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How To Spend Less On Teen Fashion

Guest post by Dannah Gresh of DannahGresh.com

It doesn’t matter how much your daughter has watched you print coupons or chase down bargains, somewhere around the age of 13 she will “just die” if she can’t spend something-like-half-the-amount-of-the-national-debt on a pair of jeans. What’s a mom to do?

I didn’t know. My normally content little girls had become two fashion-greedy teenagers who would liked to have shopped until I dropped of severe credit card exposure. Since we don’t like credit at our house and don’t use it much, something had to be done.

I asked a friend who was parenting a few years ahead of me and found the most amazing solution. It was so simple that in my many efforts to solve the problem I hadn’t thought of it, but it literally cut my clothing budget in half and my girls got just as much — or more — each season.

1. Give Your Teen Their Own Clothing Cash Envelope

Add up what you can budget for this season’s shopping, put it in an envelope and present it to your daughter or son. (They’ll smile and be giddy at the thought of how far it will go. Don’t tell them just yet that it never goes as far as you think it will.)

2. Help Your Teen Establish a List of Priorities

Sit down with your teen and talk about their clothing priorities.For example, if it’s time for back-to-school shopping your daughter might want a new pair of jeans, three great t-shirts, a new pair of shoes, and a sweater.

This step is really critical or she will be distracted by the bling on a party dress that she won’t need… ever! Instruct her that she needs to find the priorities and purchase them first and if there’s money left she can get that cute dress.

3. Go Shopping!

Head to the mall and hold your tongue while your teen learns the lessons of money management on the hot pavement of life! Expect it to be a little hard at first, but I can testify that the three Gresh girls cried a whole lot less after we started shopping this way.

My daughters loved the sense of empowerment and almost instantly became bargain shoppers. They passed up the expensive brand-names and instead choose similar much less expensive brands. It was also their idea to take last season’s clothes to a local secondhand store to increase their spending power.

Perhaps most importantly, my girls learned valuable lessons in budgeting and saving and our relationship was no longer strained by me saying “no” to things our family could not afford.

Let me say that another way: this was one of the best things I did for our relationships during my daughters’ teen years.

Recently, I tried to buy one of them an expensive jacket as a going-off-to-college gift. She gasped when she looked at the price tag, “Mom! I could get four for that!” Lesson learned!

Dannah Gresh is a mother/daughter relationship coach and the author of Six Ways To Keep The Little In Your Girl: Guiding Your Daughter From Her Tweens To Her Teens. Visit her website at DannahGresh.com.

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  1. Marie says

    I do not have pre-teen or teens but have many friends who do. Their advice is to shop at stores like Plato’s Closet, Good Will (especially affluent areas), and Clothes Mentor. Or if those aren’t options go to the mall but teach them how to look in the clearance sections first. It’s amazing how far your budget will stretch when you shop clearance first. Also try a site like retailmenot.com for any retail store coupons.

    • Jennifer says

      I think that’s great advice even if you don’t have teens. We homeschool so don’t have to get the ‘it’ brands I don’t feel like as much, but when I can get an Under Armour tee for .50 or a 1.00, my kids think it’s cool! We also shop outlets on the off season, so we’ll be buying swimsuits and shorts (whatever we don’t get at garage sales that is:) ) now and coats in very early spring. Marshalls just had 195.00 swimsuits for 7.00, and they will go down more. (Who pays 195$ for a suit?)

    • says

      I was going to recommend Plato’s Closet as well! I shop there even as a 20-something. :-) Plus I’ve started noticing a lot of cute things at Target, and we know they often have coupons that match up well with their clearance racks.

  2. says

    I’ve been doing this with my teens for the last 2 years and it works like a charm! It’s amazing how they went from “Why would I want to buy something that someone else has worn” to “That’s really expensive. Let’s check Goodwill.” We’ve had some interesting moments along the way, but they’ve learned a lot about figuring out what is important to them and spending money on the things that matter most to them.

    • Anne says

      I agree with Lisa. The whole idea is to help our daughters learn how to discriminate and develop priority skills. Those skills will spill into their own adult lives in other areas too.

      Our house is full of teen girls, and our first just left for college. If the money envelope is filled with their money it is amazing how resourceful they become. When the envelope is filled with my money those choices tend to swing the opposite direction, so I’ve learned to give strong suggestions for that money. All my age appropriate girls have part time jobs and makes the teachable moments, well, more teachable.

      Just this week my 17 year old wanted to purchase a blingy pair of jeans for about $100 with my clothing contribution. When I replied “No, that money should be used for a regular pair of jeans, some shirts, some TOMs shoes, and a sweatshirt. Use your own money for those special items you want.” Guess what? She decided to pass on those blingy pocket jeans after all. 😉

      Don’t be afraid if you make mistakes along the way. Our daughters are also watching how we approach failures as much as successes.

  3. Grace says

    I started buying my own clothes when I was 12 (I got a babysitting job starting at 11). I looked for items on sale and clearance, and would sometimes use layaway. I also shopped at garage sales.

  4. says

    I love this! My mom actually did something similar with us when we were teenagers. She gave us our cash, we sat down and talked about what we needed, and I got to do the shopping. It definitely made me a much thriftier shopper. It became sort of a challenge to see how much I could come home with!

  5. says

    My daughter is ten but she has learned over the last couple years about how expensive clothes and shoes can be. We love Marshall’s and Ross for the higher quality jeans under $15 and she enjoys browsing and picking things out that are her style. Neither one of us do well at Goodwill though have some success (more so in household items) and love the clearance section in Target. When I tell her “we have this much to spend” she is better than me at pricing out what she can get. Shoot, she did that with all her gift cards from Christmas. :)

  6. Jessica says

    I would direct them away from the shopping mall and toward secondhand venues first. Plato’s closet, thrift stores and local consignment shops will let them get more bang for their bucks.

  7. Kelly says

    I live in southern Indiana – here we have a store called Plato’s Closet. It’s a clothing store that sells used name brand clothing – American Eagle, Abercrombie, etc. It’s been a life saver!! We can get the name brand clothes but not have to pay the mall prices.

  8. says

    We do the same with our three teenagers. They are allowed to resell their clothes at consignment shops to replenish their envelopes, too. They’ve gotten pretty savvy at getting great deals on namebrands and getting most of their money back at resale.

    • Lisa says

      Great job teaching your children that you don’t have to buy new and pay full price. You can buy used, get great quality clothing, sometimes new with tags. Then when you are done with an item or you outgrow it, you can put the clothing on consignment and earn money to shop with again. My youngest daughter consigns her two sons clothing to earn money to shop with them. At Onceuponachild, they even put coupons in the local news magazines with extra credit for your consignment if you choose store credit over cash.
      Both of my daughters, now adults, still shop the the resale shops. They each have their favorites in the areas that they live in.
      Another idea if buying new is to shop throughout the year instead of just before school when prices are higher. Many stores throughout the year offer various promotions.

  9. Wendy says

    There’s a corollary to this – teach them to be responsible for their own laundry! If they want one expensive pair of jeans instead of three cheaper ones, fine – but they’ll be responsible for washing their jeans three times as often, that way. They can get that fancy silk blend blouse if they want, but they have to learn how to hand-wash delicates and which of their clothes are safe to dry. It’s a good life skill to have, and will help them avoid dying all their clothes pink their first week away at college!

  10. Amanda says

    I’m curious to know what other families budgets are per teen for clothes-obviously it will be quite a bit different between different income ranges.

    • tess says

      I did this with my oldest daughter a few years ago, and her budget was $100/month. I thought it was too high after awhile and abandoned the process.

      She was not purchasing any new clothes, she was overly into saving the money, and I found I wanted her to look nicer and care about her appearance a little more. It is so hard to balance.

      I have a 12 year old now and am looking to start a clothing budget for her too. They wear uniforms to school so very little is needed there. Do you make them buy shoes and jackets, prom dresses, underwear? What is the budget for and what do you still buy them?

      • Amanda says

        When I was a teen, I used my clothing budget for tops and bottoms and my parents used other money for shoes, coats, formal dresses, and underwear. I think for most teens, the idea of budgeting is difficult and new and they might have a hard time factoring in those larger purchases. Right now I just have 3 year old of my own but I am a nanny for a family with a 10, 12, and 14 year old and am very involved in clothing purchases and budget decisions. $100 per month seems to be enough for them for right now but none of them are very interested in clothes and they get a lot of clothes for birthdays and holidays from their relatives.

        • tess says

          The $100 was supposed to be for shoes, winter coat, prom dress, socks, and even her uniforms for school–everything. I think I would have been better off starting with a much smaller amount, and having it be for her social and weekend clothes. I know the first month, she bought a pair of $40 shorts, realized it was “her” money and then took them back an hour later and bought two pairs for half the price at a different store that looked very similar. I think giving them the ability to make choices is very good.

          I would like to know how much is appropriate. Would you allow your child to wear too small, and worn out shoes and she keeps the money for electronics?

          • Amanda says

            My parents taught me that money they set aside for clothes was to be used only for clothes and that if I wanted other things, I was to use my own money (money earned at home, babysitting, or a job). While they let me decide which clothes I bought, it wasn’t my money. My money was what I earned and I could spend that on whatever I wanted (within reason).

            • tess says

              great idea! i had not thought of clothes…only. That will allow them input into how much they want to spend, but also require that they spend the money as intended. I wish i had done that for my 17 yr old.

              How much is the appropriate amount for a 12 year old? how far out do you go…month/ or per quarter?

              I also had done daily limits: ie… we are going shopping today and you have $100 to get an outfit…pants/shirts/shoes, etc.

              This first became an issue when UGG boots were the thing to have and they cost $165. I buy lots of shoes at old navy for less than $20, and even all my work shoes are usually under $50. It was so against my values to spend money at that level. She used up 2 months of clothing allowance and bought the boots. I think that is when i ended the program.

              • Amanda says

                10 years ago, I got $400 per year to spend on tops and bottoms. The kids I nanny for get a total of $100 per month for all 3 of them but they aren’t really interested in clothes and they get most of what they need as gifts from relatives so $100 per month covers shoes, underwear, and fills in the gaps of what they haven’t gotten as gifts.

                I just got UGG-style boots last year-real suede and lambswool for $50-learning to shop for alternatives instead of buying the name brand takes awhile. I’m the type of person who wants to have only 4 pairs of shoes. One summer, one winter, one spring/fall, and one for dressy occasions and my shoes last many years so spending a larger amount for shoes is justifiable in my mind. Maybe your daughter also feels that way or maybe she is just impulsive and doesn’t understand the value of money. Either way, I think it is important to set a budget and if your kid buys only one pair of jeans and two shirts with it, they’ll learn their lesson after dealing with their choices for a few months.

                Anyway, it is a hard subject, every family is different and every child is different. Take any advice that helps and leave the rest!

  11. says

    Head to the MALL?!?! I don’t think so! With all the inappropriate images and temptations- no thanks. I take my teens to the thrift store. Saves GOBS and they get all the brand names they want.

  12. Sheri says

    I totally agree! We started this with our girls when they were preteens and they are now very good at finding bargains and they rarely buy anything that is not deeply discounted. I have one other suggestion for parents of teens….invest in Dave Ramsey’s Foundations course for homeschoolers (do this whether you are a homeschooler or not!). It has been life changing for my teenage girls. They no longer envy people with a lot of “stuff” because they now understand that much of that stuff is bought on credit and many people are living paycheck to paycheck. The only hard part about the curriculum is watching their mother cry through each video shouting “we did that!” as Dave explains all the mistakes our generation has made and continues to make! :)

  13. Andrea says

    My husband and I were just talking about this! Our kids are only 3 and 7 months, but we wanted to have it figured out before we got there. This was my idea exactly! I love this, because I feel like it’s pretty similar to how I was raised and where I learned to bargain. Great post!

  14. Denise says

    I did the exact same thing for my daughters when they were teens. It made them almost-instantly aware of the cost of clothing and now as married 20-somethings they are still great with handling their money.

  15. jenn says

    The Plato’s around here seems to pay pennies on the dollar. I know they have to make their “cut” but most jeans sell for $19.99 there but the last time my daughter tried to drop off there, they offered her $4 for her jeans and $1 for shirts. I think they might be taking a little advantage of the young sellers? (and it was all big names in good cond. in an average sizes) We pretty much stick to Goodwill. My daughter is also a fan of TJ Maxx for “underclothes” and we have a few twice a year consignment sales around that she can do her own pricing and do ok. (especially if the items were from GW to begin with!) Great post!

  16. Valerie Henry says

    My daughters are 19 and 20 now, and the youngest one LOVES Plato’s Closet. She is going to college in an urban area with tons of thrift stores, and she spent the summer “flipping” designer clothes and purses. For instance, she’ll buy “7 For All Mankind” or “True Religion” jeans at a thrift store and either resell them on eBay or even Plato’s Closet. She’s on a college kid’s budget but manages in this way to wear all designer clothing and carry Coach and Louis Vuitton handbags. (Not that I’m advocating that!)

  17. Elizabeth says

    I wish I was given money back then LOL I had to save all my allowance, birthday and xmas money if I wanted school clothes for the next year that started around age 10. I just can’t imagine girls being that darn obsessed with clothing. Mind you probably because of my upbringing is why I still wear shirts that are 15 years old (no I’m not kidding it actually annoys my husband as he complains at me to get new clothes lol).
    I really hope I don’t have to deal with that from my daughters my oldest is 12 and still thinks my goofy looking homemade stuff looks cool so for the moment I’m in the clear :)

  18. says

    What great wisdom! I love teaching our children concepts at a young age that will help guide them in the future. I know that cash in an envelope is more tangible than “endless” plastic and works well for this mom too! My children are young but are already reaping benefits from Dave Ramsey influence. Thanks for posting such practical use of this idea!

  19. Sue M says

    I totally agree with giving them a set amount to spend on clothing and then they have to budget it. Works great for our teen girls! We set up a Paypal Student Account (ages 13 yrs. and up) which acts like a preloaded credit/debit card. It allows them to shop independently online or in stores. As the parent, I can set sending limits, etc. and also alerts to notify me of their activity. We also encourage them not to spend all their clothing $ by allowing them to keep anything leftover for personal spending — more budgeting practice! Before, they wanted to use up every last penny of the family clothing budget each month.

    • tess says

      how much do you give them, and how often? i knew of someone who gave younger kids monthly allowances and then gave her senior in high school $1500 for clothing in August and it was to last the entire year. Budgeting…for prom in August!

      I also think i want to know how much to spend on college dorm decorating. That also seems an area where set limits will induce creativity.

  20. says

    My minimalist tween (DEFINITELY takes after her daddy on that minimalist thing!) would much rather have 1 of exactly what she wants instead of seeing how much she can bring home with the same amount of money.

    I suppose it’s a personality thing.

  21. Becka says

    We did this with our daughters when they were teens and it really helped them to become wise shoppers. They also both learned to sew so they could make some of their own things and alter things that they purchased. They are both married now and one has children of her own and they are great bargain shoppers.

  22. Angela says

    In Northern California, it is often cheaper to buy new clothes from a store’s website or clearance section (like Hollister or Areopostle) than it is to buy used items at Plato’s Closet. I’ve gotten my daughter cheaper new clothes than older, worn versions. Here Goodwill charges a lot for shirts and pants (what I could pay for new at Target). If your daughter really likes a certain store, sign up for their emails and wait for sales and free shipping (remember that you can usually return items to the retail store if they don’t fit(.

  23. says

    Great post! I have an almost 11-year old daughter, and I have a feeling we’re headed in that direction. We already shop at discount stores and thrift stores, but I like the idea of giving them control. It will also lend itself to some budgeting wisdom down the road. Thanks!

  24. Bonnie says

    Great post! My girls all bought their own clothes once they got past the age of caring that something was a hand-me-down. They had babysitting jobs from the time they were 12 and they made it a game to see how little they could spend. Once one of my daughters requested to take a trip for her birthday to a relative’s house–a relative who knew where all the good thrift stores were. :-) We went to probably 8 thrift stores, she had about $200 from birthday gifts and babysitting, and she came away with clothes for herself and most of her brothers and sisters. Nice jeans, nice blouses, nice purses…all for a buck or less. She still shops like this. My other girls do too but they don’t seem to have the nose for a deal that their sister has. :-)

  25. Jen says

    Great post! My oldest just turned 13 and it was a bit of a shock when I discovered how much more teen clothes cost. This is the first year that I had my kids make a list of what they needed and estimate the cost. They each had a $100 budget. At first they wouldn’t consider going to thrift stores, but when I told them I needed them to at least look, they reluctantly agreed. They both ended up getting about 10 items each for under $20. They then had more cash to spend on things they wanted (for my son it was Nike socks at $4 a pr). There was none of the usual complaining and both felt really good with how far they made their money go. We were all happy! One thing about goodwill or salvation army…it only takes a couple of amazing finds until they see what great treasures can be found there!

  26. Mollie says

    I’m surprised there is no mention of coupons, coupons coupled with sales, having near-age sibs pool their resources, and heading straight to the BACK of any mall store to score the clearance items. High end retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch often have “take an extra 50% off clearance items” sales. Aeropostale often has “70% off EVERYTHING” sales.
    We use Goodwill as our price point when we’re shopping sale and clearance. At our local GW, tops are $3.00 and pants range from $3 – $5. My 14 y/o’s favorite mall store is rue21; and they often mark their clearance items down to those exact prices. AND the store hands you coupons for your next shopping trip.

  27. Natasha says

    My daughter is only 9, but she is understanding where her money is going( It’s sad that our daughter has more money than we do…!) We recently went to Justice store and looked around. She was looking at shirts and about died when she saw the prices! We ended up at Gordmans and she bought two shirts from there..with her own money of course! And asks almost every day when we can go shopping again! She does ask why we don’t buy her clothes often and I know it sounds lame, but the truth is that after paying bills and buying gas and groceries, there’s more month than money left over. This yr for school, I only bought her 4 shirts as it is still too hot for jeans just yet. We are fortunate that my in-laws (well MIL anyhow) loves to spend $ at Bergner’s and Kohl’s so she usually buy 1-3 shirts or pants every few weeks for her.

    • Pam says

      The tale of two daughters. Both of them are adults now but when they were teens I gave them their clothing allowance, had them make lists, and cut them loose. One bought only 2 pairs of pants and ended up wearing her no so desirables for most of the year (or at least till Christmas) despite my warnings. The second daughter did very well. This went on all through their high school years.
      They are grown women now and the not so frugal daughter is 26 with two children of her own and the idea of frugality is just starting to kick in. The frugal daughter is still frugal. I often wonder where my youngest daughter came from and we worry that she may have been switched at birth but I doubt it. She looks just like my husband.

  28. says

    My parents did something very similar to this when I was in middle school. It definitely set a course for my sister and I learning how to shop responsibly. Now as a 30-year-old, I still shop bargains, budget carefully for clothing, and yet can still dress “well”. I’m so thankful for parents who wouldn’t buy whatever I wanted or thought I needed, but instead chose to teach valuable life lessons and skills!

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