Money Habits Changing for America’s Teenagers

For a very long time adults have complained about teenagers, how they consider themselves the center of the universe—that the world revolves around them, their likes and dislikes.

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Well, it turns out that teen-centric view is closer to reality than most of us grownups would like to admit. A just released spring study from Piper Jaffray, Taking Stock With Teens, shows America’s teenagers are changing how and where they spend their money and it could potentially have a big impact on small businesses. (This is the 27th semi-annual Piper Jaffray study of teen behaviors.)

As every parent of teenagers know, they like to eat. But today’s teens are spending their money on food—so much so that the survey proclaims, “Food Dominates [Teens’] Wallet For First Time.” Because they’re eating more than shopping, the traditional teen hangout—the mall—is being supplanted by restaurants. The survey shows in 2007 teens went to the mall an average of 38 times during the year; this year it will average 29 times.

So far the beneficiary of this new teen hangout are the big chains, like Starbucks, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Noodles & Company. This is the first time in the Piper Jaffray survey that Chipotle bypassed Taco Bell in popularity, indicating teens are willing to spend more on their meals. And somewhat surprisingly, 37% of teens say they’re eating more organic food than they were a year ago.

But this presents a big opportunity for small restaurants or aspiring restaurant owners. If you’re in an area where there are lots of teens (and that applies to most major cities) think about how you can attract more of them to your eatery. Plan your menu choices accordingly. For instance this is the first time Noodles & Company broke into the top 5 teen choices, so they’re not just drinking coffee and eating Mexican food.

It can be a delicate balancing act, since you want to make sure teens hanging out in your restaurant don’t drive other patrons away, while making the teenagers feel welcome and comfortable (adding free Wi-Fi will likely help on that front).

Social media is also helpful for attracting teens. For the first time in these surveys, Instagram was the most important social network among teens, which is an ideal way to highlight your food and beverage menu items. Twitter ranked second, while Facebook usage is way down.

Of course, teen mobile usage continues to rise, so you need to make sure your websites are mobile-friendly (which you should no matter what age audience you’re targeting).

Don’t dismiss this trend thinking teens don’t have money to spend. These kids aren’t bargain shoppers, preferring high-end brands like Coach, Michael Kors, Nike, and Lululemon.

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva, follow her on Google+  and, and visit her website,, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.