The New Money Savvy Generation

20-somethings influenced by the recession have become smarter consumers.

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While 20-something consumers might be best known for their love of iPods and Facebook, one of their strongest traits turns out to be a kind of money savviness usually associated with older generations. Stephanie Noble, associate professor of marketing at the University of Mississippi, has studied this group, also known as Gen Y, which technically spans ages 15 through 32, and how they make their shopping decisions. Perhaps because they grew up at a time where it was easy to do research before making a purchase, these shoppers like to know they're getting a good deal. Here are excerpts from my conversation with Noble:

How have 20-something consumers been affected by the recession? Are they more likely to be permanently affected by it than other generations?

In the most basic terms, yes, we would expect that since some Generation Y consumers are still forming their shopping habits, they will be influenced greatly by the recession. ...  I'm sure we've all heard of a story where someone's grandparent kept money under their mattress or didn't want to put it in a bank because they were fearful of others watching over their money. These behaviors were evident in individuals who came of age in the depression. Even at 80 or 90, they would have money under their mattress! So, yes, we would expect certain Generation Y individuals to be affected by the recession more than others and that these behaviors that are shaped during this time will stay with them for their life.

[For more, see " Gen Y: Investing Is Fun, Not Scary."]

In your research, you've found that 20-somethings care a lot about finding good value when they shop. Why is that?

The consumers in my study were value-seeking for three main reasons. The first seemed to be a savviness issue. Many of these consumers grew up in single-parent homes, thus they learned the value of money.

For other consumers, value-seeking seemed to be about a sense of accomplishment. This could also be related to savviness. These consumers know that retailers have huge mark-ups. They know that sometimes to get the best price on something you have to search around a bit. These consumers are very adept at internet searches and feel comfortable price comparison shopping. When they do find a good "value" for their money, they get a sense of accomplishment. 

Finally, wanting to feel connections to others was [part of it, too.] This type of value seeking seemed to keep consumers connected to family members through a sense of heritage. This generation has been noted as being quite family-oriented, in that many talk to parents at least once a day and live at home longer than ever before. This type of value-seeking in products with longevity and heritage fits in with this description of Generation Y.

[For more, see: " Gen Y: Influenced by Parents and Materialism."]

Would you expect these trends to stay with Gen Y as they age?

Yes. Granted, other life experiences and situational influences might diminish some of them, but for the most part they should be deeply rooted in the consumer.