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We Asked Gen Z About Their Spending Habits

“It always comes back to food.”
All images courtesy of author. 

Everyone knows that millennials are financially screwed. They can’t afford houses, live with their parents after graduation, can’t get a job in their field and are burdened by massive student debt. By now, the Poor Millennial is a cliche that everyone is familiar with.

But there is apparently hope for Gen Z, the generation after millennials that brands haven’t quite completely figured out yet. Defined roughly as people born between 1995 and the mid 2000s, Gen Z is said to be much more risk averse than previous generations with sex, drugs and yes, money. The theory is that growing up post the 2008-recession has left them with a more realistic outlook on the hellscape that is late capitalism.


We’ve still got another decade or two to go before we’ll know for certain whether or not my generation is deemed another avocado toast-eating failure, so in the meantime I decided to ask fellow Gen Zers about their spending habits.

Sydney, 19

VICE: Hey Sydney, what would you consider “the essentials” and how much are you willing to spend on them?
Sydney: First thing that comes to mind: School. I’m lucky enough to have family and OSAP (Ontario’s student loan program) that helps me pay for tuition. Second, I’d probably say experiences. Going out with friends, trying to keep up an active social life. And then, I’d say stuff like food and cleaning supplies. If it’s a wellness thing, I don’t value it as much. If it’s something like cold medicine, I’ll think about it more. And that’s something I only recently realized, and it’s really concerning. I think it says something about our generation, and how essential we think education and planning for the future is. It’s good and it’s bad. I can do it now, but I’m concerned about what’ll happen later on.

What makes something “worth it,” then?
I usually invest in something that I can see benefiting me in the long term. If I feel like I’m going out with someone I want to impress, I’ll pay for their drinks and stuff. Anything for friends is worth it. Anything mental health-wise is worth it. Meds, therapy… That’s something that’s been really hard to prioritize, but I’m trying.


What’s something completely non-essential you spend a lot on?
SKINCARE. At one point, I was making a lot of money, and I bought a lot of luxury skincare products. I think my skin got addicted to it.

Anthony, 20

VICE: What would you consider “the essentials” and how much are you willing to spend on them?
Anthony: I mainly spend on food. Right now, because living in Toronto is so expensive, I’m living with my parents to save on rent. In general, I do like to spend on experiences rather than things. Except for food. I will always spend on food.

Do you feel as though you should be spending more? Or less?
Less, always. I think that like, when you’re an immigrant and you come to a new country, you wanna be careful with how you deal with everything. I definitely have that in me; that I gotta be very careful with everything in my life. I try really hard to not buy anything at all if I can help it.

So, what would you consider worth spending on? What makes something “worth it?”
I really like experiences. You can grow out of things, but experiences are something you’ll remember for your whole life.

What is something completely non-essential that you spend a lot on?
Food, man. I go to a lot of new restaurants and try a lot of new things. It always comes back to food.

Tian, 19

VICE: Hi Tian! What would you consider “the essentials” and how much are you willing to spend on them?
Tian: Currently, I’m living off campus in London, Ontario. My parents pay the rent on it, but I pay for utilities. So, electricity, internet, water, gas. I probably spend the most on groceries, though. I tried really hard to budget and I realized like, “holy fuck, I spend a lot of money on food, I should cut down.” I would say I budget like $100 a week, but I probably spend closer to $120.


Why do you think you’re always going a little bit over budget?
I feel as though everything is more expensive in London. I’m used to stopping by some cheap place on Bloor (in Toronto) for lunch. I don’t have that option in London. I even feel like groceries are more expensive. It also has to do with what’s around you. In Toronto, I go to like, No Frills. In London, the closest store which is Loblaws, which is bougier.

What’s something non-essential that you spend a lot on?
I spend way too much money on skincare and makeup. It feels bad to spend that kind of money, and I know that if I looked harder, I could find different alternatives and brands that are cheaper. But I think that getting the brand new shiny thing makes me feel like I’m treating myself. I think that treat yo’ self culture is kinda toxic right now. All the time, you’re in the mentality that “you deserve this, treat yo’ self!” but I’m “treating myself” once a week or basically everyday at this point. When I’m in the treat yo’ self mentality, I don’t really limit myself—I just spend a lot of money that I feel guilty about after.

Rel, 20

VICE: What would you consider “the essentials” and how much are you willing to spend on them?
Rel: Food, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, things that help you keep living. I think that any amount I spend is too much. I’m always afraid of going over any sort of budget, or even making one at all. It’s a bit nerve wracking, especially if you live downtown like I do. I try to spend as little as possible everytime I go out.


What do you really consider worth spending money on?
The bulk of my purchases, aside from food, are actually for my friends. When I go out with my friends, I will pay for them and treat them on things and spend money to see them. It’s not an obligatory thing, but I feel like even though I’m scrimping and saving, I’m in a better position than most of my friends. So I’m more than happy to chip in to share the experience with them ‘cuz they’re what matter to me.

So, what makes something worth it to you?
Something that I know will last me a long time. Maybe not clothes, but like appliances and experiences. Or going out and travelling, I think that’s something that’s worth going slightly in debt for—it’s something that I’m still paying off. But the day-to-day things, I think that you can get by on the bare minimums, and maybe not even that.

What is something completely non-essential that you love to drop money on?
I take Ubers whenever I don’t want to be late for class. Even when I can walk.

Safa, 19

VICE: Hey Safa, what would you consider the “essentials” and how much are you willing to spend on them?
Safa: Food for sure, though we have the dining hall on res and things like that. Other essentials are like school supplies, and I don’t really have a budget for that since it’s hard to gauge how much it’ll cost. I’d say those are the main things I put my money towards.

What would you consider worth spending money on? What makes something “worth it?”
These days, I feel like the only things that’re “worth it” are things that are mandatory. Like food for sure, school supplies is a big thing. Even then, I don’t buy textbooks that are optional or calculators or whatever because I try to focus on spending on the mandatory stuff. But like “worth it” for me means things that are mandatory and that I absolutely cannot live without.


What is something completely non-essential that you love to drop money on?
Definitely makeup and skincare. Though like, skincare is lowkey an essential.

Jasmine, 19

VICE: Tell me about what you consider the “essentials” and how much are you willing to spend on them?
Jasmine: At the moment, res life has made me really boil it down. I would say anything that has to do with skincare or dental care. Or like my phone. If my phone breaks, I know I have to replace it. But if it cracks, I’m obviously not going to replace that. So I invest in a good screen protector to avoid that. Most of the things I buy are for maintaining my health or for preventing any damage on my possessions. I’m always looking for ways to cut down on spending, though, especially since I do a lot of volunteering. Like, the hours could add up to a part time job, but I’m not earning any money, and I have to pay for transit myself. I’m keeping afloat at the moment, but I’m still looking to cut down.

What are some of the things you do to cut down?
Most of the time, it’s digging up gift cards for places like Starbucks and Tim Hortons.

What would you consider really worth spending on?
I try to get the maximum utility out of something. If I use it everyday, I see it as an investment that’s worth it.

Mitchell, 20

VICE: Hi Mitchell, what would you consider the essentials and how much are you willing to spend on them?
Mitchell: Food, rent, clothing. Those are the real base essentials. And then like, a phone bill and wifi. For food, I’m willing to spend on more than anything else. I probably spend like $250 a month on food, though I could probably spend way less. For wifi and my phone, I’m always looking for a good deal, though I’m fortunate enough to still be on my parents’ family plan. If I had to pay for that myself, I’d probably use one of the cheaper options.


Do you think you should be spending more on this stuff? Less?
I wouldn’t say I’m living a life of luxury, but I could probably spend less money. I’m making enough money right now working in landscaping that I don’t necessarily need to spend less, though.

What would you consider worth spending more on? What makes something “worth it?”
I would say that I’m willing to spend more money on like my phone bill than I would, for example, on alcohol. If I needed to pay for my phone bill, I’d cut back in other areas because I do think it is a necessary thing to have. It’s also worth it if it’s something you’ll really enjoy. Like, I’d spend $30 to go to a concert, but I probably wouldn’t pay $30 to see two movies.

What is something completely non-essential you’d drop money on?
Going out for food, 100 percent. I don’t need to do that, but I will.

Follow Rebecca Gao on Twitter.

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