Child Development and Parenting: Adolescence
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Clothing Clashes, Housing Decisions, and Financial Management: Part II

Angela Oswalt, MSW, edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.

Besides clothing clashes over values and aesthetics, clothing conflicts can also erupt for financial reasons. Although clothing serves to provide youth a means to express their individuality, clothing also functions to demonstrate conformity to their peer group. As with all fashion trends, certain brands and styles of clothing are considered "in" while other brands and styles are considered "out." Youths' fashion trends are no different. Whether it is a particular brand of athletic shoe, or a particular designer of jeans, wearing the "in" clothing earns youth a favorable status among their peers. Although most parents understand and sympathize with their youths' need to fit-in with their peers, many clothing brands are simply too expensive for the average family's budget. Similarly, because teens grow so rapidly and frequently need new clothes, many parents feel certain clothing purchases are not worth the expense, given they will be worn for such a short period of time.

It is important for youth to understand these financial considerations and the associated budgetary restraints because developing financial responsibility is a vital part of growing up. As youth eventually become independent adults they must learn to live within their means, and to budget their money accordingly. Parents can use these decisions about clothing purchases as an opportunity for youth to learn valuable lessons about finances and budgets. A clothing allowance will provide youth the independence they desire, while gaining real-world experience with budgets, financial decision-making, and savvy shopping. Furthermore, since responsible financial management requires careful planning, a clothing allowance will cause teens to thoughtfully plan their wardrobe requirements.

Parents can begin by establishing the amount of the clothing allowance. Since different clothing is worn in different seasons, and because youth grow quickly, it is usually best to distribute this clothing allowance twice per year although generally more is allocated for the Fall/Winter season, since this is the start of the school year, and because winter clothing is typically more expensive. Thus, if the yearly clothing allowance is $800, parents may want to distribute $600 in the Fall, and $200 in the Spring. Next, parents will need to help their teens plan and prioritize their wardrobe needs so they can stay within the budgeted amount. Parents can also help teens to become smarter consumers so they can increase their buying power and maximize their budgeted clothing allowance. As teens get older and gain more practice working within their budgeted clothing amount, they will need less parental assistance.

To illustrate the benefits of a clothing allowance, imagine that 14 year old Tara's new school year is rapidly approaching. Several weeks prior to the first day of school, Dad meets with Tara to help her to develop a list all the Fall and Winter clothing items she will need (jeans, shirts, sneakers, bras and underwear, dress shoes, winter coat, etc.) and he will discuss the $600 clothing allowance budgeted for those purchases. Tara decides she needs four pair of jeans, six shirts, two bras, seven panties, 1 pair of casual shoes, one pair of dress shoes, and one winter coat. Next, Tara and Dad could practice using their math skills to figure out how to allocate the $600 across the different types of clothing. Tara will likely encounter a real-world problem: there is usually never enough money for everything we want. Tara will need to make some tough decisions in order to solve this problem. She will need to determine how to use the $600 to best meet her needs, priorities, and preferences. She may need to do a little research to find out exactly how much those coveted designer jeans actually cost (although she probably has this memorized!). She may decide to give up some things to get these jeans or she might decide they just aren't worth it. Dad can also show Tara how to be a thrifty shopper so her $600 goes further. Perhaps she's willing to purchase her winter coat at thrift shop so she'll have more money left over for the things that matter most to her. Dad can encourage Tara to check store websites and newspaper circulars to watch for sales or coupons that could stretch her clothing dollars further. Tara might decide to use some of her baby-sitting money, to supplement her clothing allowance, so she can buy the type of clothing or the extra pieces of clothing she really wants. Or, if Dad has a little extra room in the family's budget, he might suggest she could do a few extra chores to earn some additional money. As Tara becomes older and eligible for a part-time job, she may be more motivated to get a job, if she wants to purchase more clothing than her clothing allowance permits. As is evident from the above example, a clothing allowance benefits youth by providing important financial knowledge and experience including: matching expenses to income, working within a budget, making tough financial decisions, and creating solutions to financial problems. These lessons will become extremely important as youth move into late adolescence (roughly 18-24 years). By this time, adolescents need to begin taking responsibility not only for their clothing, but for their home, meals, transportation, and monthly bills. This includes: shopping for, and caring for their own clothing; shopping for groceries and meal preparation; routine housekeeping and home maintenance (and yard maintenance if applicable); basic car maintenance, or independent navigation of public transportation; and paying monthly bills. These skills are learned by observing their caregivers or older siblings performing these tasks, and then practicing these skills; first with supervision, then independently. Parents need to have patience with their children during this process. Younger teens should not be expected to perform these tasks as expertly as someone with years of experience. There will be some wrinkles in clothing that was not folded carefully, some meals that did not turn out as planned, and some wasted materials during a home repair. As youth learn these skills there will be some mistakes and mishaps along the way, and sometimes a "simple" task will seem to take forever. However, it's important for youth to practice these skills so that they feel confident in their ability to live independently.