Drinkin’ the Kool Aid – What the sugary drink taught me about money

kool-aid-man-2

I’ve been sitting at my parents’ house up in Fargo this weekend struggling to think up a topic to write about for my blog (I promised one good article per week in a campaign pledge last week for some reason) and Kool Aid randomly popped into my mind.  Kool Aid, you say?  Yep, Kool Aid.  The refreshing technicolor beverage served in a smiling glass pitcher that crashes through walls.  Kool Aid.

I haven’t had any Kool Aid in years, but for some reason being at my childhood home for the weekend got me thinking about it. This is not just a tasty beverage.  It actually taught me a little something about money too, I thought.  I can squeeze an article out of this.  

If you think about it… really hard, Kool Aid is a life lesson on how to function in a capitalist economy stuffed in little packets of colored powder.  I learned three main lessons.  Let’s break it down:

How to spend wisely

Back when I was a kid in the 80s, I hated going to the grocery store.  Especially in the summer.  But one of the things that made it halfway bearable, was getting to pick out the flavors of Kool Aid to put in the cart.

Purple.  Maybe a couple red.  Ooh, green is good.  Then I saw it.  A whole canister of my favorite flavor.  Strawberry!

“Can we get that?” I said to my mom, pointing to the pink canister. “That’ll make a ton.”  We rarely got the canister, but I was familiar.  It had the measuring scoop included and the perfect amount of sugar already mixed in so I could easily make it myself.  It seemed to last a really long time.

This time we didn’t get the canister.  Must have been some sort of sale that other time.  And for the first time my mom explained why, outside of the fact that getting just my favorite flavor would make my siblings sad:

The packets each make 2 quarts and cost 20 cents each.  The canister makes 8 quarts and costs $2.  We can buy 10 packets for every 1 canister,”  she said.  “And we can get all different kinds of flavors and more than twice as many quarts of Kool Aid if we buy the packets.  All we have to do is add our own sugar, which we already have and doesn’t cost that much.”  

These numbers are made up.  I don’t really remember what the cost of Kool Aid was in the eighties.  I just went with about what it costs now, knocked off 20% and rounded for easy math.

The point is, my mom taught me through Kool Aid a great lesson about how to shop smartly.  My mom was a math teacher, and she broke it down for me using a little algebraic truth.  But her main message was, Just because it’s bigger, flashier and easier, doesn’t mean it’s better.  Crunch the numbers.  Understand what you want out of the product.  Spend wisely.

How to save

One of the best things about Kool Aid was the Kool Aid Points.  Each little packet had 1 Kool Aid Point on the back.  I don’t remember what the canisters had.  Probably 10.  You could cut them out and save these points up for great prizes from the Wacky Warehouse catalogue.  Sadly, they have since shut the points program down.  But back in the 80s it was a big thing.  It was the currency of my youth, really.  This blogger feels me.

It would take me forever to save up enough points to get anything cool from the Wacky Warehouse.  I told you, we mostly got the little individual packets of Kool Aid.  Just one point at a time.  It was agonizing.  And you couldn’t cut the points out prematurely like you could do with the canisters or the powder would fall out.  I would immediately tear out the points when one of the canisters came home.

Because of how long it took me to save up the points, I had to really think about what I was saving up for.  And I only got one shot at the order.  There was none of this Amazon online order one-day-delivery instant gratification nonsense.  Back in the day we stuffed points in an envelope and sent them snail mail, waiting 6 to 8 weeks for our prizes to come.

And when that cherry-red Kool Aid fanny pack came in the mail… I’m telling you, the simple act of scrimping and saving for something I had to mail away for and wait a long time for, really made it something special.  I wore that thing proudly for months (a long time for an 8-year-old).  Kool Aid helped teach me to save for and savor the things I buy.

How to be in business

Kool Aid stands were all the rage when I was a kid.  Kool Aid was my first business and there are so many reasons I chose to franchise under the Kool Aid brand.

For one, unlike the classic lemonade stand, Kool Aid gives choices to your customer.  Matthew liked grape.  Ryan preferred strawberry.  Some were even brave enough to try my proprietary blend.

Kool Aid inventory doesn’t take up much space.  Kool-aid is non-perishable.  Kool Aid raw material costs are relatively static and easy to add up.  Kool Aid is easy to mix.  I could go on.  Kool Aid is the perfect beverage for the budding entrepreneur.

It would have been a great business if I had thought more about location.  I usually just plopped down at the end of my driveway at the tip of a cul-de-sac and didn’t give it much thought.  Needless to say there wasn’t much traffic at the end of a cul-de-sac.  I usually had to shake down my buddies as they circled on their bikes, selling at a discount because they didn’t carry that much cash.

The business ultimately failed because I drank most of the merchandise myself. But not before I learned some valuable lessons on what it’s like to be in business.

Kool Aid taught me a lot of things.  It taught me how to be a smart consumer, how to patiently save up for stuff I want and even a little bit about how to start a business.  Besides that, it’s delicious and it even leaves a little colored mustache behind when you drink it!

So mix up a batch of Sharkleberry Fin next time you sit down to do your budgeting spreadsheet.  You can thank me later.  OH YEAH!

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7 comments

  1. This is an awesome analogy. I vividly remember picking out Kool-Aid flavours at the store, and diligently collecting points. I ended up going for the watch instead of the fanny pack; but as you said, the disciplined goal setting and saving was a great way to start getting financial habits on the right foot. And the reward (when it finally came) was worth all the trouble. Thanks again!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the story telling here. I felt like I was hanging on the side of my mom’s grocery cart as she was walking up in down the aisles of our local grocery store. It’s funny how Mom’s have the ability to teach such simple lessons when we least expect it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is the type of article I love the most! It’s crazy the lessons we pick up as a child from such simple acts in life. I remember the first time my dad paid me to wash his car, I thought to myself “maybe other people will to”, so off I went with my bucket and sponge with my younger brothers brought in as my very first employees! Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wasn’t as industrious as you were. Not very good at pounding the pavement to go out and really sell for real.

      But I did try to start a thrasher skateboarding magazine with one of my friends as a kid. It folded after one issue. I remember working really hard on a fake full-page ad for skate shoes, because, you know, a legit magazines has ads. We also had one article (I think an interview with my buddy) and some photos (1-hour photo-style) of us doing lame tricks. We cut and pasted that thing together and photocopied it at my grade school. I really wish I still had it.

      Being a kid was the best!

      Like

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