By Sara Ivry
A latte a day will cost you $1,642.50.
Last week I made a payment of more than three grand for my child’s nursery school for next year. Non-refundable. It’s just a quarter of what I owe for the year. (Yes, insane.) I had to take a big breath before executing payment and tell myself that before long he’d be in kindergarten and that’s free and it’ll be okay, it’ll be okay, paying these expenses won’t get us dispossessed.
I had to dip into savings to make the payment, since my take-home pay doesn’t nearly cover expenses. I realize I’m lucky to have savings to dip into, even while they’re supposed to be adding up for retirement one day out there in a distant, peaceful, financially-secure future. So in the meantime, I do what I can to be frugal and take as little as possible from savings to cover my ample regular expenses: housing, utilities, clothes, coffee.
Yep, coffee. I’m a relatively modest coffee drinker—most days I have one cup in the morning. And most days it’s a single serving French press I prepare myself with a generous splash of milk or half-and-half. No sweetener. But earlier this year I treated myself to a late-day medium latte at Stumptown for a whopping $4.50. I hate to sound like a fogey (aka a Gen-X’er), but I remember when candy bars cost a quarter. For real.
Think about it: If I bought that same latte every day for a year, it’d cost me $1,642.50. Some people buy that kind of drink twice daily, spending more than $3000 annually. That’s the kind of money I could use to start a college savings fund. It’s real money, not random pennies under a pleather cushion in a rec room.
It was several years ago when I started French-pressing at home. There were different reasons for it: I loved (and still do) the suspenseful ceremony of the slow, resistant plunge; I’d long-endured a lack of kitchen counter space in my New York City residency and was grateful for the economy of the device; and, finally, I objected to the cost of a daily caffeine fix from any number of fancy cafés.
My only coffee expense was buying beans. I didn’t even bother getting a grinder; baristas will grind it for free.
But at Stumptown I marveled at the snaking line of customers shelling out cash and decided it was time for a more scientific cost analysis. How much do I actually save in making my own coffee? How much is my self-righteousness worth? And, how much more wasteful would I be if I had never bothered making my own?
So on April 8, I bought two bags of beans from La Colombe for $25. They lasted from April 9 through June 19. That’s 72 days of coffee. In that time period, I also bought approximately $20 worth of creamer—sometimes whole milk, sometimes half-and-half. That totals $45 in at-home coffee expenditures over a two month and change period. By my reckoning, that comes to $.63 a day for my morning kick. It’d have been even cheaper had I not tripled grounds on days that my folks stayed over—but that’s part of the calculus, I suppose, and I’m not so cheap that I’m going to charge my parents for what they consume.
Had I bought a daily medium latte at Stumptown for 72 days, I’d have spent $324. Hopefully, I’d have been sufficiently mindful to use the discount punch card—the one where you get a free cup with every 10 coffee purchases. That would’ve meant essentially paying for 66 medium lattes. Sixty-six medium lattes over a 72-day period will cost $297.
Even if I’d opted for the cheapest drink on their menu—arguably the one most akin to what I make at home: a small regular coffee—at a cost of $2.50, I’d have spent $180 over 72 days, or $165 with consistent discount punch card use. Imagine how much I’d spend if I bought that for an entire year. Or, scratch that—no need to bother imagining a thing. I’ve got a calculator right here. It’d be $912.50, without punch card. Roughly $836 with it. That’s simply too much green for something dark and roasted.
Coffee intake is one small, manageable realm in which I control exactly how much—or little—I spend. I’m sure there are countless other areas in which I could save. Do I really need to buy heirloom tomatoes? Probably not. But knowing that I’m not spending nearly $1000 a year on coffee, and instead am paying more in the ballpark of $230, gives me a sense that I’m not entirely wasteful.
And that sense, on my micro, personal finance level, is priceless.
Photos by James Ransom.