Why I Buy a Daily Latte

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Yes, it’s true. “Don’t buy lattes” may be a personal finance cliché, but I literally buy a Starbucks coffee every day. I pay $1.78 for a tall (which is Starbucksian for “small,”) plus 54 cents for a refill. Daily damage: $2.32.

Why I Buy a Daily Latte

That’s $71.92 per month, if I go daily (which I sometimes do). As anyone who has read any given personal finance book ever could tell you, I’m flushing gazillions down the toilet. If I invested that same $71.92 per month at an 8 percent compounding rate, I’d have $13,245 after a decade.

And guess what? I don’t care. Yes, you heard me. I. DON’T. GIVE. A. HOOT. I’ve given my coffee consumption plenty of thought, and I’ve decided that a) I’m truly nerdy for having thought so hard about a daily coffee, and b) it’s worth every dime.

But Why?!

I’m location independent, which means I can work anywhere on earth with an Internet connection.

For most of 2011, “anywhere” meant my home office. I worked in my pajamas all day, conversed with my cat, and didn’t interact with any humans other than the FedEx guy. Pathetic, huh? That needed to end.

So I snagged a membership to a “co-working space,” a shared office space for developers, designers, writers and other freewheeling laptop-workers. It was set in an industrial brick building with exposed ducts, and it held an urban-hipster aura that appeals to the tech crowd. Cost: $70 per month.

First problem: I was the only girl. Awkward! Second problem: lack of windows. Ugh.

Two other women, a pair of graphic designers, started showing up to the space, so I hung onto my membership for two months. Eventually, though, I bounced after getting drained by the lack of sunlight. I’m like a plant; I need to photosynthesize.

That’s when I discovered Starbucks. It was magical. For a minimum $1.78 loitering fee, I can tap their Internet for a few hours each day while sitting near floor-to-ceiling picture windows. If I lingered at any other business for that long, I’d probably get arrested.

Given how much broadband I tap, I’d say the coffee shop is getting the worse end of the deal.

Nonetheless, I am a personal finance writer, and — although I could easily work at home — I buy $71 worth of coffee each month. I use discounted gift cards to cover my bill, which saves me 10 percent, bringing my total costs to about $63.

That’s infinitely more expensive than the “free” option that I have at home. It’s also infinitely more pleasant. And money should be spent deliberately to improve your quality of life.

The irony, of course, is that I sit at Starbucks writing stories about not buying a daily latte. Go figure.

Update 2014: I’ve expanded to some awesome local coffee shops in town. If you’re in Atlanta, head to Dancing Goats Coffee Shop, which is just about as cool as it sounds. (The location off Ponce has an indoor waterfall and sofa-swingsets!)

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Comments

  1. says

    I think the cardinal sin is not that you buy coffee everyday, but that you have to go to a Starbucks as opposed to the far superior Dunkin Donuts. Perhaps DD hasn’t expanded to where you currently live, but being location independent should allow you to find a place with more DD-access.

    In seriousness, though, a single-track mind focusing ONLY on expenses in a PF realm is insufficient (although a part of the puzzle). Every single purchase you make is intended to give you some benefit. Down to the bare, bare essentials almost everything is optional. This includes cars, fashionable clothes, computers, iPods, cell phones, TV, etc. The degree to which you spend on each reveal your preferences. I drink (and pay for) coffee almost every day. I don’t have a smart phone or cable TV. Am I wasteful?

    • says

      @Cameron — LOL! My best friend in college grew up in Boston, and she missed Dunkin Donuts. (We didn’t have DD in Colorado, where we went to college). She talked about it constantly.

      When I went to Bangkok, I was surprised to find a Dunkin Donuts there. I emailed my friend a pic of me at a Thai Dunkin Donuts. She was besides herself with envy. :-)

      • says

        Little known fact: Cameron picked Texas since he knew DD would be readily available.

        I ended up in the Bay Area and the closest thing we have to DD is the bags of whole beans that my wife and I buy online from dunkindonuts.com (and, by the way, she’s from SoCal – a Starbucks convert).

  2. says

    I love going to Starbucks 2 – 3 times a week. I’ve gotten my drink down to under $2.75 and make my drink at home the rest of the time. Yes, I could be investing that $50 bucks each month but it’s my only indulgence. I need ONE indulgence and it’s not breaking the bank. Go Starbucks! 😉

  3. says

    Actually, you can save the $0.54 if you loaded money onto a Starbucks card and used that. After your first five purchases, they’ll give you unlimited refills on brew coffee and tea no matter what drink you originally ordered, if you paid with your card! There are other great rewards as well. You can manage the money put on the card with an app. I’ve also found group on deals about twice a year for get $10 for $5 at sbx. So there are ways to even save at sbx.

    • says

      Also, gold level members get a free drink (lattes included) or food item after every 12 purchases using the card. Two a month when going every day.

    • says

      @Yozka — After 5 purchases? I pay with a Starbucks card, but they always charge me 54 cents for the refill. Some other commenters have said that the free refills come once you hit “Gold” status, which I’ll be reaching in less than a week … Free refills would rock my world. Fingers crossed!

  4. says

    I grow tired of all the advice of what I should not do! Sometimes, you need to zig when everyone is zagging. I get a weekly blended mocha & a cookie when I read periodicals at a book store. So what!

  5. says

    Well…I am all into saving money and investing. I was thinking today that my biggest “expense” of the month is investing. Anyway..I get a Venti Americano EVERY DAY (at least M-F). That is $3.13, so I guess I must be close to the $100 a month on that. But you know what…I don’t give a hoot either. Now, I am debt free and soon mortgage free…I don’t think it smart to spend that kind of money if you are broke. I just do it because I love it and I deserve it. Regarding DD. I also like DD, and it is only $2.12 for the large coffee…but everybody knows that the ugliest Starbucks is prettier that the nicest DD :0)

    • says

      @Marcos — Congratulations on being debt-free and almost mortgage-free; that’s awesome! And being in a position where your biggest “expense” is investing is a fantastic position. As long as you have those bases covered, enjoy your Venti Americano and don’t let any cliche personal finance advice try to talk you out of it! :-)

  6. says

    What you’re describing is not really in the spirit of the “don’t buy daily lattes” advice.

    1) You are not really paying for the coffee, you are paying for office space, 2) the point of the “latte-factor” advice is that it is a daily extravagance, which is hardly what you are describing, and 3) unless I’ve read this wrong, technically you are not even buying lattes.

    Rather than choosing a deliberate indulgence, it sounds more like you landed in an interesting position of buying coffee everyday as a proxy for renting a dedicated space, and you thought “Why I Buy a Daily Latte” would be a catchier title than the more accurate “Why I Buy Coffee Every Day”.

    Tangential side-note: “tall” doesn’t mean “small”. You can order an actual Small from SB – it is 8 oz and isn’t listed on the menu. :)

    • says

      @Des — You can order an 8-ounce small from SB? I didn’t know that.

      I’d say paying for an office space outside of my home, when I could easily work from home for free, is a daily extravagance. The cost of working from home is $0, and the cost of working from SB is $70.

  7. says

    Love this post! We all have our little indulgences that others would deem ridiculous (mine is having someone clean my house every two weeks). As long as our indulgences are well thought out and budgeted for, they aren’t ridiculous.

  8. says

    As I see it you are not buying a latte you are renting office space at a great daily rate. You are living large. Good for you. My office space is my organic orchard in the spring through the fall.

  9. says

    Once you become a Gold Card member, it’s free drinks every 12.

    Well worth it.

    Think of it as a nice cash back of 8.3% on your little caffeine investment in your body.

    ($2.32 / $27.84)

    You also get free refills, other perks like free syrups (not sure what the rules are in US vs Canada), and it used to be free soy, but not anymore in Canada.

  10. says

    I came to comment about the perqs of loading a Starbucks card and using that instead, but faster commenters have beat me to it. So I urge you to ask your favourite barrista what the benefits are tomorrow :)

    • says

      @American Debt — You know, it’s funny … the other day I was thinking about what would happen if I embarked on a Starbucks tour of the U.S., working from coffeeshops around the country. Maybe someday ….

  11. says

    We have a separate coffee budget set up for Mr. PoP. Though most of his Starbucks spending is on the beans to use in his home espresso machine.

    Have you ever tracked your productivity at home vs at Starbucks? I find if there’s something I really need to get done, sitting down with a bowl of soup and glass of iced tea at Panera, I can barricade myself in for hours and just whip through it. Trying to accomplish the same thing at home might be so full of distractions that it would take much longer, if get accomplished at all.

    Maybe the Starbucks investment is paying for itself in boosted productivity? =)

    • says

      @Mrs. Pop — I hope so! I think the best thing for my productivity would be blocking myself from reading stories online :-) Short of doing that, though, the daily trips to SBUX do make me feel like I’m “going” to work. And it forces me to get dressed in the morning, which, in my world, is actually an accomplishment. :-)

  12. says

    That old adage always bugged me. Sure if you invested that $70 at an 8% interest rate it would be better than buying a coffee everyday, but first off, who the hell is getting 8% interest these days, and secondly, we need to enjoy life and sometimes that means buying a coffee!

  13. says

    Cowabunga! My favorite, most-hated topic is “the latte factor.” I never witnessed anyone drowning in cash by avoiding a latte. Love the post. The fact that you use Starbucks to your advantage is a big win for you (although Cameron is correct: DD is FAR superior….). 😉

  14. says

    I often do the same thing when I am able to work from home/anywhere on most Fridays. Question for you. Do you sit there all day straight? It may be a little TMI but I can only work from the coffee shop until lunch bc I refuse to pack and unpack my laptop every time I need use the restroom.

    • says

      @Blair — Oh, I just leave my laptop on the table when I need to use the restroom. If there’s a friendly-looking person nearby, I’ll ask them if they could keep an eye on my laptop while I head to the restroom. Otherwise, I just leave it on the table and go.

      I figure the chance that a thief will run off with it in the span of 2-3 minutes is reasonably small. (Of course, now that I’ve said that, I’ve probably just jinxed myself).

      I do bring my purse into the restroom, of course, since a wallet/phone is much smaller and easier to steal than a laptop.

  15. says

    Holy comment thread Batman! You just never know what is going to set a spark when blogging…

    Anyway, I think the only shame in buying that latte is that you live inside the perimeter and get your coffee from Starbucks instead of one of the many excellent and local coffee shops :-)

    Oh yeah, at $1.78 I don’t think that’s a latte. That must be just brewed coffee with milk… 😉

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