How Real Millennials Feel About Shopping, Budgeting, and the Guilt of Materialism


Dear Millennial pals, word on the street is that we're a tough demographic to market to. Nobody quite knows what we want, but since we spend a good $600 billion in the United States every year, retailers have a lot to gain if they can figure it out. We spent a lot of time online, but don't necessarily do the majority of our shopping there. Instead, we practice "showrooming" — trying on the item in the store and then racing online to find a better deal. We like a clever commercial and can appreciate the value of a well-placed ad, but we're stick of being blatantly marketed at.

As a Millennial, I have my fair share of shopping demons. Malls overwhelm me, I always spend way too much money on Christmas presents, and I've never had a consistent budget, though I do keep loose track of my finances in my head (which looks something like this: "One million and one, one million and two..."). While it's interesting to see the statistics of my generation's consumerism, I can't help feeling that it's a little one-sided. What about the psychology behind Millennial spending?

Most of us are pretty much grown up by now, with independent incomes, bills to pay, and a ton of debt, so it's safe to say that we've given a fair share of thought to this whole exchanging-money-for-goods thing. Retailers may know where and how we spend our money, but why do we do it that way?

I put my e-reporter hat on and took to the e-streets to hear from real-life Millennials — guys and girls, high schoolers and 30-somethings — to figure out how those born after 1980 really shop. Here's what I learned: We're all pretty much in the same low-budget, slightly guilty boat.

1. Millennials don't have budgets — and we feel guilty about it. As a matter of fact, the only people who had budgets were two of the high school girls I interviewed, and that's partially because their parents encouraged them to do so.

2. Millennials are impulse buyers of low-cost indulgences, because it makes us feel good, and because we can. None of us are buying yachts in the spur of the moment, but give us a few years.

3. Millennials are aware of the difference between fast fashion vs. quality items. We wish we could afford a stripped-down closet of quality staples, but for the most part, we simply can't.

4. Millennials prefer shopping in-store. It may look like we spend all day online, but don't worry, Mom, we still like the tangible.

5. Millennials are extremely susceptible to buyer's remorse. Almost every respondent expressed feelings of guilt and distaste over both their own impulse buys and materialism in general. Though Millennials are often portrayed as shallowly consumeristic (nose in their iPhone, covered in head-to-toe brands), shopping isn't necessarily our drug of choice. It can make us feel pretty dark, actually:

Millennials might shop a lot, but it turns out they're not terribly happy about it — many of us wish we used a better budget, invested in quality over quantity, and somehow avoided the shallow materialism that we've witnessed firsthand in American society for a couple decades now. If I were a retailer, I'd listen not only to how Millennials consume, but how they wished they consumed. That very well might be the key to unlocking the Millennial equation (or — yikes — the Millennial wallet).

And to my fellow budget-less Millennials, keep ya chin up — we're in this together.