College students cost-conscious, selectively spend

Boston - Nearly 80% of college students describe themselves as “more cost-conscious this year than a year ago.” However, according to a recent back-to-school survey of 1,420 U.S. college students by college marketing agency Fluent, students said they are willing to make an exception to the low-spending rule and anticipate spending “more than they should” in select categories, specifically clothing, technology and dorm room accessories.

Following are key highlights from the survey:

• According to the Fluent survey respondents, the five top items on students’ spending list this year are grounded in the basics (ordered according to ranking): 1) Text books; 2) Transportation: car/bike expenses; 3) Clothing; 4) General school supplies; 5) Computer software.

• When it comes to products they are likely to “spend more than they should,” dorm room decorating scored surprisingly high, shooting up 27 points, again indicating that discretionary spending might be on the rise. The top three categories selected by students were (ordered according to ranking): 1) Clothing – by a wide margin, nearly 70% of students selected this category; 2) Technology (including computers, software and mobile) at 53%; and 3) Dorm Decorating at 30%.  

• August remains many college student’s biggest back-to-school shopping month (37%), but nearly an equal number (38%) said they have no fixed start or end date to their shopping; instead, they indicate stocking up throughout the year for what’s needed.

• The top purchasing influences rated as “very important” were: 1) Friends’ recommendations, either one-to-one or via social media (a full 93% of respondents selected this category); 2) Coupons, both online and mobile; and 3) product review sites/blogs, which replaced last year’s third-place influence: in-store test-drives.

• The three purchasing influences rated least important by college students remained virtually the same as in 2013: 1) Online product demos; 2) Pinterest and other visual sharing social channels; and 3) Magazine articles and other editorial pieces.

“The recession has made a strong impression on this generation, so there is an overall cautiousness when it comes to spending,” said Michael Carey, executive VP of Fluent. “They want to make economically smart choices, but at the same time, there are certain items that play heavily into their social capital, such as the right clothing and technology. Consequently, we are seeing a slightly more open attitude to discretionary spending in those categories.”


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