College Student Spending Habits for 2019

college students studying in library

College students are at a crucial point in their financial lives. It’s the time where most take out loans and apply for their first credit cards. Very often, they graduate with a lot of debt.

The cost of college has increased 135 percent in the past 10 years for public four-year universities according to the College Board. On top of that, college students face a diverse set of personal obstacles that affect their finances since they vary greatly in age and life experience. While some students are fresh out of high school, others are returning to school after having a child or serving in the military.

The average student spends a lot of money trying to get their degree. Before diving into college student spending habits, we’ll first take a look at this group’s overall spending power.

College Student Spending Power

College students had $574 billion in spending power in 2018. The 21.4 million college students in the country earn money in a variety of ways. Most college students make some sort of financial contribution to their education and many pick up jobs to cover these costs. Take a look at the stats below to see how college students earn their money. 

  • College students had $574 billion in spending power in 2018. (Source: Refuel Agency)
  • 67 percent of college students received $2,000 or less annually from their parents in 2018. (Source: OppLoans)
  • 44 percent of students in college worked every year they were in school in 2018. (Source: OppLoans)
  • 86 percent of college students worked summer jobs in 2018. (Source: OppLoans)
college students spend 4.2 hours working every day
  • College students spend an average of 4.2 hours working every day. (Source: HSBC Bank)
  • 65 percent of millennials in college needed student loans to pay for their degree in 2018. (Source: OppLoans)
  • 74 percent of college students made monetary contributions to their education. (Source: OppLoans)

How Much Do College Students Spend on Food?

College students spent a combined $65 billion alone on food in 2018. Food costs range from groceries and coffee to eating out. There are several reasons why college students spend so much on food.

The rise of social media and the need to purchase things for status are a couple factors that encourage students to splurge on Instagram-worthy food when they really shouldn’t. Other reasons include using food as an excuse to socialize or take breaks from studying. Read on to see how college students spend on food.

34% of college students say it is challenging or impossible to afford food
  • 34 percent of college students say it is challenging or impossible to afford food. (Source: Chegg)
  • 76 percent of college students who receive recreational money from their parents use it for eating out. (Source: OppLoans)
  • College students spend an average of $8,993 on food and groceries over the course of their time in school. (Source: HSBC Bank)
  • 53 percent of students in college who receive recreational money from their parents use it for drinks and snacks. (Source: OppLoans)
  • College students spent an average of $102.82 per household on food during the 2018 back-to-school shopping season. (Source: NRF

How Much Do College Students Spend on Books and Supplies?

College students spend an average of $3,497 on academic books over the course of their degree. The National Association of College Stores (NACS) found that students still buy about the same amount of course materials, but spend less thanks to more affordable options like renting and digital copies. Read on to see different highlights of college student spending on course materials.

Course Material and Supply Costs

College textbooks vary in price, but can cost a small fortune depending on the degree. Some students go to extreme lengths to afford their textbooks including skipping meals and skipping trips home. Below are the different costs college students face when purchasing course materials and other supplies.

  • College students spend an average of $3,497 on academic books over the course of their time in school. (Source: HSBC Bank)
  • 85 percent of current and former students say course material expenses were financially stressful. (Source: Cengage)
  • College students spent an average of $484 on required course materials during the 2017–2018 academic year. (Source: NACS)
  • 43 percent of former and current college students skipped meals to afford books and course materials. (Source: Cengage)
average spent on course materials by major during the 2017 to 2018 school year

See below for a breakdown of what different majors spent on course materials in the 2017-2018 academic school year according to the NACS.

  • Health majors: $597
  • Business majors: $554 
  • Education majors: $414
  • Fine arts majors: $372
  • Math majors: $357

Types of Materials and Where They’re Buying

College students are frugal when considering where they’ll buy course materials and what types of course materials they purchase. Some options, like renting or buying digital books, save a lot but come with their own drawbacks. Read on to see how college students differ when deciding what materials to get and where to buy them.

  • 32 percent of college students used free methods to obtain course materials in spring 2018. (Source: NACS)
  • 78 percent of course materials purchased in fall 2017 came from the campus bookstore. (Source: NACS)
  • 41 percent of course materials bought in fall 2017 were purchased from Amazon. (Source: NACS)
  • 38 percent of college students prefer to purchase course materials from their campus bookstore because it is conveniently located. (Source: NACS)
  • 8 percent of course materials purchased in fall 2017 came from peers and other students. (Source: NACS)
  • 72 percent of college students believe cost effectiveness is very important when considering digital books and course materials. (Source: Cengage)
  • 81 percent of college students used digital books and access codes in fall 2017. (Source: NACS)
how college students get course materials

You’ll also find that college students greatly differ when purchasing course materials. Below, you’ll see how college students acquired their books and supplies during spring 2018 according to the NACS.

  • 83 percent purchased
  • 44 percent rented 
  • 12 percent borrowed 

How Much Do College Students Spend on Clothing and Personal Care?

College students spend a combined $21 billion on clothing and shoes and $15 billion on personal care products. The rising trend of natural, eco-friendly products is one factor that is possibly driving purchases up in this sector. Take a look at the stats below to learn how much money college students sacrifice for clothing and personal care.

  • College students spent a combined $21 billion on clothing and shoes in 2018. (Source: Refuel Agency)
  • 58 percent of college students experiment with personal care brands. (Source: Refuel Agency)
  • College students spent a combined $15 billion on personal care products in 2018. (Source: Refuel Agency)
  • 43 percent of college students experiment with clothing brands. (Source: Refuel Agency)
  • College students spend an average of $653 on sports clubs and gyms over the course of their time in school. (Source: HSBC Bank)
  • College students spend about $3,435 on clothes and make up over the course of their time in school. (Source: HSBC Bank)
average spent during back-to-school season

Take a look at what college students per household spent on average during the 2018 back-to-school shopping season according to the NRF.

  • Clothing and Accessories: $153.32
  • Shoes: $83.41
  • Personal Care Items: $78.70 
  • College-branded Gear: $53.34

How Much Do College Students Spend on Rent and Transportation?

College students spend an average of $16,566 on living accommodations and $2,806 on transportation over the course of their time in school. The cost of rent, room and board, and transportation for college students depends greatly on where they attend. Costs can greatly differ between in-state and out-of-state colleges and between private and public colleges.

In fact, college students who attended private, four-year colleges spent about 14 percent more than public college students on room and board alone according to College Board. Learn more about how these costs differ and how much students pay for rent and transportation alone.

  • College students spend $30 billion on automotive expenses. (Source: Refuel Agency)
  • College students spend an average of $16,566 on living accommodations over the course of their time in school. (Source: HSBC Bank)
  • College students spend an average of $2,806 on transportation over the course of their time in school. (Source: HSBC Bank)
  • College students spent an average of $109.29 per household on apartment and dorm furnishings during the 2018 back-to-school shopping season.(Source: NRF)
67% of college students say they can't comfortable afford housing at their school
  • 67 percent of college students say they can’t comfortably afford housing at their school. (Source: Chegg)
  • Transportation for students attending public, two-year colleges averaged an estimated $1,800 during the 2018–2019 school year. (Source: College Board)
  • Room and board for students living on campus at public, four-year, in-state universities cost an estimated average of $11,140 during the 2018–2019 school year. (Source: College Board)
  • Room and board for students living on campus at private nonprofit, four-year universities cost an estimated average of $12,680 during the 2018–2019 school year. (Source: College Board)

College Student Debt

Student loan debt is at the forefront of the news and many outlets are reporting on the struggles millennials, baby boomers and everyone in between face. Other everyday costs like food and housing also contribute to the list of expenses college students need to cover while taking classes.

We found that most Americans would rather attend an affordable college than a highly ranked school. This shows that college students are highly aware of the costs of attending college and the financial sacrifices they may need to make. Read on to learn about the impact of college student debt.

Student Stress and Debt

Students feel a lot of stress from their finances. Many students feel the pressure of piling debt and many cite financial stress as even more impactful than stress felt from academics. To get a better idea of these stressors, take a look at the stats below.

  • 57 percent of college students work out of financial necessity. (Source: HSBC Bank)
  • College students spend an average of $4,321 over the course of their college careers paying back credit cards, personal loans and student debt. (Source: HSBC Bank)
  • College students spend an average of $7,262 on bills and utilities over the course of their time in school. (Source: HSBC Bank)
nearly two thirds of college students cite financial concerns as particularly stressful
  • 62 percent of college students cite financial concerns as particularly stressful. (Source: Chegg)
  • Female students are more likely to report having financial concerns than male students. (Source: Chegg)
  • 37 percent of students felt pressure to spend more money than they’re able to afford. (Source: Chegg)
  • Women hold nearly two-thirds of student debt in the country adding up to nearly $929 billion in 2019. (Source: AAUW)

Family Sacrifices

College debt sometimes falls on both students and families. Many parents choose to sacrifice things like recreation and retirement to financially support their children. Take a look below at all of the ways debt also impacts families.

  • 91 percent of college students claimed their spending was responsible, but only 61 percent of parents would agree. (Source: OppLoans)
  • 62 percent of parents stopped or lessened their leisure activities to support their child’s education. (Source: HSBC Bank)
  • Parents say they contribute about $17,314 on average to their child’s higher education costs. (Source: HSBC Bank)
59% of parents fear they don't have the financial resources to suppor their child's education
  • 59 percent of parents fear they don’t have the financial resources to support their child’s education. (Source: HSBC Bank)
  • 66 percent of parents who contribute to their child’s education contribute the most to tuition fees. (Source: HSBC Bank)
  • 39 percent of parents worked extra hours or took a second job to financially support their child’s education. (Source: HSBC Bank)
  • 39 percent of parents don’t know the costs of their child’s education. (Source: HSBC Bank)

The financial choices college students make can follow them for years after graduation. We’re all aware of the student loan crisis, but other financial decisions like late payments and maxed out cards can take their toll if not immediately addressed. It can get particularly overwhelming if you haven’t checked your credit report in a while and feel unsure about what’s on it.

You should regularly check your credit report to ensure all of your information is accurate and fairly reported. If you need help tackling negative items you find on your credit report, you can get in touch with the team at Lexington Law to learn about how credit repair might be able to help clean up your credit report.