The latte factor and my daily walk to Starbucks

There’s a debate that rages on in the PF community, and people on both sides of it are super passionate about it. This is, of course, the latte factor. On the one hand, all those seemingly little and insignificant purchases add up over time, especially when you factor in the compounding interest you’re missing out on by not having that money invested. There’s also the fact that anything you cut out of your regular spending reduces the amount you need to save to reach FIRE.

And then there’s the side that says fuck that noise, lattes are tasty. If you confine yourself to a shoestring budget with zero money allotted for fun, you’re eventually going to rebel and go on a massive fun spending spree involving ALL THE LATTES. Or at least I probably would. At the very least you’re likely going to be miserable, and what’s the point of financial independence if you’re going to put your life on hold until you achieve it? The big three (housing, transportation, and food) are the areas to focus on where you’ll really see big savings. Compared to that a latte every now and then is nothing.

As for me, I’m super pro-latte. Have you ever had one? Those things are tasty. I’m actually really pro-coffee beverage of most kinds, as long as (#unpopularopiniontime) it’s got a proper amount of milk and sugar. Life’s too short for black coffee, y’all.

However, at the moment, I’m making the latte factor work for me. The truth is that my income to living expenses ratio is close enough that for now I’m cutting out a lot of that type of discretionary spending so I’ll actually have money saved at the end of the month. That’s not to say I will always be in this situation (or that I never buy coffee out. I present to you my May and July spending reports and the breakfast parts of the restaurant spending), and I’m looking forward to a time where on occasion I gleefully park myself at a fancy coffee shop and pay for that delicious latte with only thought for how awesome it’s gonna be.

While I may currently be living a latte-free life, not so my coworkers. Turns out most weekdays I’m in Starbucks, tagging along with my coworkers while they use our morning break for a coffee run. Yeah, we have free coffee at work, but I honestly think you could strip paint with that stuff. No thanks, my stomach is recoiling in horror just thinking about it. So, every morning they make a coffee run and I join them.

But I never buy anything. I go along for the social aspect and for the nice excuse for a mid-morning walk, but not for the caffeinated beverages. I’ll admit that when this first started, I was really tempted to buy things. Hell, I’m still tempted. But, lest you think I have some superhuman ability to daily resist the siren call of iced coffee when it’s one thousand degrees out and five thousand percent humidity (these are scientific facts), I’ll let you in on my secret: I don’t bring my wallet. Ever. Can’t spend money if I don’t have any with me!

(Actually, that’s a lie. Sometimes I do walk out with a drink in my hand, but that’s because someone else has asked us to get them something when we go, and since I have two free hands and am not ordering anything else, it makes sense for me to handle that order.)

It honestly feels a bit odd sometimes to be that person who always comes in and doesn’t buy anything (or doesn’t buy anything for myself). The baristas know us because of course they do, we’re in there every day, and they frequently make jokes about how I never buy anything. It’s because I must hate their coffee! and then they give me a fake wounded look. And then I laugh a bit uncomfortably and make some pathetic excuse about how I don’t hate their coffee, but I have a partial cup left at my desk at work I should drink first. Oh well, it’s good practice in not giving a shit what other people think. And that’s practice I desperately need.

Let me be clear here: I am absolutely not judging my coworkers for their habits. Remember, I’m pro-latte, and just because I’m not buying anything does not mean they have to do the same. If they want to spend their money on coffee every day and that makes them happy, that’s totally a decision they’re allowed to make. I’m certainly not going to comment on it or act like how someone spends their money is my business. However, I see the numbers. Between a coffee and picking up something for lunch (not to mention potentially breakfast and another coffee on the way in to work), sometimes the total gets up towards $10. You can do the math from there. That adds up quickly.

A latte every now and then won’t kill you or break your budget, Erin, you say. And that’s absolutely true! However, the main reason I don’t even let myself get one on bad days where a fancy drink would taste so good is because I know myself. I know that sometimes embarrassingly often I’m prone to a lack of self control. I’m honestly afraid that if I let myself buy a drink once, it’ll be that much harder to say no the next time. A once a month TGIF latte could easily turn into a weekly latte and from there a daily one. The same goes for buying lunch instead of bringing it every day, despite how mouth-watering the restaurants around work always smell. Y’all, I can’t afford that!

I have made one concession, and it’s that I’m allowed to buy coffee when I’ve got a gift card. Considering that’s approximately never, it still means there’s just about zero coffee-buying. But it at least feels like it’s a possibility and is less restrictive than a blanket NO COFFEE budget.

Again, one day I will delight in occasionally patronizing coffee shops and enjoying the hell out of a fancy coffee-based beverage. In the meantime though, I’m sticking with my Nescafé (and that’s where everyone closes this tab in disgust never to return. Look, it’s not my fault I started drinking coffee while studying abroad in countries where the thing to drink is Nescafé!). It’s cheap and easy and I can easily customize it to the optimal levels of creaminess and sweetness, and only requires me to remember to replenish my milk (or sugar or coffee) supplies when I run out at work (days I don’t remember to bring in a new carton of milk are sad days indeed). Listen, I am willing to die on this hill because I am not a coffee snob and fucking love Nescafé. Anyway.

And mid-morning on weekdays you’ll find me taking a walk to Starbucks with my coworkers.

2 Replies to “The latte factor and my daily walk to Starbucks”

  1. Being in my late 40’s, I have been through what you are going through now. The best way to utilize my money. However, black coffee is good, especially from a great roaster and I save money on creamers and sugar. Ha ha.

    I can go to coffee shop nowadays and buy a coffee everyday and still be financially stable. But, the sensible person in me still buys coffee beans from the cafe and makes coffee at home. I will buy a coffee once in a while though at my favorite cafe.

    It does pay off later. Keep working to your goal and enjoy your life.

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