Cutting Clothing Costs With Picky Teens and Preteens

Clothing shopping with my picky and clothes concious son Lee.

I've written before about cutting the cost in children's clothing, but the thing is, cutting clothing costs for younger kids is so much easier than doing so for older kids, especially when your older children are pickier. And because teens and preteens grow so quickly, even if you manage to buy clothes that they like, they very quickly outgrow them and you're in a bind again then. Often the tips and techniques that worked for younger children quickly proove useless when you have kids that reject most of the finds that you make, even if you think they're super cool and awesome and stylish (because kids know this much better than their parents, amirite?). In some groups where we were discussing this situation with kids and clothing, I heard some parents say that as parents, you can put your foot down and simply not allow it- your child doesn't get to dictate these things, you're the parents, you make the rules. So I spoke to my kids therapist about this, and she strongly disagreed; it is important for a kid to feel comfortable in their clothes, and no, this is not something you should "put your foot down about".

But a budget. How do you actually manage to dress your kids in a way that they find acceptable, but that you can swing financially?

And I'll tell you something- you can't expect your clothes bills for your teens and preteens to be as little as it was when you were frugally shopping for your babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. But with these techniques, hopefully you can make it as least painful financially as possible, while still respecting your kids' wishes and independence.

Cutting Clothing Costs With Picky Teens and Preteens

Involve Your Kids.
This is the basic gist of the entire post. Involve your kids. You can't just go to garage sales and pick up cute outfits that your kids will wear, you can't scour thrift stores for clothes and hand them to your kids. It don't work like that once your kids are old enough to have a say in what they wear. You hand it over to the kids.
Buying cheap clothes that your kids won't wear is not money saving, it is literally throwing your money in the garbage. 

Hand Me Downs
This actually can work, so long as you know a kid that your kid likes their mode of dressing. If you have a friend or a relative whose kids are bigger than yours and your kids consider them fashionable dressers, ask for hand me downs from them. Fortunately my sons appreciate their older cousins' taste in clothing, so they get some nice hand me downs from them. And since by the time they are teens (and some pre-teens) they tend to be less rough on their clothing than in elementary school (especially boys), not to mention how quickly they grow out of them, you're more likely to find hand me downs in good condition.

Give Them a Budget, Let Them Decide
You don't need to get into a battle with your kids about clothes shopping and if something is too expensive or not. Set a budget, how much you can actually afford for clothes for the kid, and tell them that this is what they have to spend.
If they then decide to buy a few expensive things, well then they're going to be the one with fewer outfits, and they can be responsible for doing their own laundry to make sure they always have clean clothes. Or they can decide to buy cheaper clothes and have more of them.
Feel free to point out these options for them and then let them make the decision and step back- it is now their responsibility and they don't get to complain that they don't have enough clothes/that their clothes aren't nice enough, because they were the ones that chose what they wanted to spend the money on. Not only will this help eliminate fights between the two of you, it will help your kid learn valuable budgeting skills.

Second Hand Stores
You might get lucky with your kids at thrift shops, you might not. Once in a long time I found clothes that my son would agree to wear at the clothes and houseware share, but usually struck out. But bring them. Let them decide. Let them see how prices there compare to new clothes, and let them decide where they would rather spend the money they have available for clothes. 
You might want to try some fancier second hand stores- the local cheap ones were not a success with my kids, but we got lucky with more expensive, more upscale second hand shops in the nearby city. Even though they aren't so cheap they're still cheaper than new, and we got some really high quality items there. You can also try consignment stores.
If you don't have good second hand stores locally, or if you strike out there, you can try websites such as ThredUp or other online second hand and consignment stores. However, if your kids are very picky about the fit of clothes, be careful with this because if they can't try on before purchasing and then don't like the fit, you're in trouble.

Smart Shopping In Stores
Shopping sales is extra important when your kid insists on nicer clothes, because this can make a big difference when purchasing new. And when there's a good sale, shop the next size up as well if its a good sale, so you don't have to pay full pric when your kid grows out of what they currently are wearing.
But even when there's sales, price compare within the store. Sometimes the sale is only on specific colors within the same cut, so see if your kid will compromise on color. Or if your kid is at that in between size, check both in larger kids' sizes or smaller adult sizes and compare prices. You can also check the the opposite gender's department. For example, if your kid wants ripped skinny jeans, you might find a pair that is exactly what your kids want, and much cheaper, in the woman's department than the same equivalent in the men's department. 

Nicer Cheaper Stores
Certain stores (the cheap ones, of course) were nixed by my kids, because they never have clothes the cut and style they like. But we found middle of the range stores that had clothes they liked, that had frequent sales, and we try to hit up those first when looking for clothes, before we try any of the more expensive stores.

Send Your Kid To Shop... Alone? 
One of the most unpleasant shopping experiences I remember was when I was trying to find clothes my kid would wear in the various clothing stores in the mall, that weren't too expensive, and while this was happening I was dealing with other cranky kids who were trying my patience. If other kids are stressing you out, and then add that to dealing with the stress of dealing with picky kids trying to find clothes they like, you are more likely to spend more money than you originally wanted to, just to be able to get finished already, than if you'd been able to comparison shop in peace. If you can send your kid in alone while you do something to entertain yourself (and leave the other kids at home!!) that would be best. The less stress, the more likely you'll be able to make smart money decisions when clothes shopping. Alternatively, you can simply not be there at all and send your kid with the money and let them do it entirely on their own.

Consider Online Shopping... And Other Countries?
Online shopping can be hit or miss with picky dressers. It makes it much easier to comparison shop, and takes a lot less energy than going from store to store trying to find something within the budget that your kid likes. (I always sort the clothes by price when online shopping, so its easier to stick to the budget, and if we don't find anything below a certain amount, we move on to a new store.) But it can be a problem when it comes to fit. Look at the measurements and the pictures that show fit before purchase, but also make sure the places you purchase from have an easy and convenient return policy so you don't get too overwhelmed to return the items if they don't work for your kid. When online shopping, consider purchasing clothes from other countries, because sometimes they are just as stylish, but cheaper, even considering shipping costs. However, remember to check about return policies.

Gift Cards
If someone wants to get your child a gift, feel free to suggest gift cards to their favorite clothing stores. They are sure to appreciate that if they are into clothes, and then that's clothes that doesn't have to come out of your allocated clothing budget.

Take Care of Their Clothes
Make sure that you do whatever you can to keep the clothes that your kid has in as good condition as possible. This means not washing things with clothes that can color leach, or letting them sit too long before they get washed so they turn yucky, and treating stains immediately. Consider hang drying to lengthen the life of the clothes and to stop shrinkage. You might want to have on hand less nice clothing for your kids for when they're doing things that can potentially damage their clothing, and save the nice clothes for when other people will be seeing them.

Think Ahead When Shopping
When choosing clothes, if your kid doesn't have a preference between different colors, go with the one that is more likely to hide stains. White shirts are infinitely harder to take care of and keep good looking than darker colors, for example.
Additionally, when your kids are growing quickly, if you can convince your kid to get something slightly larger instead of something that fits perfectly now, you'll get longer wear out of the clothing and they won't grow out of it immediately.

Pass Them On
If you have more than one kid, see if your younger kids will be willing to wear the clothes that their older siblings wore. Hopefully they'll consider their style just as cool and you won't have to buy all new for the next kid, but no guarantees. At least you can try.

Good luck. This too shall pass. Eventually your kids will stop growing, and then you'll be able to stop buying a whole new wardrobe every 3 months, so even if the clothes they have are more expensive, at least they will last.

If you have teens or preteens that are picky with their clothing, what techniques have you found to keep down clothing costs? Or have you given up?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. Bless your heart. Again, I was lucky to have a kid who only wanted comfortable clothing, not name brand or fashionable. I actually tried to get her to dress goth but she didn't care. This post is very useful for parents out there fighting the fight. With so much peer pressure at school it's hard for a child to make the best of a frugal situation. I remember when I was in 6th grade, I wanted an Izod shirt, Sassoon jeans, Members Only jacket and Nike shoes. It never happened because we didn't have the budget and I felt so left out. Lucky for me, before high school someone who was a bit of a rebel said "those brands aren't paying me to advertise them, so I don't wear them." I went goth and never looked back, worked quite well in high school.

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