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Five Lessons Learned From A 5 Year Old’s Lemonade Stand

As parents to two little girls, my husband and I often think about the job we have as the educators and protectors of our daughters. We discuss whether we are doing a good enough job, and I’ll be honest, we usually feel like we are failing in one way or another. Every parent wonders if they are doing enough, and presenting enough “life lessons” to little ones… and money is definitely one area where we have felt woefully inadequate.

So, when our older daughter began doing math problems in school and asking for a brand new bicycle, we decided it was time to implement a real life lesson in sales, money, and profit. What better way to do this than a lemonade stand? So, off we went! We learned (and yes, even failed) many aspects of this fun experiment, and here are five of the things we gathered along the way:

We couldn’t do the work for her: At first blush, it felt tempting to just head off to the store and buy that adorable bike, complete with streamers on the handlebars, and sparkly spokes. Our then-five-year-old little girl was cherubic and charming, and when she asked for that big girl bike, we were ready to hand our debit card (we are a credit-card free family!) to any cashier at the toy store. But, it was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up to turn this request for a big toy into something she would remember forever….and that meant we couldn’t do it for her. When we asked Emmy to think of a way she could earn money for the bike, she suggested a lemonade and donut stand herself, and we were hopeful she would learn what it meant to follow through on an idea; how to bring something to fruition. We helped her dream up and sketch an idea for a lemonade stand (using a miniature kids’ table), and she came up with the color palette and inspiration.

We had to demonstrate perseverance even when it wasn’t convenient: Real talk: things got hard real quick during this process. Working with a five year old on a large, daunting craft project wasn’t exactly easy. I found myself getting frustrated with twenty five yards of tulle and plucking fake flowers off stems from the dollar store. I didn’t have the time, as a working mom, to be glueing and fluffing materials, but when the project became rocky, I also wanted to show Emmy what perseverance looks like (and how it’s possible to not lose your cool under pressure!). I had even read a few articles about raising successful kids, and how they have to see you persist under stressful conditions, and I knew that creating a space for us both to learn this was important. Emmy and I woke up together at 6:00 AM to run the stand. We drug out a highly complicated table, chairs, and banner/decorations to the street, and realized the sprinklers had made the grass sopping wet. Her paper banner and fabric skirt became wet and we had to improvise with beach towels underneath. She accidentally mixed up the cans incorrectly by mis-reading the number of water cans to add, and then, we realized we didn’t have any ice for the melting lemonade cups. It wasn’t easy, but we kept encouraging Emmy to continue on, and I worked hard to display positivity, in spite of obstacles.

Emmy was not too young to learn about real-life money: Did you know that a five year old is not too young to do math? She was fully capable of writing out lists, going shopping with me, and finding bargains on the materials she needed for the treat stand. I invited her into the process (yes, it was slower and less convenient, but she learned so much). She got excited about the financial aspect, and learned about profit and cost of goods. Practically, what this looked like was that she went with me to Walmart, armed with a notepad and a calculator of her own. Together, we worked out how much cans of frozen lemonade, donut holes, napkins, paper plates, and cups would be, and we kept the receipt with the total. She learned that she would have to make more than that cost (if she sold out her lemonade, which happened!), and was determined that she could outsell what we purchased. Showing her that the lemonade stand (and everything she needed) was not going to appear out of thin air, helped her set tangible goals. We spent $27 on supplies, and she ended up earning $135! We subtracted the supplies (she “paid” us back after her stand), and she made a profit of $108 on her first day of running her stand, all by herself!

We wanted her to connect hard work and rewards. After she closed up her shop for the first day, she had earned enough to purchase her grown-up bike, and we took her to the store that very night, before it closed. We wanted her to connect the dots between a hard day’s work (her lemonade stand was open for nearly 8 hours, and she did all of the managing of it), and receiving the celebration at the end! Emmy was so proud of the purchase, and was happy to share her success with anyone who would listen. If you’re a parent of a child who has worked towards a goal, don’t forget to acknowledge their hard work, whether it’s hitting a certain account milestone, saving for a large purchase, or contributing a certain amount to charity. Even if your child doesn’t meet a specified goal, it’s ideal to praise effort and hard work as well. We read this article about how to give your child strong praise, and liked the way it described that successful praise includes “sincerity, specificity, and realistic standards”.

We had to let her fail sometimes: Emmy ran her lemonade stand two times that first summer we tried this experiment, and while the first time was a major success, the second was a complete flop. She had two customers during another 8 hour stand, but we didn’t let her give up, and she persevered. She actually barely covered her supplies, but she also walked away knowing that she had put in the hard work, and that sometimes, you can’t always achieve the same results even with hard work. It was hard to watch her sit out there on the curb with no customers, on an overcast day, but she did it. Afterwards, we talked about success and failure, and how sometimes “failing” teaches us how to do better next time, and how to persevere through struggle. After that day, she said to us, “I think next time I’ll pick a sunny day when there are more yard sales!”…and she did. We were surprised she wanted to do it again, and yet, it was amazing to watch her critically think about how to improve her process. She found a weekend when it was warmer by looking at the weather forecast, and even helped me track down lemonade on sale. She also suggested adding donut holes instead of donuts because “donut holes are easier for people to hold while they yard sale!”. We were thrilled that a failure had only ignited her desire to do better, instead of quit. This summer, a year later, a third stand was another smashing success, and she earned nearly $100 again.

A lowly lemonade stand became elevated to a real-life lesson about money, hard-work, and goal setting. Emmy still talks about it often with fondness, and we look for other ways to implement long-term and short-term goals in the life of both our daughters!

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