How Much for a Teen Clothing Allowance?

by Reader Contributors

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Unsure how much you should allow for your teen’s clothing allowance? Frugal parents offer tips on how to determine a fair clothing allowance for a teen as well as some tips for stretching that allowance.

Dear Dollar Stretcher,
My husband and I would like to put our only child, a daughter, on a clothing allowance. I do not have a clue as to how much would be sufficient. Can any of your parent readers help?

How Much Should a Teen Get for a Clothing Allowance?

We sent this question out to our frugal parent readers. Read on for their advice on how much to give as a clothing allowance as well as how to teach your teen to make those clothing dollars stretch as far as possible.

Clothing Allowance Teaches a Valuable Lesson

Our teenage son has been on a clothing allowance for most of his life, but has actually only made all of his own purchasing decisions (with our assistance whenever needed) since he was 14. His current budget is $25 per month. What has worked well for us is to require our son to keep a “balance” of $100 for future clothing expenses. Anything that he saves above this can be put in savings toward his college fund.

As a result of this incentive not to spend, we know he really does want or need the item when he makes a purchase. He has willingly scaled back on requiring designer-everything and sometimes makes purchases secondhand. His jacket, dress shirt, and tie for homecoming cost $6.50 plus tax. He looked great! He still gets reasonable quality and style for his money and has learned valuable lessons about short-term versus long-term gratification.

When Working Up a Budget…

I think it’s a good idea that you have a clothing allowance to budget. The amount should depend on where you live and your family’s income. Because of the cost of living, clothes in California or New York would probably be more expensive than clothes in South Dakota or Missouri.

There are several things to consider when working up a budget. Will this clothing allowance put a big dent in your family’s budget? Does your teen wear a school uniform? Will your teen be expected to buy all of their clothing, including coats, gym clothes, sports or band uniforms, etc. Or is this just for the “gotta have its,” baubles and accessories?

One way to save money on clothing is to hit the consignment and resale stores. There is always a much bigger selection there, not just the mass-produced look everyone else has. If your teen is old enough, you  might want to consider letting them get a job to help pay for clothes. That way, they’ll learn the value of earning their clothing dollars as well as budgeting.

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Learning the Value of the Dollar with a Clothing Allowance

I did this very thing with my daughter a few years ago. She gets $250 (Canadian) every three months. She quickly learned that if she needed a new winter coat in the fall, she would have to save money from previous allowances or all she would have to start school with would be a new coat.

At first, she forgot to plan for less exciting items such as socks and underwear. She learned about long-term planning rather than just spending from allowance. It also made her really think before buying an item, which led into a discussion of needs versus wants. Of course, she is free to supplement her allowance by earning extra money babysitting or doing extra chores around the house. When she is old enough to have a part-time job, we may look at a different system, but for the time being this is much less stressful for me as she is in charge.

She has a close and dependable girlfriend of the same size who she temporarily exchanges clothes with, which, in effect, doubles both their wardrobes. She now looks for sales and she is learning that you pay a considerable amount of money to have the right “labels”. I’m hoping to convert her to thrift store shopping in the near future.

Shop for Teen Clothing Online

You may or may not know this, but ThredUp is a great site to pick up clothing, both new and secondhand. They sell a lot of clothing items there for a fraction of the price. I think $100 a month for clothing is very fair. I never had that much to spend. You can get a lot of items on sites like ThredUp for that amount.

Base the Budget on the Past Few Years of Clothing Purchases

I was on a clothing allowance as a child, and convinced my best friend to put her teenage daughter on one. She determined the amount by adding up the amount spent during the previous two years on clothes and dividing by 24 months. For them, it was about $75 per month, which sounds like a lot, but it eliminates the months of no shopping followed by the expensive months like back-to-school and prom. She then sat down with her daughter and went over the receipts from the past to show what kinds of clothes she would be expected to purchase.

If you don’t have receipts from the past, look through the closet and dresser drawers to see what all was purchased over the last two years. It’s easy to forget things like school T-shirts, high school dances, church clothes, athletic wear, undergarments, jewelry and accessories, shoes, etc. She gave her daughter the same amount of money each month on the first of each month and expected her daughter to budget for things coming up. If her daughter needed or wanted something and came up short of money, her daughter would have to figure out how to do without that item, or find a cheaper alternative.

It was helpful for the daughter to know that the amount per month was really adequate because it was based on past expenditures, and she found that she didn’t really need designer label jeans or every color of matching shoes.

It was also helpful for my friend to know that once she had doled out the allowance for the month, there would be no more arguments about “but I really need this right now”.

Teach Your Teen How to Stretch Their Clothing Allowance

I think $1200 sounds like a very generous amount to spend on clothing each year. The following are a few tips to teach your teen to make a clothing allowance go much further:

  1. Check garage sales and thrift stores first. You can find many items with the tags still attached. You can also find clothes with name brand and designer labels as well. Never buy anything new that you can buy just as good secondhand.
  2. Learn to sew. By learning to properly mend clothes, you can make clothes last much longer. You can also makeover your old clothes with different trims, embroidery, patches, etc. to give your current wardrobe a whole new look.
  3. Always buy quality shoes. A good quality leather shoe will last many years if properly taken care of. Learn how to polish your own shoes to keep them looking nice. If you have canvas or cloth shoes and purses, spray them with Scotchguard and it will keep them looking nicer much longer. (See Why Cheap Shoes Are a Bad Buy.)
  4. Have a clothing swap with friends. If you have several friends that are the same size as you, swap the clothes that you no longer want for items you can use that your friends no longer want.
  5. Check the clearance racks and buy clothing out of season. Now is the time to buy next summer’s wardrobe as many stores have their summer clothes marked at least 50% off. (See Become a Black Belt in Smart Seasonal Shopping.)
  6. Buy classic styles and colors that do not go out of style like navy, black, tan, and gray. These colors also will match about any color of clothing you choose to go with them.
  7. Line dry your clothes instead of drying them in the dryer. This will prevent your clothes from shrinking and it will also make your clothes last longer.
  8. Don’t buy more clothes than you need. If you do laundry in your home at least once a week, then you really don’t need more than seven to ten outfits per season. By only buying what is needed, your clothing allowance will build up and you will be able to buy better quality clothes that will last longer. You will also greatly decrease the amount of laundry and ironing you need to do as your clothes won’t be crowded in your closet.


Inexpensive Creativity Thanks to a Clothing Allowance

It all depends on the “standards” that you have set up previously with the child. If you have been telling her (by example or comments) that only brand-new or name-brand clothes will do, you will need a bigger allowance than if she has been raised that discount brands or secondhand is fine.

So, the question is how much have you been spending on clothes? Give the child 50% of that amount to spend as she sees fit. The other 50% you will still spend, but for those items the child will not necessarily be interested in spending her allowance on (i.e. underwear, coats, shoes, etc.).

Sometimes, kids can be quite creative to get a “look” with less money. Let them be experimental and you may be surprised that they become a trendsetter in the peer group with little money spent. Clothing is very important to children as a way to establish their identity. Whatever you do, don’t dictate how she spends her allowance and don’t add to it if she overspends. Budgets are not ever expanding and that is an important lesson to learn while still at home.

When Looking for Teen Clothing, Start at Goodwill

As a teacher of teens, I know that there’s a huge difference in clothing allowances. Some teens get as little as $10 a month, while others are given unlimited use of a parent’s credit card. But you can’t always tell which is which by their clothes.

If you live in a town big enough to have a fair-sized Goodwill Store, you’d be amazed at what you can get there. Jeans, even designer brands in great shape, are dirt cheap. Dresses for homecoming or prom are often another good buy. Check out the consignment shops, too. eBay often has nice clothes at cheap to reasonable prices. If you can get the expensive basics at these places, then you can fill in with tops and accessories from your favorite stores. Good luck!

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Raising Responsible Children with a Clothing Allowance

My mother did this with me 35 years ago. As soon as my daughter started working part-time (age 14, babysitting at church) and we started arguing over the cost of clothes, I implemented it with her. I estimated $100 per month totaling $1200 per year. This includes all underclothes, prom dresses, shoes, hose, etc. She logs it in a notebook. I told her from the beginning that if she “forgot” to log something and I noticed it that I would charge her double. She has never forgotten to log anything! It immediately ended the arguments where I would think something wasn’t worth what she wanted to pay.

If she wants to spend the entire amount on a prom dress, it is all right with me because she knows that she will not receive any additional clothing money. It was also amazing how frugal she became when shopping. I found her favorite Gap jeans for $9.00 at a thrift store and got them for her. Her reply was “Thanks Mom!” You just saved me $35.” She then logged the $9 purchase on the log. She now keeps an eye out for them at the same thrift store. She is almost 18 and we haven’t argued about clothing since we started this when she was 14. I like to “pick” my arguments and this was an area I could rule out.

Reviewed June 2021

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