Financial Planning

American Girl: Financial literacy with every doll

American It's official: We're an American Girl family now.

With a 6-year-old girl in the house, it was only a matter of time.

For those of you without grade-school daughters, American Girl is the most powerful force in the universe. It's a line of high-quality dolls and corresponding clothing, accessories, furniture and storybooks.

You can order the dolls online, but to really experience this phenomenon, you need to visit one of the American Girl stores. We took our daughter to the store in Chicago recently, and it was like entering another dimension. Two huge stories of dolls, doll clothes, doll beds, doll closets, doll jewelry -- you name it, they had it. There was doll hospital, where you could have your broken dolls repaired. There was a doll hair salon, where you could have your doll's hair styled -- for a fee, of course. (Pony tail: $10. I kid you not.) There was a cafe where you could have brunch with your dolls.

On the surface, American Girl seems like just another example of kid-centric consumerism run amok. If you look deeper, though, you'll find something that might surprise you.

The company publishes a series of Smart Girl guides that educate girls about a number of everyday issues and problems they might encounter. There are Smart Girl guides about manners, staying home alone, friendship troubles, boys, sticky situations, middle school -- you get the idea.

In other words, it's not your average doll company. They're trying to make a difference in these girls' lives by providing practical advice about common issues.

Included in the series is A Smart Girl's Guide to Money, a book that offers age-appropriate advice on how to wisely earn, save and spend money. American Girl also offers in-store workshops on the topic (see the photo above).

"What are the odds," you ask, "that a company that thrives on people buying dolls at nearly $100 a pop would be able to effectively teach young girls about financial literacy?"

Perhaps greater than you think. My wife and daughter were waiting for the store to open when another young girl approached.

"Is this your first American Girl doll?" the girl asked our daughter, who answered, "Yes."

"Mine, too," the girl said. "I saved and saved my allowance for so long, and now I can finally get one!"

Did you catch that? Her parents used the lure of an American Girl doll to teach their daughter a lesson about personal finance. Good for them.

Meanwhile, my daughter's already talking about getting her second doll. Time for her to learn a thing or two about feeding the pig, too.

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Bill Sheridan