an account with one of these companies, please use my referral links.

Disease Called Debt