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Why are people attacking lemonade stands?

Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry

Tess Vigeland: Who doesn't love a lemonade stand, right? I mean it's kids, plus a tart-n-sweet drink on a hot day, Plus watching them figure out how to make change for a dollar -- priceless.

Until, that is, some of us nosy adults butt in with ridiculous questions. Here's commentator Helaine Olen.


Helaine Olen: My son Jake runs a lemonade stand. He's good at it, adding items like popcorn and cookies to boost the take. Once, when pedestrian traffic was slow on our suburban cul-de-sac, he set up a drive-through option. He earns anywhere between $20 and $35 for a few hours of work, and he puts the money toward everything from Chinese take-out to saving up for concert tickets.

I'm proud of my budding entrepreneur. But some of Jake's patrons are dissatisfied -- and not with the quality of his lemonade. They want him to donate his sales proceeds to charity. Many ask what cause their money is going to as they pay their tab, and are shocked when they hear it's his own bank account.

"They argue with me," Jake says. "They keep asking me to give the money to charity."

What's going on?

Lemonade stands are an iconic American childhood pastime. I had one. You probably had one. But here's the thing: We almost always kept the money for ourselves. If you're wondering, I bought hit singles at the local Sam Goody record store.

Philanthropic lemonade stands are admirable, but they should not be the default for our kids' summer fun. Lemonade stands teach our children valuable lessons on how to run a small business, an activity as classically American as, well, the lemonade stand. To expect more than that seems as joyless and humorless as much else in modern parenting, where everything, it seems, needs to be for some greater goal.

Let me be clear: Jake is not uncharitable. He raises money every year for a friend with cystic fibrosis. But when he runs a lemonade stand, his goal is supplementing his allowance, not improving the world. And I'm OK with that.


Vigeland: Helaine Olen is an essayist and author of the upcoming book "Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry."

About the author

Helaine Olen is an essayist and author of book "Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry."
Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry
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So I am thinking that on this cul-de-sac, you are dealing with the same small set of neighbors, not the general public. And if your can make 35 dollars in a few hours, your neighbors are buying a lot of lemonade; maybe at first they thought it was cute, and instead of getting a glass of something to drink from their own kitchens, they patronized your son's stand. Assuming there are maybe a dozen customers on this cul-de-sac, after a while it becomes apparent that your son is really profiting nicely on their generosity, and it's suggested that all of this money ($10-$15 an hour, I calculate) might be truly seen as a donation to a worthy cause (your kid learning about commerce), not really a fair exchange, and your son should understand how to "pay it forward" and put some of it towards another good cause. Unless you son is REALLY earning this money and not just benefiting from your neighbors generosity, I sort of see their point.

I understand that running a lemonade stand is a past time that millions of kids have experienced, including myself. And I can understand how you might be upset that people question why your child isn't giving the money he gets from the stand to charity. But it doesn't seem genuine to say he is learning about capitalism or how to operate a business because he really isn't. It doesn't appear that he has to learn about purchasing product using the money he gets from selling the lemonade in order to keep the business going. It looks like he just gets the supplies from your kitchen, goes outside, sells it and keeps all the profit. There is no lesson here. So I don't think the people buying lemonade from your kid are being genuine and neither are you, people just want to be outraged or upset about something.

I'm glad to read that your son wasn't threatened with a shut-down for not having a 'permit.' That happened in Westchester County a couple of years ago. And if I recall correctly, the kids in Westchester *were* raising money for a charity.
At any rate, it's not like your son can get a newspaper route or sell garden seeds from a catalog like we did when I was a kid. And shoveling snow out of people's driveways, lol.

Kudos to your son. I don't understand why your friends think it's their 'right' to question the motives of a kid running a lemonade stand. Do they tell the clerk at the local supermarket that the money they're paying for groceries should also be going to charity?

Your books sounds interesting and I look forward to seeing it when it comes out in December.

I've long thought that people offering financial advice from Suze Ormond to Orpah to your local stockbroker "wealth manager" charlatan were the biggest and last remaining purveyors of snake oil in our nation. When I was downsized as a professional when my work went to Asia, I've long considered going into "wealth mismanagement" of "other people's money" was the fastest way back to personal riches for myself.

But I have a conscience and as a child of the 60s and old hippie, I want to help people, not screw them.

Now that being said, I wonder about your anecdotal evidence about your son's lemonade stand and your book promotion campaign nexus. Really, lots of people are telling him to donate to charity? That's rich. Probably the same people who want their kids to go to ivy schools as legacy admits and will pay them to take unpaid internships and charity work to build their resumes well into their thirties. That's probably the story you missed...no kids do babysitting, lawn work or deliver newspapers anymore because their helicopter parents are too busy helping them stuff their resumes with more "meaningful" charity work in third world countries with nice beaches. (BTW, admissions officers are on to this).

So, good luck to your son. At least he's not being threatened with government regulators looking for sales tax filings or commercial food preparation permits. (Yes, that happens around here, and what I thought your story was going to be another libertarian whine about that.) I guess the shelf life of the "free market entrepeueur" stories is past its due date -- Wall Street bankers and Mitt Rmoney's Bane Capital finally having penetrated the public's consciousness and writers for "business" sites and outlets like "Marketplace".

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