College and University Blog

A Look at the Spending Habits of College Students

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.