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.