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Young people splurge more as 'little treat' trends boom on social media


Sometimes we can all use a treat, right? And research suggests that young people spend more to treat themselves than do older people. From member station WUFT in Gainesville, Fla., Kristin Moorehead explores why.


JAMIE HERON: Can I please get an iced ube latte?

KRISTIN MOOREHEAD, BYLINE: Jamie Heron is trying out a new coffee shop.


MOOREHEAD: She's getting herself a pick-me-up.

HERON: Right now, I'm studying for the NCLEX, so I'm here to get my little coffee treat - wanted to switch it up from the usual.

MOOREHEAD: As a nursing student, Heron says this treat will help her get through the day of studying, and she isn't the only one.

LUPINE SKELLY: The younger generations do splurge slightly more.

MOOREHEAD: Lupine Skelly is a researcher with the accounting firm Deloitte. She and her team studied spending habits around the world and found, across generations, splurges tended to be mostly around food and drinks, followed by clothing and personal care. Treats can range anywhere from a fancy coffee to a larger purchase, like a nice watch.

SKELLY: It's sort of interesting psychology behind these purchases. These aren't impulse buys. These are purchases that consumers say they're planning to make.

MOOREHEAD: They found that Gen Z men, for example, spend, on average, $50 per treat, while baby boomer men spent 20 bucks. And Gen Z women shell out $28 on treating themselves, about $10 more than their older counterparts. Skelly says people's justification of treat purchases surprised her.

SKELLY: We thought originally that this was about escaping reality, but what we found is that it's really about people seeking out a purchase that brings them comfort.

MOOREHEAD: More like a reward for an accomplishment rather than avoiding sadness. Instagram and TikTok are full of people buying themselves indulgences. Social media plays a big role in normalizing these treat purchases, says Geoff Tomaino with the University of Florida.

GEOFF TOMAINO: People being able to say, OK, well, things are tough, but I'm doing OK. And somebody who's doing a good job surely can indulge in a Starbucks.

MOOREHEAD: Tomaino studies consumer judgment and decision-making.

TOMAINO: That says it's OK to have these small indulgences. You know, even if you feel like you're broke, it's OK to still spend money on these types of things because your mental health and your feeling of just doing well can take priority over your bank account.

MOOREHEAD: But that's not always good logic for making financial decisions, at least according to Jorge Ruiz-Menjivar. He's a financial planner.

JORGE RUIZ-MENJIVAR: Might be something that could easily become an issue if you're tying your rewards to specifically a product or a service.

MOOREHEAD: Which you may not be able to afford in the long run. Instead, he says, reward yourself with free experiences, like going on walks.

RUIZ-MENJIVAR: I think we can be very intentional and mindful about the idea of celebrating without necessarily tying that to consuming a product.


MOOREHEAD: Back at the coffee shop, Jamie Heron is enjoying her latte.

HERON: I think it's nice to reward yourself once in a while.

MOOREHEAD: And while Heron says she thinks treats are worth it and they do bring her happiness, she does agree she probably shouldn't do it every day.

For NPR News, I'm Kristin Moorehead in Gainesville, Fla.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Kristin Moorehead