Clothing allowance for a 15yo girl?
March 25, 2015 8:03 AM   Subscribe

My niece is turning 15 next month, and I'd like to set up some sort of clothing allowance for her - any suggestions on amounts or how to organize?

My niece lives with my mom, who is on a fixed income. I try to take my niece shopping about twice a year, and wind up spending $300-400 on her each time, for new clothes/shoes/whatever. My mom spends money on her in between this times - this in no way covers her clothing needs. I also buy some other random things for her - if she tells me she needs them. She doesn't normally like to ask. (Also, I hate getting a text message of "we're at the store and I really need new blah, can you send $X?" I'd prefer to be able to budget a set amount!)

I remember in high school that my best friend's mom had an arrangement with her where she set aside $X/month for her as a "clothing allowance" - it was available to her, and if she wanted to save it for 6 months and then blow it on a $300 jacket, she could do that, but that would mean no new jeans, etc, for her for 6 months.

I'd like to do something similar, but I have no idea how much is reasonable (my niece mainly shops at thrift/consignment stores, walmart, and target), nor how to arrange it. I want to make sure she is actually spending it on clothes instead of other stuff, but I always want it to be pretty easily accessible.

I'd ideally like her to be able to know how much was there without asking me, but that may be asking too much.

I also give my niece an allowance of $7/week, which I transfer to her through my Capital One 360 account, and she has a debit card she can use. It's possible it's time for that to increase as well (I've been doing $0.50 per year)- she mostly spends it at iTunes. Her debit card doesn't allow her to overdraft, and I'm trying to teach her to be responsible with money in any way that I can, so I think having to manage her own clothing account would be great.

Another note: I don't think I can just give it to my mom - due to her very limited income, I feel like it would be very difficult for her not to borrow from it, and just think that she would buy the clothes/repay it.
posted by needlegrrl to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
gift cards to clothing stores?
posted by bearette at 8:21 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'll suggest gift cards to specific clothing stores and also encouraging your niece to get a part time job, if that's a possibility, to help teach financial responsibility.

You should know, though, that it's pretty easy to sell or trade gift cards online. It may be difficult to enforce that she only spend this money on clothes without, say, seeing receipts.
posted by girlmightlive at 8:23 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think it would be okay to just bump her allowance up. You write:

I remember in high school that my best friend's mom had an arrangement with her where she set aside $X/month for her as a "clothing allowance" - it was available to her, and if she wanted to save it for 6 months and then blow it on a $300 jacket, she could do that, but that would mean no new jeans, etc, for her for 6 months.

I think it's perfectly reasonable at 15 to be told, "Hey. You have $7 a week now that is discretionary. I'm going to bump that up to {$X} so that you can use the extra money to buy your own clothes. If you blow the extra money on non-clothing items or on frivolous clothing, then that's your choice, but you aren't going to get more money. This money covers bras, underwear, socks, school clothes, and weekend clothes. If you need help figuring out a budget I'm happy to help you."

Is she going to blow the money on stupid crap? Yes, almost assuredly. Is she going to ask for more money? Probably. If you stick to your guns then everything will be fine, and she will quickly learn how to budget and spend this money wisely. Think about it - if you set this up in a way in which it's 100% impossible for her to use the money on anything but clothes, then she isn't going to really learn budgeting or self control. Wasting $30 at this age is nothing in the scheme of things. It will be much better for her to learn that lesson now with a small sum of money, than in five years blowing $3,000 on a credit card.
posted by gatorae at 8:25 AM on March 25, 2015 [22 favorites]

Regarding amounts -- $300 to $400 every six months should be MORE than enough. That's more than I spend on clothes all year!

You need to introduce your niece to the magic of thrift stores. Only shoes, panties, bras, and socks/hose need to be bought new.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:28 AM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think your goal here is to give your niece a reasonable clothing allowance and if it were me, to teach her money, budget, allocation responsibility.

I think at 15, your niece (or any 15yo) should be able to or learn to budget and to allocate/prioritize their money/allowance. Short of gift cards to specific stores, I think keeping this as clothing only is next to impossible. Money is fungible. If it were me, I would give whatever amount you think appropriate and let her decide what to spend it on with the knowledge that there is no more coming until you reload on whatever schedule there is.

When my kids were in HS, I got sick of being asked for $20 to go to the movies or the deli or for gas or whatever (and there were a lot of whatevers). I gave them an allowance once a month that covered whatever. Short of a true emergency, they were on their own as to how to spend it and when. I gave them 10x their grade per month. 10th grader got $100 per month. Basic clothes (Sneakers, underwear, a pair of levi's) were my responsibility. Going to dance? You buy the dress.

I also gave them a link to local help wanted ads. Between summer and part time jobs, the allowance, and gifts from grandparents on birthdays, they managed to have an active social life, be warmly clothed and learn to budget and allocate.

Putting the money directly on her debit card is reasonable. I used prepaid debit cards from American Express, but YMMV.
posted by 724A at 8:33 AM on March 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

My parents did this type of clothing allowance in my family because negotiating individual clothing purchases with teenagers is a special kind of hell. It only works with appearance conscious kids (the girls in my family did fine and spent the money as intended but both my brothers were happy to wear the same two pairs of thrift store jeans all year and blow the rest on concert tickets and weed.) I think I got about $1500 a year, 10 years ago, and we were an upper-middle class family that bought new clothes from places like the Gap/Abercrombie/JCrew. Keep in mind that teenagers grow out of clothing and need things replaced often. I spend less than $1500/year on clothing now as an adult, but I don't have to buy an almost entirely new wardrobe every year or two like I did in middle school and high school.

My family's rule was that each child had to draw up a budget proposal at the beginning of the year and if the proposal was approved, the money was issued quarterly and we're stuck with the proposal for an entire year. If we dramatically under-budgeted by forgetting, about say, a prom dress or coat, tough luck, but there's always next year. It was a great lesson in planning ahead and researching typical costs of things.

So I say, propose this idea to your niece and let HER do the legwork on deciding what is appropriate. Most kids will be motivated to come up with a reasonable estimate because they don't want to seem greedy and risk getting the whole privilege taken away and it's a good learning opportunity.
posted by horizons at 8:49 AM on March 25, 2015 [9 favorites]

You need to introduce your niece to the magic of thrift stores. Only shoes, panties, bras, and socks/hose need to be bought new.

Actually, OP says that the niece already shops at thrift stores.

If your niece already has a pretty decent wardrobe (and it sounds like she should), a bump in her allowance should work. If you're paying $600-800 a year and are comfortable with that amount, how about just pro-rating it to an extra $12-$16 a week?

Alternative fiscal discipline item is to start transferring larger chunks of money at a time to your niece. Learning to resist impulse buying when that big number shows up in the bank account is a valuable skill.
posted by joyceanmachine at 8:50 AM on March 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

I would transfer her the money to her account outright and let her do the budgeting, but reserve the right to look over the transactions. Do you live near your niece or have access to the account that the debit card is linked to? Maybe you can set up a account for her that you both have access to, which might help with the budgeting and financial education part of it as well.

As far as amounts go, another budgeting exercise? Sit down together, tally up the random things you bought last year, and go from there. From your very brief description, she sounds like a reasonable kid. I think $300-400 every six months is a good starting point, 15 is still growing and while, yes, it is technically possible to get all your clothes from thrift stores, it's nice to have some nice things sometimes, especially when you're 15, if you can swing it.
posted by yeahlikethat at 8:50 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

I had a clothing allowance from middle school until I got my first job, with a very similar setup. I could technically use the money on anything I wanted, but I was on the hook for buying my own clothes.

The key to making sure she spends the allowance on clothes is to stop buying her clothes. If you're spending $300 on clothes for her twice a year, give her $50-60 a month and make it crystal clear that this replaces those shopping trips.

I would not give her gift cards to specific stores. Part of the appeal of a clothing allowance is the ability to buy clothes anywhere. If she gets store-specific gift cards, she won't be able to comparison shop, and if her preferred clothing stores are Target and Walmart, she can still blow that money on snacks or tchotchkes.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:51 AM on March 25, 2015

If you're spending $300 on clothes for her twice a year, give her $50-60 a month and make it crystal clear that this replaces those shopping trips.

Is the goal to replace those shopping trips? Because it is still nice to go shopping and get nicer things once in a while. I'm a grown-ass woman and my mom still takes me shopping when she visits (once a year) and gets me a nice thing that I never splurge on for myself. Because sometimes it's nice to do that - both on the giving and receiving end.

I like the idea of working with your niece to see what kind of budget she has. Figure out - OK, how many pairs of jeans does she need? Two, three or more? Shoes? Those things that are constantly worn and she could be growing out of still each year. Then examine any cold weather gear (if applicable) to see if that will still suffice this year. Add in a little extra for fashionable t-shirts, etc. One nice-ish dress/outfit for those occassions - not like prom, but like school presentations or holiday dinner or a school dance. That would be minimum, right?

Then maybe encourage her to find a part-time job for anything above that minimum. And budget for a nice semi-annual shopping trip with her aunt to pick out one special wardrobe piece. :)
posted by jillithd at 9:03 AM on March 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: My niece is in a very small town (population approx. 5000), so part-time jobs are at a minimum - we would prefer she focus on school rather than that, in any case. (She does sometimes do odd jobs for cash.)

I feel like the shopping trips aren't done often enough - she winds up needing things in-between, and they are hard to schedule. I'd still like to take her shopping sometimes (because, fun!) but I want to make sure she can buy clothes if she wants/needs them. Plus, hey - she's seriously a teenager now, and hanging out with her aunt may not be as much fun. I like the idea of splurging occasionally.

She is still outgrowing clothes, and still needs the occasional item for school (gym clothes, etc etc), so she may be spending more on clothes now than she will once she's grown.

I love the idea of working with her to see what sort of a budget she needs, and what types of clothing she needs to have in her closet - I think that would be a great exercise for her (and hey, for me to do for myself, even!).

She's also very into art, so maybe I can add a small amount for art supplies - although I've tried to tell her that if she needs art stuff, to let me know - I remember from school how expensive that can be.
posted by needlegrrl at 9:33 AM on March 25, 2015 [8 favorites]

Addendum: Sitting down with her and budgeting together can also be an opportunity to explain yourself ("I prefer to budget a set amount instead of buying things for you willynilly because...") and demonstrate how you handle your own money. Might make the lesson stick a little more than simply telling her how to spend hers.
posted by yeahlikethat at 9:34 AM on March 25, 2015

A thought - it might be worth checking in with your niece to make sure that she is finding appropriate clothes at thrift stores. Not that thrifting isn't great, but if you're a non-standard size or your town is very small or your thrift store cuts deals with pickers before things even get out on the floor, that can make matters very difficult, especially for teenagers. (Around here, I can no longer find anything in the thrift stores that isn't last year's Target and Walmart where once I was buying cashmere sweaters and J Crew - the stores all work with pickers and nothing that can be resold at a profit makes its way onto the floor anymore.)
posted by Frowner at 10:10 AM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

(Just for the record, you're an awesome aunt to help out like this, and to let her make choices on her clothes without the added parent/child drama. :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 10:23 AM on March 25, 2015 [8 favorites]

My niece is in a very small town (population approx. 5000)...

Ah, that would make thrifting difficult. Perhaps one or more of your regular shopping trips could be to take her on a thrift store blitz in nearby city? If you can time it for a holiday when they have 50% sales, even better!

...she winds up needing things in-between... She is still outgrowing clothes...

Maybe one thing you can help her with is wardrobe planning? Sit down and write out the different occasions she needs to dress for and what sort of clothes and in what quantity she'll need for those, then inventory her current wardrobe and figure out what she's most likely going to need to replace in the next 6-12 months. Do this before you take her on one of your regular big shopping trips.

Knit fabrics are great for tops, skirts, and dresses because they'll continue to fit okay for a while even after some growth. You might also consider getting her a few of these items in slightly larger sizes that she can grow into in between shopping trips. That could reduce her in-between shopping needs to just fitted items like jeans, bras, and shoes.

Jeans, bras, and shoes are probably going to be your biggest ongoing problem because she's going to need new sizes at an unpredictable rate. The above suggestions for store-specific gift cards might help here, if you want to ensure that the money can only be spent on clothes or shoes.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:29 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

My mom did this. We had a set budget for clothing ($200 three times a year - the beginning of school, winter, and then at the beginning of the summer) and then she also had a budget outside of that for necessities: a winter coat (if the old one was too small), boots/sneakers, and underwear. I don't know what the outside budget was precisely, but I do know that I did not get a new coat or new shoes every year by any means. I literally am right now wearing the shoes my mom bought my my first year of high school and I am in my 30s - doc martens are indestructible!

My mom taught me the value of spending a bit more money on high quality clothes that are necessary for life - stuff like coats and shoes and underwear. She spent a lot on those upfront and explained that if you got high-quality things, they would not wear out as quickly. She was right, and I have carried this mentality on throughout my life. I am currently wearing jeans that are 9 years old, a cashmere sweater that I got for my 16th birthday, and the aforementioned doc marten shoes. The coat I wore today is brand new, but it is 100% wool, has a hood, a lining, and I got it for $100 on super-sale this year. She also taught me the value of having clothes that fit and that work for your body type, and that might also be a good discussion to open up with your niece as well. Things that are fashionable aren't always the best in terms of fit or function.

Anyhow, my point is: teaching your niece the value of high-quality clothes is important. You might want to consider only giving her a budget for "stuff that's fashionable" - junk that as a teenager you want to wear to be stylish, stuff you get at Forever 21 or H&M, or dresses to wear to a dance, or whatever. Those purchases should be made sparingly, because that stuff does not last, by definition. It's stylish and it's cheap and that's why you're replacing it all the time. Well, that, and your niece is growing. So, the budget for that stuff can and should be fairly small. The budget for necessities, however, should not be too low, because you're going to be replacing stuff more if you buy lower-quality goods, and you might want to be the one to manage that budget, rather than handing it over to her.

It's really nice that you're doing this for her. It's a really good habit to get into, having a budget for clothes, and I am very grateful to my mom that she did this for me - and that she taught me how to identify high-quality clothing. Another final tip: I buy a lot of that high-quality stuff off-season, on sale, and at "bargain" type places like Nordstrom Rack and Marshall's. This works best if your look is "normcore" as mine is, but in my opinion you can never go wrong with what my mom calls a "classic" look.
posted by sockermom at 11:12 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Wardrobe planning is a great idea. Don't forget that teens' margins of error as far as shopping mistakes are concerned are going to be bigger than ours, from lack of experience + teenness. (I remember "really, really needing" a stupidly expensive pair of wool gingham short-shorts to wear... to parties? The mall? Then again, playing with clothes and identities is par for the course at that age.) Plus, obviously, there are growth-related changes in size.

I'm going to suggest essentials might include:
- 2-3 pairs of jeans (at least one black and one blue)
- 1-2 pairs of heavier weight pants that aren't jeans
- 7-8 t-shirts
- 3-5 sweaters
- 2 cardigans
- 1-2 hoodies
- 3 pairs of leggings
- 2 pairs of sweatpants
- 5-7 cotton camis/tanks
- 5-7 bras, more underwear
- 3-4 pairs of shorts
- a couple of casual dresses and/or skirts
- formal dresses for e.g. prom will be a special investment and are well worth a special trip together
- 1 medium-weight, waterproof spring jacket/coat suitable for rain and 0-15C (32-59F) weather
- 1 light jacket for summer nights (denim is most adaptable ime)
- 1 winter coat (1 wool, plus 1 down if she lives somewhere cold - NB winter and spring outerwear should at least go to mid-thighs)
- 1 pair good runners for gym & fitness, 1-2 pairs casual flats, 1 pair boots, 1-2 pairs sandals. (I think shoes are an important investment, because feet are)

The dresses, sweaters, sweatpants & hoodies, and leggings might take her through a few sizes.

Your niece can sign up to get emails for discounts at most online stores. Some of those discounts are very good.

You are a rockstar aunt.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:07 PM on March 25, 2015

If you want to know where she's spending it, go to the bank and set up a joint checking account with her. You'll both have easy access. You can sit down with the statements quarterly and see how/where money was spent and if it was spent well.
posted by slateyness at 1:57 PM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

At 15 she is probably approaching the end of the outgrowing things regularly years so whilst this is a consideration it's probably not a main consideration for much longer. I was fully grown at 15 - subsequent changes in size were weight fluctuations.

I love the suggestion of helping her learn about wardrobe planning - I wish somebody had explained to me how to plan my wardrobe and how not to end up with 15 white tank tops but nothing to wear when I was growing up.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:51 AM on April 6, 2015

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