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How to say no to a Girl Scout

The cookie sale is the most visible youth fundraiser, but kids sell stuff all year. What if you can't afford to buy, or disagree on principle?

By Donna_Freedman Mar 5, 2013 1:06PM
Logo: Boy holding allowance money (Bryan Mullennix/Photodisc/Getty Images)A gaggle of cute little girls had set up shop inside the supermarket on Sunday. One of them planted herself in my path as I walked toward the produce section.

"Cookies?" she said, smiling winsomely.

"Not today, thanks," I said. "Good luck with your sale."

Her adorable face fell. Maybe it was her first "no" of the day. Or ever: Could be that no one else in the world has been able to resist that smile.

Although not completely immune (more on that below), I generally have a hard time with youth fundraisers. But not as hard a time as Kristen Daukas, who posted a pixel-blistering rant at BlogHer called "If you don't buy from my kid, I won't buy from yours." 

Seems that a neighbor's kids sold Daukas $75 worth of stuff one year. Their mom reciprocated with . . . a single, $4 purchase from a Daukas daughter.

"The next year they came a knockin', I delighted in telling them that I had already bought from another Scout that year and that no, I don't need a tumbler from a high school that we won't be at for another four years," Daukas writes.

"I'm not saying you have to buy every little thing from every little kid, but if I'm buying from yours, you better buy from mine at least once or twice."

Strong-arming sales?

The blogger and some of those who commented on her post pretty much nailed the reasons I dislike fundraisers. Too often they're for junky products -- Daukas freely admits that she's sold "a lot of crap" -- and they're always overpriced.

Kids are urged to meet sales minimums; top salespeople get prizes like stuffed animals, pizza parties or limo rides. (Really?) Friends, family and co-workers are strong-armed into buying, particularly when there's an order sheet on display. Who wants to feel like the office Grinch?
If such sales aren't in your budget, prepare to be Grinch-y over and over: Sales, sponsorships and other money grabs flow through the workplace all year long. Embarrassing enough to admit you're so strapped, but to have to do it over and over?

Potentially the most stressful embarrassing of all: Suppose the fundraiser is for an organization with which you have some philosophical differences? It's not easy to tell a sweet-faced pre-adolescent that you can't help him because you don't like the group's policies on inclusion.


One or more of these tips may help:


Don't buy what you can't afford. Yep, it's hard to say no. Say it anyway. But say it like this: "Wish I could help, but that's just not in my budget right now. Good luck with your sale." You might be ale to avoid this if you . . .

Spread out your "giving" budget.
Don't blow the whole thing on Thin Mints or the soccer league's microwave popcorn. Figure out how much you can afford to spend per year and divide by 12. If you don't use any of the money one month, move it ahead to the next. No room in your budget for fundraisers? You can soften the "no" if you . . .

Make a small cash donation.
Your entire $2 will go to the school, versus a small percentage of the price for that costly gift wrap. Most of us can find $2 to $5 somewhere (even those of us who don't drink lattes). Again, though: What if you object to gift wrap in general, or to the made-in-China tchotchkes the kids get as prizes? You can always . . .

Say, "I've bought all I can afford to buy."
And if you haven't? Make the fib a truth by donating to a cause you believe in. 

Stopping the salesmanship?

Other people probably feel the same way you do: that they're being nickel-and-dimed to death and/or stressed about feeling like the office curmudgeon. If sales are causing tension in the workplace, maybe they shouldn't be there.

Talk to the big boss or the human resources director about banning such sales, or at least setting a few ground rules. For example, band parents and den mothers could post price sheets and their email addresses but refrain from direct sales.

Before you write me off as an incurable meanie, let me say that last year I bought virtual Girl Scout cookies. That is, I sent money to a friend who dropped off the sweets at a local fire station. Her daughter got credit for the sale, and I got to avoid temptation.

This year I've done two other virtual purchases, choosing things that the sellers (my nephews) like to eat and telling their mom to keep the stuff when it arrived.

Were any of those things frugal? Nope -- just community service. In fact, I tried to make a cash donation to my nephews' cause but was told that wasn't possible -- that the school had an agreement with the sales company. Grrrr.

Some fundraisers are easier to bear than others. I do like the car washes, since they're usually "pay what you can" and you wind up with something you actually want: cleaner wheels. Last year a friend and I dropped $10 to have a high school drama/debate/forensics team give the vehicle a once-over. My own kid lettered in DDF; it was considered a sport.

Readers: What's your policy on youth fundraisers? Got any strategies to share?

More on MSN Money:

Mar 5, 2013 7:16PM
The best excuse I have is the word "No", enough of the every kid should get a prize mentality. The real world will tell them "No" quite often so they need to get used it! 
Mar 5, 2013 7:34PM
i hate school fund raisers we pay high taxes the they sell high priced things that are junk and the company makes more than the school
Mar 5, 2013 8:10PM
I usally find the WORDS NO THANK YOU works pretty well!
Mar 5, 2013 7:15PM
The constant (and I do mean CONSTANT) fundraising is ridiculous. If you parents cannot afford to subsidize your own children's activities, that's YOUR problem,  not mine.
Mar 5, 2013 6:50PM


what I usually do if I run into one of these Girl Scouts is give the price of two boxes ($8) and tell her and the adults with her to give them to the mext two customers that she has...  I don't need them (diabetic) and my own daughter was a Girl Scout long, long ago...  Helps out a good organization, sets a good example to the girls and makes me feel good inside...  a 3-fer, if you will...

Mar 5, 2013 6:49PM

I hate these parents that set up shop outside my grocery store just about every day with thier cute little kids trying to guilt us into buying crap we dont want, it's sad and pathetic that parents exploit their own kids in that way....


I came to the store to get a steak and a few beers, dont ask me if i want cookies !

Mar 5, 2013 8:32PM
This is a problem many parents have, saying no to kids. It really is that simple. No thank you and be on your way. You don't need to give a reason nor do you owe one. If you want to donate to a cause, pick one and do so. Cut out the middle man or in this case the middle girl.
Mar 5, 2013 8:19PM
My son is in little league and they had a fund raiser $5 a ticket with some good prizes ipod touch, $100 in gas and several more. I bought the 10 tickets that each child was required to sell totaling $50 because I did not want to fool with selling them and won the ipod touch so it was pretty cool. I agree the junk sales should stop I would rather donate $10 dollars and receive a simple thank you at least I know the money went to the cause not to line a companies pocket.
Mar 5, 2013 7:53PM
The angry poster in the article had an expectation, then took the lack of reciprocation personally.  Who really knows if the "stingy" neighbor couldn't afford to be as generous?  If I could afford to buy $75 worth of jazz from someone else's child, and my own children peddled stuff, wouldn't it be easier to just put my cash towards whatever my own kids were involved in?  Basically, all of these fundraisers are stressful to the parents, and the kids are asked to market products no one really wants.  I mean, we can just say "No, thank you," but then have to be willing not to pressure others to buy.
Mar 5, 2013 6:49PM
The easiest excuse I've found is to say that my niece already got me to buy.
Mar 5, 2013 10:11PM
I have never had a problem saying "no" to kids selling stuff door to door.  I have never had a problem saying "no" to parents who bring their kid's order sheet to work.  If my kids brought home junk to sell from school band, or girl scouts or boy scouts, or any other organization, they sold on their own.  Word of caution, do not sell in our neighborhood, I don't want all the other kids comming by to sell their juck from their school.  Many times they had to take back thier order sheets without a single sale.  Many times they would bring home a note from teachers, or school administrators, about their lack of effort.  I would go to the organization, usually school, and hve a "heart to heart" with the individual.  I send my kid to school to learn, not to peddle your trash.  I was not the most popular parent at the PTA meetings.  It reall broke my heart. (scarcasm)
Mar 5, 2013 8:20PM
Has anyone ever bothered to check into just how little the local group makes from all those sales>
Mar 5, 2013 10:45PM

I have seen little girls shivering out in the cold selling those damned cookies...and I always want to tell them to go inside. On the other hand, I am able to run past them into the store while yelling, "I'm cold...cold...COLD!"


As for selling the junk inside the very enlightened manager had one simple rule about that: Don't.

Mar 5, 2013 7:15PM
It's for a good cause for the Girl Scouts to sell their cookies, but nobody should be pressured into buying anything they don't really want.
Mar 5, 2013 7:03PM
Girl scout cookies are sooooo unhealthy, even for cookies. Why cant they sell something not to atrociously bad for your health? Boy scout popcorn is soooo disgusting, even kids don't like it. I once bought something from a high school band that cost $15, then saw it on sale at the 99 cent store a few days later. Wow.  All these things make me hate these kinds of fundraisers. I will still buy stuff from my friends' kids out of loyalty but i never buy from random kids i don't know.
Mar 5, 2013 8:34PM
I say no now that I found out they can not tell you where all the money in going.
Mar 5, 2013 7:05PM
We ran in to this with our son when he was in youth sports. We live in a small town and the junior  wrestling and junior football team both decided to do the discount cards from local businesses. Well what no one ever got was that you could only use them at in town businesses and that really narrowed down who you could sell too because everyone else s kid was selling them too.  I would rather give a flat donation at registration time and be done with it. My wife was a girl scout so I do try to buy cookies from Moms that I work with but my policy is one box from each that way I keep it fair.. Thank goodness he is in High School now and we don't have to deal with this we have boosters at concessions stands at games..
Mar 5, 2013 8:21PM
Has anyone bothered to check on just how little the local troop receives from these sales?
Mar 5, 2013 7:56PM
I can't eat wheat and I am hypoglycemic, so it's not difficult to say no... However, Even more than that... I have had strong ties with both girl scouts and boy scouts. I have seen multiple troops on both sides in action. More often than not, the Boy Scouts were out camping, learning survival skills, and doing charity events. They really made an impact on the community and were doing what scouts should do. With the girl scouts however, I noticed most of the troops spent troop time having hair braiding pizza parties, or trips to the beach, where they stayed in hotels, not camps like the boy scouts. I think this social time is very important for girls. However, when I give money to my local girl scouts I expect them to do scouting activities.
Mar 6, 2013 8:37AM
I think a few people are missing the point. Selling girl scout cookies, or boy scout popcorn for example helps the troops raise money to allow the kids to do some things they may never get to do on their own true. But this helps the kids learn a work ethic that is often missing in our society today. My Boy Scout can learn a skill, like salesman ship, and basically some business skill's to earn money to pay their own way to camp. I think it's great to teach kids these skill's I also think it is great for kids to learn that if I work hard and do well, I get rewarded. After all someday they will grow up and get a job where hard work and good results will be rewarded. 
   Sometimes the schools go overboard with amount of fundraisers but overall I think it's good learning experience for the kids, (provided the kids are the ones who do they selling, I don't buy from parents). If you don't want to buy, don't buy, but for heavens sake respect the kids and the effort they put in.
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.