How to build a better budget

Perhaps you enjoy fundraising every month or pestering parents for money before each camping trip. Maybe you’re a fan of scrubbing pots and pans and doing summer camp laundry, too.

For the rest of us, a unit budget plan is the way to go. Scouters like you will enjoy getting a more complete picture of the year. Parents will appreciate knowing the annual cost of Scouting up front so they can incorporate that cost into their family’s budget. 

Start by planning your year in advance. Then figure out how much money you’ll need — and need to raise. Have your unit committee and chartered organization approve the budget. After that, simply execute the plan and enjoy a well-designed year of Scouting.

In Cub Scout packs, adult leaders create the program plan and budget. In troops and crews, youth leaders are heavily involved while adult volunteers advise from the sidelines.

Six steps to creating a budget

  1. Plan your pack, troop or crew’s annual program. You can’t have a budget without a program plan. This is a vision of your next six, 12 or 18 months of Scouting fun. Your calendar should list meetings, weekend campouts, high-adventure trips and more. It should include day camp, resident camp and summer camp. Don’t forget district, council and national Scouting events. Be sure someone brings the school district’s calendar, a list of holidays (when is Easter this year?), and schedules for sports or extracurricular activities.
  2. Make it fun. Bring snacks, play some music and plan a fun post-planning activity. Work’s always better when it doesn’t feel like work.
  3. Develop a budget so you know how much money you’ll need to achieve the program. Remember to include costs beyond camping trips. Consider handbooks, awards and recognition items, program materials, scholarships for low-income families, contingency expenses and more. 
  4. Look for projects that allow the troop or crew to bring in additional income.
  5. Figure out how much product you’ll need to sell. If you’re peddling a product like popcorn, determine how much each member should try to sell to cover your income goal.
  6. Get commitments from parents, leaders and youth.

The 12 basic Scouting expenses

For best results, build each of these expenses into your unit’s annual budget.

  1. Registration fees. The BSA membership fee is $33 a year for all registered youth and adult members.
  2. Charter fee. Units are required to pay an annual rechartering fee of $40, submitted with the unit’s annual charter application. Sometimes the unit pays this fee; sometimes the chartered organization covers it.
  3. Boys’ Life magazine. The BSA’s monthly magazine is available to all members at $12 per year. Most units simply wrap this cost into their annual dues. Every Scout should subscribe to Boys’ Life because it promotes reading and enhances your unit’s monthly program — plus, it’s fun. It’s part of being a Scout.
  4. Accident and sickness insurance. Ask your local council for information on how to protect parents from the financial hardship of high medical bills in the case of an unfortunate accident while on a Scouting trip.
  5. Advancement and recognition. Costs for Cub Scout adventure loops, Boy Scout merit badges, Venturing awards and more should be included.
  6. Activities. In some units, families pay per event for activities like the Pinewood Derby, council camporees, weekend campouts and high-adventure trips. A better bet: Make this all part of the unit’s budget.
  7. Camp. Day camp, resident camp, family camp, Boy Scout summer camp, and a big Venturing or Sea Scouting trip. These special Scouting events — often the highlight of a young person’s year — should be included in the budget.
  8. Program materials. Den meeting supplies, craft tools, a U.S. flag, a unit flag, camping equipment, videos, books, merit badge pamphlets, ceremonial props and more. Some packs, troops and crews provide each new member with a “welcome kit” that includes an official handbook, unit numeral, T-shirt and cap.
  9. Training. Adult and youth leader training should be considered an integral annual expense. In many troops, the cost to send the senior patrol leader or crew president and his or her assistant to National Youth Leadership Training is part of the budget. Other units pay to send a certain number of adults to Wood Badge each year and ask Scouters to apply for these spots.
  10. Uniforms. Uniforms create a sense of belonging. In most units, the individual pays for the uniform. But you might consider making uniform elements — or the full uniform itself — part of the unit budget.
  11. Reserve fund. The “rainy-day fund” might be established by a gift or loan from the chartered organization, by members of the committee or by a unit money-earning project.
  12. Other expenses. A gift to the World Friendship Fund, leader recognition items, meeting refreshments and anything else that might cost money.

Sources of income

It’s called “fundraiser fatigue,” and it afflicts youth soccer teams and Scout units alike. Instead of a parade of monthly fundraisers, try to earn the most amount of money in the least amount of time. For most units, one well-planned fundraiser in the fall, such as selling popcorn, will suffice. Other units need the extra boost of a spring fundraiser.

Remember, units aren’t allowed to solicit money by requesting contributions from individuals or the community. And if you’re not doing a council-sponsored fundraiser, you’ll need to fill out the Unit Money-Earning Application (bit.ly/BSAmoneyapp) before proceeding.

Once you determine how much money each Scout or Venturer can realistically expect to earn in a fundraiser (or two), calculate the deficit. That will reveal the annual dues obligation from each parent.

If the expected annual dues are still prohibitively high, switch to monthly dues payments. Or go back to “the 12 basic Scouting expenses” and see where cuts can be made. At all costs, try to avoid the pay-as-you-go approach, which entails charging families per event.

More resources

Having a program plan and budget adopted by your pack, troop or crew committee earns you points toward Journey to Excellence Gold Level. Calculate your current score at scouting.org/JTE

GO FOR GOLD: Kick-start your unit’s budget planning with PowerPoint presentations, helpful guides and even fillable Excel spreadsheets at bit.ly/BSAplanning

DON’T REINVENT THE WHEEL: Someone has been down this planning path before you. Ask your predecessor to email you the unit’s budget from a previous year. If one doesn’t exist, check with a nearby unit.

15 Comments

    • Ours only does for our Lion den. Our other dens have not had dues based on the Pack hitting its popcorn goal every year. But we will be doing some sort of fees as not all the boys hit their goals ans get carried by the overachievers.

    • Our Cub Scout pack does annual dues with Scout accounts. Currently at $100, covers recharter, pins, loops graduation book, neckerchief and slide, and PWD car. If the dues are paid by Christmas break, we include Boys Life subscription. The scouts earn 20% of popcorn sales to their scout accounts. If they sell $500 popcorn, they earn $100, and dues are paid for.
      The $100 was set before recharter dues jumped from $24 to $33, so next year we may have to raise dues to $110.

  1. Great topic. Unfortunately the templates include some old figures. Registration fee has increased, as well as charter fee.

      • Jeff, several documents available on Scouting.org still refer to $24.00 as the yearly fees. These may have been what Chris was commenting about. There are available for download budget preparation spreadsheets for Packs, Troops and Crews. The sample budget, contained in the spreadsheet, shows yearly fees as $24.00 however the spreadsheet cells can be changed to $33.00 making this spreadsheet current. There is a companion PDF explaining how to make a budget and reads much like the Scouting Magazine article. The pack spreadsheet is publication #510-278 and the Troop spreadsheet is publication #510-277. The companion explanations are #510-273 for Packs and #510-275 for Troops.
        These forms and many others can be found in the JTE Guidebooks available for download at:
        https://www.scouting.org/awards/journey-to-excellence/guidebooks/
        The Guidebooks also explain a process for doing a unit yearly plan, involving more adults, setting JTE goals and showing how to encourage unit committee adults to earn the appropriate Scouter’s Training Award/recognition.

  2. In my troop we fundraise for the following year. Then we plan a program to stay within that budget plus a portion for our 4-year events. It works out very nice. We have 2 major fundraisers and 2 minor. We collect dues and bus fees. Weeklong events have a participation fee like canoe trips or Philmont. Otherwise everything is paid by the troop.

  3. I’d like to add to the list of basic scouting expense – camping gear. My experience is that each scout generally provides their own sleeping bag and backpack, but troops provide tents, stoves, fuel, and cooking gear. Even if the gear is already in a troop’s inventory, a troop needs to budget for replacements due to wear-and-tear.

  4. Our pack charges 85.00 a year for fees, paid at beginning of year. All boys are required to sell $450. 00 of popcorn. The person in charge of popcorn has prizes that boys can earn for basic (450) sales and prizes get bigger for bigger sales. Selling level 14 for $ 5000.00 of popcorn and earn a complete xbox game system ( 2 boys did). Also, after selling 2500.00 you earn a college scholarship worth 6% of your sales that year and all future years. Our pack pays for boys at all meetings. It covers food at meetings. Cost for some events , like when we go to the Boy Scout lodge, or family camping, food/ lodging is covered for boy and then parents/sibblings pay like $3 to $5 each. Some events like that may cost more, but the scout is covered totally or at a vary high rate. We have fun and it is nice that sibblings can be included. If I had realized family would have been included i would have had my older son do scouting.

  5. I would add insurance to the 12 basic needs. Insurance for scout equipment. Insurance for a scout trailer. (If the Troop has a trailer.). Insurance for a scout shelter. (If the Troop has a stand alone shelter.). Years ago while looking into our troops insurance needs, we realized that we were under-insured. Just FYI, In the end the cost for our Troop for insurance is about $100 dollars per year for the Troop Trailer, the Troop Equipment and the Troop storage shed.

  6. When I was Cubmaster 4 years ago, we put a line item in to cover a couple of scouts in case of economic hardship. If you do this, be sure to let such help be given while letting people maintain their dignity.

  7. Involve youth in budgeting decisions as is age-appropriate. Most young people are interested and rarely have ownership until they must make major decisions as a teen or young adult. I recommend as part of getting them to participate, they be involved at all stages of the budget process. We do them no favors when adults do it all. It’s an opportunity to explain, demonstrate, guide, and ENABLE!

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