Teenagers and Expensive Clothes

Monica writes in:

I used to buy my daughter several new outfits before the start of the school year and then a few more items for Christmas. This worked well when she was less picky about her clothes. The last few years, though, she’s wanted nothing but a few specific brands of clothing – and those brands are expensive. I want her to have plenty of clothes to wear during the school year, but I don’t want to go broke during the process. What do you suggest?

I actually went through this myself when I was a teenager, but instead of wanting trendy clothes, I mostly just wanted high-end basketball shoes. I was usually quite content just wearing a tee shirt and whatever jeans were available, but the one thing I always desired were pairs of Reebok Pumps or Nike Air Jordans.

Now that the roles are reversed, I find myself looking ahead to my own children’s teenage years as well as looking back at how my parents handled such situations on a small budget. Here are the tactics that worked well.

Give clothes as a birthday gift or Christmas gift. This way, they get the clothes they want, but you’re not saddled with an additional cost, because your birthday gift expenses goes towards clothes instead. My parents did this for me a few years, buying me nice shoes for my birthday instead of as a part of going back to school.

Give them a “back to school” budget. State that you’ll give them a certain amount of money – say, $100 – to spend on back to school clothes with a basic requirement of buying so many pants, so many shirts, etc. Then let them make the decisions. They may be able to afford one “awesome” pair of jeans, but the rest will be pocket tee shirts.

Start your shopping at a thrift store. Let them dig through the racks and see what they’ll find. I’m often shocked at the amazingly good stuff available at thrift stores – my only explanation is people with way too much money and way too many consumerist values are jettisoning perfectly good stuff.

Buy them all low end stuff, then give them a certain amount of clothes allowance to buy more. In other words, buy everything they need at a minimum level of cost, then give them a certain amount with which to buy additional items – whatever they’d like. This lets them fill out the rest of their wardrobe with whatever “trendy” items they want.

You don’t simply have to buy a truckload of new “hot this moment” items for your child to wear each year. Instead, put some forethought into it and some limits. Let your child be involved in making the tough choices. After all, budgeting, planning, and making hard choices is part of growing up.