10 ways to dress your teens for cheap

Cheap clothes for teens

photo by Hunter Gillman

Last week, I wrote about dressing kids for cheap. Even though kids go through clothes every time you turn around, dressing kids for cheap isn’t that hard. After all, you are in control. Even though your four-year-old wants to go out the door wearing a neon orange shirt with olive polka dot leggings, you are still pick what goes into the closet.

However, when your kids gets to be pre-teens and older, they start to balk at Mommy picking clothes for them. They’ll want the latest looks that their friends are wearing, and that can cost. A lot.

Thankfully I’m here to help.

For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to refer to your little fashionista as a her, although I know plenty of young men (fashionistos?) that this post would apply to. I’ve got a very fashion-forward, trendy It girl for a daughter.

Here’s how I afford it:

1. Start ’em young

Start training your teens to shop with an eye for savings while they are still little. I know, the thought of dragging little ones clothes shopping may cause you to shudder. But the best way to teach is to take them out with you when you pick up clothes. You can make it a special one-on-one time with your kid. Take your little one to garage sales and thrift stores. Let her pick out an outfit or give her a few dollars to go shopping for herself. This can be empowering and reinforces the idea of finding a bargain. When looking at the clearance racks of a department store, point out the difference between the markdown and the full price. She’ll learn to appreciate low prices.

This training helps when your kids become more independent and start having more input on what they wear. “I would never spend more than ten dollars on a top,” says my fashionista. I silently cheer her reverse-price snobbery.

2. Embrace the look, not the label

Your fashionista is going to want to dress like her friends. That’s okay. She’s trying to find her own identity, and a big part of what girls wear identify where she wants to belong. As long as her choices meet your minimum family and school standards for dress, you should let her go for it.

That said, you need to start working with your girl on finding the look for less. If she admires a certain item from a pricey label, see if you can find the same style elsewhere. Stores like Forever 21  and Wet Seal specialize in discount teen fashion. By hitting the sales and combining purchases with coupons, you can get items for just a few dollars. My fashionista nabbed a $20 coupon for one store and applied it to a pair of boots that were on sale for $19.99. Free boots! She’s worn them for the last two years and loves them.

3. Combine sales online

Subscribe to discount newsletters that alert you when clothes are on sale and get on email lists for stores that you like to frequent. I like the Pinching Your Pennies newsletter, but there are many sites out there that alert you to the best deals. The nice thing about shopping online for teens is that those junior sizes tend to be discounted pretty quickly. Make sure that you get shipping for free or cheap, so you don’t have your savings eaten up by shipping costs.

I once found jeans for $12, which I thought was a pretty good deal, so I grabbed a few for my fashionista’s Christmas present. When the package arrived, my girl freaked. Apparently, I had snagged Rock & Republic jeans–tony luxury jeans that normally sell for $70.

4. Trade with friends

Let your fashionista swap clothes with her friends. You should have an open closet policy. Teen girls love to swap sweaters and shirts. Frankly, half of the clothes in my daughter’s closet are from her friend, and she’s got items at half a dozen friends’ homes.

You could also let your girl rummage through your closet, although I’m too uncool for my fashionista to borrow from.

5. Hit electronic garage sales

My fashionista still goes to the thrift stores for items. But she’s more comfortable with buying and selling her clothes online.

Oh course, eBay is the granddaddy of the electronic garage sale. But there are numerous sales sites, many with mobile apps that allow you to access the sites directly. My fashionista uses Poshmark and Mercari. She’s been able to snag name brand items for just a few dollars. Even with shipping costs, it can be a significant savings. This is a great option to find items that are tougher to locate in a thrift store, like semi-formals for dances.

6. Swap online

I mentioned in my last post the idea of arranging for a larger organized swap. This is still a good option for teens. Organizations like schools could run the swap. My church did a swap with their youth group that was a hit with the group.

However, you can also swap clothes online. For sites like Poshmark and Mercari, you can list your item with a $0 cost, and when you’re contacted by someone who wants to trade, you exchange addresses and ship your items at your own cost. There is a risk, since you’re not protected when you bypass the site instead of brokering through the website. However, my fashionista has been very happy with the trades that she’s arranged.

7. Alter current clothing

In my post about kids’ clothes for cheap, I tell you about altering existing articles for clothing to create new pieces. This is even more important for teens, since their tastes change so quickly. Let your fashionista go wild. Mine took a five dollar backpack, and with 99 cent acrylic paints, transformed that backpack into a gorgeous galaxy backpack, such this one  sold for $70 on etsy.

Let her look over Pinterest and pick a tutorial to alter an item that she doesn’t care for anymore. Just by searching Pinterest for DIY altered Tshirts, I found ways to:

8. Sewing

I am sewing-impaired. I would love to whip up a prom dress like Lorelai Gilmore on Gilmore Girls, but it would look like a lopsided pillowcase. But you can still get the benefit of home sewing without having to do all the work.

Instead of sewing items, let your fashionista start sewing clothing for herself. Believe it or not, there are still Home Ec courses that teach sewing.  Your fashionista might love the control of creating a skirt with the EXACT color and  pattern that she wants. Sewing may turn into a great  hobby, allowing her to start making her own creations. This would be fantastic for more expensive items, like prom dresses or business suits.

9. Become a fashion model

This option won’t work for everyone, but I felt I had to mention it, since it works so well for us. Have your fashionista get clothes from clothing manufacturers, take pictures modelling them, and share the pictures on social media.

See the title picture at the top of the post? It’s from one of these modelling sessions.

Here’s how it works for us:

My fashionista’s friend, Hunter, is a budding photographer. He has over 18,000 followers on Instagram. Because he has so many followers, clothing manufacturers contact Hunter and offer him free items to shoot. So Hunter gets together with my fashionista and they have a photo shoot with the item. Fashionista gets to keep the item, and the clothing manufacturer gets cheap exposure on social media. Win for everyone!

That’s how fashionista got the Indy sweatshirt in the above photo for free.

This only works if someone has a lot of followers on social media. This is advertising, after all. And if you are uncomfortable with having your fashionista on social media, this won’t work for you.

10. Compromise

This is my least favorite option, but sometimes your fashionista wants an item that you can’t get with the other options listed above. If there is an must-have item that your fashionista wants, you can split the cost with her. Offer to have her put up half her own money. If she doesn’t have money, have her earn the item through working around the house over and above her regular chores. Make sure that you get her to work before you pick up the item! (I’ve dealt with far too many promises with no follow-through.) We did this with a pair of Converse sneakers that fashionista wanted. Again, this should be your last option.

You notice that throughout this post, I keep referring to your fashionista using these tips to save money, not you. This is deliberate. Not only does this give your fashionista more control, it’s perfect life training for your fashionista to manage her money. The clothing may be temporary, but the life skills learned will last forever.

What are your favorite ways to save on teens’ clothes?
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6 Comments

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6 Responses to 10 ways to dress your teens for cheap

  1. Great tips! I do a lot of these already, but it is good to know that we are not unusual. 🙂 Then when we do get an outfit that she absolutely loves she outgrows it in one season! Best wishes for you and yours!
    Jendi recently posted…WonderMix Grain Mill GiveawayMy Profile

  2. Mel

    These are terrific suggestions. I’ve always loved thrift stores thanks to my dad dragging me to them and I definitely love it when something is a bargain. The internet also makes this a world of easier for teenagers than when I was one.
    Mel recently posted…Financially Savvy Saturdays #82My Profile

    • heather @ 15 minute cheapskate

      I’m glad you got your love of thrift stores early! It took me until I was married before I could appreciate them.

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