My daughters love dolls, chocolate, pretty ribbon, and managerial accounting

The American Girl catalog showed up in the mailbox a few weeks ago, timed precisely to get to my daughters just as I’m too exhausted thinking about Christmas to sort the mail as carefully as I’d like. That was an afternoon of “Look, she has a pet bunny and it has its own carrots!” and “Matching PJs. Cool.”

Honestly, I’m quite fond of the American Girl dolls. Women’s historical fiction! Learning about dress in different time periods! Promoting girl initiative! Keeping children young for as long as possible! Confession: I saw the catalog, and I put it where they’d be sure to see it. We weren’t ready to jump into the AG world a few years ago, but now that my daughters are 7 and so-close-to-6-she-can-taste-it, bring it, dollfriends.

So I asked them, thinking I was being sneaky, “If you could save up your money, which doll would you buy?” And that’s where it all started.

My plan, you see, was to have Santa bring them the dolls for Christmas. Which he’s going to do, by the way, and with a little luck and some help from a friend we might even find a pair of raspberry-framed glasses for Beth’s doll to wear, because Beth wears raspberry-framed glasses and the website says they’re back-ordered until December 31st. But he’s also going to leave the girls a note saying that they need to pay for the dolls’ extras — matching PJs, bunnies, book series — with their own money.  The girls’ plan is a little more complex, but because it’s their idea I’m going with it, and I’m really excited to see what happens.

It turns out they both thought that saving money to buy their own dolls was a great idea. A really great idea. So much so that they went upstairs to get their banks (piggy for Beth, froggy for Sarah) and counted out all of their money on the kitchen table. Beth has almost $40; Sarah has around $25. And then we figured out how much money each girl would need to earn in order to buy her doll. And they realized that it was a pretty serious sum of money, but they were pretty sure they could do it.

I suggested that daddy and I could pay them for doing extra chores. Sarah suggested a lemonade stand. Beth pointed out that no one is going to want to buy lemonade until summer, and countered with a hot chocolate stand. And then the lightbulb went on: “Mommy, can we make hot chocolate mix and sell it on Etsy?” (Background note here: their dad is an accounting professor and I have an Etsy shop, so this isn’t quite the kind of cognitive leap it might appear to be. My mom was a teacher, and my sister and I played school a lot.) So I said, sure, why not?

Sarah drew up a prototype, based on some hot chocolate mix they’d received as a birthday party favor last year (and I do mean drew: on scratch paper with a dull pencil, and with a few misspellings — oh, here, I’ll just take a picture of it for you all):


Beth took over from there. We had to have the right kind of bags, for starters. So she sat next to me and told me what to Google on my laptop. We searched until we found a quantity less than 1,000 and with reasonable shipping. At this point I started a spreadsheet — I wanted to show her that 100 bags for $15.60 comes out to almost 16 cents per bag. “That’s cheap,” she said. “How much does the rest of it cost?” So she picked up Sarah’s drawing and told me what else to put in the spreadsheet. And asked her dad what goes in hot chocolate mix. And drew up a shopping list of everything we’d need, from cocoa and powdered sugar to cornstarch and twist ties. And labels — they had to have labels.

Beth was on a roll at this point. I won’t bore you with the details, but we searched fonts and clip art for about an hour, and she has pretty strong opinions about what she likes, and I’d do something on the computer and she’d say, “Mom, can you curve it a little bit more?” and “Can the mug be pink instead of blue?” and “I want the letters to look like they were made by somebody my age,” and now we have a label. Last night we made a test batch of cocoa mix, packaged the first two cones, and then the girls went to bed and left me to clean up the sugary mess on the kitchen table. And I am totally okay with this. The two little odd packages on the kitchen table aren’t fit to be photographed (apparently we’re going to need some practice), but I’m ridiculously proud of my kids. They even talked about the fact that taking tastes would cut into their profits.

And I’m reminded of a great conversation I had with sister blogger Suzette the first time I met her, about how the things we tell our sons and daughters in Mormon culture are different: boys grow up expecting that they’ll have to support a family, and tend to choose college majors that will prepare them to do so; girls grow up hearing “Get all the education you can” with undertones of “but it can be in something not-very-marketable because sure, you’ll have a job, but you aren’t likely to have a career.” It’s what the two of us had heard, anyway, and we’d both ended up going to graduate school not because it was part of our master life plan but because we realized we needed that extra leg up to compete with all the guys who’d written it into their master plans about the same time they returned from missions.

I want all three of my kids (even Drew, who is just starting to speak in sentences) to grow up with solid economic tools: a good sense for money and its worth, a healthy skepticism toward marketing, an understanding of the real costs of things (including the external costs, and I bring them up often), an inclination to work and to care about quality, and a sense of what it is to take on a project and be successful at it. They’re going to have to know how to shop for things — not just how to buy them, but to really comparison shop. They’ll need to interview for jobs that might not exist yet. They’re pretty good at making chocolate chip cookies on their own (well, after I wrote up the recipe in words they could understand), but this is another thing entirely, to take a product from idea through production and (with any luck, and some kind grandparents) make money on it. I know I’ll end up pretty involved (and sick of scrubbing the kitchen table), but this is their project, their apprenticeship.

The healthy sense of self and ability to make a plan and take action on it, the confidence that if they start on a project and stick to it they’ll succeed — these are the things I want them to learn. Along the way there are going to be a bunch of specific lessons in economics, accounting, marketing, project management, product design, not giving up when you’re bored, and the mind-boggling idea that nickels are bigger than dimes but are actually worth less.

What are the life lessons you want your children to learn? What have been some of the opportunities that allowed your children (or yourself!) to learn them?



  1. Yay! Libby! We went with the “save up for your own AG” a few years ago; it was a wonderful lesson in saving for what you want. My kids have not tried to come up with their own product to market… but they did campaign for a list of chores that I might pay someone for… such as cleaning and vacuuming the car and a price list.

    Right now, the life lessons I want for my daughters are continuing with healthy body image and a true understanding of modesty and what it is for. And my son.

    I want them to lean toward being creative for the sake of creativity, and to love what they do. Think outside the box and learn to share their opinions without fear of being labelled. To be excited about learning and finding information, using their brains, and loving books. I especially want your name-sake to be really confident in what she knows and that she can share it! 🙂

    (And I want them to not be afraid of childbirth if that is part of their earth life. And willing to take on all the risks of life with maybe fear, but faith in God and in humanity).

    • Well, you were my inspiration — my girls know about your older girls saving up their own money, so it was a reasonable thing for us to talk about. Thanks for leading the way.

      I love your hopes for your children! (But then, it’s because they match mine.) And feel free to send my name-sake up here for some confidence training. I’ll make her plan a visit to a museum and get us there on the T.

  2. Yes–do let us know when it’s available for purchase!

    Also, this is such a fantastic post and story. I felt just like you and Suzette did–like I’d been encouraged to learn and get an education. But it wasn’t until I was well into my graduate education that I even started thinking about it as a step towards a career and realized I needed to be thinking about professionalization, not just being smart and doing what I needed to graduate. We do our girls a real disservice by not preparing them from a young age to think strategically about education, career, and all things financial/economic. I know this is not a uniquely Mormon problem, but our cultural understandings of gender certainly give it unique dimensions.

  3. This is so nice, and so refreshing to read.

    All of those skills they are learning (and that you are helping them learn) are such useful skills. For boys and girls.

    I also distinctly remember one finals time at BYU, freaking out in the library over a paper, and a male friend responding, “You don’t need to do good, you can just get married.” I’d like to think he was at least partly joking, but I’m not sure he was.

  4. Not to brag but……. my daughter would rather save for college than save to buy anything. And I should be online shopping for her right now but she doesn’t really want anything.
    The real problem is that people tell our daughters they can do anything. So since my daughters are good at lots of things they want to choose something fun that they will like. My son, however, is only good in certain areas so his choices are limited and it will be easier for him to pick a marketable skill.
    I tried to steer my oldest into accounting, but everyone told her accounting was boring. Dangit. I told her it was because they didn’t understand math, but the damage was done. So, I am now mad at all the women who don’t keep their mouth shut about math being hard or math being uninteresting. Math is not hard and it is not fun.
    Too bad my daughter isn’t just brilliant in math. She is also brilliant at verbal and social stuff. Women tend to be more well rounded so even if they are good at math and science they choose away from it.
    Women in less developed countries don’t choose away from it because they are less confident and more desperate to be able to get a decent job.
    My son is only good at math, science and social studies facts. Much easier for him to choose a decent paying profession since all the liberal arts will not be calling to him.

  5. I have very few regrets in my life …. and the ones I have are fairly small. But, man, I wish I would have jumped on the “career” wagon sooner. I lost so much time in my 20’s. At any rate, I’m on it now … and I tell all the children in my life to make the career move early.

    I also tell them that they can change the career, postpone the career, alter the career ….. but they’ve got to get started.

    Great post, Libby. I hope for all children that they will have strong mothers and strong female influences.

    The other thing I want all children to learn …. is kindness.


  6. For those of you wondering: the girls wrote their first-ever advertising copy and they have the hot chocolate mix for sale here.. (I love all of you Exponent women!)

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