The Spending Power of College Students

  • January 17, 2023

  • Eyes4Research

With the costs of college tuition on the rise, there is a growing list of other necessities that college students need to keep up with their studies and keep themselves ready for the rigors of university life. So what are college students spending their money on, and how much do they spend? 

There are currently more than 21 million college students in the United States, with a purchasing power of nearly $600 billion that is largely centered on education and discretionary spending. The money that college students are spending is sometimes subsidized by their parents, but many students also juggle both school and a job in order to supplement their income, with some students working full-time. An increasing number of college students are paying for their own education, at least in part, with a recent OppLoans study finding that 74 percent of Millennials who responded stated that they contributed to funding their own college education. 

To no one’s surprise, college students spend a lot of their budget on food. Students spend an average of $547 each month on food, including groceries, meal delivery services, and restaurants. For scale, the average American now spends about $402.64 per month on groceries. Some students prefer to eat on campus, and their meal plans cost an average of $563 per month.  Like most people who are active on social media, college students are not immune to wanting to see and be seen at restaurants that are considered ‘Instagram-worthy’, and spend their money at status-adjacent spots with their friends. Poor food quality and boredom with the school cafeteria menu are the main reasons students choose to dine off-campus.  Alcohol and coffee are high on the list, with nearly $500 per year being spent on alcohol by college students. 

Students are also spending a considerable amount of money on clothing, personal care, electronics, and entertainment/media. It is estimated that students will have spent close to $10 billion on clothing by the time the 2021-2022 academic year ends. Skincare products, makeup, and salon visits all figure into college students’ monthly personal care expenses. The pandemic led to students spending $45 more on electronics in 2021 than they had in the previous year, with these items becoming essential during campus lockdowns. It is estimated that this academic year, college students will spend about $2.4 billion on entertainment, which includes, concert tickets, video games, gear, and subscription services. 

There is one area that students are spending less on– actual coursework materials. This year, college students are spending more on technology than they are on the materials for their classes, with students spending 26 percent less than the previous year on the same items. Across the board, college students are being assigned more free content by their professors. 

Read more about education and college students on the Eyes4Research blog. Eyes4Research also has everything you need to collect high-quality insights from college students. Our panels are comprised of B2B, B2C, and specialty audiences ready to participate in your next research project. Read more about our specialty panels here.