Today’s youngsters are financially empowered, fuelling numerous choices, be it clothes, cars or cafes! How did that happen?

“I’m broke.” The refrain is far from uncommon among college goers in the city and otherwise. It is part of the experience of embracing adulthood. In the first few years of managing one’s own finances and stepping out of the house, living off a tight budget is the norm. Amongst students, jokes abound on who has the lowest phone balance, least cash in the wallet, longest period of pennilessness. This has forever been the college scenario.

Yet, there is the flipside to this state of affairs. Today, at a blink of the eye, youngsters head to malls, cinemas and posh shopping complexes to while away the afternoon and spend a few hours with aimless window shopping. Some may venture to flip out the wallet, flick out some plastic and become the cause of envy amongst their peers.

Potential customers

Over the years, the college experience has evolved. Today, the youngsters and 20-somethings are the prime targets of over-the-top marketing, sales pitches and extravagant advertising. Their pockets are heavy, their eyes are starry and they represent the potential buyer in every industry. Be it entertainment or retail, cosmetics or sports, youngsters today are a very real target audience.

Today, ice cream parlours demand an average of Rs. 200, a sit-down dinner totals to about Rs. 400 a head and many spend an upwards of Rs. 600 on birthday gifts for friends. The kind of money that has found its way to the hands of the dependant population is tremendous.

When did everything change? When did this section of society begin receiving such attention? Why this newfound phenomenon? Is it true that malls have overtaken the beaches as popular hangout spots? Is sun, sand and surf being fast replaced by air-conditioning, mannequins and rows of imported brands?

Talk to Saravan Krishna M., II Year, City College, on his favourite hangout spots and his list includes The B Bar, Pheonix Market City and Express Avenue. Someone in the midst of this extravagance is Besant Nagar beach, a locality known for catering to the needs of the youngsters. “With the exposure that all of us get these days and the levels of peer pressure around us, brands are becoming increasingly important. Moreover, we are all progressively getting more independent, so the money flowing out is not a surprise!”

Uthra Venkatesh, Ist Year, MOP Vaishnav College also has a similar list. “The beach has cheap cafes and most clubs have free entries for girls on specific nights. Affordability is hardly a problem. Even at the malls, expenditure is minimum. Girls spend hours window shopping or just trying on clothes and contentedly walk out without a penny spent. It is only when you enter these places with the express purpose of spending that they can get a bit expensive,” she explains.

Shift in venue

The weather coupled with the influx of indoor shopping areas and malls seems to be pushing everyone inside comfortable buildings. “Malls are also dotted with food stalls and dispensers, making refreshments easily available without having to worry about cleanliness or hygiene,” adds Sreenidhi Krishnan.

Perhaps an important explanation to this phenomenon is the advent of internships and part-time jobs. With every semester break or a few weeks off, there is a frenzied search for jobs or projects that would not only add a resume point or two but add a little weight to the pocket.

Internshala, a website dedicated to the popularisation of internships, sees about 1.5 lakh students visiting their portal every month. With a policy of publishing only a majority of paid internships, they give their students an opportunity to earn their way through summer with programmes paying an average of between Rs. 8000 to Rs. 10,000. According to Sarvesh Agrawal, Founder and CEO at Internshala, “Companies recruiting interns are increasingly veering towards paid internships or at least those that cover expenditure. There is also a trend towards working from campus particularly amongst law students who earn between Rs. 2000 and Rs. 5000 even during the course of their semester.”

Perhaps a case in point is Internshala’s ‘My First Stipend’ contest which asks students what they would do with their first cheque, first payment and first salary. According to the founder, shopping figures high up on the list, whether it be for oneself or for those back home, clothes or gadgets. And where else would one turn to shop but the malls?

Vanya Rachel, III year, IIT-M, explains how malls provide a holistic experience of entertainment: “A lot of it has to do with the small things, the things you do not consciously pay attention to. The AC in this weather, the spread of food at your beck and call, the movies that are just a floor above you... it all contributes to why you would choose to head over there instead of the beaches. When you are at the mall, you are actively participating voluntarily as a consumer in capitalist society. You are there because you want to be and hence, you enjoy yourself.”

The decision seems to be nearly universal. The battle is not one of ‘Malls vs. Beaches’ but rather ‘Malls and Beaches’. Youngsters today do not choose one over the other but rather flock to whichever suits their convenience the most. The litter and debris on the beaches on Sunday evenings speaks volumes of the hordes that still prefer the sand over the tiles of the malls. Cafes and cafeterias in Besant Nagar will still be mobbed by youngsters out for coffee or a cold drink, as the weather may have it. Yet, in equal amounts, you are likely to run into someone you know at Express Avenue.

Most-wanted

Advertisers, brands and marketers are using unique, innovative and smarter methods to grab eyeballs and ensure that the urban youngster spends as much of his/her money with them. The reason being…

1. The power of disposable income: A few decades ago we had the SINKS (Single Income No Kids) then came the DINKS (Double Income No Kids) and today it’s the time of OINKS (One Income No Kids). Most youngsters don’t depend on their parents anymore and neither do they have others who depend on the money they make. Whatever income they earn is theirs to save or spend in a manner they wish to.

2. The pocket friendly credit card: With a 40-day credit period (on most cards) and crazy discounts, unique offers and tempting schemes across every retail destination, there’s not too much thought that goes in before that next big purchase.

3. The online shopping experience: With anything and everything under the sun on sale online, the whole world is your playground when it comes to shopping. You can ship products from anywhere, own the latest stuff and have hundreds of online websites fighting for your money power. Best of all, it’s all within the comfort of your own home/office.

4. The quick money guarantee: Intern at a firm, write for a magazine, DJ at a pub, participate in group surveys, help in social media opinions, act in a play...the avenues to make a quick buck doing small jobs at even shorter periods are way too many than ever before. This makes it easy for anyone talented and smart to make good money without too much effort.

5. The my-kid-has-to-have-it-all syndrome: Fewer parents have the time to spend with their children amidst their busy schedules and at times end up substituting this guilt with ensuring they get anything and everything they ask for instantly. Additionally, there’s the pressure of ensuring your child owns the latest trends / gadgets / merchandise when compared to your colleagues, friends, etc.