Understanding How College Women Spend Their Money

It’s no secret that most college students aren’t made of money. With exorbitant college costs and no steady full-time income, they’re not necessarily the wealthiest market to tap into - but they’re still easily one of the most desirable. That’s because college students are finally out of their parents’ houses and able to make their own decisions, so it’s key to catch them now in order to turn them into long-time customers.

So how do college students spend their money? At the Her Campus Media College Marketing Summit, we asked, and our panel of real college women answered.  We learned that how they spend their money varies based on a number of different factors, and understanding these is key to winning over this potentially very loyal (and ultimately lucrative) consumer group.

Distributed throughout the year

When brands are looking to reach the college market, they often think that back-to-school is the only time when college students shop. But in reality, their shopping is more evenly distributed throughout the year than you might expect.

“I typically shop sporadically throughout the year rather than at certain times,” says Rebecca, a junior at FIT. “I do get a couple basic items for each season (usually at the beginning of the season or a little bit before), and when I have an event or something coming up, I spring out more money for those types of things.”

Maybe when you were a kid, you got all your new digs during that key July-August time, but that’s not so true for college students. College women are more spaced out with their spending, picking and choosing certain times and occasions to purchase things, rather than doing all their shopping for the year during one timeframe.

Paycheck to paycheck

It’s no surprise that most college students aren’t flush with cash. But what may surprise you is how much of an impact budget has on college women’s spending habits. Students expressed that their shopping cycles are determined largely by when they get their paycheck - and how long it lasts.

“I do my shopping whenever I get my paycheck,” says Isabel, a senior at New York University. She says it half-jokingly, but others agree. Rebecca from FIT mentions that she never has a set budget for shopping, rather her budget is determined by her pay cycle. Emily, a freshman at Pace University, mentions using the budgeting app Mint to manage her finances in order to see when and how she can spend. And almost all the women mention that they’re discount shoppers.

“Whenever there’s a sale at the end of seasons, it’s super important for me to buy things for the next year,” says Isabel from NYU. Turns out that most college women’s spending habits are largely ruled by their pay cycles, the sales, and when companies offer discounts – so offering a college student discount can be a great marketing tool.


Since college students often don’t have a large disposable income, a lot of their purchase decisions are dictated by what they need rather than what they want.

“I kind of just buy things as I need them,” says Rebecca from FIT. She says she finds herself shopping for certain occasions when necessary, since she doesn’t have the time and money to shell out in order to have certain items all the time. It’s more like a nice dress for this event here, or a new backpack for the next semester there.

“When it comes to purchasing clothing, I spend the most money on things that I know I really need,” says Isabel from NYU. “So for example at the beginning of this year I knew I needed a really good work bag, so I splurged and I bought a really amazing bag because that’s something I know is going to last me, and I’m going to use it for a long time. So bags and shoes and other ‘need pieces’ are the things that I’m going to spend the most money on.”

While college students will certainly shell out money on novelty items here and there, a significant portion of their shopping is determined by what they truly need – so understanding these needs is critical to a brand’s success with this demographic. 

Megan Shuffleton is the Community Manager, Influencers & Ambassadors at Her Campus Media.