Reblogged from Tarin Firepelt at Livejournal. Because it’s awesome.
Back in my youth I spent many years in Boy Scouts. I am an Eagle Scout, for those who don’t know, and I can’t tell you how many life lessons I learned in this wonderful organization. Stuff I certainly didn’t learn in public school.
As I watch what is going on in Congress right now I think back to these days. In my scout troop, we went camping one weekend of every month, regardless of the weather. Our scout master correctly knew that these camping trips were the main vehicle in which scouts were taught leadership, and bad weather made it even better a teaching experience. Of the 3 times that temperatures dropped below freezing in Florida during the 4 years I lived there, 2 of those times I was on a camping trip. But I am digressing from the point I want to talk about.
Scout troops are broken up into smaller units called patrols. We had about 40 boys in our troop that were broken up into 5 patrols of 8 boys each. Each patrol is led by one of the middle ranked scouts, the patrol leader, who organizes the young scouts in the camping trips, and helps teach skill awards and other basic scout principles.
One of the responsibilities of a patrol is the planning and organization of the meals on the camping trip. Our trips began Friday after school, and went to mid day on Sunday. So we had to plan for Friday dinner, Saturday breakfast, lunch and dinner, and Sunday breakfast plus a snack for lunch as we rode back to civilization. To pay for this each scout donated $5 in 1980’s money, so we can say about $10 in modern coin.
During the patrol meeting before the campout, the scouts would decide what they were going to eat, covering the 4 food groups in each meal, and realizing the limitations of the cooking apparel and campfire. Roles would be assigned to each boy, covering Cook/Assistant Cook, Fire Tender, Wood and Water Supplier, and the much hated KP. These would be varied so people could gain the experience needed for their skill award and merit badge check lists.
Finally, and the point of this post, the scouts would meet at the grocery store where they would purchase the food. Notice I say the scouts. Mom or Dad would drive them to the grocery store to meet, and usually wait outside for us, but it was the SCOUTS that did all the purchasing.
I think back to one of the trips we made when I was patrol leader. We had 6 scouts going on the trip I think I was the oldest in the patrol at the time at around age 13 or 14. When we showed up at the Grocery store we had $30 with which to feed 6 kids over 5 meals and a snack. Following the lead of something I had learned from an earlier patrol leader, I let the scouts go down the aisle, grabbing all the things needed for the trip, making certain they let me know the price of everything they were getting so I could tally it on my clip board. We finished the walk through and when we got up to the front for check out I held up the clip board.
We had a $70 dollar cart of groceries and only $30 bucks worth of cash.
The scouts eyes bugged out. Keep in mind we are talking 10-14 year olds here who for the most part had never done any grocery shopping beyond tossing cereal and cookies in the cart while tagging along with mom on the family trips. Once it was made clear that we couldn’t take more money the hard reality of trimming that cart down began.
Out went all the cookies and twinkies. Proportions were cut. The cart was divided into the 4 food groups as we still had to meet our basic rules for scouts as per the cooking and camping skill awards. Scouts were introduced to the price difference between name brands and generics, and then that little “price per unit” number came into play as scouts realized that 2 big cans equalled 5 smaller cans and was cheaper by the ounce to boot. Desserts were removed from breakfast and lunches so we had the luxury of sweets for dinner. Haggling ensued between the scouts as we decided and compromised on menu changes on the spot.
And in a half an hour we managed to get that $70 dollar cart down to $30 so we could meet our budget.
The camping trip came around that weekend and we had our meals. And we didn’t starve. I was a hyperactive 14 year old, running around in the woods like a lunatic and I didn’t starve. We were mostly teenagers, and you know how teenagers eat. We didn’t starve. As a matter of fact I remember a lot of good nights, sitting around the campfire, bloated on the food we ate, toasting marshmallows to make the smores we had managed to squeak in the budget during the grocery run. We had bought our food, cooked our food, cleaned up after ourselves, and the average age in my patrol was 12.
This life lesson has stayed with me to this day. I remember the lean years of college when I was trying to stretch my $25/week budget to cover food gas and leisure. I remember how I would look at the price per oz on the generic brand vegetables and buy the bigger cans rather than the smaller and proportion them into zip lock bags at home. I remember buying bottle sodas rather then cans, because if I returned the bottles I would get 10 cents back on each, cutting the price per oz of the soda by a third. I am blessed to be beyond that stage now, but this frugality has allowed be to “Be Prepared”, for the hard times the country is suffering now.
As a 12 year old, I learned how to convert a $70 dollar cart of groceries into something that could support a $30 budget. Its a shame the majority of our current leaders didn’t go to scouts. If they did we wouldn’t be running the deficit we have now.
The Old Wolf has spoken. Thanks, Tarin.
When my daughter Rosie was a senior in college, she lived in a group house of nine students. Of those nine, only Rosie knew about unit pricing. She taught everybody else about it. Astounding but true.
Wow, Tarin! I wish my scout troop had used a similar method. That’s an awesome lesson!
(I actually got do do similarly with my kids in a youth group, as we were raising money for the Thirty Hour Famine. But not only did we go to the grocery store with real dollars to buy real food – which was then donated to World Vision – but we also had to use scenario dollars to try to establish a family downtown with an extremely limited budget, so they could see what it’s like to be homeless, or so far beneath the poverty line you can’t see it.)