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There are around 27.7 million teenagers living in the United States who spend an estimated $63 billion annually.
American teens are voracious consumers of digital media, and they do much of their shopping with online retailers. Meanwhile, marketing to teenagers means being aware of the influencers and causes they care most about. Survey data finds that teens today have varied interests, from social causes like environmentalism to musical icons like Taylor Swift, from online streaming services like Netflix to fast food behemoths like Chick-fil-A.
For anyone looking to better understand teenage consumers, it’s important to take a look at what teenagers buy, where they get their money and what their financial goals and worries are.
What do teenagers buy?
Though food has consistently dominated teenage spending habits for nearly a decade, clothing now reigns supreme as the biggest purchasing priority for teens. The popularity of athletic brands like Nike, Adidas and Lululemon highlights the trend toward casual clothing, perhaps spurred on by the remote school environment throughout the pandemic.
Food spending remains important for teenagers, however, and Chick-fil-A overtook Starbucks as the top restaurant for this age group. Starbucks’ drop could be attributed to its increasingly slower lines thanks to the introduction of mobile orders and the subsequent service slowdown.
The entertainment, media and video game industries have increased in popularity in the past year. The ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have led to many more teenagers spending a majority of their time at home. Therefore, their spending is more directed toward these industries rather than concerts and travel. Likewise, online shopping has generated more attraction than shopping in person.
Top brands for teenagers:
- Clothing: Nike
- Handbags: Michael Kors
- Restaurant: Chick-fil-A
- Shopping website: Amazon
- Beauty: Ulta
- Cosmetics: Maybelline
- Social media: Snapchat
- Streaming video: Netflix
Teens know what they like and spend their money accordingly. You can get a closer look at teenage buying preferences below.
- 30 percent of teenagers prefer to shop at specialty stores, while only 10 percent prefer shopping at major chains. (Source: Taking Stock With Teens)
- Male teenagers devote 14 percent of their spending to video games, while female teenagers only spend 2 percent on video games. (Source: Taking Stock With Teens)
- After the onset of the pandemic, teenagers spent 50 percent less on concerts and sporting events in 2021 than they did in 2017. (Source: Taking Stock With Teens)
- Regardless of income, teenagers spend 22 percent of their money on clothing in fall 2021. (Source: Taking Stock With Teens)
- Teenagers spend only 1 percent of their funds on movies, but they spend more than $200 annually on video games. (Source: Taking Stock With Teens)
- 52 percent of teens prefer Amazon as their top shopping website. (Source: Taking Stock With Teens)
- Nearly half of all teens either already eat plant-based meats or are willing to try, and Impossible Burgers are the preferred brand. (Source: Taking Stock With Teens)
- Over half of teens prefer healthy snacks, and nearly one-third of teenagers say they are eating more organic foods in 2021 compared to 2020. (Source: Taking Stock With Teens)
- Only 33 percent of teens prefer full-service restaurants—down significantly from 57 percent in 2009. (Source: Taking Stock With Teens)
- In addition to Amazon, teens do much of their online shopping with Nike, Urban Outfitters, SHEIN, Lululemon and PacSun. (Source: Taking Stock With Teens)
- 82 percent of female teenagers say that online influencers help them discover brands and trends. (Source: Taking Stock With Teens)
- Maybelline, e.l.f. and Tarte led the way for teenage beauty spending, but overall spending totaled just $75, a year-over-year decrease of 11 percent. (Source: Taking Stock With Teens)
- Upper-income teens report that Under Armour, Adidas, Justice and Hollister are the most common brands they used to wear but no longer do. (Source: Taking Stock With Teens)
- As of fall 2021, more than one-third of teenagers own a smartwatch, and 15 percent of teens plan to buy an Apple Watch. (Source: Taking Stock With Teens)
- More than three-quarters of teenagers own an iPhone, and the same number of teens expect their next phone will also be an iPhone. (Source: Taking Stock With Teens)
- 9 percent of teens have purchased cryptocurrency, and 78 percent of teen crypto buyers are male. (Source: Taking Stock With Teens)
Where do teenagers get their money?
Teenagers earn money through a mix of gifts, allowance and jobs. Although their spending power isn’t as high in comparison to other groups’, teens still hold a significant amount of spending power. Read on to see how employment trends have shaped teen spending.
- Fewer than one-third of teenagers held a paying job in the summer of 2021, which is the lowest employment percentage since the Great Recession. (Source: Pew Research Center)
- Nearly 2 million 16- to 19-year-olds lost their jobs at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Source: Pew Research Center)
- Overall, around 5.4 million teenagers were employed in the summer of 2021. (Source: Pew Research Center)
- The most common industries for teenagers to work in are food services (35 percent) and retail (25 percent). (Source: Pew Research Center)
- 32 percent of teenagers receive allowances for doing chores. (Source: Junior Achievement
- On average, teens have their first job at age 14. (Source: TD Ameritrade)
- Teenage workers aged 16 to 19 have a median weekly income of $566. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)
- Students who are enrolled full time in college are less likely to enter the workforce than those who are studying part-time. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)
- The average allowance for children under age 18 is around $30 per week or $1,500 per year. (Source: AICPA)
Financial goals and concerns of teenagers
Even at a young age, teenagers are keen on financial goals and have high expectations for the future. Many believe that they’ll reach milestones like buying a home and paying off their student loans in their 30s. However, some financial concerns still linger for teens who grew up in the Great Recession and have seen their formative years defined by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- 43 percent of teens believe they’ll pay off student loans by the time they turn 30. (Source: Junior Achievement)
- 35 percent of teens think they’ll have $100,000 in savings by age 30. (Source: Junior Achievement)
- 3 out of 5 teens believe they’ll own a home by age 30. (Source: Junior Achievement)
- 8 out of 10 teenagers describe themselves as responsible with their money. (Source: FONA International)
- 45 percent of teens are concerned about not being able to afford living on their own. (Source: Junior Achievement)
- 47 percent of teens are concerned about paying for college. (Source: Junior Achievement)
- 40 percent of teens are concerned about finding a fulfilling, well-paying job. (Source: Junior Achievement)
Teenage members of Generation Z are setting themselves up as a financially strong generation. Continued credit education is crucial for these teens as they get older and start building their credit. The decisions teens make at this age are important to watch as they mature into adulthood and make bigger financial decisions—in the meantime, it’s important that these teens practice good financial hygiene like regularly reading their credit reports and reviewing their bank statements for discrepancies.
Reviewed by Miriam Allred, Associate Attorney at Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.
Miriam Allred was born and raised in Southern California. After high school she joined the US Navy. She then went on to get an Economics degree from Chapman University where she got to enjoy an internship at the United States Supreme Court. Miriam then went to Brigham Young University where she received her Juris Doctor. Prior to joining Lexington Law, Miriam worked as a civil rights attorney dealing with discrimination and sexual harassment. In this role she helped write and create policies and investigate sexual harassment and discrimination complaints. Miriam also has experience in family law. Miriam is licensed to practice in Utah.
Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.