Why Do You Disapprove Of My Capitalist Kid’s Lemonade Stand?

Writer Helaine Olen has a young son, and he engaged in a classic American summer activity: he started a lemonade stand on his quiet suburban street. He earns some spending money and probably learns some important lessons about customer service and profit, and the neighbors who patronize his stand get a refreshing beverage. But, Olen writes, her son’s customers want more than that. They ask what charitable cause his lemonade stand is raising money for, and disapprove when they learn that his stand is a for-profit venture. What the heck?

In an audio essay for public radio’s “Marketplace,” she reflected on lemonade, commerce, and modern parenting:

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.

Teaching your child about the satisfaction of earning money, then how to save it or spending it wisely seems like a good enough goal to me, but I’m a personal finance blogger. That’s what I would think. What should kids get out of running a lemonade stand? What should the minimum age be to start a for-profit venture?

Why are people attacking lemonade stands? [Marketplace]


Edit Your Comment

  1. TrustAvidity says:

    Do the parents of the girl in the middle let her wear that to school? Interesting…

    • sufreak says:

      Surely. Because we only wear out what we’re allowed to wear to school or work.

      • TrustAvidity says:

        That’s why it was formed as a question and not an accusation.

        • longfeltwant says:

          LOL. Dude you don’t get to escape responsibility for innuendo, just because you admit that it’s only innuendo and not explicit. You made a very clear innuendo, or else you are culpably ignorant of how innuendo works among adults. Own it, or apologize for it, but don’t try to deny it, that just makes you look silly.

    • eccsame says:

      She’s running a lemonade stand in the summer. What should she be wearing? Jeans and a sweater?

      • TrustAvidity says:

        Nope, just making an observation since it seemed like an actual outfit and not like a swimsuit. There are warm days during the school year too. It was just an out-loud thought, not that big of a deal.

        • HFC says:

          It looks like a common swimming suit top. Not a one piece, not a bikini, it’s a tankini. Perfectly acceptable summer wear. You wonder if the parents of the girl on the left let her wear a tank top to school because she’s wearing one in the picture?

    • missmarymack says:

      way to sexualize a little kid, trustavidity.

  2. triana says:

    I have a job so I can make money. While I would love to have the means to donate all of my time to a non-profit organization, or donate my entire paycheck to one, that’s not happening. I don’t think we should expect that of kids, either. Let them learn about earning a paycheck and budgeting that money. They’ll have to eventually.

    • zippy says:

      True, but every standalone lemonade stand I’ve seen (I say standalone, because sometimes people set up cutrate lemonade stands to attract people to yard sales, in which case the lemonade is a loss leader), is overpriced. That’s fine if it is for a charity, but if the kid truly wants to learn about what it takes to run a business for profit, I would be doing a disservice to buy their product unless it was a good deal. For the most part, it isn’t even real lemonade, just a mix of flavored sugar water. I’m not paying $3 for an 8 oz. cup of real lemonade, let alone fake stuff.

  3. DuckNCover says:

    When I was a kid this was the norm, not the exception. I think people forget that kids have a right to be kids, just like we once were. I sincerely doubt people would ask a kid on a paper route (do kids even do these anymore?) what charity they were earning money for. To take it back to the front yard, people don’t ask someone what charity their yard sale is supporting either.

    • mikedt says:

      When I was a kid my neighbor and I use to run drink stands and even had backyard carnivals purely for profit. I imagine trying that now would bring out protesters.

      • kevinroyalty says:

        i did the lemonade stand as well (built from Giant Tinkertoys) and also did the backyard carnival (somehow, i was able to get a “kit” that had tickets and such pre-made) and also made a miniature golf course. ah the memories….

        • kc2idf says:

          You make it sound like an episode of Phineas and Ferb.

          • DaveInBillsburg says:

            That the premise of Phines and Ferb. All those things we did as kids that in our 8-10 year old mind were much greater than they actually were. I have a memory of my brothers, friends and myself remaking Star Wars Ep 3 (though at the time we only knew it as Star Wars) in my basement. In my mind we had models on fishing lines, had all the lines down and had some kick a** costumes. Last year when visiting home (30+ years later) a friend had found the film reels and got a hold of a projector and the reality of the “film” wasn’t anywhere near what I remember it being.

      • lehrdude says:

        …and the wrath of your friendly neighborhood HOA!

    • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

      I agree, although this does have a whiff of “What, are you trying to make my kid a SOCIALIST? Do you not know that Capitalism is the shining white base on which America was founded?”

      Then again, I may be bringing that argument into it in my mind because it’s so prevalent around me in the grown-up world.

    • frodolives35 says:

      Johnny what do you mean your going out side to play that’s why we bought you that wii. Well if you insist be sure to where your germ suit you know the on with the rubber bumper guards. /s

  4. Alex says:

    I am not saying that donating or raising money is bad but when the de-facto standard of thinking is “That person has a business and must give their hard earned money to others who didn’t earn it” is not American. Have Americans forgotten the definition of Capitalism?

  5. McRib wants to know if you've been saved by the Holy Clown says:

    Kids are basically charity cases anyways

    • MaxH42 needs an edit button says:

      Yeah, food food food, every day or two they want more. And now they want new clothes every time the old ones wear out! STITCH THE RAGS TOGETHER TO MAKE A NEW SHIRT, YOU LAZY PUNKS!

      • McRib wants to know if you've been saved by the Holy Clown says:

        The worst is the constant whining for toys. And then you give them a perfectly good steak and tell them to have fun and they complain.


        Ungrateful, the lot of them

  6. Auron says:

    I’m surprised the neighbors didn’t call the cops to see if they had a license to run the stand….

  7. Murph1908 says:

    Eff them. They know they are being presumptuous and judgemental when asking that question. If it was for a charity, you would have made a sign indicating it.

  8. captadam says:

    Exactly … they’re little learning experiences for entrepreneurs. That’s why I always pass them by. Gotta teach those kids that they need to do more than just ask you if you want to buy something–they need to target a product to the buyer and tell me exactly why I need that product. No handouts because they’re just kids.

    • DaveInBillsburg says:

      I try and bargain with them. “What, $0.25 for a cup of lemonade?? I’ll give you $0.15, the stand down street is selling them for $0.20, but they have 10oz cups instead of 8”.

  9. Mrs PoP says:

    I’m with the author – what’s the problem with a kid having a for profit endeavor?

    On a related note, what’s with school clubs and sports teams collecting donations these days instead of selling stuff? Boys outside of the grocery store the other day had a coffee can for donations for their sports team. They were with their coach and the store had ok-d them being there, so I assume it was legit. But what happened to the kids learning they had to work for money (sell candy bars or have a car wash!) and not just ask strangers for hand outs?

    • frodolives35 says:

      Today a young man came to my house selling local business discount cards for the high school football team. I donated 2 bucks instead. The % that goes to the school for most of the crap they sell is next to nothing. Hopefully he was a young man of character and didn’t pocket my 2 dollars.

    • Kaonashi says:

      Nothing, if the kid is paying for supplies, otherwise the kid is just getting free money.

  10. musikcandi says:

    My kid started cleaning up dog poop in our backyard and our neighbor’s yard for $1 each a week as a 6 year old (he is now 8). No one seems to mind that he is doing it for profit, when I mention it to others they always ask if he can come to their house. I think if the work seems less like “fun” people don’t mind if you take the money and run.
    I wonder if there has ever been a charitable poop business…

    • zippy says:

      That’s because he’s offering a service at a good price (hell, if I had a dog, I’d pay more than the $1 a week). Kids’ “lemonade” stands are usually grossly overcharging for flavored sugar water.

  11. spartan says:

    I don’t know how I feel without more information.

    First of all, is this something the kids decided they want to do?
    Or is this something the parents decided would be good for them. When I was about 12, a friend and I bought multi-packs of candy and soda and literally opened up a very mini convenience store on a card table near his house.

    He lived near the town pool, so we had enough foot traffic to do well. of course we were 12 year olds living near the town pool, so we were only open very sporadically and when it quit being fun we ate the remaining inventory and “closed shop”.

    On the other hand, if my parents assigned me to do this, I am certain i would have rebelled.

    As for the charity aspect; I’ll bet at least 25% of the monies these little kids collect doesn’t get there, either due to carelessness or outright deceit anyways. At least these kids are up front about the money not going there.

    • msbaskx2 says:

      Whoa… that’s a whole lot of assumption in your post.

      It wasn’t even suggested that the parents put the kids up to this. You did it yourself when you were a kid, but you question whether these kids did that?

      Then you go on to assume that “25% of the monies” that charitable stands collect don’t ever reach the charity. Where’d you pull THAT number from? Isn’t it common knowledge that 83.4% of statistics are made up?

  12. Hi_Hello says:

    goes to a lemonade stand. gulp it down. 10 secs later drop down to the ground in stomach pain.

    20 sec later get up and take a picture of their reaction.

    Kids will learn that people will try to sue them for anything.

  13. edrooney says:

    Lemonade stands always start out with the best if intentions but usually become unprofitable because the owners hydrate on their own distributive product. Then they can’t pay back the product loan from their parent company that they were given in good faith. Soon dark times shadow the whole distribution ring and some resort to a life of crime stealing lemons from groves. I’ve seen it happen a million times.

  14. tz says:

    She is not managment, she is Labor. We have laws against child labor. Lemonade stand workers local 50 has filed to represent any potential workers and the NLRB must approve any agreement. OSHA has some complaints and is likely to levy fines.

    That is being a Capitalist in the USA these days.

  15. short_texas says:

    While I don’t care if the kid keeps the profits or gives them to charity, it’s his choice. It doesn’t seem like this kid is learning anything about running a business or capitalism either. It looks like he just gets the supplies from his parents’ kitchen, sells it to people and then keeps all the profits to spend on whatever he wants. If this parent really wanted the kid to learn about capitalism or running a business then he would have the kid purchase his own supplies with the money he got from selling lemonade and teach him about managing the money.

    I think this site should be changed from the Consumerist to ‘Petty Indignation and Outrage’ because that’s what the majority of the stories contain.

    • msbaskx2 says:

      Again with the assumptions. How did you conclude that this kid just raids his parents kitchen and sells their stuff, keeping all the proceeds for himself?

  16. akronharry says:

    50 years later I still remember having a lemonade stand and a person giving me a quarter for lemonade we sold for nickel. We were millionaires!!!!!!

  17. Overheal says:

    That’s a little ridiculous in my opinion. There is a sad demographic of society today that is only interested in wagging it’s finger at anybody who is doing something to better themselves; “Oh you’re earning money for yourself? That’s so selfish”.

    Notice that the people spouting this nonsense are themselves not Nuns or Monks.

  18. Cerne says:

    Making is a good thing. The kid’s neighbours seem like humourless, self righteous pricks. I expect they donate 100% of their pay cheques to charity or at least 100% of the remainder after purchasing the bare necessities. Or maybe they’re just hypocrites.

  19. snarfies says:

    My sister tried a lemonade stand in the shithole town we grew up in. The police made her shut it down – she didn’t have a license.

  20. DaveInBillsburg says:

    It’s cause of all the other stories of people opening lemonade stands for charity. The article doesn’t state where it is, but based on the reaction wouldn’t doubt it was in some hipster neighborhood.

  21. Samuelm456 says:

    If a person gets upset that a CHILD younger than 10 is operating a for-profit lemonade stand and NOT donating the proceeds to charity…than that person needs a serious attitude/perspective adjustment. That is all.

  22. BlkSwanPres says:

    I would ask them what charity they are collecting for when they go to work everyday.

  23. dcatz says:

    Well, at least the local gestapo didn’t try to shut them down this time. That alone is an improvement.

    • Jimmy37 says:

      Oh, they haven’t found them yet.

      They are probably breaking a bunch of laws, like not having running water, or wearing gloves and hair nets, or having a license, or being inspected.

  24. yankinwaoz says:

    This 15 year old cartoon of Calvin, from Calvin and Hobbes, shows how he has learned the modern American way of running a business.

    Amazing that this was done way before the bank and auto bailouts of 2008.


  25. flip_flop_fly says:

    What a load of crap.

    Sounds to me like another helicopter mother who can’t abide the possibility that her absolutely stupendous progeny might run into anything other than unending praise and coddling. The headline from the link talks about “attacking” lemonade stands. Could this mother possibly be any more histrionic?

    And she assures us that people’s supposed dissatisfaction couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the quality of her incredible kid’s lemonade – the same way that the parent of a natural born klutz rages at the size of their kid’s soccer trophy.

    If you’re attempting to turn the lemonade stand into a learning experience for your budding capitalist, then this is a perfect one – Sometimes, people just don’t want to buy what you are selling, and if you think it’s your customers’ fault that you aren’t succeeding, you’ll never have what it takes to succeed. So give up now.

    It could be that the lemonade flat-out sucks or it’s overpriced. It could be that your kid is a little jerk. It could be that you, overbearing mother, are what stands in the way of your precious child’s preordained success. Or it could just be that people would rather patronize a lemonade stand that gives its proceeds to charity – dictates of the marketplace, don’t you know.

  26. Jimmy37 says:

    They probably live in California, where they expect someone else to take money out of their own pocket to give to charity.

  27. JJFIII says:

    As a CONSUMER, those customers this woman is railing against are saying, we COULD buy lemonade from your kid, but we prefer that paying for overpriced lemonade be going to the goal of helping a cause, not to buying your kid a new video game. As a CONSUMER it is MY choice to go to the non-profit lemonade stand over the greedy kid trying to keep all the money for themselves. It teaches kids that just because you make money, does not mean you should not give back to society. If you are not willing to do that, then don’t cry to me when your business fails.

    • Mark702 says:

      “greedy kid trying to keep all the money for themselves”

      Are you trolling or just stupid? Kids doing this aren’t earning tons of money, just some spare cash to get candy or go to the movies. Some learn to work for money, other kids just whine or yell at their parents “I want $20 for the movies and pizza afterward!” Those kids are the greedy ones.

  28. Kuri says:

    Since this was in a surburb, part of my suspects and HOA busybocy being involved.

  29. flychinook says:

    Just tell people it’s for “The Human Fund”


  30. thesupremeaj says:

    I would just tell them that I’m supporting young entrepreneurship and the development of tomorrow’s leaders. That’ll shut ’em up pretty fast.

  31. Nashville TN says:

    Very Very Funny!!!

    • Oh_No84 says:

      Agreed, very funny. The real issue is the lemonade stand is not capitalism.
      There is 0 demand for the child’s lemonade.
      Neighbors are only spending money there to be nice, so their question for what the lemonade stand is for is valid.
      Is it because the kids are trying to raise money for a good cause, or is it to buy an xbox as the parents are too cheap??

  32. Kaonashi says:

    Unless the child only receives start up capital from his parents and otherwise has to buy everything himself then he isn’t learning any capitalistic lesson. Assuming his parents bought the lemonade, the pitcher, the table, and other supplies and aren’t taking a cut to pay back the initial expense then it isn’t capitalism.

    • Lucky225 says:

      Pssh his parents didn’t buy that shit, Obama did, just like he did for EVERY small business.

      • flip_flop_fly says:

        Or the youngster could do what little Willard Romney did. Inherit everything for a successful lemonade stand from the old man, but deciding, instead, to steal everything from all the other kids’ lemonade stands, make a quick buck, and start a Swiss bank account…or stash it in the Caymans…or a blind trust in Bermuda…or a blind trust in Ireland…or in Luxembourg…or Germany…or Australia.

        And then buy a prancing horse, to get the $77,000/year tax deduction.

        It appears that the lesson that Li’l Willard took from the experience was to screw as many people as early and as often and as long as possible.

      • spamtasticus says:

        The kid need not learn hard work, entrepeneurship and capitalism. The nanny state will take care of him.

  33. Uncle Don says:

    “You didn’t build that lemonade stand, you had help from a teacher, from the folks that built the roads to your house and the people who grew the lemons and the illegal aliens that picked those lemons”……