My Family Clothing Budget: The Good, the Bad, and the Big

Photo credit: woodleywonderworks, CC BY 2.0.

In our house there is a 12-year-old girl, a 16-year-old boy, my husband, and me. While most of our clothing budget is made up of basics like underwear, jeans, and T-shirts, we also need outfits to accommodate sports, work, church, and other activities. I set a budget range for both of the kids when we do back-to-school shopping, but there is flexibility in that budget as needed. Although I try to get most of my kids’ clothes during the back-to-school trip, I also have to plan for extra shopping throughout the year. Things come up like torn leggings, stained favorite shirts, and feet that grow faster than expected. 

Starting from the inside out, it seems like everyone’s undergarments wear out around the same time. About twice a year, everyone gets what they need in terms of new underwear, bras, socks, and undershirts. It is actually a little surprising that those items cost so much. I would estimate around $300 total. Some years are a little less expensive if I only have to replace a few items. I just recently had to buy everyone new socks. My son of the enormous feet can’t wear basic men’s socks and has to have the special larger-size socks. (I didn’t know that until he had opened and tried on the too-small socks, so dad got extra socks this year!)  

I work from home, so my wardrobe expenditures are pretty much flip-flops, jeans, leggings, T-shirts, cardigans, and an occasional dress. Although the kids get new clothes at scheduled intervals (like back-to-school), I don’t schedule clothing shopping for myself. I most often just grab things at Target or Old Navy when I am shopping for the kids. I also buy some items from a Matilda Jane “trunk keeper” for my dressier wardrobe a few times a year. My purchases are so scattered and I don’t keep track of all of them, but I think I spend around $600 a year on my own clothes. I do love sale page Tory Burch flip flops.

My husband works from home a lot and travels. He still needs suits, dress shirts, and dress shoes. He hates shopping, so about twice a year, he goes to Nordstrom Rack and buys two or three pairs of shoes, several suits, and new dress shirts ($600-$800). Then he comes home and purges his old clothes. I need to follow that example and get rid of some high school items that have stayed in my closet.  

While my husband and I are growing a little in our waistlines, the good news is that my teenage kids are FINALLY out of their rapid growth phase. I’m not trying to buy the next size up or the next season up or replacing their wardrobe every few months. Now, their back-to-school clothes last for at least a full school year, and often more than one. We don’t do a lot of hand-me-downs because my kids are different genders, but they both love graphic tees. My daughter was more than happy to take over her brother’s super-soft Star Wars tees when he outgrew them.

However, both of my kids are in the middle of a different kind of growth — a style growth. My son pretty much sticks with a standard wardrobe of track pants, shorts and T-shirts. He likes specific brands and styles in those categories and I can just pick them up and bring them home. His sister, on the other hand, likes to try new fashions and update her wardrobe. In the past year, she hasn’t outgrown her clothes in size as much as she’s outgrown her old look. She wants to follow new trends: Adidas soccer pants, cold shoulder tops, skater skirts, scrunchies, and shirts with ruffles. I know that about once every quarter she’s going to find a new trend to obsess over and I allot about $150 to spend on new clothes. The past few times, she’s gone shopping with friends and come home with scrunchies (!), overalls, and skater skirts.

We live in an area that doesn’t really get cold, so we buy light jackets and sweaters and don’t have heavy winter coats. My kids aren’t label-driven but they do like North Face jackets because of the durability, lightweight warmth, and all those pockets with zippers. I try to shop for sales and off-season discounts, but we spend around $250-$300 a year on new jackets for everyone in the family. On the other side of the seasons, we usually buy new swimsuits once a year ($100).

I also budget for clothes related to extracurriculars. Both of my kids are involved in sports that require uniforms or competition outfits. My daughter twirls baton competitively. For each competition, she needs several outfits, shoes, and accessories. She finally has slowed down in growing. Last year, she grew six inches and I was buying outfits every two or three months. We recently bought two new outfits at $100 each, with around $50 of related accessories. These costumes are constructed with straps that can accommodate any further height growth (she’s already 5’6”). Additionally, my husband, daughter and son are black belts in Tae Kwon Do. About twice a year, they need new uniforms ($100 x 3), uniform t-shirts ($20 x 3) and new sparring gear ($100 x 3).

My kids are also in bands and orchestras that require all-black clothing. My son’s ensemble requires a tuxedo, and we paid $130 for the full tuxedo two years ago. The band department knows that kids do grow and has a program where you can buy only the separate pieces needed. Last year, we only had to buy a new shirt ($20) and have managed to keep the original main pieces going for two years. During this next school year, I will need to purchase a new pair of pants ($40). My daughter plays in middle school band, and they both play in an orchestra that requires all black clothes and shoes. Finding a modest black dress is difficult. In previous years, I was able to buy from the juniors department ($25). This year, there weren’t any options that were long enough or had sleeves so we purchased separates: a ruffled top, sweater, skirt, and low black heels ($100). Her brother wears his tuxedo pants and I only had to purchase a black tuxedo shirt, black tie, and black dress shoes ($175).

For church clothes, my daughter wears some version of her school clothes with a few dressy pieces added in ($200 a year) while her brother has a church “uniform” of khaki pants, polo shirts, casual shoes, and sweaters ($200). At special holidays, I may buy them new outfits, but we are well past the days of cute Easter dresses. My husband just wears his work clothes, so no added expense there.

Finally, one of the the biggest expenses in the clothing budget is shoes — especially for my son, who has very narrow size 15 feet. He only likes Nikes, and they are really the only athletic shoes that are narrow enough. At the start of the school year, we buy one pair of Nikes ($100), a pair of casual dress shoes ($40), and black dress shoes. Because of the shoe size, the dress shoes usually come from Nordstrom Rack ($100+). Usually, he makes it to the end of the school year with the one pair of everyday tennis shoes. This year, he did not and I had to lay out another $80 in the last month of school. We go into the Nike store and they point us to the available options. If I can get the shoes for under $100, that’s a good day — but because he wears these shoes everyday, it is one area that I just spend the money and don’t force a hunt for cheaper options.

Here’s the “good” in our family wardrobe budget: everyone is wearing the same sizes as they wore at the beginning of the year, even the adults. Back-to-school shopping will be wants instead of needs, which is usually a much easier process. I’m expecting to only buy a new pair of tuxedo pants for my son this fall, not the entire suit.

The “bad:” taking into account all of our clothing budget items from sports to tuxes, it probably totals $4,000+. This translates to around $300 a month, which seems about right. That number looks really awful as I type it, but after cataloging every category in our family clothing wardrobe, it feels realistic.

The “big” in our wardrobe budget encompasses the $4K we spend every year as well as the size 15 shoes that are lined up in my garage. Right now, those Nikes are bright turquoise blue and definitely kid-approved and even mom-approved. The first day we tried to buy them, the sweet salespeople at the register told me there’d be a sale the next day that would take 30 percent off the price. The wardrobe budget got a tiny bit of relief when we went back the next day to get the enormous, bold sneakers. After breaking all of this down, I need to keep looking for those wardrobe budget savings in other areas.

Amy Barnes is a writer published by sites like Romper, Motherly, McSweeney’s, Criexo, and many others. She has two kids, one husband, and two dogs that hinder and inspire her writing.

This story is part of The Billfold’s Clothing Series.

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