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Monday Q&A-A reader question about children’s clothing

Every Monday, I answer a question or two from my readers. If you have a question you’d like me to answer(it doesn’t have to be about frugality pe se….if you wonder something about homeschooling, or about me personally, for example, ask away!), leave a comment on this post, or email me(thefrugalgirl {at} gmail {dot} com) with the “Q&A” in the subject, and I’ll answer it in a future Monday post.


Kiki left this comment the other day:

I’m relatively new to this attempt to live frugally. My 2 teenage boys haven’t changed size in a year or so and have tons and tons of church polos and t-shirts for spring and summer left over, so all they’re getting this year is a pair of long khakis, a couple cargo shorts in a neutral color and some new sneakers and maybe swim trunks. My question is, how much is really enough? How many outfits do you budget in for each child, or do you just pick a set money amount and they get what they get? Please help. Thanks.


My children are still quite young(9, 8, 5, and 3), so the way I handle their clothing will likely change as they get older. But, here’s the way we do it as of now.

Since my kids are mostly clothed in hand-me-downs at this point, and since we are blessed with such an abundance of hand-me-downs, I’m usually in the position of trying to pare down their wardrobes(which is a nice place to be!). So, while this wardrobe minimization isn’t motivated by a desire to save money but rather a desire to reduce clutter and simplify our lives, I do think about the “How much is enough?” question.

Because I do laundry very regularly(every day to every other day), my kids actually don’t NEED a bunch of outfits. Here’s what I usually try to keep around for my son, since you asked about boys.

  • 3-5 pairs of neutral bottoms(pants or shorts, depending on the season)
  • 5-10 shirts
  • 2 outfits for church(one pair of khakis and 2 long or short sleeved shirts)
  • a swimsuit in the summertime
  • 1-2 sweatshirts/pullovers for the winter
  • 1 pair of shoes for church
  • 1 pair of athletic/play shoes
  • a winter-weight coat(in the spring/fall, he just wears his sweatshirt or pullover)
  • 1 pair of pjs

My girls usually end up having a little bit more clothing than that, mostly because they care a little more about having some variety in their wardrobes, but I still try to keep their wardrobes from getting too huge just because we don’t have unlimited storage space.

As I’ve worked on minimizing our wardrobes over the last few years, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see just how few clothes we actually need.

Now to answer the budgeting question…we set aside $50 each month to cover clothing for our entire family. Since I spend so little to clothe the kids, I shop clearances and Goodwill for myself, and use credit card rewards points to buy work clothes for my husband, $50 is more than enough to clothe us. In fact, we have over $200 sitting in our clothing account right now just because we haven’t needed to spend it.

When our kids get to be teenagers, we plan on giving them a clothing budget of their own to spend. I don’t know how much it will be(that’ll depend on how inflation goes!), but it’ll be enough to provide an adequate wardrobe for them. We’re hopeful that this will give them some incentive to spend wisely(they can buy 5 pairs of clearance or Goodwill jeans or one pair of regular jeans for the same price!) and will teach them some good money management lessons. We’re also optimistic that this will cut down on “But Mom! I really NEED this shirt!” type of conversations since the way they spend their clothing budget will be up to them.

However you decide to handle this, I’d definitely recommend that you and your husband come up with some sort of budget or outfit limit that you can agree on. That way you will be shopping with a guideline, and you’ll be much more likely to spend wisely that way than you’d be if you just went shopping with no plan in place.

I haven’t had teenagers yet, so it’s entirely possible that I’ve missed giving some good advice here. If any of you readers have some sage wisdom to add about clothing teenagers, please leave a comment!

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Tuesday 19th of May 2009

Very helpful !


Monday 18th of May 2009

I had a clothing budget from around age 12. My mom just upped our regular allowances and started paying us monthly instead of weekly. It was a great skill. I still remember closely checking the price tags and looking for bargins. I also remember the $50 I spent on the ESPRIT shirt I was in love with (dating myself here). Though I can't imagine spending that much on a shirt now back in the day it was worth every penny. I appreciated it so much more because I choose to buy it.


Monday 18th of May 2009

My parents gave me the clothing money each month and I had my own checking account (and later a credit card in my name and theirs) use to spend or save the clothing money from about age 13. They expected that I only spend what I had and always promptly pay the credit card. It was a great lesson in managing money and cut down on the number of outfits my mom would buy that I would later decide that I didn't want to wear. I highly recommend giving teens a clothing budget to manage for both the money management and reality in clothing cost lessons.


Monday 18th of May 2009

Growing up, my sister and I had a clothing budget. It was 1 outfit per month (we went to the mall with mom on her pay day) not to exceed a certain dollar limit per year. (there weren't thrift stores in our area growing up that had a selection of clothing) In addition, we got to spend a certain dollar amount on other "necessities" (music, books, magazines, make-up, etc.) per month. My sister and I quickly learned that if we got subscriptions to magazines that we both liked it was cheaper. We also learned to share books with each other and our friends, and then to cut the expense of books and music altogether by checking them out from the library.


Monday 18th of May 2009

I think a clothing budget is a great way to teach kids about the realities of managing money BEFORE they end up with "real" bills.

My parents didn't really give us a clothing budget. We went shopping for new clothes every year before school, and then again before the summer if we needed something. Cold-weather gear like jackets, boots, scarves, mittens, etc., were provided by our parents. The only input we had was color, and sometimes not even then (one year Mom and Dad bought us all, including the dog, matching blue jackets from Lands' End).

None of us were particularly interested in fashion (we didn't have those "Mom, I NEED this shirt" conversations), so it wasn't a big deal, but when I got out on my own, I wished we had gotten a clothing allowance. For my first year or so out on my own, I would go on these spending sprees and buy almost a year's worth of clothing all at once, and not at discounted prices. The best I ended up with would be to hit a clearance sale at a favorite clothing store.

I finally learned to "shop" - to really look around and compare prices and look through second-hand shops like Goodwill, but I dropped well over $2000 on clothes in 2 years just for myself before I learned how to spend more wisely.

So my vote - clothing allowance, handed in cash to the recepient or placed in his/her checking account so said recepient can learn how to truly shop!

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