Coffee shop economics (people are a good use of time)

When I was writing All the Money in the World some 13 years ago (have you read it?) I frequently came across the trope that people were wasting their retirement money at Starbucks. If you skip a latte a day ($5) for 300 days a year ($1500) and invest this annually at 7 percent interest for 40 years, you have about $322,000! I guess then you can finally enjoy your lattes, though with inflation they’ll cost a lot more (and $322k will be worth less).

I always felt like there should be some middle ground here. Maybe it would be possible to spend $125/month less on housing or a car and have the $ for retirement and lattes. Or maybe lattes become a three times a week treat, and you split the difference between your current and future selves. Or you figure out some way to increase income and have enough to enjoy things now and in the future.

Either way, my current self is spending a lot of money on Starbucks these days. Not because I’m not willing to make my coffee at home. I am! And I do in the morning. But coffee shop trips have migrated firmly out of the need-caffeine category and into the teen/tween social time category. As such, I feel like they’re a good investment.

My 16-year-old, for instance, is always willing to chat with me on the 10-minute drive to our local Starbucks and home (I get the strawberry acai lemonade refresher, he’s now getting the mango dragon drink. These days he usually drives to get his supervised hours in). Do this three times a week and we’ve built in an hour.

We are not the only Starbucks drinkers in the house. My 12-year-old daughter has also started getting into those strawberry acai lemonade refreshers. We bring her one, and she’ll often sit with me at the kitchen table chatting while we both drink our drinks.

I have also found that Starbucks is an effective motivator to get the kids to not rebel about going to church. Anyone who comes can get something there afterwards.

Multiple Starbucks drinks, multiple times per week isn’t cheap. But these older kids aren’t going to be home that many more years, and keeping people happy and connected is probably as good a use of money as anything else. As I like to say, people are a good use of time. So I’ve built in another Starbucks run this afternoon…

25 thoughts on “Coffee shop economics (people are a good use of time)

  1. Love this reminder as i sometimes get grouchy about Starbucks requests from my tween, but viewing this as a connection point shifts my perspective. And I might try that motivator for church also. Thanks for all you do.

    1. @JGold – yep. And I might add, when collecting those Starbucks cups from around the house, I remind myself I could have much bigger problems. Helps with the grouchiness!

      1. My kids are similar in age to yours, and I too have been using a “Starbucks run” or surprising them with some other small indulgence they enjoy as a positive connection opportunity. Can’t put a price on the compound interest of that investment!

  2. We have lovely cafes in town and sometimes my son (6) and I will go to the library and take our books to the cafe for tea/oat milk and cake. It’s a silly expenditure but one I don’t feel particularly bad about. We have great local owned cafes, so we are supporting the community as well.

  3. Lijkt mij een hele goede investering! Dat pensioen komt er evengoed wel, maar nu zijn je kinderen belangrijker (en onder genot van een heerlijke koffie of ander drankje)is dit een prima gelegenheid om bij te kunnen praten: een win win situatie👍

  4. Yes! This, this, this! My college-aged kid is willing to meet me for check-ins about decisions (housing for next year, holiday plans) if it involves me buying Starbucks at the location midway between our house + his campus. (Which isn’t far away for either of us, but still … there’s something about it being neutral territory that helps so much. It would feel different if I made him come home or met him on campus.)

    And my high schooler agrees to weekly check-ins about all sorts of things if it involves Starbucks. Same thing, I think – it’s easier to talk over challenges with classwork or other issues in a third place, with many fewer interruptions.

    Fancy coffee drinks + pastries + such aren’t inexpensive, but it’s also not lunch … and because coffee is usually more like 30ish minutes, it’s also much easier to fit into all of our days.

    PS – One of things I loved about All the Money in the World was your defense of the occasional latte.

  5. I love this post and agree wholeheartedly. My son and I would hold a “goals planning session” at Starbucks every year. Guess what? In his senior speech, he mentioned this as one of his favorite memories.

    1. @Elizabeth – ooh, I love this. We tend to just grab our drinks and go but maybe we should try staying (and not just when the wifi is out!)

  6. Love this post Laura (and clearly others do, too). This was a hard lesson for me to learn because I’m so frugal and would always calculate what it cost out vs. doing it at home. But now I realize it is so much more than coffee/tea. It is connection. It is about elevating a relationship and enjoying an experience together. To me, a trip to my favourite coffee shop (which, incidentally, I hope to visit today) is like a mini vacation. And what a gift for a handful of change!!

    I realize not everyone can do this – there is a season to this being affordable/prudent, but I think even if lattes are functionally outside of someone’s budget, looking for other ways to be intentional about pursuing things that bring connection/pleasure are so important (maybe invest in a really nice flavoured creamer and drink something on the deck with your kids if time/finances won’t allow?).

    And my final thing to note: I have never consumed a single product from Starbucks IN MY LIFE. What rock am I living under?

    1. @Elisabeth – how have you completely avoided Starbucks??? But yes, finding ways to connect within any budget matters. There is more to life than pure financial optimization.

    2. I think you can rationalize making it at home if you actually do it. My favorite Starbucks drink is nearly $9 and I just quit my job so I can’t get this more than once a week or so. I figured out how to make it at home and keep all the ingredients on hand/prepped in the fridge. My kid likes it too, so sometimes I make it for both of us and we sit and hang out for a bit. So it’s *almost* like going to Starbucks, right? It feels like a decent replacement. (And truth be told I like my version better lately.)

  7. I love this and it’s what I needed to hear today. There must be some middle ground between being careful with money and being willing to spend on the things that matter. Time with kids definitely matters.

  8. We did Friday Feastday. Surprised the children one afternoon with a huge choice of ice-cream toppings to load up and we sat down to the treat and reflected on the week together. Just involved 8 bowls with topping options paired with 3 flavours of ice-cream to choose from. Really decadent but not a lot of effort or cost. An ice-cream shop at home experience. Became a ritual that we repeated many times varying the offering but all involved choice for the children and deliberate connection on my part. The years are short…

    1. @Hayley – everyone loves ice cream! Sounds like a great way to win them over. Life doesn’t have to all be hard.

  9. Love this! As a tea loving Brit now living in the US, every time I go back to the UK I’m struck by how many people sit down and take the time to actually enjoy. This was a lovely reminder to do the same and transported me down memory lane for a while too … Thank you!

    1. @Roons – yes, it’s lovely to sit and have a coffee! (or a tea, but I’m less of a tea drinker). It can be a great ritual for sure.

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