When Mom's Not Paying, Cost Is a Deal-Breaker

(By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)

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By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 4, 2007

Reyna Dunlap, 12, of Burtonsville was interested in a pair of sunglasses with white frames and diamonds on the side. But $10? Too expensive.

Sweat pants, 16-year-old Nadine Gibson of McLean declared, should not be $40.

Amy Weldon, 14, of Clifton is a compulsive price-tag checker. That way, she says, she doesn't fall in love with something before she realizes she can't afford it.

Teenagers spent $33.1 billion on apparel and footwear last year, according to consumer research firm NPD Group, but the girls we followed were surprisingly conscious of price. Much of their spending was in small increments -- a pair of flip-flops here, a Starbucks latte there. After all, allowances are finite, baby-sitting money only stretches so far, and mom and dad actually expect them to pay their credit card charges back.

"They're very smart in the way that they shop," said Tom Johnson, chief operation officer of Aeropostale said of teens in general. "And they don't want to spend more than they absolutely need to."

At Claire's Accessories, Reyna and her friend Kiara Hill, 13, of Silver Spring scrutinized the earrings. They had just come from Forever 21, where they both got brightly colored shirts, and wanted accessories to match.

"Ohhhh, buy two, get one free!" Reyna said.

She began picking up earrings, clear plastic circular ones, white ones, blue ones. Meanwhile, Kiara went for button shapes in red, black and white. The girls headed for the register -- and immediately had second thoughts. Did they really need three pairs?

Reyna returned two sets to the display, keeping the blue ones. Kiara put back the red and black. But on the way back to the register, Reyna got distracted by a rack of cellphone charms shaped like frogs, ice cream cones and smiley faces.

"These are so cute," she said, pausing to admire them, then changing her mind again. "I can probably go to CVS and get them cheaper."

When on their own, the girls had to stick to the money in their pockets. But with parents in tow came the possibility of, "Oh, Dad, doesn't this look great on me?"

And you're going to say no?

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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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