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A Look at the Spending Habits of College Students

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While some students struggle to make ends meet, the stereotypical college experience of eating Ramen Noodles, wearing clothes from Goodwill, and drinking cheap beer is quickly disappearing. Much of this can be explained by the changing demographics of today’s students. Less than half (43%) of college students are 18-21. The typical college student is in their mid-twenties, either lives at home or on campus, and has a job. Students no longer expect to complete college in 4 consecutive years, and many fluctuate between full-time and part-time study over a period of 5 to 7 years. The older the student, the more money he or she generally has.

The typical college student gets an average of $757 a month from jobs, parents or other sources. Most money comes from work. 75% of students maintain jobs while attending school, earning $645 per month on average. 20% have secured an on-campus job and 42% are spending school breaks working. Parents contribute too, contributing an average of $154 to a student’s monthly income. A student spends more than $13,000 per year on average, 19% of which is discretionary. That adds up to a substantial $211 per month of discretionary spending.

Credit cards are monetary sources for some students. Most students – 70% of males and 75% of females – have between 1-3 credit cards. While establishing credit in college can be to your advantage, using credit cards for basic living expenses can create financial problems. Use credit cards sparingly.

Overall, data reveals college students to be savvy, capable and influential consumers, balancing the rising cost of tuition with a hardy work ethic, spending a fair portion of their considerable discretionary income on high-end technology, and holding considerable sway over the purchasing decisions of their peers.

College students spend most of their discretionary income on food. Students spend more than $11 billion a year on snacks and beverages. Even students who live in the dorms and have meal plans spend a lot of money eating out. You can spend hundreds of dollars on coffee each semester. Utilizing your meal plan and cooking your own meals can save a great deal of money.

A large expense for many college students is electronics, gadgets, and technology. Students rely on technology to access information, communicate with friends, and keep themselves entertained. These expenses are seen as necessities. The majority of college students (90%) own a computer, and two-thirds (65%) of those students have a broadband connection. 62% of college students own a stereo, a cell phone (77%), a printer (77%), and a television (84%). A large portion of income goes to cell phone service, which 85 percent of students have. The majority of students with cell phone service pay for extras such as text messaging (62%) and internet access through their mobile phone (41%).

Entertainment is another large expense for college students. They spend nearly $3 billion annually on movies, DVDs, music, and video games. They spend $474 million on music sales, $658 million on theater tickets, and $341 million on games each year. At home and in the dorms, they’re watching movies, spending $600 million to buy and $326 million to rent DVDs. If you think a big entertainment expense for college students is going out to bars and partying with friends, you’re right. It is estimated that the average student spends at least $50 per month on beer alone. Each year, American college students spend $5.5 billion on alcohol. While smoking is not a form of entertainment to most, it is a costly habit. A pack-a-day habit can cost you several hundred dollars a semester.

Personal care is another big expense for college students, with $4 billion spent each year for personal care products alone. Students also spend a lot of money clothing themselves. Nationally, students spend more than $5 billion a year on clothes and shoes.

By the time they reach college, full-time students represent over sixty billion dollars in buying power. This amount usually increases once the student graduates and becomes employed. Marketers who can successfully reach these young adults with a quality product, positive message, and clear value, may enjoy decades of loyal purchasing and millions of dollars worth of free, word-of-mouth marketing. Hooking someone while still in college is one way to do this.


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Jesse G. over 4 years ago Jesse G.


I am not surprised by any of these numbers, but the fact that the average student makes far less that 1000 a month and still manages to afford $50 a month for beer and the same or more for coffee is crazy.

amy over 4 years ago amy


I don't understand where the cell phone costs come from. Also now days you can get prepaid services which are alot less.

Richard White over 4 years ago Richard White


I am very courious to find out just where these staticics where coming from because in our state the cost of living would not allow this way of life to be possaible. But of course I live in Idaho and a what as known as a right to work state and thing are a little different here and quit a lillt more costly. I too would like to see thier cited work for this posting. Thanks

melissa almost 5 years ago melissa


College is ending up costing me alot more than expected, it is getting very stressful. Even when i try to eat before I go to class at home alot of times I don't have time and I end up going through a drive through on my way home.

Aimee over 5 years ago Aimee


It would be very helpful if sources were cited. Like everyone else said, it's a great and informative article - sources will make it believable and useful. Seeing that there has been no response from the author or the moderator of this blog, I highly doubt that this will be read, but I just had to get it off my chest too. Thanks.

christine  over 5 years ago christine


Where did you get these facts from?

kal almost 6 years ago kal


Please send me sources. I am also wondering why there has not been a response from you Kayla regarding sources that is made publicly visible to article readers. As everyone knows, it really comes down to the sources and the empirical evidence backing up your case. I would highly appreciate a response from the author. Thank you

MediaMate over 6 years ago MediaMate


Good article (despite not having sources to back up your info), With college students having more income to spend, advertising to them can bring in a lot of money. With their disposable income, they are spending it on clothes and entertainment. This article shows all the stats to back up how much their spending on this entertainment. With their large buying power, advertisers should target these students. Using college newspapers to target these students is a great way for advertisers to get their brand out on the campus.

Shey over 6 years ago Shey


No Sources = No accountability. They say, 87% of statistics are made up on the spot.

Flint over 6 years ago Flint


I find it interesting that 77% of students own a cell phone but 85% pay for cell phone service. How does this work? Like everyone I doubt you have any reputable sources.

Brittany over 6 years ago Brittany


What are your sources?

Josie almost 7 years ago Josie


I really like this article is there any way I can get some of your sources? I could really use it for my essay. Thanks

Shelley almost 7 years ago Shelley


Gayla, I found your article to be very helpful in an advertising project I am conducting for the School of Journalism. Unfortunately, I will not be able to use any of this info and cite you as a source if I do not know where your data is from. If you could tell me where you got your data from that would be very helpful.

Wara Bocangel about 7 years ago Wara Bocangel


Hey girl, could you tell me where do you get your statistics from? THANKS, nice blog!

Examville.com staff almost 8 years ago Examville.com staff


We would like to know how much money does an average student spend on test prep and study aids per year?

Patrick Allen almost 8 years ago Patrick Allen


Do you have sources for any of these statistics? Great article.

Michael almost 9 years ago Michael


I'm sure you didn't just make those numbers up but one source would be helpful for my research. Good paper though.

Patrick almost 9 years ago Patrick


I agree, great information. Has anyone received sources or further qualitative information on the actual spending dollers and if possible defined to at least a few diverse university types?

stovemonkey almost 9 years ago stovemonkey


Did anyone get the sources for this information?

Hannah about 9 years ago Hannah


I noticed everyone is asking the same question...can I get some sources for these findings?

Josh about 9 years ago Josh


What is the source of these findings? Have you done any further research on the average spending of a college student? What are the top 10 areas that students spend money in? Thanks for all your help, I look forward to your response.

Jayhawk over 9 years ago Jayhawk


I would like to present this material to clients. Where can I find your sources?

cameron brownlee over 9 years ago cameron brownlee


I agree, very interesting. I thought all of the 6+ digit sums were pointless to read over and over, though, because they're meaningless unless someone does the math for you. For example; "They spend $474 million on music sales, $658 million on theater tickets, and $341 million on games each year." They're just showy figures, I'd have to do a couple minutes of research to find out how that averages per month like everything else. But yeah, students really need to be aware that all these "needs" are actually want want wants. As a soon-to-be student, I just hope that I can take my own advice.

Yang over 9 years ago Yang


Nice research. Very helpful =)

MattyL over 9 years ago MattyL


Gayla. I found this article quite helpful with some research I am conducting. However, I did not see any sources quoted for all the data you provided. Is it possible for you to list the sources? Thanks.

Patricia almost 10 years ago Patricia


What are your sources for this data?