What do US teens buy on the route to adulthood?

If you’re marketing to Gen Z, you’re marketing to a generation in constant flux. As students take those crucial steps from high school to college, there are certain purchases they’ll pick up on the way. Here’s what you need to know. 

How old are Gen Z? 

Gen Z is anyone born between 1995 and 2010. This broad age range covers everyone from 10-year-old kids all the way up to the student tribe, and there are important distinctions within the Gen Z demographic. For instance, while a 12-year-old middle-schooler may receive an allowance, they are unlikely to have a steady income. Gen Z high schoolers and college students, on the other hand, are inheriting their own spending power as we speak – and making big purchases that will define their journey into adulthood.

Milestone 1: the cell phone 

Technology is something that Gen Z are very familiar with. Unlike their parents, they are younger than the internet, and cell phones have grown savvier and more sophisticated alongside Gen Z themselves. So it’s no big surprise that owning a cell phone is an early milestone for today’s young people: 97% of Gen Z have one by the time they reach high school, which points to most teens getting their first cell phone in middle school or earlier.

A trusty cell phone is a staple purchase for Gen Z in the US.

Owning a cell phone is integral to the way that Gen Z socialize and it’s their toolkit to becoming more independent. Of course, young teens are likely to have their first cell bought for them by parents, but by the time they have autonomy over which cell and network to go with, they’ll know exactly what works for them – and what doesn’t. When marketing to students, you might be targeting first-time cell phone buyers – but there’s no doubt that they know their stuff. 

Case study: Gen Z love a disruptor. We worked with OnePlus to grow their student revenue by 710%. Get the full story.

Milestone 2: the laptop 

A cell phone is crucial for younger Gen Z students to socialize and stay connected, but surprisingly, owning a laptop is not as high on their agenda. Laptop ownership among high schoolers is around 69%, but there’s a clear point in time when students invest in a laptop, and it’s when they head off to college: 89% of college students own one by this point in their education. 

Laptops are favoured by Gen Z to complete college assignments

There are a few reasons why. Needing a personal computer really doesn’t kick in until a young person leaves home, and by college, a laptop becomes an essential hub for entertainment, education and socializing. Younger members of the student tribe are also less likely to have money to spend on a high-value tech purchase, but due to scholarships, loans and part-time jobs, college students will have more dollars to play with. 

Students are most likely to be looking for their first laptop in their freshman year of college – the earlier the better. Many will take advantage of discounts in Back to School season, and some will wait until Black Friday to splash the cash.

Milestone 3: Groceries 

Beyond tech, there are more practical purchases for Gen Z to consider as they get older. It may come as a surprise that almost three-quarters (74%) of high schoolers cook their own meals. As a sensible generation, Gen Z are geared towards becoming independent even before they leave home. As expected, there is a sharp rise in students cooking for themselves when they head to college – 85% of college students buy their own food and cook their own meals.

Grocery shopping has now fallen onto Gen Z students shoulders.

A recent disruptor of the grocery sector, online grocery shopping – as well as ingredients delivery services like Home Chef – are on the rise, especially as the entire population has had to adapt to staying home. One-fifth of college students have tried ordering groceries online – proof that shopping innovations are on the radar of digitally-native Gen Z. 

Case study: we helped Home Chef to reach a whole new generation. Find out how.

Milestone 4: rent and bills 

Gen Z start paying rent and bills earlier than you might think. While college students put almost a quarter of their monthly budget towards rent and utilities, high school students budget only slightly less (18%). College students will likely be paying for their own rent, utilities and other regular monthly expenses, while high schoolers’ monthly bills are likely to be focused around their cell phone plans and car expenses. This could also point to a trend of parents expecting high schoolers to contribute more financially, in order to support their kids to become more independent. 

Budgeting: Gen Z spend more on rent and bills than you might think.

College students are likely to require different things from brands when it comes to facilitating their rent and bills. The majority (63%) do move into a student dorm or to rented accommodation, so will be seeking utility discounts and homewares deals from the moment they start college. But a significant minority of college students (37%) do still live at their family home. Without rent and utilities to cover, these students might have more disposable income to spend on non-essentials. 

Gen Z are shopping their way to independence as we speak. Student Beans can help you make it onto their shopping lists – have a read of some of our success stories.