I Don’t Feel Bad About My Latte
A response to latte-shaming.
Putting aside as little as a few dollars a day for your future rather than spending it on little purchases such as lattes, bottled water, fast food, cigarettes, magazines and so on, can really make a difference between accumulating wealth and living paycheck to paycheck.
This is probably true, but the problem is I don’t want to be alive if I can’t have fast food, lattes, cigarettes, or magazines. I would rather die than save “a few dollars a day.” The problem is I don’t want to be David Bach. I don’t want to be a millionaire and I don’t want to finish rich. All I want is to always have just enough money to buy a latte every day. The only space I want to occupy on the Monopoly board is a tiny little corner of one square that is a coffee shop.
According to my most recent bank statement, I spend an average of $195.85 on lattes every month. Considering my monthly salary as a full-time administrative assistant is $2,310.84 after tax deductions, I cannot deny that my latte spending is a contributing factor to my lack of savings and frequency of overdraw notifications from Chase. Still, my daily latte habit seems like relatively harmless spending, compared to everything else on that bank statement. My other vices, according to this past month, include:
Green Juice: $55.45/month
New York Sports Club: $49.95/month
All told, I spend around $534.41 every month on creature comforts and discretionary expenses like going to the gym. That’s 23 percent of my post-tax income. The rest of my money goes towards living expenses, such as:
Transfer to savings: $200/month
I am 28 years old and have a grand total of $700 in savings to my name; this number has fluctuated between $0 and $1,000 for the past six years, depending on how many overdraft fees I have to bail myself out of at any given time. When I run out of money in my checking account, I survive on my Gap Visa card, which at this moment shines at an outstanding balance of $3,629.42. I can’t currently afford the $200 payment, so the card is frozen.
But back to lattes. The thing about lattes is that it feels completely acceptable and reasonable to buy one every day. I usually bring my own lunch to work, which makes me feel like I can afford to spend at least $5 on something else. I inevitably need snacks in the afternoon, which I am somehow never prepared for, and a latte for me functions like a kind of nutritional supplement. I take them with whole milk, like a baby. A latte helps even out my blood sugar and elevate my mood; some people might have a handful of almonds, but I need a combination of full-fat dairy, sugar, espresso and almonds to feel alive again in the afternoon.
It’s not like I ever buy clothes or shoes (except when I do, at the Gap). I resigned myself almost a decade ago to a fate of spending $5–10 a day on lattes (and almonds) for the rest of my life. It seems like one of the least harmful strategies to deal with daily malaise and the constant need to take a nap.
I’ve been told for years by friends, coworkers, boyfriends and parents that little daily purchases are a sure way to annihilate any chances at saving money. As if gum, flavored seltzer, and coffee will inevitably accumulate into thousands of dollars of mistakes that will prevent me from ever “owning a home.” According to the numbers alone this is probably true, but I don’t really care about owning a home. I’d rather drink a latte every day than own a home.
Recently, I did the math: with the $20,000 dollars I’ve spent on lattes alone since the age of 18, I could pay my rent several times over. Instead, rent is a constant thorn in my side, like a mean friend who’s taken up permanent residence in the back of my mind. I could have used that latte spending to pay for one year of graduate school at CUNY, but instead I am taking out $20,500 in loans this fall for an MFA, which I’ve heard is always worth it. After three years of this full-time MFA program, I will owe $60,000 in student loans, which I estimate will take one hundred years of solitude to pay back. If only I had never bought a latte!
I cannot deny the mounting financial evidence that I would have more money if not for lattes, but I don’t think I would be any happier if I had more money and fewer lattes. I’m sure if not for lattes, I would have picked up an even more damaging habit, like rock climbing. The way I currently look at debt is this: it’s just a number. A number that will follow me around for the rest of my human existence and also after I die.
At this point, I am single and have no children. I don’t have a cat or a dog. I don’t even have plants, so I am okay with the idea of something terrible happening to me. I feel like I can deal with any obstacle that comes my way, as long as I have my vices — especially my latte. After all, with this much debt and a frozen credit card, I can’t really afford to buy anything else!
Allie Scully is a writer and a dadaist. She is fine with however you choose to interpret this piece.