The $3.00 Challenge – Field Exercise For Boy Scouts

One could argue that being frugal, or thrifty, is an exercise of creativity, observation, analytical thought, and conservation.  That is how I view it, anyway.  It isn’t clear to me how this thinking evolves. For some,  it is a fiscal necessity, as stretching a budget is required to provide for family need, or you grew up in this way.

As two income families become more the norm, the need to be thrifty has lessened.  Kids grow up without having a sense of “not having”. Being frugal is not a required skill. I imagine not feeling the pinch some young kids can’t readily experience or understand any value in being thrifty.  But when they leave the nest, and need to start paying bills on entry level wages, clearly, it is a skill they need.

The Fight Against Entitlement

Does having every need satisfied without struggle  contribute to a sense of entitlement with some of our kids? Maybe it is part of human nature. Entitlement bringing with it a lessened sense that money, respect, trustworthiness, and position need to be earned.  Does the word “Earn” really mean something, if one is given everything?  Irrespective of this, almost all would agree that the fundamental need to carefully spend and conserve their money is a great life skill to have.

So, beyond Mom and Dad letting their kids know “money doesn’t grow on trees”, or telling “When I was a kid” stories, where can little Johnny learn this?  Surprisingly, Boys Scouts teaches this.

Thrifty is in our Scout Law. Although the law has changed over time, being thrifty has been part of the law since 1909.  The current Scout Law goes like this…

A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.

(Boy Scouts of America, Scout Law)

To be undertood as “A Scout is thrifty. A Scout works to pay his way and to help others. He saves for the future. He protects and conserves natural resources. He carefully uses time and property.” (

At our most recent trip, the Scouts had an unexpected opportunity to learn a bit more about the true meaning of “Thrifty”, thanks to Burger King’s Value Menu, and my son’s lifelong deprivation of “Happy Meals”.

A Recent Scouting Experience

A few years back, I became the Scout Master of our local Scout Troop (who celebrated their 50th anniversary last year, and has 88 Eagle scouts, and counting).  I am not particularly skillful at Scout skills (knot tying, map reading), and hiking isn’t at the top of my list. Having this role for a year or two,  I have recognized that as Scouts join our troop, they have varying degrees of understanding and commitment to these positive Scout Law character traits.  It is natural and expected that any memorized phrase isn’t deeply felt, and most Scouts grow into this as they grow older and mature. Certainly no one is perfect and adheres to these all the time, but if the commitment and desire are there, that is all anyone can expect.  Trying to follow them is better than not, basically.

Meanwhile, the troop gets to “enjoy” these growing pains, as I am drawn into “helping” various disagreements, often  compelling (e.g. reasoning, pleading, and, yes, yelling)   the offending parties to resolve some issue . Trust me, I don’t want to intercede, unless I have to.

Our last outing is one of our best yearly long weekends camping trips, held on the shores of the Chesapeake. We enjoyed swimming, boating, and jet skiing, thanks to generosity of the parents of one of our Eagle Scouts who host us at their waterfront place.  I never had so great an opportunity when I was a kid. My sons greatly appreciate opportunities such as this.

All our Scouts are good kids, capable of being exceptional, as I believe all kids are.  As is often the case, a few of our Scouts don’t do a stellar job at living up to the Scout Law recently:

Courteous – More than once they didn’t clean up after themselves. Somehow, they haven’t made the connection that their “home” rules should be their “everywhere” rules.

Trustworthy – When asked about it, lets say, more truth could have been told.

Friendly – There was a continuing argument between a few of your newer Scouts that would have required the skills of Johnny Cochran, and wiseness of King Solomon to resolve (basically skill level’s I haven’t attained). These “discussions” carried on into the wee hours of the night/morning.

Kind – Aggressive trash talking, not heavily vulgar, but definitely not kind.

Obedient – Getting them to clean after themselves and put up one of the tents required super powers they didn’t seem to have. I could be quoted, paraphrasing here, as “Arrrrgggghhhhhh… PUT….UP….YOUR….TENT, please”. (I add the please as my attempt at being courteous.  Pretty good, huh? I may be imagining the please though. It was a long day).

So, despite a great weekend, I wasn’t particularly enthused with the bahavior of a few of our scouts.  A per our tradition, or trip home includes stopping for a fast food lunch. I would have preferred to skip it this time, as I wasn’t in the greatest mood, but I shouldn’t punish the Scouts who did well, so we went.

Making Thrifty Real – Getting the Most Out of the Least

“So who has some money for lunch?”, I queried.  Almost all  had it, as I had let the parents know to send their kids with some spending cash for lunch. Two did not.

“I got one dollar”,  FYI he had started with $20.  “I wasn’t told to bring money”, said the other.   As these these were two of the offending Scouts, my desire to be generous wasn’t as generous as it could have been. So a learning opportunity has presented itself.

“Who can repeat the Scout Law”, I queried.  One of our newer Scouts did a pretty good job of repeating it accurately (they left out loyal, but still pretty good).

“I heard you say Thrifty”, I pointed out. “Do you know what Thrifty is?”, one of the other Scout’s queried.  The newer Scouts had a sense of it, but couldn’t quite verbalize it.  “Cheap”, was the quickest description. I added “Getting the most, out of the least”.

“I’ll lend two of you $3.00 for lunch”, with some feeling of guilt of imposing what is probably severe austerity for some. “Make it work!”, I say with optimism, and resoluteness.

“No, you are not allowed to spend my money on milkshakes, ice cream, or Slushies”, knowing how 12 year old minds work, and heading off the obvious and expected question.

“Oh Man, Really”, was the expected, and received response. “Really, only a balanced meal”, was my steadfast response.

“What do you mean?”, one newer scout inquired, with sincere curiosity.  “Your order has to include meat in it”, was my most simplified description of this, knowing the carbs are always present in the bun and fries.

I admit I was surprised when they took on the task with curiosity and sincere sense of mission. It was great to watch them work through it.  There was thoughtful discussion and reasoning to figure out what would be a filling and balanced mean.  As I often seen, if the expectation and challenge is there, these Scouts work to get through it.

My Son The Expert

My son, who had pointed out he had gone his entire life without Happy Meals (not true, my wife is a real softy) the make it work for $3.00 (he remembers $2.00, but I thought it was $3.00) is was very familiar request from me at fast food places  Amazingly, this doesn’t embarrass him, as maybe he likes the challenge of it. I also see it as healthier, as does anyone really need a super sized fry and soda to go with their Big Mac?

“What can $3.00 buy?”, one newer Scout says, half as complaint, half as a sincere question.

My son was already flipping through his Burger King coupon app (which I didn’t know existed). “Two Bacon Cheese Burgers, and Two Fries”, “10 Piece Nuggets and Fry”, etc.

So we go in.  “I’ll take three cheese burgers and a cup for water”, I demonstrate, but the kids are transfixed by the small writing on the value menu, and deciphering what a Rodeo burger may be.

One Scout tried to figure out if $3.00 really means up to $3.99. We got clever kids down here in DC.  “Can I get a burger, fry and value drink at $3.29?”. “No, that is $3.29, and you only have $3.00, but I’ll pay for tax”. “Awww, Man”, another anticipated and received response.

The lady in front of us was listening in with some amusement, and I think appreciation, for teaching the kids the value of the good ol’ American dollar. “Are these your children?”, she queried. “No, they are Boy Scouts.  Just teaching them the value of a dollar”.

The Scouts worked to download the Burger King app, so they could get a good deal.

The Scouts did pretty good.  Here is the final score:

Two got the 10 piece nugget deal with large fry ($3.00).
Two got the 20 bacon cheese burgers with two regular frys ($3.00)
I got the three cheese burgers ($3.00).

So I know it isn’t knot tying, but hopefully this is something they’ll remember, can put to everyday use, and an element in the Scout Law they understand more than before. Time will tell.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Good job, Mark. I think too many people confuse “thrifty” with “cheap”. It’s not the same thing at all. The Europeans call it “value for money”, which I think is as good an explanation as any.


    1. Mark says:

      Thanks Carole. I agree. Even if your goal is the finer things, don’t you want to get a good deal?


    2. Mark says:

      The kids were interested in this as it turns out.


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