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Spending Habits – The College Perspective

Think back to your college years.  What’d you spend your money on?  Food?   Clothing?  Electronics?  Times sure have changed since then, haven’t they?  I’m willing to bet when you were in college you never really thought about what you bought or why (I know I don’t).  You just pulled out your wallet and forked over a couple bills to the expectant cashier.  I’m also willing to bet that it’d help marketers to get inside the mindset of their target audience.  With an estimated annual discretionary spending jump to $37.7 billion this year among the 18-24 year old college students, it’s easy to figure out who the spotlight should shine on.  In a suffering economy, these young spenders aren’t cutting back.  In fact, they’ve increased their spending 3% per month on unneeded items since just last year!  Right now, let’s take a look at the spending habits of the upper-level college student.

 

Erin Fry is a 22-year old senior at the University of Florida who has watched her spending habits change since she started school.  Fry attributes this transition to her lack of travel home to Key Largo, Florida.  “As a freshman, I went home about twice a month.  Now, I only go home twice every semester.”  Quite obviously, this skews our results.

First, let’s think about what we know: Fry lives in Gainesville, Florida.  She doesn’t rely on her mother’s tasty leftovers anymore because they’re not available to her.  This factor affects what she spends on food.  “Mostly, I eat at home to save money.  I buy groceries from Ward’s Supermarket because prices are cheaper, produce is locally grown and it’s a healthier choice than Publix.  When I do go out to eat, I often go to restaurants on Archer Rd. because it’s close to where I live.  Deals on food, like ‘2 for $20’ at Chili’s, also appeal to me.”
Fry also does her shopping in Gainesville (what woman can wait every two months to go shopping?).  “I love to go shopping, but, again, price is a factor.  When I shop, I search for bargains and deals.  I frequent places like T.J. Maxx and Urban Thread, a local boutique with lots of discounts.”

But what’s the most important factor for Fry?  “What my friends say matters the most.  If they encourage, say, having dinner at Satchel’s Pizza then I’ll probably check it out.”  Indeed, I think we’d all agree our friends play an important role in affecting our decisions.

Just like it’s important to evaluate the differences between men and women in other subjects (think about movie preferences… women like sappy romances and men like action), we mustn’t skimp on that here.  Enter Web Barclay, a 21-year old first-year graduate student at UF. He, too, rarely travels home even though Jacksonville, Florida is not too far from Gainesville.  “I go home whenever my school and work schedule allows, which is mainly just for holidays,” Barclay commented. Again, we see that travel home is far less frequent than in previous years.

“As for shopping, I don’t wait until I go home.  I live here, and when I need to buy something, I buy it.  It’s the same for getting my hair cut.  I don’t have the time to drive all the way home, have a couple hairs trimmed and zoom back to school.”  Well put, Barclay.

As aforementioned by Fry, Barclay also explained his eating habits by saying, “I try not to eat out much because it’s more expensive, but when I do, it’s a convenience thing.”  Once more, we see that price is crucial (probably because parents are no longer footing the bills).

In regard to hitting the local bars or clubs, Barclay commented, “Even though I’m legal now, I don’t go out as nearly much as I used to.  I have more responsibilities… I’ve got a job and school’s more difficult.  I need to focus on what’s most important.”

Quite obviously, both Fry and Barclay try to keep their spending at a lower level.  They’re price conscious, and more mature than your typical 18-year old freshman.  All in all, a marketer cannot go wrong if they evaluate and exploit the desires and needs of their target audience.

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