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Teen Panel Reflects Shifting Spending Habits

Teens are spending less of their part-time paychecks and allowance on clothes and accessories and more on filling up their tanks and eating out.

Teens are spending less of their part-time paychecks and allowance on clothes and accessories and more on filling up their tanks and eating out.

This was the consensus of a group of 17- and 18-year-olds from Ramapo High School in Franklin Lakes, N.J., during a teen panel at Piper Jaffray’s Annual Consumer Conference in New York last week.

With a majority of high school students juggling school, extracurricular activities and organized sports, the mall is no longer the number-one after-school or weekend destination. Instead, teens are opting to spend their free time at restaurants, working at a part-time job or at friends’ houses.

The 17 students on the panel said that when they eat out, they chose restaurant chains such as Chili’s, California Pizza Kitchen, Houlihan’s and TGI Friday’s. But the most popular food craze among the panelists is sushi, and they cannot make it through the day without a trip to Starbucks.

These teens haven’t given up apparel shopping altogether, however. Most said they spent the same amount on clothes this year as they did last year, and would stock up for the back-to-school season.

When they do hit the mall, they prefer to shop at specialty stores over department stores, citing specialty stores’ inviting environment and cooler image, as well as cheaper prices.

Urban Outfitters, Free People, Pacific Sunwear, Hollister, Ruehl, American Eagle Outfitters and Quicksilver are among their favorite stores.

The young men said that “every guy at school has a pair of Birkenstocks,” while the young women said they wore surf-inspired Reefs. But none of them seemed to get the Crocs craze, saying they would “never wear plastic shoes with holes to school.”

Most of the panelists are heading to college in the fall, and they are looking for zip-up hoodies, jeans and layering items. Denim was still a staple, since it is easy to wear, comfortable and can be dressed up or down, the panelists said. But these teens were looking for quality, not quantity, in denim purchases, and chose True Religion and Seven Jeans.

MAC is the most sought-after cosmetics brand in the “higher-quality” beauty products for its bright colors and cheap prices. But the young women also liked the good-for-your-skin qualities of Bare Escentuals and Nars and Clinique.

When asked what brands or trends filled their closets five years ago, that they would no longer wear, the female panelists all said Juicy Couture T-shirts and Coach.

One panelist said she had a collection of small handbags when she was younger, but now had “better things” to spend her money on. The young women said Coach had become too preppy and was better suited for an older customer. While rising prices at the pump may affect how their parents allocate funds, teens say that while they may be spending more on gas, they are not curbing their spending to fill up their tanks.

“When I get a paycheck, I will still spend the money, regardless if I have gas to get home,” one 18-year-old Best Buy employee said.

Most of the teens said they did not even know what the prices were until they finished filling up their tanks and saw the hole in their wallet.

Having their own cars gives them the freedom to do more things, leaving less time for television or surfing the Internet. All the panelists said they watched less television this year than they did last year, and rarely listened to the radio since they had iPods.

And while the newspaper industry has feared the death of print, more than half the teens claimed they read newspapers frequently.

But what teens are really searching for is a place to “hang out” with their friends; a place that is like their living room, but without the parents.

“There are no places that really cater to us. All you investors get us a place we can go to just lay back,” one male panelist said.