As helpful as money saving videos and articles can be, too many waste time blaming everything on poor spending habits. Going out or stopping for coffee seems to be a favorite target.
YouTube financial guru Graham Stephan is justifiably proud of his financial knowledge and skills. According to the videos on his channel, Stephan educated himself and worked his way from having little to no money to having millions by age twenty-six. His insights on investing, renting versus buying, and budgeting are aimed at millenials, but he offers guidance most of us could use.
Stephan further stands out on YouTube in a sea of channels devoted to things like twenty-thousand dollar Gucci hauls and stays at five-thousand dollar per night hotels. Despite his wealth, Stephan is known for being frugal, down to his trademark iced coffee. Stephan’s coffee is never purchased from Dunkin, Starbucks, or a local specialty coffeehouse. He has an entire video devoted to him brewing a pot of Peet’s Coffee at home, placing the pot in the refrigerator, serving himself from the pot, then mixing in some Coffeemate flavored creamer. He estimates each glass he drinks to cost around twenty cents when the cost of the coffee, creamer, and coffee filters are added up and divided by the number of cups each pot of coffee and bottle of creamer produces.
It’s an overblown, YouTube way of telling people they should feel guilty about stopping for coffee on the way to work or school, or going out for coffee. But Graham Stephan is not the only financial advice guru to behave as though every financial issue in a person’s life only exists because they are self indulgent and short-sighted with their money.
The whole “You’re poor because you go out for coffee” argument is an oversimplification of a web of social issues that contribute to poverty in America.
Anyone who has ever struggled to pay a basic household bill wishes financial freedom were as simple as giving up good coffee. I think we’d all happily drink three day old off brand bitter sludge from the dusty discounted product rack at the worst grocery store in town if it meant we never had to worry about money again. It doesn’t work that way.
Personal choices do play a part in our finances, but they are only one part of a picture that starts with when and where we were born, and branches out to include everything from the national economy, education and job training policies, and healthcare to fads and popular culture. Stephan would still be rich if it were not for YouTube, as most of his money was made in Real Estate, but many his age or younger would struggle to pay their bills if sitting and watching people do things like play pranks and open up boxes were not such a popular American time waster today.
Going out for coffee or stopping for coffee often means more to people than treating themselves to a luxury product.
“High end” and “luxury” are not words anyone would ever apply to most of my tastes or habits. When I need something for the house, thrift stores, Ollie’s Bargain Outlet, and Dollar Tree are the first places I look. My clothes are almost exclusively purchased at discount clothing stores, and I rarely add anything to my wardrobe without looking for a sale and/or a coupon first. But I like high end coffee, and love going out for coffee. And I am perfectly capable of brewing a pot of coffee at home. I make at least one pot every morning.
Sitting at home drinking a cup of coffee I made myself just does not compare to hanging out in a coffeehouse or diner sipping a cup or two.
Going out for coffee is about more than the coffee for many people. It’s a way to form social circles. “My crowd” are the people I met while sitting in my favorite chair at the Tram sipping coffee and listening to music or spoken word art. For those in recovery from harmful addictions, their favorite coffeehouse is often the only way they can go out while avoiding bars and casinos. Stopping for coffee can be an important way of relaxing and mentally preparing for work for a lot of people.
While the coffee is not the cause of all your money problems, Stephan and others who rail against going out for coffee do have a point about wasting money thoughtlessly.
Buying specialty coffee for your cupboard and going out for coffee drinks should never be given up except in cases of extreme financial emergency if they truly mean something to you. We all need money to survive, but money is not more important than our art, our community, and our friends and family. If you are playing or reading at a local coffeehouse, your purchase of a cup of coffee supports the business owner, who is supporting you by hosting the event. It gives you time to spend with your fellow artists, and your friends. Those friendships are more important than those few dollars you would save by purchasing a single bottle of water, or declining to make a purchase, and rushing home to drink a cup of coffee in the kitchen alone.
It is only when you find yourself buying something you do not truly need or want, out of sheer habit, or in response to peer pressure, that you may want to cut back. Stop going in on Starbucks runs at work if you do not truly like the brand, and are just ordering a coffee because all your coworkers got one. Switch to store brand coffee if you’re only buying Green Mountain because your former roommate liked it, and it’s what you’ve become used to grabbing from the shelf.
And if you have a short term project to fund…try skipping your coffeehouse coffee once or twice a week, stashing the cash….and having some of Graham Stephan’s “twenty cent” coffee. Unless you hang out at the Tram. Buy as much as possible from them when they reopen. You can hang out with me. I’ll be the one in the wingback chair by the hallway, working on my latest novel….and this website….over coffee.
For many artists working in a small city, frugality is necessary. We often need to find the least expensive ways to meet our basic needs and get the things we want, if we can. This can be especially necessary for musicians, who have the added expenses of instruments and other equipment. But there are times when being frugal goes much too far for anyone.
Money saving measures cause you to risk serious health issues.
We have all resorted to canned soup, frozen pizza, one dollar frozen dinners, or boxed mac and cheese as a main dish to save money from time to time. Some of us do the “hoodie or sweater that is not part of our outfit kept on inside the house” trick instead of turning up the heat on chilly days, take the occasional shower with the last dredges of shampoo or body wash rinsed from the bottle with half a container of water, or put up with annoying chips and cracks in cell phone screens to save on the cost of repair or replacement.
These measures are very different than not eating anything or only eating junk foods, resorting to shivering or sweating profusely to save money on the utility bills, not tending to personal hygiene at all, or getting shards in your fingers from your broken phone screen. If your cost saving measure is causing you to get sick more often than usual, feel hungry, or cause injury, it’s time to give it up.
Dumpster diving and picking up discarded items left on the curb can also be dangerous. Even if you find something that looks pristine, there may be mold or insects embedded in furniture, or a package of food or cosmetics might have small holes in it. You also have no way of knowing what your items came into contact with inside the trash.
Your behavior takes advantage of someone else.
Both “Extreme Cheapskates” and “So Freakin’ Cheap,” reality shows spotlighting extremely frugal individuals and families, feature people who pull the “free ice cream for dessert” trick. They walk into a small, locally owned ice cream parlor that does not have a posted limit on samples, and ask to sample multiple flavors until they are full. When the clerk asks them what they would like to order, they brush them off and walk out the door.
Never do this, with ice cream or any other food. Consuming excessive amounts of samples decreases the business’ inventory while bringing them no income in return. It unnecessarily wastes the clerk’s time, and forces them to do extra work, as twenty tiny scoops are harder to serve than one full one. And eventually, it will ruin things for future customers, as store owners often limit, or even completely eliminate free samples when they see someone pulling this stunt. This can result in critical reviews that impact the business overall.
Experiences and memories are being taken over by bargain seeking.
The whole point of being frugal is to be able to save yourself some money while continuing to reach your goals and live the life you want. If you’re making yourself or your loved ones miserable instead, the frugality has gone too far.
Opting for a budget hotel because your family or friends plan to spend as much of your vacation as possible on the beach anyway is a great way to save money. Booking that same hotel after you and your spouse or best friends saved up for year just to have a weekend at a luxury hotel is ruining things for the sake of a buck. Having your daughter’s graduation party at the spacious home of beloved relative or family friend rather than renting space is fine. Begging family members you barely know or communicate with to host the party simply because they have a big back yard is only going to cause resentment from all involved.
Trying too hard to be frugal is actually costing you more money overall.
Coupon use can be a great money saving tool, or it can cost you money. Using coupons, including per cent of purchase rebate sites like Rakuten, and discount deal sites such as Groupon, only truly save you money if you buy the items you were planning to buy before you found the deal and nothing else. Buying anything else just to activate a coupon or rebate is likely to cost you more money overall. Driving all over town to find the store where an item is a dollar or two cheaper with a coupon than the prices in your usual store increases the amount of money you need to spend on gas or on paying for cabs or rideshare services. That increase is probably bigger than the savings on the item.
Insisting upon doing things yourself when you lack the skill, patience, or materials to do a good job also falls into this category. It costs a lot less to just go to a salon and have your hair colored than it does to color your hair at home, mess up, and then go to a salon for repairative treatments and corrective color. Home repairs cost more when someone has to come in and fix damage you did trying to learn to do them yourself online instead of calling a professional. And attempting to dye or embellish clothing, drapes, or other textiles when you do not know how typically results in needing to completely replace the item.
“Money saving” is beginning to approach “stealing.”
Technically, shoving a wad of sauce or ketchup packets into your takeout bag when you’ve only purchased one meal isn’t stealing. Those packets are there free for the customers, and you are a customer. But it’s not exactly honest either. While there’s nothing wrong with grabbing a few more than you wound up needing and using them later, those little packets of ketchup and sauce are not there to save you $2.00 or $3.00 for the bottle at the grocery store.
Regardless of your opinion about multilevel marketing, network marketing, or direct sales companies, approaching someone who sells for them and pretending to be a potential customer only to get free samples is dishonest. Yes, you probably could keep yourself supplied with lip gloss or moisturizer for free if you asked every Mary Kay, Avon, Jafra, and Arbonne representative in your area for samples, and eat plenty of free meals by tagging along to Pampered Chefs or Tupperware parties to fill up on the demo meals and snacks with no intention of buying. That doesn’t mean you should do it.
Saving money is a great goal, but only if you are truly saving money, and if you are not making that money more important than your own health and well-being, or the health and well-being of others.