Learning On The Job: How Selling Popcorn Helps Kids Learn Financial Lessons

Credit: Trail's End

It’s early evening on a Sunday in October and the boys and I are walking in the neighborhood. “Time to go home,” I say. “You’ve got school in the morning.”

“Just a couple more houses, OK Mom?” they plead. “We want to get to our goal.” Who can resist such enthusiasm? So, we head up the drive to the next house and knock on the door. The boys have the routine down pat now.

“Hi, We’re from the local Scout pack and we’re selling popcorn to raise money for our activities,” says nine year old T.

“Like snow camp and sleeping overnight at the museum,” adds six year old M.

The home owner starts to shake his head, saying that he doesn’t like popcorn but the boys have already figured out the best answer for this. “If you don’t want anything for yourself, would you like to buy some for the troops?” asks T earnestly. Sale!

We’ve been selling popcorn for Scouting for three years now and it’s been interesting to see how T has changed over time. Earning money is a key part of managing money and this experience has provided lots of lessons.

The first year, T pretty much hung back and had me do the talking. He was only six and he didn’t really get what he needed to do. At this stage, it was a case of teaching him to be polite and say thank you whether we got a sale or not.

The next year, T was much more motivated. He remembered that the more he sold, the better the prize he could earn. Now he had a goal and he was prepared to work hard to earn it. He pushed in front of me at the first door and confidently started selling. He also carefully pointed out some the more expensive items upfront to see if he could get a bigger sale. Lessons learned: presentation skills, marketing messages.

This year, M joined us for the first time. The boys took turns being the front man and M did a great job as he has his big brother showing him the way. As someone with a marketing background, I listened in fascination as they tested different messages, adjusted their approach based on what worked and what didn’t and figured out which streets offered the best sales opportunities.  Lessons learned:  customer segmentation, market research, target markets

My husband hates the whole concept of door-to-door selling but was up for setting up a stand with the boys. They planned out in advance where they would go, made signs to promote the stand and then staffed it. The boys were so committed to making their goal that they happily did this at two different locations.  Lessons learned:  the importance of foot traffic, advertising, salesmanship

At the end of the sales period, it was time to see which prizes they could claim. T was fixated on some plastic toy. I reminded him that the plastic radio from last year had broken pretty quickly and pointed out the $20 gift cards. M latched onto these immediately but T had a harder time letting go of the promise of the plastic toy so stuck with it. We haven’t received the prizes yet so we’ll see what lessons are learned from that.

I must admit we don’t let the boys manage the money for this project.  As we end up selling several hundred dollars worth of product and mix up our own money in it to provide change, we need to track everything really carefully.  Next year, we should involve T in this a bit more.

Popcorn sales have provided a great lesson in entrepreneurship.  I’m planning on helping the boys run a lemonade stand this summer to continue this. T i already eager to figure out other ways to earn money so it’s going to be fun seeing what ideas he comes up with.

One Response to Learning On The Job: How Selling Popcorn Helps Kids Learn Financial Lessons

  1. Geraldo says:

    I could not resist commenting. Exceptionally well written!

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