Every so often, the NYT discovers that the sky is blue, the earth is round, and if you spend $3 on coffee every day, 3x365 amounts to a bigger number than the multiplication-challenged would have thought. Small purchases add up. Motoko Rich is the latest to bring this fact to our attention:
According to a new survey, half of all American workers buy coffee regularly during work hours, spending more than $20 a week on java, or about $1,000 a year. (Workers 18 to 34 years old spend about twice as much, on average, as workers over 45.) Two-thirds of workers buy lunch instead of bringing something from home, and spend an average of $37 a week. That translates into nearly $2,000 a year — the price of a new piece of furniture or a vacation.This is no longer an issue in my own life, as I live where there are no stores at all, and the biking necessary to make it to a coffee shop means that I can buy as many $4 mochas as I want and that's still at most a mocha a month. But, readers who live where the coffee shop tempts, you have my permission, no, encouragement to go forth. Ask yourselves:
-Is coffee harmful? I know we-as-a-society are in the mindset of telling smokers how much they'd save if they quit, but this is meant to be a way to convince them to quit for health reasons, not because they've been rendered destitute, or because we think they'd actually prefer whatever it was they could buy with the money they've saved to the cigarettes they're now not buying. But this approach can't just be lifted up and applied to safe and possibly even beneficial forms of consumption. With coffee, the presumed alternative is making coffee at home, not giving it up altogether.
-Is coffee wasteful? It's wasteful to drink coffee in the same way that it's wasteful to own more than the necessary clothes and shoes, to live in a larger-than-necessary home, drive a larger-than-necessary (or, in some cases, any) car, to own 99% of our electronics. It is wasteful to wear any makeup or jewelry, as one can perfectly well stay warm and decent without. It is wasteful to put herbs on food, when the stuff's edible and nutritious without the added garnish/flavor. By all means, make coffee at home, or get the "to stay" cup, or use a thermos. But, worst-case-scenario, a paper cup every workday is, as sins go, not one to hold up as the pinnacle of Western decadence. And no, it is not a uniquely 21st-century-American thing to consume more than is absolutely necessary to survive. That sometimes-tasty sludge known as Turkish coffee? It wasn't invented at the Hummus Place on St. Marks.
-Are coffee shops evil establishments we wish to use our collective power as consumers to put out of business? Opinion's no doubt divided on Starbucks, and those of us who've worked as in barista-worked at the charming independents know how not-charming that can be. But are these really the kind of businesses we feel compelled to shut down? Don't they provide more good than bad? Conviviality? Atmosphere? Change of scenery for the beleaguered 15th-year grad student? Yes, restaurants can claim that food, unlike coffee, is a necessity. But if it's a choice between spending $4 on a home-cooked meal and $3 on coffee, or $30 at the restaurant and 40 cents on coffee at home...
-Would you really prefer the $2,000 purchase to the many $3 ones? It's hard to picture that a $2,000 piece of furniture would be a goal a nomadic 20-something latte consumer is going to hold out for. And vacations... are nice and everything, but less romantic if you have a job that requires travel (air travel especially, ugh), and often end up sucking up massive amounts of money so quickly that you end up learning more than you needed to about urban Italian supermarkets, after getting massively ripped off on dinner upon arriving late and famished the first night. Or so I've heard. With the coffee, you know what you're getting, and the small increase in happiness over that many days (small happinesses add up!) could well be greater than what a vacation or an expensive dining room table might provide. The better question is, do you or do you not have those $2,000 to spare, but even then, eliminating something else (walking down streets with Sephoras on them, for example) can mean keeping the cappuccino if it means that much to you. And why shouldn't it?
-Do you really want to be this smug? For the love of all that's compostable, congratulations to those who make a big batch of lentils every Sunday night and eat that all week, who save money and livestock in the process, and who are invariably incapable of making anything in the precious slow-cooker without leaving comments about it online in a patronizing tone. Some of us do not share your infinite tolerance for monotony and/or legumes.