Responsibility and Self-Reliance

How to Teach Your Teen Money Management, Using a Clothes Budget

Photo by mconnors

One of the most effective ways my three “kids”  (now ages 25, 20 and 14) have learned to manage their own money has been through the use of clothes budgets.

What is a “clothes budget”?  I’m referring to an exact dollar amount a teen gets per year for ALL items of clothing, including shoes, socks, swimsuit, underwear, coat . . . you name it.  When they spend it, it’s gone. Finis.

If a teen wants more clothing than her budget allows for, she can pay for that with her own hard-earned money or gift money she’s saved. If your son blows all his money on designer pants, then needs a coat, he can ask for one for Christmas. (Yes, I’m hard-nosed, but my two grown kids are now wise shoppers!) Sticking to your guns is the ONLY way a clothes budget will work.

What dollar amount is reasonable?

That you must ponder for yourself. Ten years ago, $300 for the whole year seemed reasonable to me. $500 is now more in keeping with today’s prices.

WHAT? Isn’t that awfully low? Nope. However, that takes into account three things:

1) your teens will learn how to effectively shop at end of season sales, buy used, do comparison shopping, and delay impulse buys;

2) many items (winter coat, swimsuit, shoes) may only be bought every other year

3) teens quickly realize that if they want to buy expensive, brand-name items, they can do so by spending some of their own hard-earned money.

As for 3) it can be very difficult as a budget-conscious parent to see a teen grossly overspend on one brand-name item.  I have to keep reminding myself that one great thing about a clothes budget for my teen is that it takes the pressure off of me! I can say, “That will be on sale in two weeks, it will only fit you this summer, and it’s now August.”  or “You do realize that that’s three times the cost of the average purse, right?”

But if your teen is adamant, you are off the hook. You simply say, “You can do what you want with your own money. ”  Remember, this will only work if you indeed refuse to give her more later–even when it’s for underwear. It really hurts a kid to pay for underwear out of her own money. (Smile.)

And THAT’S  where the clothes budget mentality gets funny. It really messes with your teen’s mind. You know you are having success in helping your teen learn to manage money when you hear this: “I think I’ll spend  my own money on this shirt, so I can have some left in my clothes budget for later.”

You see, she’s already made the transition from expecting you to pay for clothes to expecting that she has to, one way or the other. AWESOME!  The teen is developing ownership over her own spending. When you hear “I hate clothes budgets!” you’ll also be tasting success. That means it has hit your teen upside da head that money available for her to spend is finite.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ve succeeded too well, though.  I’ve actually heard my college daughter (who no longer has a clothes budget from us) say “I really like this one shirt, and it’s on sale at XYZ for only $8. But I know in a week it will be down to $5.”  To that I say, “Buy it, already!”  But I do love hearing her voice that frugal thinking.

As for ways teens can earn additional clothes money:

Should teens earn additional clothes money doing family chores?  Occasionally my husband and I have paid for seasonal heavy yard work, But it’s hard to figure out how much to pay our own kids, so I prefer that they earn “outside money” working for others.  This also helps them learn additional valuable work skills, to begin building their resumes, and it doesn’t deplete our family budget. (Allowances for younger kids are another story: which actually helps them begin budgeting way before teen-hood. See my previous post on allowances.)

Here’s one final question you may be asking:

Should the clothes budget include sports clothing?  That depends on whether the clothing is required or optional, and if  items help protect a child from injury, as some athletic shoes may. In our family we have a separate budget for sports for the year, to include equipment, shoes, sports fees, etc. But when costs for “optional” clothes for cheerleading made me gasp, I steered my daughter towards fundraising ideas.

Here’s to teaching your teens how to manage money!  Comments are welcome. Got any additional tips to help other parents teach wise spending habits to their teens?


Laurie Winslow Sargent

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