College Students' Spending Reflects New Trends

“Dad, send money” has long been the cry of college students on a budget, but nationally and locally, the way they are spending money and what they are buying is becoming more important to businesses.

According to a recent 360 Youth/Harris Interactive College Explorer Study, college students spend an average of $287 a month on discretionary items (spending on anything other than tuition, room/board, rent/mortgage, books/school fees). That adds up to significant buying power, $200 billion dollars a year nationally, and businesses have become more concerned with serving the needs of young consumers.

A good portion of that discretionary spending is on beverages and snack foods, with total spending on those categories projected at $11.4 billion per year. Technology is the next big ticket item, with students shelling out money for the latest cell phones and computer gadgets.

Locally, about 9,000 students are arriving at Tennessee Tech University this fall and their buying power will draw attention from area merchants.

“This is a new generation of shoppers who want the name brands their parents buy,” said Tim Koehn, assistant manager at Kroger. “Seventy percent of college students that shop at Kroger don’t buy specials, pick up a sale paper or use coupons,” he explained. “They want their Lay’s potato chips and Starkist Tuna and will walk right by lower priced competitive products. The key to keeping a college student as a customer is to keep in stock the brands they prefer so that they never go looking for it somewhere else.”

Koehn says by keeping track of buying habits from the beginning until the end of each semester, his store can make sure they are stocking just what students are buying.
About 2,100 Tennessee Tech students live on campus, a number Greg Kemple, assistant manager at the Jefferson Avenue Wal-Mart, asks for each fall to make sure he’s prepared for the back-to-school rush.

“We estimate that 90 percent of the incoming students will be Wal-Mart customers,” said Kemple. “As a result, we carry merchandise that you would not see in a non-college community.

“We see a significant impact from college students’ spending, and we prepare for their arrival by increasing our stock and cater to their needs. “We know the residence hall rules and make sure we have small refrigerators and 600-watt microwaves that fit the bill.”

Because residence halls are mini-communities within themselves, Al Roberson, TTU’s residential life program coordinator, said businesses are increasingly taking advantage of opportunities to market to those students. Roberson said there are several ways to get the attention of residence hall students.

“We welcome businesses to use the opportunities because it is very important for our students who live on campus to feel like a part of the larger community,” said Roberson. “The more welcome they feel in local businesses, the more comfortable they feel.”

Businesses are allowed to post fliers on bulletin boards in public areas of each residence hall at no charge with approval from Residence Hall staff. Roberson also said a monthly newsletter to all residents published by the Residence Hall Association offers merchants a chance to publish coupons for students.

“Another opportunity we offer to Pride Partners businesses that offer student discounts year round is free advertising on Ch. 18, the on-campus network that airs in all residence hall rooms and Tech Village,” said Roberson. “The channel has a high viewership because we air general and departmental announcements, event promotions and movies.

“Merchants who want to market to our college students or offer them discounts need to get the word out,” said Roberson.

Roberson said businesses are welcome to contact him for information at 931-372-6312 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .