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TheStreet Open House

Here’s What College Students Are Spending On at School

NEW YORK (TheStreet) — Way too many college students are graduating with a mountain of debt, but that doesn't stop them from spending cash while on campus. Finance experts and post-college consumers alike says that could be a problem.

Fidelity Investments reports that 70% of college graduates graduate with debt averaging $35,200, and the company says the "top advice" college graduates would give incoming college freshman is this: "Save early, research financial aid options and look for ways to control costs while in college."

The current crop of college students may be getting that message.

According to Fluent, a Boston college marketing agency, 80% of college students say they are more "cost-conscious" than they were in 2013. But Fluent's data, culled from a nationwide survey of college students, suggest students will make "exceptions" when it comes to specific spending categories, including clothing and technology.

Read More: Parents to College-Bound Kids: 36% Of the Bill is Yours

It could be simply being away from home with no parents looking over their shoulder, but college students will apparently spend on certain goods and merchandise, even if that spending threatens to drain their bank accounts.

"The recession has made a strong impression on this generation, so there is an overall cautiousness when it comes to spending," says Michael Carey, an executive vice president at Fluent. "They want to make economically smart choices, but at the same time, there are certain items that play heavily into their social capital, such as the right clothing and technology. Consequently, we are seeing a slightly more open attitude to discretionary spending in those categories."

That doesn't mean college students are ignoring the basics. Fluent says the Top 5 items  for spending money are:

  1. Textbooks
  2. Transportation (cars and bikes)
  3. Clothing
  4. Basic school supplies
  5. Computer software

Read More: 5 Steps to a Better Dorm Room for College Freshmen

But Fluent also asked about products on which students are likely to "spend more than they should" and found reason to think discretionary spending (things college-age consumers want, but don't need) might be rising.

Clothing shot to the top of that list, ranked No. 1 by 70% of college students. Next comes technological goods and services, especially laptops and mobile devices (53%). Third on the list comes "dorm decorating," which ranks highest from 30% of survey respondents.

What students won't do, increasingly, is not spend without either checking with their peers first, or by looking at third-party reviews online. Social media is also highly influential to college students, especially if they can experience the potential purchase "visually" before buying it.

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