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The Billfold

How Girl Scouts (Try To) Do Money

I have a lot of sympathy for these teens who are trying to create a hypothetical “household budget.”

Photo credit: Amy, CC BY 2.0.

How old were you when you started to understand how much things cost? When you were a teenager, would you have been able to confidently state the salary range for your ideal profession, or the cost of an apartment in the city where you hoped you might live?

The Washington Post’s Michelle Singletary asked a group of teenaged Girl Scouts to state what they thought they might earn and spend as adults—and yes, they make a few silly mistakes, but I found their answers both thoughtful and revealing.

Here are Singletary’s comments, interspersed with mine:

All the Girl Scouts wanted to live in New York or Los Angeles, not considering the high cost of living.

To be fair, these Girl Scouts currently live in the DC metro area, which also has an extraordinarily high cost of living. If anyone’s prepared for the costs of NYC or LA, these girls are.

[One group allocated] $400 a month for a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan with no roommates. One parent whispered, “They’ll be living under a bridge.”

Okay, maybe they’re not necessarily prepared for the costs of big-city living. But where did you want them to say they wanted to live? If they said they wanted to stay in DC, would you have said “nope, that’s still too expensive, please choose a different city?” (There’s also an argument to be made that kids naturally aspire towards the next biggest place available to them, the way I was excited to go to college in a town with a movie theater and a coffee shop.)

$300 a month for clothes. Just about every group thought they needed to allocate money every month for clothes.

I don’t spend $300 per month on clothes, but I do allocate money every month for clothes—and at a certain income and career level, allocating $300 per month for clothes, or for clothes and grooming, is very reasonable. Seasons change, stuff wears out, some social event comes up where you need a specific type of outfit. Also: these are teenage girls. I’d bet they’re used to buying new clothes every month, if only because their bodies are still growing and changing. (That doesn’t stop when you’re an adult, either.)

$100 a month for food. That was about the average they all thought they would spend for meals, including eating out. Me, to the parents: “How much do you spend to feed them now?” Parents: “More than $100 a month.”

I mean, I was able to pull that kind of food budget off a decade ago, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Still, these Girl Scouts kind of have their priorities in the right place. If you’re building your career, especially in certain types of jobs, going low-budget on food and high-budget on clothes and appearance makes sense. (In some jobs, they’ll have free snacks in the kitchen and free dinners for everyone working late.)

I won’t quote from the rest of the article, but I will urge you to read it—especially the part where the Girl Scouts assume their parents have enough money to put them through college without having to take out any student loans.

Did you have similar money misconceptions, as a teenager? Would you have been able to accurately state how much it costs to buy food or clothing? Even as an adult, I wouldn’t be able to identify how much it might cost to rent an apartment in another city without looking it up, and I certainly don’t know how much other people spend on food or clothes every month.

So I wouldn’t be too critical towards these Girl Scouts—although I might show them a few Craigslist apartment listings, just so they can get an idea of what they’ll have to pay for the privilege of living with four other people.



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Nicole Dieker

Nicole Dieker

Freelance writer at Vox, Bankrate, Haven Life, & more. Author of The Biographies of Ordinary People.