As a leader, scouting can be expensive. You should set a good example for the boys, which means purchasing a uniform. You can skimp and buy just a shirt, with a few patches, but that could still set you back $50 (adult shirts start at $29.99 on Scoutstuff.org). If you opt to go in for a belt, pants, socks, hat and the whole ball of wax you could be into it well over $120. The first time I was called to be an Assistant Scout Master I decided to ramp things up a bit for myself and went in for the shirt, belt, and pants. The pants snagged on something the first time I wore them and I shredded my nifty $60 pants. I swore off Scout pants then and there. (I’ve since found that olive-colored Levi’s are far superior in longevity and they go well enough with the uniform).
Then there’s camping equipment, if you’re in with the older boys, or crafts, games and snacks for younger scouts. When I was a scout my family was not in the money. Our camping equipment was generally sub-standard. I still enjoyed camping, but there were a few times when not having the right equipment made our excursions miserable. (Imagine 13-year-old me wearing cotton gloves and tennis shoes the morning after a sleepless winter night in a summer-weight sleeping bag; I couldn’t move my fingers; the tears were freezing on my cheeks; I couldn’t fix my breakfast. I was not a happy camper. Fortunately, I had an advisor that eventually realized I was going into the early (or middle) stages of hypothermia). As a result, I hate winter camping. After having nearly frozen to death on several Klondikes and snow cave events, I swore off winter camping and avoided it studiously for years. I want nothing less than insulated 2x4 walls between me and a cold winter night. So when I was called to scouting as an adult, I started collecting (as I could afford it) equipment suited for winter camping. It’s not cheap, but I’ve learned that sleeping on the cold ground isn’t so bad if you have a good 2” sleeping mat ($80) and a winter-weight sleeping bag ($50 on clearance, good to -20°F). The only thing keeping you up at night is the Scouts complaining that their tent ($20, end of season clearance) is blowing away.
The second time I was called to be an Assistant Scout Master I was in a rather well-to-do ward. I was excited about the prospects and asked where the scout closet was so I could inventory equipment. I was told, somewhat sheepishly, that the “scout cupboard” was in one of the church house classrooms. When I finally tracked down someone with a key, I found about 135 merit badge books (133 of which were outdated), two or three seriously dented pans, a ball of twine and a bunch of junk. I asked where the camping equipment was. They told me most of the kids supplied their own tents and sleeping bags. I asked about cooking gear and my jaw dropped when they told me the boys “usually bring pans from their mother’s kitchens.” At that point, I’d been involved with scouting for well over 20 years. I knew how those pans in the cupboard got dented. I knew how my mother would react if I said I was going to take her pans on a camp out. We eventually got organized enough to actually go on a campout in the high Sierra’s. (By “high” I mean nearly a mile and a half elevation). Someone had rounded up a gas camp stove to cook breakfast on; no campfires permitted in that area. That’s when I learned that not all camp stoves are created equally. It took an hour and a half to cook a half dozen eggs. When I got home from that trip, I logged onto eBay and found a high altitude cook stove ($100 plus shipping, used).
By now you’re probably wondering where I’m going with this. Yes, Scouting can be expensive. But as a calling in the church, it shouldn’t have to be. In my opinion, a calling to scouting shouldn’t cost you anything more than the bare minimum. You shouldn’t need to buy much more than your uniform shirt; everything else should be provided. All training costs (and you really do need to go to training) should be covered by the troop or pack. As President Monson stated in this April 1990 talk, “many costs heretofore borne by individual Church members now being covered through their tithes” and “The budget allowance program was created to reduce financial burdens on members” and “Members should not pay fees or be assessed to participate in Church programs.” In short, to fully participate in the Scouting programs, you should be registered and trained and the costs should be borne by your local Church unit. It is my contention that the boys we are responsible for deserve well-training leadership. That being said, however, if you happen to be financially well-off enough to cover some of your own expenses, funds may be used for activities or equipment that would also benefit the boys.
The last time I went to training, a faithful brother, who has been unemployed for some time now, told me that he has been saving for over a year so that he can afford to attend Wood Badge. It is my personal belief that he will likely get a lot more out of Wood Badge for his efforts in getting there. However, it concerns me that his unit leadership is so uninvolved in the Scout programs that they are unaware of his desire to get the training he is supposed to have. If they are aware, why have they done nothing to resolve the situation?
I find nothing in the new Administering the Church handbook that contradicts what President Monson stated in 1990. I encourage you to take full advantage of the opportunities in the Scouting program without letting it become a personal financial burden to you. Speak with your leaders if you find that you’re spending an inordinate amount of money on your activities. There are options other than doing without or going into debt.