“I budget myself based on what I earn” – Gen Z spending habits (part 1)

student sat in a trolley

Following our latest Gen Z webinar, we explore how college students like to spend their dollars during key events like Back to School and the all-important fall shopping period.

Earlier this month, we sat down with a panel of outspoken Gen Z students to ask them about their shopping preferences, income, social media habits and more. Here, we outline the key highlights – to help your brand make a splash with young consumers during Back to School and beyond. 

Student income 

Gen Z students are known to be financially-savvy when it comes to spending and budgeting. For many students, college costs and student debt is a big concern, which is why at least 66% prioritize finding a job when they start college. With student loans, paychecks and help from family in some cases, 60% of student spending is on non-essential items – but how exactly do they budget their spending? 

“Finding a job here in the US is a little bit difficult at times,” says Paula, a Biology student studying in New York. “I do dog walking – that’s kind of how I get my extra money, plus my university gives me a certain amount of money to buy groceries. So, I budget myself based on what I earn with dog walking and I usually save about $100-$150 for going out with friends or buying something I need. Besides that, I’ll keep an extra $50 for emergencies. That’s how I organize and budget myself, but it really depends on what I earn or how much money I have by the end of the month – I’ll see from there how much I’m willing to spend, or what I can allow myself to spend.”

Tip jar containing money

Business student from California, Bailey, adds: “I work full time, and being in my own place means I have mostly bills that that pays for. But aside from that with budgeting, I have a few different side hustles that I like to source my income from for spending money – so that funds a lot of my extra curricular activities and vacation funds. Regular spending like clothes and going out for meals all kind comes from playing it every couple weeks and just seeing where my money is at and just being smart with my money. Again, making sure that my rent and bills are paid first because that’s always going to be my priority.”

Student incentives

But where do student discounts fit in? Do students look for them when they’re shopping? Our research has found that 78% of 16-24s check if there is a student discount available when making a purchase – this increases to 90% when looking at college students alone. For our student panel, student discounts were a must across the board. 

Lacey comments: “I used to check online, doing the stereotypical search ‘does this website have coupons?’, and that’s where I found Student Beans. It’s helped me a lot and now I always try to check their website when I’m shopping to see if there’s anything on there that I can use and apply to whatever I’m buying or purchasing.” 

Bailey and Paula both agree that since being enrolled at college, searching for student incentives has become a habit each time they’re making a purchase. Bailey explains, “Funnily enough my mom went back to college right before I started college, so she was the one who told me that she gets a lot of student discounts, so as soon as I got enrolled I started looking online. I mostly was checking each website’s info – that’s when one website ended up leading me to Student Beans. Once I got all set up on Student Beans, I’ve checked that website ever since each time I shop.” 

Key shopping period: Back to School 

As the crucial Back to School period gets underway, things are looking up for a more normal semester this year. Paula fills us in: “There’s obviously a difference from now to before – mostly to do with online learning. Now, every class is in-person, everyone is starting to come to college. Things are a little different in some ways but there’s definitely more events happening – my school is hosting a bunch of events. Of course, everyone has to be either vaccinated or wear their mask, or something like that. But there’s definitely a lot more going on and a lot more people showing up which is exciting but also nerve racking given what we’ve been through with the whole pandemic.”

Laptop, notebook and backpack laid out on a table

With so much pent-up demand for events and a regular college experience, we asked if students really limit all their Back to School spending to August and the weeks surrounding it. 

“I go pretty big before school starts,” Performing Arts student, Lacey, explains. I tend to do a lot of my shopping before because I like to be prepared. But most of the time, a lot of it doesn’t happen until the academic year starts because I don’t know exactly what I’ll need for each individual class that I’m taking so it’s kind of hit or miss depending on the year.”

Bailey adds: “I shop throughout the semester and kind of pick and choose as I figure out what I need. Being completely online and choosing to stay that way has definitely cut down my necessity list, so I usually keep it pretty simple to just pens, a notebook and a laptop – but as far as what I’m spending outside of actual resources, it’s definitely pick and choose as I go. So I wouldn’t say my spending really increased or decreased around the Back to School season as much as it does during the entire semester.” 

With more events and activities to look forward to this semester, the Back to School spending period is set to continue into the fall semester this year. This means brands have an opportunity to build up momentum and keep students onboard ahead of key events like Halloween, Black Friday and the festive season. 

Catch up on the full Back to School webinar by watching on-demand today – and stay tuned for more of our exclusive Gen Z panels by checking in on our events page

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