It's OK To Buy The Damn Coffee

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This weekend, I bought a bouquet of $8 peonies for my new apartment, a small celebration of sorts. The few dollars were tiny drops in the bucket of money I had just spent, considering the movers, increased rent, fees and everything else that comes with a move.

Unlike those costs, however, the flowers were rather impractical. Beautiful, yes, but purposeless. And so as I walked home with them in hand, I couldn't help feel a twinge of guilt. Sure, it was only $8, but with all the other money I had just spent, was it necessary?

I write often about the ways we trick ourselves into spending more money. In the often black-and-white world of personal finance, goal setting is good, and spending more is bad. You shouldn't buy coffee when you can brew it for less money. You should start contributing to a retirement account as soon as you're earning. You shouldn't buy something you don't need, no matter how small, when your emergency fund dips below the "expert approved" level.

Writing and thinking about these things every day means I don't just feel guilty about buying $8 bouquets of flowers. I live in a state of constant guilt because, and this may come as a shock, I do not follow all of those money "rules" I wrrite about. I make impulse purchases often, I'm certainly not saving 20 per cent of my income and I reside in one of the highest-cost of living areas in the country. In the game of financial responsibility, I struck out a long time ago.

Where does this guilt come from? I'm sure part of it can be explained by perfectionist tendencies that don't need to be examined further on a financial blog. And another part of it, I think, is a pervasive mentality on money message boards and in financial publications and comment sections that you need to do absolutely everything "correctly," as determined by a bunch of financial experts you've never met, and that there is only one way that is correct. Spend money on anything you don't absolutely need, and you're irresponsible and deserve to flounder.

But I don't buy that. We all deserve to treat ourselves. We all deserve to buy beautiful things, just because. We all deserve to enjoy the fruits of our labour without worrying about maximizing every penny. We don't need financial writers to criticise our life choices.

If the end goal is to get rich, or at least reach financial independence, foregoing a cup of coffee on the way to work and $8 bouquets of flowers won't get you there, anyway. You need to be smart about your money, and educate yourself so you're not tricked and gouged, but know that you're not going to delay your retirement because you ordered dessert after a dinner out or paired it with an expensive bottle of wine.

Investing, paying off credit card and student loan debt, your holistic financial health - those are worth focusing on. Other things, like a bouquet of peonies or cup of coffee, simply aren't.


Comments

    "If the end goal is to get rich, or at least reach financial independence, foregoing a cup of coffee on the way to work and $8 bouquets of flowers won't get you there, anyway."

    The cup of coffee, or the flowers, are innocent and inconsequential when taken in isolation. However... you need to watch for the innocuous becoming a habit. The 4 buck cup of coffee is fine as long as it doesn't contribute to a $4 per day Thing-You-Do-Because. That's $1000 per year if you consider buying one on working days, and it's also post-tax money. How long do you have to work to net a grand after tax?

    You then multiply that out over someone's working life, and you realise that they need to work another 6-12 months to support that habit.

    Frugality. It's not just winning a Mortal Kombat match as cheaply as possible. :)

      This is true. But it's also important to actually enjoy life as you're living it. It's important to live in the present a bit rather than constantly denying yourself all of the simple pleasures along the way because you're focused on 20 or 40 years in the future.

      As you say, you just have to be aware of the moment when things that should be occasional indulgences start turning into regular habits instead.

      I feel like you (and a lot of people) are not accurately calculating the productivity and financial gains resultant from mental wellbeing activities such as taking the time to have a cup of coffee, or enjoying the gift of flowers.

      $1000 per year spent on contributing to personal and mental wellbeing is a relatively low cost. An additional 6-12 months of work over a person's lifetime given the increase in life expectancy and working age is also relatively low...

      Of course, completely agree with you...everything in moderation. If it becomes a growing habit, that'd be a problem...

      Last edited 03/05/18 9:15 am

        Oh absolutely, $1000 per annum is a tiny investment into personal wellbeing. If that coffee keeps you from stabbing a coworker, take the coffee. (Been there, done the time, his liver was tasty.)

        One can justify many different expenditures that way though, including those which don't actually contribute to one's... dare I use a ubiquitous and unquantifiable term... wellness.

        I guess I'm trying to distinguish well-earned treats vs retirement-delaying habits in any case.

      I spend $8 on coffee on a work day and $4 on a weekend. Yeah it's a couple of grand over the course of the year but it's also the reason I get out of bed and am actually able to perform at work. There are so many other areas where you can economise. Why are people always picking on coffee?

        Because coffee is an addiction. There are plenty of people in the world who don’t need coffee to function. Myself included.

        Don’t deceive yourself. You are so much stronger than you think.

        Do your pocket AND the planet a favour.

    As an advocate for being efficient with spending as others have said it's important to not stress too much about or deny some of life's small affordable little indulgences. While your daily coffee may cost you an extra $1k/year - what's the equivalent cost benefit of your happiness or productivity? Not only that I think sometimes as personal finance advice tends to sway to this almost unrealistic ideal of financial efficiency and frugality that the true message gets lost. While you potential can lose $1k/year from these frowned upon daily luxuries, on the flip side someone could choose to work overtime for a week to make up for that whole years splurge. It's all relative. Enjoy the Damn coffee (everyday)!

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