Best of 2012: U.S. College Students Wield $417B in Spending Power

The more than 20 million U.S. college students wield $417 billion in spending power, according to re:fuel’s College Explorer survey. The student’s and/​or family’s contribution to the cost of his/​her education has dropped 14% over the last 10 years, while the proportion of total funds from scholarships, financial aid, and loans has risen 15%. College

Nearly half of college students’ discretionary spending (46%) goes to food, with $20 billion spent on groceries, $12 billion in restaurants,
and $3 billion in convenience stores.


Nine in 10 college students (90%) visit a grocery store at least once a month; on average, students grocery shop 4.7 times each month. Some
86% visit restaurants an average of 5.2 times per month. A majority (85%) shop at off-​campus retail stores at least once a month, with an average of 3.9 trips per month.


College students are plugged into technology. They own an average six digital devices, spending 11.4 hours per day using technology. Students report that they spend most of their tech time using computers (5.9 hours), watching television (2.3 hours) or engaged with smart phones.  Many of these digital devices, however, require additional services to ensure optimal function and performance, and this is where extra expenses are accrued.


When it comes to mobile devices, the survey revealed that more students have made the switch toward the smartphone. The College Explorer Survey reports a 29% decline in cell phone ownership over the past year. Smartphone ownership conversely has risen more than 61%, with 20% of students planning to purchase one within the next year.  Most smart phones require a data plan for Internet access, and an “overage charge” could be applied if data allowance is exceeded.

With the purchase of a smartphone, customers are also encouraged to buy insurance for their device to avoid paying full price for a new phone if theirs happens to malfunction or becomes damaged. Unlimited text and picture messaging packages as well as the purchase of applications also contribute to the monthly bill, bringing the total to about $100 or more each month.


Nearly nine in 10 (88%) are active Facebook users, and 25% use Twitter. Slightly more than half (53%) follow or “like” a brand on Facebook,
and 16% follow brands on Twitter. One in two (48%) have followed a brand’s social networking page to take advantage of special offers, and 22% regularly read a brand’s page for updates. That said, 44% actively avoid ads on social media sites.

[Source:  "2011 re:fuel College Explorer survey."  re:fuel.  October 2011.  Web.  6 Jan. 2012.]