Selling Non-Consumerism to Teenagers

by Katy on November 4, 2013 · 40 comments

Nike Elites

I find that there is a general misconception about teenagers and non-consumerism. “My daughter only wants to shop at the mall” and “My son thinks that used clothing is gross.” But I’m here to tell you that teenagers are smart, and they quickly learn that a set amount of money can either buy you a single item at the mall or a full bag of stuff from a thrift shop. (Maybe even with change leftover for an overly sweetened latté.)

Teenagers may be loath to admit it, but they get their attitudes from us. And if buying used is presented as a way to get a “yes” instead of a “maybe for Christmas” from mom and dad, then they quickly convert their views.

Example?

I recently coerced my fifteen-year-old son into a day of thrifting, and while he whined a bit at first, he quickly changed his tune when he scored two new looking pairs of Adidas MLS Match soccer shorts in the Portland Timbers and Real Salt Lake colors. Priced at $7, they were also the half-off color which brought them down to $3.50 apiece instead of the new price of $30. Add to that the brand new set of Pentel pens at $3.99 instead of $17.00 and it was almost enough to make him smile. (He was actually super excited about the Goodwill finds, just not so keen about having his picture taken.)

Our next stop was the main Goodwill where he found a new looking pair of Nike Elite running shoes in his size for $4.99. These shoes normally cost $110, so it didn’t surprise me when he complained about going home.

“Just one more Goodwill, mom! Pleeeeeeaaaase . . .”

Would I have bought him two pairs of $30 Adidas shorts, a $17 Pentel pen set and a $110 pair of Nikes? ($187 for all you math geeks.)

Hell, no!

But I was perfectly happy to shell out $16 for some much wanted and fully appreciated Goodwill goodies.

Because teenagers are smart about non-consumerism. Then again, so am I.

Have you found that the teenagers in your life resist your non-consumer ways, or are they quick to see the benefit? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephanie November 4, 2013 at 11:23 am

I totally agree – my kids are younger – my oldest is a 2nd grader and her friends all covet clothes from Justice. We went to the thrift store several months ago and she got 2 huge bags of things (including pieces from Justice) and I told her all of what she got today was equal to one outfit at Justice new. Then I asked her which she would rather have and she chose the two bags from salvation army. . .
I hope she continues to think this way but I guess if she doesn’t she will have a very small wardrobe of new items because I will probably just give her the cash budget and let her decide how to spend it.

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Katy November 4, 2013 at 11:27 am

The few times my kids have shopped at the mall they end up disappointed by the prices, selection and poor quality. The grass is *not* always greener on the other side.

Katy

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Jennifer B November 4, 2013 at 11:34 am

Both of my girls, 22 and 18, much prefer the prices at thrift stores. My 18-year-old, in fact, has trouble spending gift cards at places like Aeropostale and American Eagle because she can’t quite bring herself to spend $30+ for jeans when they can be had for $7 at Goodwill. I think I’ll ask her if she wants a Goodwill gift card to go on her Christmas wish list this year instead. 🙂 And my 7-year-old son loves going to thrift stores, though he needs a little more direction.

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megyn November 4, 2013 at 11:38 am

This is interesting because I think it depends on the kid’s values. My brother, sister, and I were all brought up in the same house. Each school year, our parents gave us $100 for back to school clothes shopping. My brother thrifted and REALLY stretched that amount. I discount shopped and thrifted, so was able to get the things on my list. My sister liked her brands, and only purchased a few pieces. To this day, we are still very similar (although my brother does go for pricier things now…but also wears shirts from his childhood). My sister still likes expensive brands and I’m still the frugal one despite being brought up with the same values. I’m slowly showing her my ways, but you’d think an accountant would understand the value of money a bit more 😉

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megyn November 4, 2013 at 2:50 pm

I just wanted to share too that I hope our sons learn the value of thrifting…like today when I bought our oldest a winter coat only to find out it’s a ski jacket that sells for $120. I bought it for $6.99…

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Linda from mass November 5, 2013 at 5:36 am

I did the same thing with school shopping…$100. They can buy one thing or many. It made my girls think before they buy. One definately went to thrift stores. The other does not like “used” clothes but she is really good at shopping sales and using coupons. Both made out really well with their $100 budget.

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Jenny November 4, 2013 at 11:50 am

My 13 year old son is very fashion conscious, but he would never consider going retail for his clothing. He has to buy his own clothes with his “paycheck” (allowance). He tries to keep clothes under $30 a year. He buys everything used except socks/underwear (which we purchase for him). Even his shoes and winter camping gear are used. He’s a sharp dresser and kind of sets the fashion for the other teen males he hangs with. It probably helps that we have never shopped retail for his clothing, so the prices are a huge shock when he does see them.

The 8 year old could care less about clothes, and I don’t see this changing ever. His only requirement is that he won’t wear matching socks, because that’s boooooring!

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Trish November 4, 2013 at 3:15 pm

your kids sound really cool! well done you!!

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Betsey November 4, 2013 at 12:16 pm

I remember going into a high priced teen shop with my niece who had never been in there before. It was her idea because she was sure that God created that store just for her. As she is a thrift store shopper, her jaw dropped at the prices. She even said loudly to a clerk that they should be ashamed to charge $35 for a pair of shorts! We found what we needed at Sears for $7 on sale, but she still thought she could do better at Goodwill. She never teased to go to that store again.

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Susan November 4, 2013 at 12:21 pm

This is absolutely true for my teens. In fact, my 13 yo daughter now asks to go to Goodwill because of her “style.” Which is hysterical as her style is dark jackets and blazers with jeans — exactly what thrift stores have a ton of! She loves to brag on the low prices when people compliment her clothes. We have a convert!

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Cindi November 4, 2013 at 12:34 pm

17 year old daughter is pretty evenly split between consignment/thrift stores and retail…loves a goodwill bargain but needs her occasional “mall fix” as well!
My 16 year old son is the real clothes horse and it has been a slow slog to convince him that Ralph Lauren polo shirts are just as wearable from the goodwill as Macy’s… I’m getting there, though!

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Rubymay1029 November 4, 2013 at 12:49 pm

My eldest (21) and youngest (8) love thrifting, and took to it like ducks to water. Middlest (18) took a bit longer to come around, but has seen the beauty of finding a hoodie that retails for $50 and scoring it for $6. She even added an item to the pre-buy checklist (stains that look like they are set, irreparable snags, etc.) and checks pants for “poo stains.”

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K D November 4, 2013 at 12:51 pm

An area where I am working with my 17 year old is meals. I don’t think she realizes how much cheaper it is to eat at home, using food bought at a good price, than it is to eat out. She does not demand to eat out but does not get the price difference, that is due to my neglect in teaching her.

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Markie November 4, 2013 at 1:01 pm

My two young adults – 21 and 19 – loved getting hand me downs as kids. Now the 21 yr old likes his nice clothes so he works, saves and shops clearance. He went through is Nike stage so he got a job at Nike and used the discount to buy many, many pairs of sneakers. He’s happy driving our 2002 Dodge Caravan with over 150K miles on it.

Dd, 19, style is tshirts and jeans and sneakers. Never spend very much on her as she wears Wranglers from Walmart and tshirts that I buy her for Christmas/birthday. I look for witty ones. She doesn’t have a job, is in college, and doesn’t spend any money.

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Katy November 4, 2013 at 1:16 pm

My son used to call hand-me-downs “handy downs.” I miss those cute little speech errors.

Katy

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Jane in Seattle November 4, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Both my grown son and daughter shop at GW. When they were younger, we were in a position of not having a whole lot of $$. I gave them a budget and told them to pick out their school clothes. My daughter carefully analyzed her clothes, knew she would get jeans for her bday on oct from gram and spent just under budget, buying her coat at the thrift shop. ,y son, ( younger) picked out a hundred dollar pair of shoes. After I reminded him that he prolly didn’t want to go to school in his understand, he decided to opt for some jeans and a less expensive pair of shoes. I had veto power for any clothes that weren’t appropriate or would fall apart the first time you washed them,

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marie November 4, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Oh, for the days when my son was a teenager. He always had that same bored look in pictures at 15 too!
He was 15 when his father and I divorced and there wasn’t alot of money when school shopping came around.
We had a garage sale and I told him that whatever he sold of his was for clothes. His buddy’s mom worked at value village and gave him her discount, though he was unsure at first, he came home with an overstuffed bag and happy.

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Tonya November 4, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Mine enjoy thrifting and yard sales, but I also concede that it’s all they have ever known, since they were very young.

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Maureen November 4, 2013 at 5:42 pm

My young adults, now as well as when younger, love to get a deal. They love the thrill of the chase as well as the bargains for clothing as well as their homes. I’ve noticed it goes far beyond the money though. It matters to them, as well as many others their age, the impact they have environmentally as well as a strong social consciousness of how others are impacted by their purchases. I strongly believe a non-consumer life style is another tool in raising truly good people who highly value others and this world.

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H November 4, 2013 at 5:53 pm

My daughter (20) was more than willing to wear her friends outgrown clothes (she is the smallest of the group) through high school. Now being a college kid she hates to pay full price for items (like me), but doesn’t have much time to go looking at the Thrift Stores so she mainly does without unless it is critical. One item we buy new (on sale, with a coupon, etc) is running shoes since we definitely wear them out even buying new and we seem to have less foot problems when we do that.

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Shari November 4, 2013 at 6:06 pm

A teacher sent me a quick note last year to share that when she complimented my tween son on his pink American Eagle t-shirt he proudly shared that his mom bought it for him at the Salvation Army thrift store for 97 centers!

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Jacqueline Manni November 4, 2013 at 6:18 pm

I was a punk, vintage clothing obsessed teenager in the 1980s — I loved thrift stores! In fact, I looked down on the mall as a really boring, overpriced place. I grew up two blocks from the most fantastic thrift shop — I would go there with $20 tucked in my shoe and come home with bags and bags of clothes. It was a time when you could get an amazing dress from the 1940s for 95 cents.

My $20 doesn’t go nearly as far these days ( and I don’t wear all that black eye makeup anymore!) but I still think the mall is a really boring, overpriced place. 🙂

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Katy November 4, 2013 at 6:19 pm

Word.

Katy

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WilliamB November 4, 2013 at 6:46 pm

Your Goodwills have much better selection than mine.

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Katy November 4, 2013 at 7:01 pm

We went to five thrift shops and bought nothing at three of them.

Katy

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Jen November 5, 2013 at 2:37 am

My daughter is two so she doesn’t have much of an opinion yet on her thrifted wardrobe ;). I love dressing her in brands I could never afford at retail prices. I also know by picking certain brands I can eventually resell them or pass them along to another mom.

I love taking my goodwill goodies home and looking up what everything would have cost me at a “real” store. So much fun!!

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Charli November 5, 2013 at 3:20 am

My kids LOVE good will stores. They always ask to go in if we are nearby. They know I’m more likely to buy them something and they love the variety and hidden treasures. 80-90% of my kids wardrobe and toys come from goodwill. My 11 yo is quite the accountant. She loves to tell me how much we’ve saved.

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Diane November 5, 2013 at 4:56 am

This a a child, not teenager story, but cute.

When my granddaughter was little, I bought all her clothing at thrift stores…brand names like OshKosh, etc and she was a well dressed kiddo. One time when she was about 6 we went to visit my sister and shopped some sales at high end stores in her town. We found the most adorable top and skirt for my granddaughter at Kids Gap and she was so excited to put it on right away. ” You mean we don’t have to wash it first? “, she asked in disbelief!

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Lisa November 5, 2013 at 5:38 am

When my daughter was young she knew that if we went to a thrift store I would pay for just about any toy she found there and any books she wanted. At a regular store I usually said either “You can put it on your Christmas list,” or “Save your money, Honey,” meaning she would have to pay for it from her allowance. Fast forward to her teenaged self and she has developed a really good thriftstore eye. She has an infinity for 80s clothing and puts together the cutest outfits, that cost next to nothing. What she can’t find at the thrift store she buys at the consignment store (the owners give teenagers a discount if they pay with their own money) or occasionally on ebay.
Her older brother is the same way he loves to shop at the per pound clothing places in Boston and for really cheap produce at the Haymarket.

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Lisa November 5, 2013 at 5:46 am

Duh, affinity not infinity. I shouldn’t comment until I have had at least two cups of coffee 😎

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Raf November 5, 2013 at 6:12 am

But isn’t it still consumerism if one’s attached to brands?

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Katy November 5, 2013 at 7:50 am

It is, but my son craves Adidas and Nike products. Me? Not so much.

Katy

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Raf November 5, 2013 at 8:21 am

I know 🙂
I was wondering what qualifies as consumerism, as the title is about “non-consumerism”. Of course, it’s great that teenagers learn to get good used stuff, since the money don’t go to the brand anymore.

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Kathleen November 5, 2013 at 11:56 am

My kids are in their 30’s now and all know the value of used things , but my middle son, who is now an artist, was a riot in H.S. He was a skate boarder and wanted those extra wide skater pants that went for $60 or so. I was a single mom and that was way over my budget. My son would get two pairs of pants from the thrift store and sewed them together. He got so good with my sewing machine that other kids at school paid him to make pants for them. He has never cared about brands and on e went to school with a white t-shirt that he wrote Tommy Hilfiger on with black magic marker. He told the kids it was the “economy version.”

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Katy November 5, 2013 at 12:06 pm

Love it!

Katy

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tna November 7, 2013 at 4:52 am

I know one young guy who hates to shop anywhere. He shops online for his outdoor gear that he pays for with his own money and wears until they fall apart which doesn’t happen often as they are quality clothing he can wear for years and does. He could probably put all his apparel in one backpack. Is he a thrifty frugal Goodwill shopper? No. But he is a nonconsumer in that he spends almost zero time in purchasing anything and when he does buy he supports companies that make quality products. Then I know young people who spend hours each week in thrift stores searching for a deal like an addict needing a fix. So I don’t necessarily see thrift stores as a panacea. Ideally I guess a person would shop a couple times a year at a thrift store, buy enough to get them through the year and be done with it. Sometimes I think the time and effort spent to be frugal negates the benefits.

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Katy November 7, 2013 at 7:57 am

The problem with shopping at thrift shops a couple times per year is that even the best thrift shop will be hit or miss. It’s not like you can walk in with a shopping list and then mark it all off.

Your friend is what I call a “Conscious Consumer,” which is great. If everyone was like him, the world would be a better place.

Katy

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Jennifer @ Little Blog in the Big Woods November 7, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Well, my kids are 7 and 8 and still think of me as smart, but they totally get that second hand things are the way to go. I always show them what I have purchased then we look up the original price. They are always shocked at how much the original price is! I let them use their money at garage sales and they are finding good deals too! I think if you teach them early they will end up going to the mall with friends later on and realize very quickly how crazy it is!

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Betty Winslow January 2, 2014 at 4:03 pm

Out of four kids, I ended up with three who either love or don’t mind thrift shopping, and one who thinks he needs to be ready at all times to be on the cover of GQ. The youngest especially loves thrifting and her stint as a cashier at Goodwill was punctuated with calls home to run over and buy such-and-such for her, since workers were not allowed to buy *anything* on a day that they worked, even if they came back later, nor to put back something for later. She got an amazing amount of great deals during those days and she misses working there. And the oldest, who attended a private school way out of our price range, due to a major scholarship, learned to dress stylishly by shopping wisely at GW, SA, garage sales, and store sales.

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MW May 24, 2016 at 8:12 am

My 5 year old grew out of most of his clothes in a matter of weeks. I took him to Salvation Army and told him to take his pick of shirts in his size. I exercised my right of veto on a few pieces, but he was THRILLED to have a say in his wardrobe for the first time. Super heroes galore. I threw in a few dressier shirts, pants, a sweatshirt and a winter coat- the two big bags of clothes came out to less than $30.

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