Teen spending preferences revealed

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By Carol A. Clark

Three teens took an idea, persevered all semester and produced an in-depth report detailing the buying trends of local youth.


Los Alamos High School juniors Emi Weeks, 16, and Josh Dolin, 16 and senior Annie Chroninger, 17, surveyed 899 local youth to ascertain where they get their money, how much they get, where they spend it and on what.


The teen spending survey show the largest number of teen respondents spend $11-$20 weekly and at the high end, some 80 respondents said they spend an average of $91 a week.


“We found that most teens in Los Alamos receive money from their parents,” Dolin said.


Dolin, Weeks and Chroninger comprise the local Youth Mobilizers program, which is funded by the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board and facilitated through The Family YMCA.


“There has been much discussion in the community about the proposed Trinity Site Development project among others and whether there is sufficient spending power to support more retail outlets,” Weeks said. “Within that discussion, we’ve heard about how much income is lost here due to spending ‘off the Hill’.”


In conducting their survey, the youth uncovered the following local spending trends:


• 72 percent spend $1-$50 per week on food;


• 36 percent spend $1-$50 per week on clothing and accessories;


• 23 percent spend $1-$50 per week on gasoline;


• 47 percent spend $1-$50 per week on music and entertainment;


• 32 percent spend $1-$50 per week on technology; and


• 37 percent spend $1-$50 per week on recreation.


“The majority of teens told us that high prices, store hours and availability of merchandise were the main reasons they tended not to purchase items in town,” Dolin said.


“When we asked if they purchased items on the Internet, the majority said they did not. This puzzled us because before seeing the survey results, we guessed that most did buy over the Internet. We concluded that Internet purchases typically require a credit card, which most teens don't own.”


The Youth Mobilizers stated in their survey remarks that according to USA Today, teenagers are becoming ever more influential in parental spending habits. Up to 90 percent of grocery and apparel purchases are influenced by teens and parents are asking teens for advice on the types and brands of electronics to purchase.


The survey findings provide important data for local entities such as the Chamber of Commerce to know, Weeks said, adding that it is the Youth Mobilizers intent to provide the business leaders as well as the community a “youth voice” of those retail services desired in Los Alamos by local teens.


Survey respondents indicate they want to see Target, Gamestop, Hollister, Trader Joe’s and a larger variety of fast food restaurants come to Los Alamos.


Newly elected County Councilor Mike Wismer attended a recent youth session of Leadership Los Alamos at which the Youth Mobilizers presented their teen spending survey results.


“I was impressed by the skill and dexterity with which Emi, Josh and Annie conducted their survey and analyzed the results,” Wismer said. “They developed a survey instrument, handed out 1,356 surveys and got back 899 completed forms for a return rate of 66 percent. The results were significant in terms of youth influence on spending habits of parents, especially given the fact their research uncovered that 90 percent of grocery and apparel purchases are influenced by teens across the country. I would encourage potential retailers to listen to the Youth Mobilizers present their findings. In fact, I believe they should be invited to brief the County Council as their work is of value to the community.”


As their adult mentor, Joanna Davis guided the Youth Mobilizers. “She was very helpful – she gave us the outline and showed us how to write an executive summary,” Weeks said.


Executive Director Linda Daly of The Family YMCA provided additional support to the teens throughout their project. “She was always there for us,” Dolin said.


Daly explained that the teens who work as Youth Mobilizers gain analytical and organizational skills as well as teamwork.


The Youth Mobilizers thanked LAHS Principal Grace Brown, Los Alamos Middle School Principal Gerry Washburn and other administrators for allowing them to conduct the survey at the schools. They also thanked Barb Marcille for suggesting the idea for the teen spending survey and for her and Kevin Holsapple of the Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corp. suggesting some of the questions for the survey.


Chroninger, Dolin and Weeks already have their next project in the works, which is to survey 30 local high school dropouts as to why they left school and related questions.