From Food to Tech: What Do Teens Spend Money On These Days?

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Piper Jaffray recently released its 28th semiannual Taking Stock With Teens Survey, in which 7,200 teens from 41 U.S. states (47% female and 53% male, with an average age of 16 and an average household income of $59,000) were surveyed. The survey covered a wide array of subjects, from fashion to personal care, digital media, entertainment, food, and more.

Overall, the study found that while spending has increased in many categories, the overall view of the economy has gotten worse. Seventy-three percent said the economy has stayed the same or gotten worse (as opposed to 57% a year ago). Still, teens are spending a great deal of their money on clothing, as well as food, and they have obvious favorites when it comes to stores, both in person and online. They also have favorites for social networking sites, as well as electronic devices.

Spending on fashion goods increased for teens, with an overall per year increase from $995 in fall 2013 to $1,069 in fall 2014. The number has jumped up and down over the years; the average spent in 2009 was $994. Teens also seem to have favorite brands that they spend their money on: Nike was the top preferred clothing brand (22%), American Eagle came in second with a distant 8%, and Victoria’s Secret came in tenth, with 2%. The list also included Forever 21, Ralph Lauren, Urban Outfitters, Pacsun, Hollister, Nordstrom, and T.J. Maxx.

Clothing spending accounts for 21% of spending by category, but teens are certainly not limiting their spending to clothing. In spring 2014, teens made an average of 28.7 shopping trips per year versus 29.3 in fall 2014.

For the upper-income teen group, 20% was spent on food (with an increase in popularity of organic foods and restaurants), 10% on accessories and personal care, 9% on cars, 8% on shoes, and 1% on furniture, with the rest spent on various other categories. Teens also displayed preferences for favorite places to shop online, like Amazon (32%). The next-most popular website was Nike, with 8%. Brandy Melville and Eastbay came in tied at tenth place, with 2%.

The survey results showed that females started to spend more in the fall, while males spent more in the spring. The survey noted that this is the first period of improved spending on fashion goods in almost two years — some of this is due to apparel spending, as well as beauty spending. Teens seem to be particularly interested in individuality and discovery. According to the Piper Jaffray survey, teens are interested in having a personal brand, and they use social media to establish that brand. Per the survey, Instagram is the most popular social network (76% surveyed use it), and Twitter was next, with 59%.

Electronics are an easy way to use social media, and teens are also purchasing and using different electronic devices. As far as which devices teens are using, the iPhone received 67%, the iPad 54%, and the iPad Mini 12%, with the Android Tablet and Kindle Fire following (16% and 6%, respectively).

From this survey, we can see that teens are spending a lot of their money on clothes and food, but they also prioritize time on social media, and on that platform, Apple seems to be reigning. Teens see fashion and social media presence as a way to be individuals, and often, that requires spending money.

Another study, completed by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, found that adults may be sending the wrong message to adolescents, and it might be affecting their priorities. The study found that teens seem to value personal success — defined as achievement and happiness — over concern for others.

Given the choice between high achievement, happiness, or caring for others, nearly 80% of respondents said high achievement or happiness was the most important thing to them. However, most of the teens said that kindness was important (roughly two-thirds listed kindness as one of their top three values, and 63% had fairness in the top three).

Roughly 80% of those surveyed also said that they believed their parents were more concerned with happiness or achievement, as well. This suggests that while adolescents are interested in achievement, they may be more focused on it because of what their parents are teaching them. This factors in interestingly with the other survey, because if teens are prioritizing success, they may be using clothing and social media to do so. It depends on how teens define personal success and achievement.

We can’t know for sure what teens’ motivations are, but we do know that their spending often focuses on clothing, and that electronics also contribute to a significant percentage of spending. Whether that spending is because teens enjoy electronics, because they want to make their presence known, or because somehow it’s tied to achievement and happiness, is still unknown.

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