For most Gen Zs, going off to college means being independent for the very first time. We asked them how they shop for common household goods now that they're on their own. Here's what they said.
Ahh, freshman year. Those of us who lived through it can remember an exciting time full of eye-opening experiences and some serious independence: first permanent home away from home, new people from new places, no one telling you what to do or when to go to bed. Finally, the freedom to eat what you want, when you want.
But what did you do when you ran out of laundry detergent? When your bath soap, favorite cereal or sanitary items needed replenishing?
As fun as leaving home and starting out on your own can be, for most Gen Z-aged college students, it’s not so fun when it hits you: You have to actually buy things like deodorant and tampons and worse...you have to spend my money on it!
As one Gen Z freshman said, “At first, I was really excited to be supporting myself, but then it became such a chore and spending money became terrifying. It would all go to things I needed, like toilet paper, and then it was gone. Since being in college, I’ve become so conscious of what I buy.”
We spoke to a few freshmen Zers in the midst of their first taste of freedom to find out how they refill an empty cupboard or replenish the medicine cabinet. Here’s what they had to say:
“I usually go to the ‘market’ in one of our [college] buildings. It has groceries and some cleaning supplies. If they don’t have what I need, I’ll go with a friend who has a car and and we’ll go to Walmart.”
“I don’t. My mom usually buys the household items I need from Big Lots or Walmart. The prices are low and it’s convenient for her (and me too.)”
“Shopping for things like food, and body wash and shampoo, you always have to buy things in bulk or in the biggest size. I always have to shop smart because being broke in college is a real thing and you have to budget your money.”
“I wait for my boyfriend to come visit me so he can drive me to Walmart because taking the bus gives me anxiety. Or I wait until I go home and get my parents to buy me what I need.”
“I’ve always gone out to get things with my parents and honestly, the post office is such a long walk from my dorm. I’d rather just go out with some friends every now and then to get our things.”
“I’m on my gap year right now, so I get all my household goods and products by running to nearby stores in the city; it’s the only way I can, since I can’t drive legally in Mexico, and because I don’t know how to use the buses yet.”
“Price for me. I pick the item most similar to what I’d usually get and just bare it until I can afford what I’d normally get.”
“I like to get my favorites because it’s stuff my parents use or bought for me. I grew fond of those products and brands and now that I have to get them myself, I get the same ones!”
As heads of their own households-of-one, the Gen Zs we spoke with opt for the traditional convenience of the closest location, vs. buying online. And now that they are on their own, they are cost-conscious and practical in their product choices--some so much so that they wait for their parents to swoop in and foot the bill. Yet for some, the comfort of using the brands their parents choose is all they need to help acclimate themselves to their newfound independence.
For Gen Zs, big-ticket items aren’t just about showing off—they’re a way to make everyday experiences memorable and express their personal values.
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