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How Do College Students Spend Their Money?

By collegemktgrp | March 12, 2019 | Brands/Advertisers

College students exist in that sweet spot between being a teenager who’s dependent on lunch money from their parents, and being a full-blown financially independent adult, skipping down a yellow brick road singing mortgage payments, dental insurance, retirement accounts, oh my!

Although college means more independence for students, most college students are still walking around with allowance from their parents in their pockets. Students’ main source of income during their undergrad years is their parents, with part-time jobs coming in close second — 3 out of 4 students hold a job while in college.

With parents, jobs, and student loans chipping in, the average student income is about $1200 a month. Although this may not seem like much, on a national scale that number adds up: college students have an average combined $417 billion in spending power.

The bottom line is, college students have money to spend. Paired with a knack for spending that cash on a lot more than textbooks, college students are key consumers that national brands can’t afford to ignore.

A study from ecampus.com found that college students spend $60 billion each year on everyday needs…or, you know, kinda-needs. This spending included everything from dorm room essentials and school supplies to alcohol and video games.

Here’s a breakdown of how college students are spending their money and why national brands can’t afford to ignore this key demographic.

Where Are College Students Spending Their Money?

Most college students spend $6,000 on basic living expenses each year. This includes everything from dorm furnishings to going out for lunch to new running shoes.

Sure, college students might define “essentials” differently than their parents do. Tuition aside, we’ve decided to break down the essentials into three categories: room and board, required books, and school supplies.

Room and Board

Whether your brand is an on off-campus housing company or you offer dorm or apartment furnishings, housing needs for college students is a faucet of revenue that never turns off.

According to College Board, room and board fees can range from $3,520 at two-year colleges to $11,580 at four-year colleges.

Required Books

Every parent of college students knows that their student’s course books are hardly a small expense. During the 2017-18 academic year, students spent an average of $484 on required course materials.

Back-to-School Stuff

Barring tuition fees, room and board, or text books, students spent $33 billion on back-to-school gear. Think backpacks, collegiate-branded gear, electronics & computer-related technology, dorm room furnishings, binders, planners, pens, and more.

The “Non-Essentials”

According to the ecampus.com study, college kids spend $27 billion on “non-essential items.” That means anything beyond required books, tuition, school supplies, and room and board.

In a different survey of over 500 college students, students reported spending their money in the following non-essential categories:

  • Restaurants – 99%
  • Beauty – 76%
  • Fashion – 70%
  • Electronics – 60%
  • Live music – 59%
  • Media – 57%
  • Gyms and fitness – 38%

Here’s where we get into the nitty-gritty about college students’ favorite and most frequent ways to spend their money. (Hint: it isn’t on more books.)


Whether college students are looking to buy a new interview outfit or a sporty pair of shoes, new clothing is a popular way for college students to spend money. Students ages 18-24 spend $5 billion a year on clothes and shoes.


This next stat ideally applies only to those college students who are old enough to legally drink. But even so, students have no shortage of cash to throw at bartenders and liquor stores: College students spend $5.5 billion a year on alcohol.

Snacks & Drinks

Afternoon pick-me-up sodas and late night pizzas add up — student spend $1 billion a year on snacks and drinks.


Whether vegging out solo after a long day of studying or hanging out with roomies, college students spend around $2.4 billion a year on entertainment. That includes downloaded and live music, movie tickets, DVD and on-demand movie rentals, and video games.

Personal Care

Another $4 billion was spent on personal care items like toiletries, makeup and more.

Stand Out in the College Market

The challenge for national brands isn’t to convince college students to spend money — it’s getting and keeping their attention amidst the ocean of options.

Whether your brand specializes in facial care or running socks; potato chips or video game consoles, College Marketing Group can effectively get your brand in front of college students, on-campus and online.

Our happy customers include national heavy-hitters like H&M, TJ Maxx, Crocs, Marshall’s, Adobe, Sprint and more. We can help your brand reach any college or university in the country, converting college students into loyal customers from freshman year and beyond. Contact us today to give your college student marketing strategy a boost »

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