Shopping Curve

High gasoline prices, rising food costs and an overall negative outlook on the economy have finally caused teenagers to rein in their spending.

Sort of.

There’s no doubt that the slowing economy is affecting all groups, but “young people are very resourceful and they don’t necessarily want to trim their current level of spending,” says Michael Wood, vice president of Teenage Research Unlimited, a firm that tracks teen trends and spending.

So, teenagers are learning to do what many parents thought impossible: be smart with their money.

They’re used to getting what they want, when they want it. Just a few years ago they spent more than the gross domestic product of some small countries. But now, they’re thinking twice about spending so freely on the latest fashions, the hottest gadgets, even on fast food.

“Obviously, we’re worried about the economy,” says Monique Rohnai, 16, a junior at Clark High School. “I feel like we’re going down the drain, to be honest. Our generation is supposed to be the next leaders and if this is what it’s going to be like, we’re not going to do a very good job.”

Because of their size — about 10 percent of the U.S. population — and diversified income portfolios, teenagers are still a powerhouse consumer group, Wood says. But parents are their main source of income and if Mom and Dad feel the pinch, it has a trickle down effect. In 2007, teenagers spent $176 billion, a slight decrease from 2006 spending of $179 billion.

They’re doing things they never thought about before, all in an effort to be thrifty: Carpooling. Shopping in thrift stores. Stretching their current wardrobes with the addition of small things, such as accessories or shoes, instead of buying all new clothes.

“Sometimes, our spending isn’t about buying necessities, it’s more about trying to get into the new trend,” Rohnai says. “A lot of things we want, we don’t need. When you think about it like that and know that in five years, what you wore isn’t going to matter, you realize that maybe wearing the latest styles isn’t so important.”

Still, fashion enables teenagers the opportunity to express their identities and individuality, she adds. But you can’t be brand-conscious in this economy.

Teenagers aren’t feeling the pressure to wear certain labels anymore, Wood says. Value has become important to them; they expect things to be on sale and don’t mind shopping in mass merchandise stores.

“You can find really fashionable stuff for cheap,” says Corey Curtis, 17, a senior at Cheyenne High School. Curtis, who works a part-time job, gives herself about $100 a week to spend on anything she wants or needs, from clothes to movies. “Used to, I’d spend $100 and buy three or four things. Now that $100 buys me six or seven things.”

She thinks twice before buying a new shirt or pants, preferring to get bracelets, earrings, necklaces, purses and other accessories to help add a different look to an outfit.

Good deals can be found at places such as Savers, Target, swap meets and Wal-Mart, says Griselda Delacruz, 16, a junior at Clark High School. She proudly chooses not to own a cell phone, something many kids her age say they can’t live without.

“The economy affects everyone, parents, teachers, students. You may ask for something and your parents tell you money is tight, you can’t get what you want right now,” she says. “You don’t think about buying stuff you want. You start thinking about buying stuff you need.”

One thing teenagers have realized they don’t need is a weekly trip to the mall. Many are cutting back, choosing to shop less often.

Curtis has cut back on her weekly visits to the mall, now going about once a month.

Sunny Patel, 16, a junior at Clark High School, calls himself a mall kind of guy. He may go once a month but he doesn’t pay retail for anything.

“I look for sales. I’m a bargain hunter, personally,” he says.

But there is one necessity he won’t do without: food.

“If I’m hungry, I’m going to eat,” says Patel, who eats out about once a day. A vegetarian, he feels cheated if he pays more than $4 for a fast food meal.

Teenagers are guilty of eating out a lot, Rohnai says. But many of them have to, because they have busy schedules with school, work and extracurricular activities. That $5 a day spent on fast food adds up, she says.

Because eating out is a must at times and gasoline for her Honda Passport a necessity, Kendraya Chester, 17, a senior at Clark High School, looks for other ways to cut her spending. Instead of getting her nails done every two weeks, she does them herself, saving $60 a month.

They’re more aware than ever of the economy, Rohnai and Patel say. Teenagers read newspapers, watch television news and hear their parents talk about the difficulties. That makes them anxious, Delacruz says, but she often reminds herself of just how good she has it, compared to others in the world.

And Rohnai has a bit of advice for any teen who feels overwhelmed by the state of the economy: “It will get better, it will just take time.”

Contact reporter Sonya Padgett at spadgett@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4564.

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