Boy Scouts – The Real (Financial) Story

My good friend Chelsea over at Mama Fish Saves dropped me a line the other day to ask if I might be interested in writing a bit about my two boys experience in Boy Scouts. I thought that was a great idea, given that my oldest is now a high school freshman and has been a scout since he was a Tiger in first grade. Right now he’s a First Class and is on track to earn his Star scout by the end of the year. My middle son is in Cub Scouts but will transition to Boy Scouts at the start of the next school year.

Before I start, this is simply the tale of one family’s journey in scouting. This is not endorsed by the Boy Scouts and all opinions and observations are my own. 

P.S. Yes I carved that watermelon up there, if you were wondering.


Cub Scouts? Boy Scouts? First Class? What Are You Talking About?

So if you’re not the parent of a scout, these terms might not make sense to you. Let me break them down a bit with a quick overview of scouting.

  • Cub Scouts are what most parents are actually familiar with, and what many people might think of when they think of boy scouts. This is the kind of scouting kids do in elementary school. Obviously there’s a big difference between what a first grader and a fifth grader can do in terms of skill level and attention span, so they divide the kids into groups based on their age.
    • Tigers = first grade; Wolf=second grade; Bear=third grade; Webelos 1=fourth grade; Webelos 2 = fifth grade
    • Kids activities are planned according to their attention spans and skill levels. It also varies a HUGE amount by pack (the group of scouts). Some packs are very active in activities, camping, outdoors, etc. and others…are not. There are some with hugely active parents and some without anyone to take on a role. So if you are looking for something specific in scouting, make sure you join a pack that aligns with what you’re looking for (and get involved!)
My oldest son (now 14) as a Tiger
  • Boys Scouts start in sixth grade, when the kids enter middle school. This is when, in my experience, scouting gets serious. Sure the kids still have lots of fun, but there’s a lot of hard work involved. In our case, our troop is very serious about hard work, camping, learning survival skills, etc.
    • Our troop practices a lot of scout-led activities, where the boys are the ones leading the other boys to practice leadership skills. We also have a lot of Eagle scouts. Every year there are probably between two and five different Eagle projects going on.
    • Again your experience will vary by troop. So if you just want your son hanging around with other boys, goofing off and having fun, there are some troops where that’s pretty much what they do. But if you’re serious about your son learning the skills and becoming an Eagle scout, ,you need to find a troop structure that will support that.
    • Boy scouts has multiple ranks, and this time they’re based on achievement-not grade. They are Scout, Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class (where my son is now), Star (where he’ll be at the end of the month), Life, and finally the one everyone knows – Eagle Scout.
My oldest Nick is the one in the hat, and my middle Nate is at the bottom with the glasses. This is after cleaning up a local river during a clean-up day. He was intereviewed for the local paper

One of Chelsea’s questions to me was whether it’s possible to do scouting and sports at the same time. In elementary school, yes, without a doubt. My middle son did football for a year and scouting, and it was busy but manageable. And last year he was in band, drama, and scouts without an issue.  As the parent of a high school aged son I can tell you that elementary is the time to have your kids try out a lot of different things. Once they hit high school it gets harder to experiment.

I do know boys that have done it at the Boy Scout level, but it’s almost impossible to do both scouting and sports at a high level at the same time. Something I didn’t realize when my kids were young is just how high the demands are on teenagers if they want to be seriously involved in an activity. So if you want to do an OK job at a bunch of things, you can, but if you want to seriously succeed you have to focus on just a few things. Sports at the high school level demand near-constant practice, games, traveling, etc. Add on top of that maintaining good grades, homework, studying for tests and trying to have some sort of free time-it’s really hard to manage multiple activities at a that level. A lot of that depends on your family, your kids, the sports and scouts schedules, and just how much juggling you can take.

Scout oath and law
My financial friends will appreciate the “thrifty” part of the scout law

Honestly, though, you can be a casual scout and still have plenty of fun and learn a lot. Nothing says that you have to become an Eagle scout to be a success. Even if a boy doesn’t advance to that rank, he still learns a ton, has fun, gains leadership skills, helps his community, and makes valuable friendships.

The Financial Breakdown

So how much does scouting cost? It depends on your pack/troop, really, how much they charge. Sometimes parts of the costs are offset by troop fundraising, or individual fundraising. So I can only tell you what we pay.

For my 10 year old, a Webelos 2, we pay the membership fee of $92 per year. Then after that we don’t pay anything. Sometimes there’s a potluck and we have to bring something, but all the activities are covered. They do camping, hikes, outdoor activities, weekly meetings, monthly den meetings, activities, and more. We also have to pay for the books which are around $13 per year (you need a different book for each rank). So in total the cost is $105, or $8.75 per month.

My high schooler, though, is a different story. You don’t have to buy the book every year, but you have to buy handbooks for all those merit badges (although you can sometimes borrow them from the troop). The fee is also $145 per year. He goes to Boy Scout camp in the summer which costs $325, and some of the camping trips and activities have fees. All in all I’d say we pay $600 per year.

It doesn’t have to cost that much, or it can cost much more. You can get along with the $145 membership fee, skip the activities with a separate fee, and borrow the merit badge books. Or you can go all-out and send your kid across the country to events like the Boy Scout Jamboree, which costs $1,000 – not including the travel. Similar to many activities for kids, it can be an expensive endeavor or a bargain.

In addition to the outdoors, survival skills, leadership, and community service, scouting can also teach your kids about finances. Yes that’s right. The Personal Management merit badge, required for Eagle rank, is all about money and time management. Your child has to plan a savings strategy to make a large purchase, create a budget, explain the difference between saving and investing, and more. You can see the full list of requirements here. So your investment of a scouting fee pays off in a number of ways.

What About You?

If you’re the parent of a high schooler, have you noticed the same thing I did in terms of kids activities having higher demands? If you were a scout, are the parent of a scout, or have questions about scouting – let me know in the comments!

Want to learn more about teaching kids about money? Check out this great page with my top articles and resources I’ve found from around the web.

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IT professional, MBA, working mother of three, avid reader, geek and personal finance nerd

12 thoughts on “Boy Scouts – The Real (Financial) Story

  • December 8, 2017 at 11:19 am

    Thank you for this write up! What great timing. My son is in first grade and I’ve been wanting to look into Cub Scouts, this seems to lay it all out for everyone.

    The costs of being a cub (hopefully my area will be similar) is very reasonable. It’s probably going to be a big time commitment.

    We’re trying to get our little ones involved in as many activities as possible while they’re young because like you said, when they’re in high school, it’s probably not going to be as manageable.

    Thank you again!

    • December 8, 2017 at 11:23 am

      Glad to help! When they’re young is the perfect time to experience lots of different activities to find the ones they enjoy the most. Once they’re older, the demands are much higher for school and the activities.

  • December 8, 2017 at 11:39 am

    Thank you so much for writing a whole post to answer my questions!! As you know, my oldest is not even 2 yet, but Cub Scouts is something my husband and I talk about a lot for him.

    My brother and I played hockey growing up, and that is way more expensive than scouting, even at the young ages. I looked it up recently and the 4 year old team for my town is $1,000 a year! Before all the costly equipment! Obviously, if he wants to play we would make it work – hockey had a big impact on my life – but I think he would ultimately learn more life skills in Scouts. Luckily we have a few years to figure it out! (And to find out his interests)

    Good luck to Nick reaching Star Scout at the end of the month!

    • December 8, 2017 at 3:17 pm

      Sports can be so expensive! With my kids they’ve never been very interested in sports, although my middle son did want to try football one year. So we did it but didn’t join one of the bigger/more expensive teams because we wanted to see if he enjoyed it first. Nope, he didn’t like it, so we finished out the season and didn’t go back.

  • December 8, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    No experience with Boy Scouts unfortunately, but the MSW family has plenty of Girl Scout experience with our two daughters in two different school districts. Like you said, the quality of the experience is very different depending on who’s in charge of your troop. While there are (generally) minimum expectations for badges, etc, it’s not like anyone really audits how the troops operate – so it’s important to check out the troop and leaders and be willing to potentially change troops if the experience isn’t what you want. In our case, Mrs MSW elected to lead a troop for a few years to help provide the right experience for our daughters and others.

    The other thing we noticed in Girl Scouts is the major dropoff in participation once the kids enter middle school. In the elementary schools our girls have attended, Girl Scouts are one of the only extra-curricular activities available, so there’s generally a lot of participation. In our case, our daughters actually met most of their friends through scouts, which was very helpful especially when we moved to a new area. However, when they entered middle school there were so many other opportunities for activities after school, so they (and nearly all of their peers) stopped attending to focus on other activities. Curious if you saw anything similar with your oldest son’s troop?

    Costs were reasonable – IIRC I think it was like $30 for each girls’ activity fee, plus whatever you spend on uniforms, etc. The troop earned most of their money through the cookie sales in the fall / winter – which I hated since the troops don’t really make much money per box. It would have been soooo much better for them to just do a “no bake” “bake sale” like I have seen in some schools (ie – you just give money rather than buying stuff). In most cases, we would end up selling whatever the minimum # of cookies required for the girls to get their “cookie badge” (yes, this is a thing) and we would just donate money to the troop in lieu of sales.

    • December 8, 2017 at 12:33 pm

      Yes I saw a significant drop off at the start of middle school. When my oldest started in 6th grade, there were 20 kids in his patrol (group of kids same age and grade). By the end there were only six. Most dropped out in the first year.

  • December 8, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    Like Mr. MSW, we’re doing girl scouts, and we’ve only just started Brownies. My daughter enjoys it most of the time, and the troop pays for membership and badges from the cookie and candy sales while parents pay for uniform and a lot of activities. I think I spent about $200 last year (her first) for uniform, books, and troop activities…not to mention buying some cookies. This year looks like it will run us a little less.

    I do like the “design your own badge” idea. My daughter wants to set up a YouTube badge where to get it she has to get a million followers. I think that may be a bit ambitious, especially since her dad doesn’t want her on YouTube at all. But learning to set up a channel, make and edit videos, and market to get followers seems like reasonable effort for a badge.

    • December 8, 2017 at 3:15 pm

      That does sound like fun, and an interesting learning experience. My middle son wants to set up a YouTube channel too, but I’m thinking he should be a little bit older.

  • December 8, 2017 at 3:28 pm

    There’s a lot of great practical advice in this post. It meshed well with my experiences. We didn’t go into scouting, but your thoughts on activities and balance and when it narrows down to just one or two is spot-on.

    For those curious, my son was into martial arts and wanted to get his black belt (3rd degree before he left for college). By the time you get to high school, the number of things you can balance really diminishes. The key is to put this back on your kids and let them decide which one or two things to do as focus and not try to do everything.

    Great advice! Thanks!

  • December 9, 2017 at 12:22 am

    My oldest is a tenderfoot and working on second class. I’ve gone on a few campouts with him and it’s a great father-son bonding experience. Scouts also teaches kids to be self-sufficient and independent. A lot of kids don’t learn those attributes anymore because helicopter parents do everything for them. They end up going to college not knowing how to do anything for themselves. Good post!

    • December 9, 2017 at 1:19 am

      Totally agree-I’m happy my boys will head off to college with lots of skills they can use in their adult lives

  • December 12, 2017 at 2:19 pm

    Love reading your experiences on scouting. My 6th grade daughter joined Girl Scouts this fall as a Cadette and I think you are spot on that the troop leadership and expectations varies widely. In our case the expected costs were advertised as $105 for troop activities plus uniform. We quickly learned in the three months she’s been in that the advertised cost did not include the expected but officially “optional” activities that most of the troop does with the local council (3 so far), unofficially required but still expected charitable donations (2 of these) and minimum sales goals for the fall candy fundraiser (I was only expecting the spring cookies), specific meeting supplies (one plain white shirt and 3 thank you note cards) and badges (several free, but you have to pay for others). It was very tough for her as a new member to an established troop to feel even more left out not participating in the “optional” activities that her entire troop signed up for. I also noticed this troop places a lot of responsibility on parents rather than the girls, such as the fall candy sale my daughter said they never discussed in a meeting but that I had 10 emails and text reminders that she had to set up her online avatar/shop and make her minimum quota.


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