21 April 2006

Grander Than a Latte

The first item on any economic advice columnist’s list of ways to fix your finances and retire with ease is inevitably: “Cut the latte habit.” They wave their magic money crunching wand and show you, bibbity bobbity boo, how sticking with Maxwell House at home will net you enough stashed away to buy a vacation home in Palm Springs.

Wednesday, one of my expenses was a coffee that set me back $4 and some change. “Geez, how can I admit that on the blog? I’m so awful, breaking the first law of frugality. $5 for coffee… what a waste.”

But that’s not the purpose of this experiment. I’m not tracking the money flow to be a martyr to my checking account, or lack thereof. Been there, done that… and expect an entry on that this weekend, since my other expense Wednesday (lunch out with a former boss) brought up a whole slew of other thoughts about penny pinching, food and social relations. I just want to understand how I relate to my world through consumption. And I don’t mean just consuming in terms of fat grams and calories, although, that frappacino also surfaces as a big no-no on the “how to wear a bikini in two weeks” lists.

In random internet reading I came across the term “the Starbucks Set.” The writer was using this as a code word for young professionals who worked and played in cafés and wanted to live in urban areas where walking to the daily cup o’ joe was a possibility. Although, again, there’s much to be said about café consumption and lifestyles, for now I just want to start thinking about how those lattes aren’t just lattes.

Wednesday afternoon the stress level around the office was rising. More projects were being put on my plate and I felt myself losing perspective on what needed to be finished and how to tackle the work. The Starbucks run coincided with a legitimate errand and conveniently gave me a few minutes to get out into the spring air, take some deep breaths, and figure out how to make it through the remaining hours of my afternoon without tears or screams. Often, my Starbucks runs are treats, incentives to check off three more things before I get to escape. They’re a little bit of splurging as well as regularity in an otherwise dreary yet crazy day. I don’t go every day, probably no more than once, maybe twice a week. Should I be saving that money? Absolutely.

And that’s why I purchased a $30 espresso machine a few months ago, letting me have my lattes and my bank balance.

But I still have days where I need that infamous white cup in my hands. It’s a lifestyle purchase as much as, or possibly even more than a food purchase. And it’s a lifestyle purchase that for now, feels justifiable in my own personal sense of budgeting.

This is all still pretty half-baked, or half-perked to continue the coffee motif, but in reading Lone Knitter and Emma’s comments about Secret Pal 8, I was worried that I was promoting a restraint that I don’t really believe in. My Starbucks trips give me pleasures aside from the coffee itself and so are worth every penny. It sounds like the Secret Pal exchange offers a lot of potential pleasures that make the investment worth it. I too have thought that I shouldn’t spend $60 on a stranger when I wouldn’t spend it on myself, but perhaps you’re buying the fun of getting the mail, getting the surprises, and participating in a larger community. The goods are great, but the social aspect of it all makes it more than just getting yarn and treats. And honestly, would you spend the $20 a month on little treats that make your day happier? I know I’d have an easier time dropping the cash on someone else than myself. I could enjoy a fancy pants candy bar that someone else sent me, but I’d probably only feel guilty about splurging even on a low end lollipop that I’d picked up.

I guess I’d describe my own economic goals (which I don’t live up to, so please don’t think of me as someone who has all this figured out) as conscious consumption on all levels. I’d like to claim that I thought about what I put in my mouth, in my shopping cart, and in my home. I’d like to think that I considered every purchase, acquisition, or nibble as a reasonable intake that brought about pleasure. That’s why I cut out the yarn… for now. It didn’t bring pleasure when it passed through my front door, even the good stuff. Same for fabric purchases, trips to the thrift stores, rummage sale outings, etc.

But Wednesday’s venti mocha light frappacino hold the whip, yep, it brought a whole afternoon worth of pleasure. Well, at least it made my afternoon with my computer a tiny little bit better.

I’m not a financial advisor and have no idea if this crack pot theory of conscious consumption really holds water. I’m pretty sure it won’t get you that vacation home in Palm Springs, but so far, when I actually practice it, it makes my little corner of B-Lo a little nicer.

Wednesday, 19 April: $18.38 for lunch; $4.xx for coffee

Thursday, 20 April: zilch

Friday, 21 April: zilch ditto


krisknits2 said...

If the purpose of your experiment is simply to gain an awareness of where you are spending your money, does it really matter if it is something as unnecessary as Starbucks? I don't think it does. I have found that if I indulge myself occasionally, I am a lot easier to live with. Just as my dh!

I too have found that I tend to spend on things that I don't need. I was amazed at how quickly the trips to Starbucks were adding up. (For me SB was the most convenient, with a 24 hr drive through.)

Lone Knitter said...

Well, I think I'm going to participate in Secret Pal 8 now...and it's all your fault! Just kidding, but really, you have the best best way of thinking through things logically and lucidly. I'm sure your disseration is shaping up brilliantly! I have to take my last two major exams in a few weeks and am stressing out...