Four Teenagers and the Budget

This has absolutely nothing to do with adoption – unless the four different personalities of my teenage children – which issue from their biological parents – somehow affect the issue I am about to raise, namely: Budgets for Teens.

John and I would like for our four older kids: Emily (19), K.J. (17), Skye (almost 16), and Journey (13) to learn to make financially responsible decisions about their purchases of clothes, shoes, other accessories, and beauty/health items. We know that we would like to give them a certain amount of money, over a certain period of time (say, a month or a semester) and then ask THEM to decide what to spend it on. Easier said than done. We have questions.

(1) What amount of money SHOULD they have to spend on clothes, beauty, etc.?

(2) What do we do about the different needs of the kids based on gender and/or uniform vs. non-uniform schools and/or sports team requirements?

Let me break it down for you. We do not want to be overindulgent parents. We do not want our kids to think they can buy all designer-named products or trade out a perfectly good outfit for another just because there is something new on the rack to buy. On the other hand, we don’t want them to feel “under-clothed” and embarrassed because their Mom only lets them shop at the thrift store. We want THEM to make the decisions about shopping for used versus new clothes and other items. We want THEM to decide when the generic foundation is just as good as the name brand, and buying the cheaper product gives them more money to spend on something else they want or need. This is how they will learn to budget the money they make themselves someday – or so we tell ourselves.

It gets even trickier to pick a dollar amount when we consider the individual differences between the kids – Emily is in college. She has been basically the same size for a few years, so she can reuse many of her clothes. Her “desires” haven’t changed much. She is a Nike shorts and t-shirts kind of girl (although she does go a little crazy at REI). She doesn’t use a lot of make-up, but does use some. She isn’t on a sports team anymore. (I used to spend a lot on new swimsuits.)

K.J. doesn’t care too much about the clothes he wears – within certain parameters. For example, he will still accept a “cool” t-shirt or pair of basketball shorts from the thrift store. On the other hand, he loves to buy athletic shoes and has no concern for price. Unlike the girls, he isn’t buying make-up or skin care products. But he does play on several sports teams.

By the way, how do you account for sports teams? It’s something we want them to do, although they add expense: fees and clothing and equipment. Does that factor into THEIR budget? What if they choose voice or piano or guitar lessons? There are instruction and instrument fees to consider, but these are also activities we want to encourage…

Skye will tell you, “If I could shop at [the upscale mall in Atlanta] every day, I would.” She is drawn to designer and new fashions. Plus, she has changed size in the past year, so many of her old clothes don’t fit and she needs new ones. Skye uses a lot of make-up and skin care products. Although she is not currently on any sports teams, she will very likely be riding horses again soon and playing team sports at her new school.

Journey is also changing sizes, but Skye purges so many clothes that Journey hardly needs to buy anything new. On the other hand, she goes to a private school that requires pricey uniform pieces with the school logo. She isn’t using much make-up, but that is likely to change. And she also does some sports that require outfitting.

One additional factor – Emily and K.J. have both held jobs this summer. Emily understands that most of her earned income must be spent on car payments, insurance, and gas. K.J.’s income is flowing into a bank account with the understanding that he is saving for a large purchase – perhaps a car. Do these jobs affect the amount of money we allocate for spending on clothing, etc.?

What do we do? How do we pick a number? Can it vary from teenager to teenager? Based on what? Your expertise and advice is requested!

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