Girl Scouts Teach Girls to Get Real About Money

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Girl Scouts Teach Girls to Get Real About MoneyMost of us understand intuitively that the Girl Scouts of America aren't just about selling cookies. What you might not know is that the green-sashed entrepreneur who preys on your weakness for Thin Mints is also preparing to be your son's boss.

A new curriculum of merit badges proposes to teach the GSA's more than 3 million members everything from good credit to budgeting to the ins and outs of savings and investing. In all, there are 13 Girl Scout badges and awards related to financial literacy.

Can I please get an "amen"? As the father of a soon-to-be-9-year-old girl, I call this a welcome detour for those too often caught up in the Kardashian Age of glam slamming.

Starting Early

The new badges are part of a rebranding campaign designed around what girls want to learn. Money management ranks high on the list. Or as GSA spokeswoman Michelle Tompkins put it in a interview: "Girls want to feel financially independent."

Desire is a good start, but financial independence also takes work -- a difficult truth that, thankfully, the badges don't ignore. The "Financing My Future" badge requires girls to create a plan for paying for college, a task many parents still struggle with. The "Financing My Dreams" badge requires demonstrated skill in budgeting, while "Good Credit" requires an understanding of the various ways to borrow money and what goes into building a good credit score.

In each case, the GSA is asking girls to rise above their peers. According to the most recent survey of the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy, American high school students scored just 48.3% on the organization's test of basic money knowledge -- the lowest score in the survey's history.

In Good Company

The troubling data doesn't end there. Only 16.8% of high school students and 19.2% of college students surveyed felt that stocks were likely to produce higher returns over an 18-year period than either savings bonds or checking and savings accounts, and that's in spite of decades of research that show stocks outperform every other class of investment vehicle over the long haul.

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Data like that may help explain why the GSA is focusing so heavily on financial literacy. Fortunately, the girls aren't alone. The Boy Scouts of America has a finance-related merit badge for "Personal Management" that not only requires studying credit and saving but also the stock market and the ins and outs of mortgage debt and other types of loans.

Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) (BRK.B) chief Warren Buffett is also involved through an animated series called The Secret Millionaires Club that airs on the Hub TV Network operated by Hasbro (HAS). The AOL Kids channel online also has access to episodes, while a "Learn and Earn" promotion will bring the show to schools and other kids organizations throughout the next year.

Occupy Your Child's Financial Mind

Surely these and other financial literacy efforts will have at least some impact. And yet mistakes -- even lasting mistakes -- are easy to make, even for financial columnists like yours truly. I've spent years digging out of debt as a consequence of earlier mistakes made, ironically, in the years after I left the Boy Scouts. (Though, to be fair, the BSA didn't have a financially themed merit badge in the early 1980s.)

The key is minimizing these gaffes, and in this sense both scouting programs -- or, really, any financial literacy program -- can be a huge help. At the very least, they reveal the truth that becoming a millionaire gets easier when you're willing to plan well, budget wisely, and maintain good credit. All the things the Girl Scouts are teaching with its new merit badges.

So next time you get a visit from the neighbor girl pitching shortbread cookies, be sure to say hello. She's the Millionaire Girl Scout Next Door, and she's already preparing to make her mark.

Are you a parent to a Girl Scout? What other financial literacy programs do you support? Please let us know using the comments box below.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers owned shares of Berkshire Hathaway. Follow Tim on Twitter: @milehighfool. The Motley Fool owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Hasbro and Berkshire Hathaway.

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