Consumption and Spending Patterns at St. Olaf College
The purpose of this study was to come to a better
understanding of the various spending patterns of students at St. Olaf
College. Specifically, the spending patterns of senior male
students were compared to the spending patterns of senior female
students. Through qualitative research patterns, attitudes, and
behaviors were revealed. After conducting sixteen interviews of
students from Ytterboe Hall, the data suggest that males and females
at St. Olaf College have significantly different consumption and
In order to understand the various spending patterns that will be
discussed later in this study, it is important to understand the
setting in which these patterns exist. The environment at St.
Olaf College no doubt affects the spending patterns of students.
St. Olaf College is a private, Lutheran-affiliated four-year
educational institution situated in Northfield, Minnesota. St.
Olaf College is about forty minutes south of Minneapolis and St. Paul,
a large metropolitan area. Northfield has a population of about
15,000 people, including students at both of its colleges, St. Olaf and
Carleton College. The town offers tiny cafes, coffee shops, a few
bars, and a couple fast food chains. Northfield is largely
comprised of small businesses. Yet in the past few years, a new
wave of corporate business has come to Northfield, as the town now has
a Target, Applebees, Cub Foods, and Menards. Students now have
more freedom of consumer choice, and a wider variety of goods and
services available to them.
One element of St. Olaf College that strongly
affects student consumption and spending is the structure of Buntrock
Commons, which resembles a shopping mall. Buntrock commons is
centrally located on campus and is the backbone of college life on
campus. All of the on-campus sources for the necessary details of
college life are centralized in Buntrock Commons. The student
cafeteria, Stav Hall, serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a
log-cabin like atmosphere, where students can purchase different meal
plans. Students can also purchase food and drink in the Cage, a
grill and snack bar located on the main floor of the commons.
Both Stav Hall and the Cage are run by a corporate food service, and
employ a small number of college students. The student-run Lion’s
Pause provides many sources of entertainment, as it presents a wide
variety of concerts and shows, and contains pool tables, a video
arcade, and a student lounge with a big-screen television.
Students can also purchase food and beverages from the kitchen at the
Pause, ranging from pizza and soda to bagels and milk shakes. The
food and drinks at the Pause are significantly cheaper than that of
fast food or pizza chains, which makes the Pause a very attractive
option for hungry students. The Viking Theatre is a small movie
theatre, and provides another source of entertainment for
students. The college bookstore also affects student spending at
St. Olaf College. It is managed together with the Carleton
College bookstore and a downtown store. At the bookstore,
students can purchase everything from textbooks and t-shirts to chips,
toothpaste, and computers.
At St. Olaf College, 99% of the 3000 student
body lives on-campus all four years of their college experience.
Residential living is divided into twelve residence halls. Five
halls are reserved for first-year students and the remaining seven are
reserved for upperclassmen. All residence halls are coed by
floor. For the purposes of my study, I used senior students from
Ytterboe Hall. Ytterboe offers students the chance to live in
“pods”, which are sets of rooms located around one larger central
living room. Nearly all “pods” have six rooms, and ten students
can live in the “pod”. There are four double rooms and two single
rooms. Each room enters into the large living space, so it forms
a small community within the larger St. Olaf community. All rooms
in Ytterboe have phones, but long distance calls must be paid for by
parents or students. Most rooms have small refrigerators, TV’s,
microwaves, stereos, CD players, and video cassette or DVD players that
belong to one of the roommates. Some students also have personal
computers. Within the dormitory, and throughout the entire campus
of St. Olaf, alcohol consumption is prohibited, but alcohol remains a
significant source of consumption.
With regards to consumption and spending, college is
a unique time in a person’s life. It is most likely the last time
in which most students will not have to pay all of their bills and have
relative freedom to spend a majority of their money from income and/or
parents on what they choose. As a senior student at St. Olaf, I
am taking advantage of this unique lifestyle largely because my parents
still help me pay for college and some of my other expenses. Most
people I know also live this way. After college ends and I and my
fellow senior students enter the “real world”, we will face having to
pay a majority of our money toward bills, and thus have less to spend
on what we choose. Many students will also have to repay student
loans. Thus, the college environment at St. Olaf seems to be a
“bubble” in which students have fewer expenses and can spend their
money relatively freely. This definitely seems to be true among
the students of St. Olaf College.
As a senior sociology and management studies
student, I have become greatly interested in student consumption and
spending. I have always desired to compare the consumption
patterns of students at St. Olaf College with my own. But more
specifically I have been fascinated with how males and females differ
in their particular consumption and spending behaviors. So when I
learned that I needed to conduct an ethnographic research study for my
Sociology class, I immediately knew that a comparison of male and
female student consumption at St. Olaf was exactly what I wanted to
do. In my analysis of student consumption, I only wanted to focus
on how students spend their earned money for entertainment and
necessity purposes. I included gas purchases in my analysis, but
I did not want to include spending on car insurance, other auto
expenses, or other bills. I began thinking of questions that I
would like to know about student consumption and spending. Where
do students obtain their spending money? What do students spend
most of their money on? Of the goods that students purchase, do
they care if they purchase generic or name brand goods? How much
of student entertainment is provided by St. Olaf? How often do
students splurge or make purchases on impulse? How do friends
affect the spending of students? How do parents influence
students in their spending? These were just a sample of the
questions running through my head, which I wanted to use to gain
insight into student consumption. I would soon make questions out
of my personal questions, comparing the consumption and spending of
male and female students at St. Olaf. After having built a
foundation of certain questions I was seeking, I felt that I was ready
to begin collecting the examples of consumption and spending within the
context of St. Olaf College.
In this particular study, the main objective was to
gather a fair representation of the consumption experiences and
practices of St. Olaf College senior students. I planned to find
fourteen of my interviewees at Ytterboe Hall, but I also intended to
find two males and two females living off-campus to participate in my
study. The reason I chose to interview off-campus students was so
I could see if their consumption and spending differed from those
students living on campus. I chose Ytterboe Hall because it is
the dormitory in which a majority of the senior students live, and I
also live there. I tried to locate individuals from all four
floors of Ytterboe, and tried to locate individuals with different
majors at St. Olaf. When I was ready to start looking for
potential interviewees, I walked into random “pods” on every floor of
Ytterboe, and knocked on students’ doors inside each individual
“pod”. When a student would answer the door, I told them that I
was conducting a study, what its purposes were, and asked them if they
would care to participate, either right then at that time, or at a
later date. My approach worked well, and I had no problems
finding my fourteen students to participate in the study.
Most of the students who agreed to take part in the study preferred to
conduct their interviews in their own pod soon after their agreement to
participate. The remaining students chose to be interviewed in my
own pod. As for my four off-campus representatives, I asked four
students with whom I am acquainted with to take part in the
study. One male and one female live in St. Olaf sponsored houses
on St. Olaf Avenue, the other female lives in an apartment in
Northfield, and the other male lives with his parents in Cannon Falls,
Minnesota. All four agreed to participate, and their interviews
were conducted at the Cage, which was a more neutral location than my
pod or their living quarters.
I have focused mainly on gathering information
through the process of interviews. I chose to use this method due
to its open-ended nature for collecting information and
behaviors. Each interview consisted of a short written survey and
a base set of questions. Due to this constant set of questions,
my study remained consistent and my data was easy to organize. I
controlled the direction which the interviews took, and thus kept them
focused and to the point. Because of the study’s qualitative
nature, I will be able to obtain detailed information that I could not
have obtained from a quantitative study. However, because I only
interviewed sixteen people, my results will not be generalizable
towards the whole population of college students. In addition my
data may not be relevant to non-senior St. Olaf students because my
study only looks at senior students. Despite these limitations to
my study, I proceeded nevertheless because I knew that I would receive
After gathering all the information provided by the
participants, I separated the male responses from the female responses,
and began drawing comparisons between the two. My findings will
be structured according to the comparisons between males and
females. The first thing I looked at was how much money students
spent in an average month. Males and females reported spending
similar amounts of money, with both genders having a mean range of
$101-$150 per month. The lowest reported range for males was
$1-$50 and for females was $51-$100. The highest reported range
for males was $301 or more and for females was $201-$250. So more
or less, the males and females I interviewed spend similar amounts of
money. There was also no noticeable difference in the amounts of
money spent by those students living off-campus. When asked where
their spending money came from, six of the eight male interviewees said
their spending money comes from their own work experiences, either
summer jobs or work during the school year. The two remaining
males receive allowances from their parents as a means of getting
spending money, although one of the males also works in the
summer. Of the female interviewees, four said their spending
money comes from an allowance provided by their parents along with
their own work. One female only received spending money from her
parents. The three remaining females provided all of their own
spending money by working. In regards to how the interviewees
gain their spending money, five of the eight females receive help from
their parents in obtaining spending money, while six of eight males
receive no help from their parents and earn their own spending money
Next I focused on what students spend their money
on. For both male and female interviewees, alcohol and food were
the two major items. All of the student interviewees are 21 years
old as seniors, and are thus legally able to purchase alcohol.
Six out of eight males spend money on alcohol compared to seven out of
eight females. The only difference between the male and female
purchasing of alcohol is that the females tended to purchase most of
their alcohol while at various Northfield bars, while most males tended
to buy alcohol at the town liquor store. Seven out of eight
females listed food as one of their significant expenses, as did seven
out of eight males. Among the seven males, nearly all of them
spent money on groceries, while over half of them also spent money on
fast food and pizza. Among the seven females, grocery consumption
was also very common, but fast food and pizza consumption was
nonexistent. Going out to restaurants was common among females,
as three out of the eight women said they spent money going out to eat.
Another major source of spending for women was clothing. Five out
of the eight female interviewees admitted clothing was one of their
primary expenditures. In contrast, only one male interviewee saw
clothing as a significant expenditure. For both male and female
participants, there were no other items or services named that more
than two people had in common. Other examples of items which one
or two male interviewees admit to spending money on include events such
as movies or bowling, music or DVDs, hygiene products, recreational
activities, spending money on girlfriend, cigarettes, gas, and
bills. Other expenses which one or two females noted include gas,
movies, bills, and CDs.
Students gave a large variety of responses when
asked what their reasons were for buying these specific goods, but the
primary reason for all participants was for fun and
entertainment. All eight women interviewed said that they spent
their money on what they did because they wanted to have fun and their
purchases provided the necessary entertainment to achieve that
end. Two women believed their food purchases were out of
necessity and one of these women also believed her clothing purchases
were necessities. This woman lived in an apartment
off-campus. The eight men interviewed gave a variety of different
responses as to why they spent their money on what they did, but most
were concerned with entertainment and fun also. The men’s reasons
for spending on what they did were passion, indulgence, to carry on
their social life, self-satisfaction, release from school, freedom, and
of course for entertainment and to have fun. One male saw his
food purchases as a necessity, one saw his alcohol and cigarette
purchases necessities, and another male believed paying his bills was a
necessity. This male student that was paying bills was an
The stores and businesses in which male and female
interviewees did a substantial amount of their consumption were largely
the same for both genders. However, more of the female
interviewees than the male interviewees tended to go some places, and
vice versa. Target was a major source of consumption for females,
as six of eight said it was a major site of their spending. The
store was also a significant source for males, as four of eight said
they shop there often. The highest percentage of male
interviewees, six out of eight, admitted consumption at grocery
stores. Only two out of eight women listed a grocery store.
As we already know, a majority of male and female interviewees purchase
alcohol, but there is a difference between genders in where they
purchase it. Six out of eight women said bars were a primary
source of their consumption, while only one out of eight males reported
the same. Five out of eight males see the liquor store as a
primary source, while only one out of eight females is a primary
consumer there. Another major difference between males and
females is the proportion of the two genders that consume regularly at
clothing stores. Five out of eight females frequent clothing
stores, while only one out of eight males do. Two females
reported significantly spending at restaurants, while three males spent
money at fast food joints or pizza places. Other consumption
sites for a small number of male interviewees include internet stores,
Best Buy, gas stations, convenience stores, and Walmart.
Consumption of generic or non-name brand goods was
another of my areas of interest. Of the male interviewees, six
out of eight purchased generic goods whenever they could, except
sometimes when buying clothes. These men largely purchased the
generic version of most goods because of the typically cheaper price of
generic goods and because they believed the quality of the generic good
was very comparable to brand name versions of the product. With
clothing, some of these male students felt the quality and style of
name brands were greater, and this was why they purchased name brand
clothes more often than not. The other two male interviewees
sometimes buy generic products, but not very often. One of the
males is a bargain shopper, and he buys whatever’s on sale, whether it
is brand name or generic. The other male equates brand names with
higher quality merchandise, and thus mostly buys brand name goods
whenever he can, because quality is very important to him. Of the
female interviewees, four never buy generic goods because they think
the brand name is better and worth the extra price they might have to
pay. Three other females sometimes buy generic goods, but it is
strictly limited to personal products. The final female
interviewee buys generic goods whenever she can, including clothes,
because she likes to pay the typically lower prices and sees no
difference in the products.
When asked how much of their entertainment wants and
needs St. Olaf provided students, five out of eight male students said
the school does not provide very much entertainment for them.
Five female students’ entertainment wants and needs were also not very
fulfilled by St. Olaf. For these ten students, the only
entertainment they said the school provided them was cheap food and
concerts. The three remaining male students feel St. Olaf
provides significant entertainment in the form of free movies, dances,
concerts, the Pause, weight rooms, and intramural sports. Three
female students were also convinced that St. Olaf provided a
significant level of entertainment, as they enjoyed the cheap food in
the Pause, the concerts, guest speakers, dances, and activities within
academic departments. Entertainment appears to be a major factor
affecting students’ consumption and spending. Of the amount of
money male and female interviewees reported spending in an average
month, half of both males and females said they spend all of their
money on sources of entertainment.
Another area of interest I looked into in this study
involves student splurging and impulse buying. Four males
admitted to splurging once a month or more, mainly on clothes, DVDs, or
electronic gadgets. Only two females admitted to splurging once
or more a month, also mainly on clothes or going out with
friends. Four men hardly ever splurge, and six women also seldom
splurge. Their reasons for never splurging are mainly financial,
as they cannot afford to spend more than a certain amount. Of the
eight interviewed males, four said they make impulse purchases once a
month or more, while four rarely buy impulsively. Of those male
students who buy impulsively, the goods they buy are food, clothes,
DVDs, or electronic equipment. The four men who rarely buy on
impulse say that their impulses do not control what they spend their
money on. As for the female interviewees, seven out
of eight of them admitted at least occasionally buying something on
impulse. Four buy something about once a month, usually
clothes. Two make purchases on impulse three or four times a
month, and one female makes about seventy percent of her purchases on
impulse, which are mainly clothes. Thus, females in the study
appear to be much more affected by impulse when making purchases, while
males are not as affected.
I also inquired about credit card usage in my
study. Six out of eight females reported hardly ever using a
credit card, while two said they used theirs once a month. Most
of the female participants had check cards/debit cards that they used
most of the time if they did not have cash with them. As for the
male participants, two do not have a credit card and three others
rarely use theirs. The remaining three students use their credit
cards twice a month, ten to fifteen times a month, and twenty times a
month. All of the students said they pay for their credit card
from their checking account, and only one gets help paying the bill
The effect friends have on student consumption was
another big topic of interest. Only two males and two females
reported friends having little to no effect on their consumption and
spending decisions. The six other males said that friends have a
huge effect on their spending because their friends play a large role
in determining what their entertainment is going to be, and they have
to spend money to maintain their lifestyle and do what friends are
doing. One of these six males also said that he asks friends for
advice on what products to buy, and so his friends give him advice on
his spending and consumption decisions. Six female interviewees
also said that friends effect their spending. Their consensus was
that the effect was only during times of entertainment, when the women
would go out shopping and spend money on each other, or when they would
go out to a bar or restaurant.
My final area of interest for the study involved
parental attitudes toward spending, and how these attitudes affected
students. When asked what their parents’ attitudes were toward
spending, female interviewees gave me a range of answers including
cheap, conservative, only buys necessities, and average. One of
the females said her mom was conservative and practical while her dad
was impulsive. The male interviewees reported similar answers
with their parents’ views including stingy, save first, avoid debt,
conservative, thrifty, buy what they need, tight spenders, and spend
wisely. One male said he really doesn’t know what his parents
think about spending. The parents of both male and female
interviewees have similar views toward spending and consumption.
Of the male students, seven of eight said that they have been affected
in some way by their parents’ views on spending. Ways in which
they have been affected include: not buying on impulse, not
charging a lot on credit cards and getting in debt, helping to be more
conservative, saving for the future, paying more money for quality
goods, teaching the meaning of the dollar, avoiding big purchases,
researching before purchasing, and quality is better than
quantity. One male student reported not being affected by his
parents’ decisions whatsoever, but this was also the same student who
did not know his parents’ attitudes toward spending. As for the
female interviewees, five said that they have become more conservative
and thrifty as a result of their parents’ attitudes on spending.
One female said that she has turned out like her father, but her father
is an impulsive buyer. The other two female interviewees in the
study said that they have turned out completely opposite from their
parents in their views on spending and consumption. Both girls
are impulsive buyers, and their parents are conservative
spenders. These two students reported that they usually spend
more money than they have, and they do so because their parents will
bail them out and pay the extra money they spend. These female
students were an exception, as the remaining females and all of the
males reported spending an amount less than or equal to the amount of
money they have each month.
Within the findings, many interesting patterns in
the data appear. First of all, male and female interviewees spend
roughly the same amounts of money, but their spending money is provided
in different ways. A majority of males gain their spending money
solely from their own work experience, while a majority of females
receive some help from parents in providing for their spending money,
even though some of these students also provide money from their own
work. Nearly all of the students of both sexes spend a
significant amount of money on alcohol and food, except there is a
difference in that men purchase alcohol at liquor stores and women
purchase alcohol at Northfield bars. A large percentage of both
males and females purchase food at grocery stores, but males buy fast
food and pizza more often than females, and females go out to
restaurants more often than males. Target is a major site of
consumption for both males and females. Also, more females
frequent clothing stores and purchase clothes than do males. The
reasons males and females give for making purchases all involve wanting
to have fun and provide entertainment. Consumption for these
college students revolves around fun.
Another interesting pattern that appeared from the
study is that a much higher percentage of male interviewees purchase
generic goods than do female interviewees. Aside from purchasing
clothes, most male students wanted to pay the typically lower price of
generic goods, and didn’t believe there was much of a difference in
quality from the name brand alternatives. Most female students
believed the name brands were higher quality and didn’t care very much
about the increase in price. In terms of impulse buying behavior,
a higher percentage of females admitted to making purchases on impulse
than did males.
Credit card usage between the two sexes was largely
the same, and both males and females stated that friends had a large
effect on their spending decisions. Friends mainly affected what
they did in terms of entertainment, so the students did what their
friends were doing, and spent money accordingly. The majority of
male and female interviewees had parents with conservative attitudes
toward spending. Nearly all males have become more conservative
like their parents, which a significant amount of females have also
become. However, two females reported that they are complete
opposites of their parents and are impulsive buyers.
After collecting data from the off-campus students, I noticed that
their data hardly differs at all from data of those students who live
on campus. They purchase the same things, have similar reasons
for doing so, and have overall similar consumption and spending
patterns. The most enlightening results of this study are the
differences in consumption and spending patterns discussed in the
results, between male and female interviewees. In regards to the
differences in consumption and spending patterns between males and
females, my bibliographic sources did not shed any light on
understanding my findings in a larger social and cultural
context. St. Olaf College could use the data from this study to
evaluate entertainment options on campus at St. Olaf. By looking
at student spending patterns, the administration of St. Olaf can know
more about the students who populate the college, and they can move the
school in the direction of these patterns. I would love to do a
much larger study on consumption at St. Olaf, and compare classes of
students to see how their consumption patterns differ. This would
be a wonderful topic of further research, one that would be very
1. Please circle the dollar range that most accurately applies to the
amount of money you have for spending during an average month?
301 or more
2. Please circle the dollar range that most accurately applies to the
amount of money you actually spend during an average month?
301 or more
1. Where does your spending money come from?
2. During an average month, what are the items or services that you spend most of your money on?
3. Which of these are necessities?
4. How do you justify the other purchases that are not necessities?
5. How often do you purchase generic, or non name-brand goods or services?
6. What are the stores or businesses in which a majority of your consumption and spending occurs?
7. During an average month, how much money do you spend on entertainment?
8. How much of your entertainment wants and needs are fulfilled by St.
Olaf, and how does this either increase or decrease your spending?
9. What is a large amount of money for you to spend in a month?
10. How often do you splurge?
11. What is a large amount of money to splurge on?
12. How do you pay for these splurges?
13. How often do you make purchases on impulse?
14. How often do you use a credit card during an average month? How do you pay for it?
15. What effect do friends have on your spending decisions?
16. How would you characterize your parents’ attitude toward spending?
17. How have your parents’ attitude influenced you in your spending behavior?
18. Do you often have to monitor your spending?
Consumption and Buying Behavior at St. Olaf College
Information and Consent Form
You are invited to participate in a research study
investigating student consumption and purchasing behaviors. This
study is being conducted by the author, an undergraduate student at St.
Olaf College under the supervision of Caroline Anderson, a faculty
member from the Department of Sociology/Anthropology. You were
selected as a possible participant in this research because you are a
senior, and are a member of the study’s target population. Please
read this form and ask questions before you agree to be in the study.
The purpose of this study is to gain insight into
student consumption patterns and buying behaviors through participant
interviews. Approximately sixteen people from the senior class of
St. Olaf College are expected to participate in this research. If
you decide to participate, you will first be asked to complete a very
brief written questionnaire. Following this you will be asked to
answer eighteen questions orally. This study will take
approximately fifteen minutes over one session. The study has no
risks to you, and your name will remain confidential. There are
no direct benefits to you for participating in this research, but you
may benefit in some way by more fully realizing your consumption levels
and spending behaviors.
Participation in this research study is
voluntary. If you decide to participate, you are free to stop at
any time. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact
me. If you have other questions or concerns regarding the study
and would like to talk to someone other than the researcher, you may
also contact Jo Beld, Administrator of the St. Olaf College
Institutional Review Board, at 646-3343 or email@example.com.
You are making a decision whether or not to participate. Your
signature indicates that you have read this information and your
questions have been answered. Even after signing this form,
please know that you may withdraw from the study at any time.
I consent to participate in this study.
Signature of Participant/Date
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