My Last Hundred Bucks: How to Get Free Starbucks & Waste Money at a Laundromat

$4.85: Bodo’s Bagel Breakfast

If my money tracking experience is to begin somewhere, then this is certainly the place. My go-to breakfast order? Bacon, egg, and cheese on an everything bagel. With a black coffee, of course.

$0.00: Starbucks Coffee

Yes, I know I am supposed to make my own coffee before heading to class. Unfortunately, that doesn’t fit my current schedule of being late always.

When it was my turn to order, I approached the barista and asked for a Grande Pike Place. I pulled out my Starbucks Gift Card to pay for my drink and handed it over to her. Swipe. Swipe again. More swiping. The machine simply could not register the gift card. She swiped the card a few more times and then gave up. “Here’s your coffee,” she said, “Our machine is acting up with gift cards this morning — enjoy the drink on us.”

What a start to the day! As I was walking away with my free coffee, I couldn’t help but think of our class discussion regarding the current state of our monetary ecosystem. We use so many forms of money in our everyday life — cash, coins, credit cards, debit cards, checks, gift cards — and sometimes take for granted the technological infrastructure that supports it all. As Bill Maurer contends in “The Evolution of Money,” it can be easy for people to “lose sight of the infrastructures that support each new form of money, not to mention the infrastructures that allow the different forms to be converted into one another.” When these infrastructures break down, like the Starbucks gift card machine in this example, transactions cannot successfully take place in an economy. Although it worked out nicely for me this time, this certainly won’t always be the case.

$9.93: The Virginian Lunch

On the way home from class, I spotted a bunch of my friends sitting outside at one of the tables at The Virginian. I sat down and enjoyed some spinach and artichoke dip, macaroni and cheese, and drinks with them.

When it came time for us to pay the bill, the waitress brought over our individual checks to the table; however she ended up knowing one of my friends at he table and they started chatting as the rest of us were pulling out our cards. When their conversation ended, the waitress turned towards our table and said she would pay the bill herself — with her 20% discount to the restaurant — as long as we each Venmo-ed her afterwards. Confused, but excited for a discount, our table accepted her offer. She returned with the new amount and we split it up five ways and paid her through Venmo.

The further research I did into this phenomenon revealed that the concept of Venmo-ing a restaurant is an idea becoming more and more popular. I read another article on Medium where the author presented the following idea: When you walk into your favorite restaurant, their point of sale system will scan the area looking for you. Simply have Venmo on your mobile device. Once you’re inside, you’ll get a push notification to your phone or smart watch. This notification will inform you that this establishment uses Pay With Venmo. Once you unlock your phone you’ll see your unique identifying code. All the server has to do is scan your code and you’re done.

I wonder if this idea has the potential to change the way we pay at restaurants and other dining services in the future. Mobile apps like Venmo are certainly shifting the many uses and faces of money. In “The Evolution of Money,” Bill Maurer contends that money is inherently a product of social relationships. We often overlook this fact when considering the role of money in an economy. Maurer also deconstructs the notion that each new form of money is necessarily more efficient than those that preceded it. Venmo certainly brings numerous advantages — and perhaps efficiency — to transactions between family and friends, but sometimes cash and credit cards are the easiest and more reliable solution. Venmo is convenient, fast, and easy to use, but often not accepted by restaurants and businesses. This fact alone helps substantiate Maurer’s claim.

In the first day alone, I have already had some unique money experiences.

$16.00: King Family Vineyards

Darn, I had to spend sixteen dollars drinking wine celebrating a friend’s birthday. I guess there are worse things in life. Did I mention it was seventy degrees and sunny? In February. I love Virginia.

$4.68: Uber to Restaurant

I opened up the Uber app later that evening to take a group of us to the Downtown Mall for the same friend’s birthday dinner. I was feeling generous this evening and did not split the cost. Is this what adulthood feels like?

$17.44: Citizen Burger Dinner

I had been craving a hamburger and fries for a while, so there were truly no regrets on this purchase. I was secretly hoping my roommate would choose this restaurant as the spot for her birthday dinner. Alas, I was in luck.

$10.00: Preston Suds Laundromat

This was a truly interesting (read: unfortunate) experience. As my washing machine had started leaking the night before and our dryer was currently out of order, I was forced to visit a local laundromat to wash some clothes. Before leaving my house, I grabbed coins, cash, and a debit card as I had no idea what form of money this place would accept. Upon my arrival, I was directed to a machine on the wall where I was prompted to enter ten dollars worth of cash and receive a laundromat card. Frustrated, as I was only planning to do one load of laundry (surely under the ten dollar card minimum), I put in a ten dollar bill and received a plastic swipe card to use only at the Preston Suds laundromat machines. My money had quite literally changed forms; unfortunately into the form of a laundromat card that had little value to me after this one evening.

This experience made me reflect on Brett Scott’s article and his contention that modern means of money have changed the definition and mediation of our financial systems. He discusses the importance of a society putting their faith into a monetary system, similar to the faith I had put into this laundromat card. Without trust, people would be unable to overcome the barriers in a monetary exchange system. As Scott holds, the US Dollar is primarily good for “overcoming barriers between buyers and sellers who don’t particularly know or trust each other.” As my night suggested, this situation arises in more ways than we think.

Furthermore, this experience reminded me of Viviana Zelizer’s argument in “The Social Meaning of Money: Special Monies” that social structures introduce profound controls and restrictions on the flows of money. She holds that certain extra-economic forces constrain and shape the uses of money — earmarking certain monies for specified uses. In this example, my money was earmarked specifically for use at Preston Suds.

$3.01: Starbucks Coffee

Something about that extra penny bothers me every morning.

Yet here I am again.

I pulled out my Starbucks gift card, but this time confirmed with the barista before ordering to make sure that the card swiping machine was working properly this morning. It was. No more free coffee for me.

$33.41: Trader Joe’s Groceries

Leave it to Trader Joe’s to finish off my last hundred bucks. If my money tracking experience has to end somewhere, this is surely the place. My last hundred bucks was spent on miscellaneous produce items, trendy-named crackers, and two dollar wine. Cheers to that.