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how many $4 boxes of cookies do you want this year? January 14, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Free Food!, Lessons Learned.
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One of the most troublesome things about working for a large company in an office environment is that there’s always more than one person with a daughter just the right age for selling Girl Scout Cookies (herein referred to as GSCs). It’s that time of year — the first week in January, I got two separate all-staff e-mails extolling the virtues of Girl Scouts and how you can support them buy buying as many GSCs as you can.

CC-licensed photo by Timothy B. Buckwalter

CC-licensed photo by Timothy B. Buckwalter

Each year we buy GSCs from my cousin (who’s 11) and my niece (who’s 13). That’s it. I won’t buy them from co-workers because if you buy from one you have to buy from all. And just how many $4 boxes of cookies can you conceivably afford in this economy.

Yes. Four dollars. Three years ago (I checked my archives), they were $3.50. When I was in high school, they were $3. When my mother was a Girl Scout, they were $1. That makes for a fairly sharp inflationary curve in the past 20 years.

The cost-per-box is only the first drawback to GSCs. The second is the quality. GSCs just aren’t that good. They don’t come out with new flavors often enough, and the flavors that do taste good are the least economical to buy. There’s only one flavor of GSC I like — and it comes out to be one of the two most expensive per cookie.

A package of Oreos (name-brand) costs about $3.70, and you get about 30 cookies. A package of Samoas costs $4, and you get 15 cookies. Do the math.

GSCs also lead to overeating — you have to buy so many to appease your children, your friends’ children, your nieces, the neighborhood kids, the kids set up outside every grocery store and big-box store, and everyone at work* that you end up with ten or more boxes over the course of cookie season. The cookies are so small that you have to eat four or five just to get any satisfaction, and five Samoas is one-third of a box (about $1.33 — and three big cookies from Subway cost a total of $1.19 in most places). The thing about snacks is that if you have a lot of them, you’ll eat more because you know you won’t run out. My household buys one box of cookies each week — usually a generic brand of sandwich cookie — at a cost of $2.25 or so. They last us four or five days. When we have GSCs in the house, we still buy that box of generic cookies, we still consume them over four or five days, but we’re also eating a few GSCs a day. (And who hasn’t sat down in front of the TV and eaten a whole sleeve of Thin Mints at least once a year?)

Plus, the Girl Scouts organization knows that they’ve built up a demand for these things. By only making them available a few months out of the year, and making consumers pre-order them, they’ve pretty much guaranteed a captive market willing to spend as much as $20 at a time (per Scout, anyway) so they can claim they’ve done something good and so they can brag that their Scout has sold hundreds of boxes of cookies.

Oh, and one more thing: for every box of GSCs you buy, the local troop gets about 50 cents. The rest goes to manufacturing, marketing, and the Girl Scouts organization. The smarter way to support the scouts is to write a check for $15 to your local troop — that’s the equivalent of 30 boxes of cookies sold, and it saves the parents who work in your office from having to bother everyone via e-mail, phone, and walking up to your desk to interrupt your workflow just so they can make the same pitch, year after year, guilt-tripping you into buying more cookies.

How many boxes of $4 cookies did you buy this year? How quickly did you eat them? And how upset were you when you realized you could’ve just saved them and re-sold them over the summer for $5 a box — and people would’ve flocked to your desk in droves to spend even more, just because of the exclusivity factor.

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* Woe betide you if your manager (or anyone higher than you in the food chain) wants you to buy GSCs. You have no choice. You must buy them or else it’ll reflect badly upon you, no matter how much the seller says “it’s okay, I understand.”

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