I Just Dumped My Latte Habit. Here’s Why….


“What can I get for you?” the smiling young woman behind the counter asked. I replied “Tall decaf non-fat latte”. Correcting me with just a hint of arrogance she asks “Decaf tall non-fat latte? I think to myself, after hundreds of visits, they can’t seem to train me. Feeling slightly diminished I answer “Yes”. At the same time, I think back to when I first heard the “He’s a bit of a slow learner” handle I was tagged with in public school. Then I think…maybe she’s right, maybe I am a slow learner. I snap out of it. Oh…right, the woman behind the counter didn’t say that…in so many words, it was a flashback. Happens every time. That’s strike one.

Then she asks “Can I get you anything else today?”. I briefly consider a piece of the lemon loaf but knowing it will drive the cost over $6 bucks, I just answer “No, thank you.” I raise my hand with the coins clearly visible between my fingers dreading what comes next “OK, that will be $3.62.” Now we have a problem. Where am I going to come up with 2 cents? Canada pulled the penny from circulation in 2012. I can’t pay $3.62, it would be illegal. OK, not exactly illegal but certainly impossible. The staff here must know about it …everybody in Canada knows about it. It’s actually a point of pride for Canadians. It’s so quaint to travel to the U.S. and still have to scrounge around for those measly few cents down with the fuzz in the bottom of our pockets. Canadians are done scrounging.

Anyway, back to my tab, I wait for the women to say, “It’s OK $3.60 will do” (the practice in Canada is to round up or down to the nearest 5 cents). But she never does. They never do, not once in the last 3 years. What ensues is an awkward silence during which I think, is she waiting for me to offer $3.65? Darn if I’m going to over-pay. The silence is broken when I say, “Will $3.60 do?” to which she replies “Sure”. I drop the cash into her hand. Still, I feel like a deadbeat. A financial planner and money coach who can’t pay his bill. Couldn’t she just ask for $3.60? That’s strike two.

Late last week the scene started to play out yet again, but this time there was a difference. It went like this “OK, that will be $3.95”. “Excuse me? Say that again”. Being only marginally comfortable paying $3.62 (OK, $3.60) I was momentarily speechless. Regaining my composure, I ask “Wow, did your prices go up?” The young man behind the counter, in a tone that suggested I was the only person who noticed and anyway what’s the big deal replied “Oh…hmm…. ya…sure looks like it” but he wasn’t done … “must be a seasonal increase”. What the heck does that mean?? To me it sounded like “Seasons Greetings! and BTW, as our way of celebrating, the price of your decaffeinated beverage just went up 10%”. Were prices going to come down in January? I didn’t ask. That’s strike three.

I find dropping habits is motivated by a confluence of events. When I quit smoking in the 1980s it was the same: Cigarette prices were going up dramatically, smoking was on the verge of being banned in the workplace and my parents frowned on my smoking in their home (I was living there at the time). The writing on the wall told me I was on the wrong side of the smoking debate. So, I quit.

I’m done with my latte habit too. Just like smoking, a little voice in my head said “It’s time”. It’s lost its allure – something has shifted. No single event but a confluence (haven’t even mentioned how the cookie choices were switched-up a year or so ago…haven’t had one since). The truth is, dropping my afternoon latte is justified on the dollars alone.

Coincidentally, I have been tracking my latte expenditures. Over 30 days I was stunned to see they totaled $51 (before the 10% increase)! Post increase, this would jump to $56+. I’m certainly not the first person to write about how we’ve become slaves to our coffee habit. Which is even more reason for the combination of shock/guilt I felt for having fallen into the coffee trap. Getting back to the numbers, here’s some simple math:

What My Latte Habit Costs

  I year 3 year 5 year 10 year
Earn 0% in the piggy bank $675 $2,025 $3,380 $6,675
Invested @ 4%* $702 $2,866 $4,477 $9,103

*annually compounded

Although I hadn’t done this calculation before making my decision, the results only reinforced my choice. Then came the fun part – what to do with all the money I’ll save? Here are my initial thoughts:

  • 1 year of savings ($702) = New golf club iron set. Every year! No wait, that’s crazy…
  • 1 year of savings ($702) = New golf club iron set PLUS 20 golf lessons every year thereafter

Note to me: Love the idea of that. I may finally get my handicap under 15. Lattes have never done anything for my game.

  • 3 years of savings ($2,866) = 7-day Caribbean cruise for two. Just enough for the cruise part, credit card points will cover the air fare

Note to me: Smart. Cut the wife in on the deal plus all the lattes you can drink on board are free!

  • 5 years of savings ($4,477) = Enough for a new 65” HD flat screen, AV unit & surround system. Perfect, that’s about when the current system will need replacing.

Note to me: When watching an epic action flick, I couldn’t care less about lattes.

  • 10 years of savings ($9,103) = 10 days in a Tuscan villa (room and food). Air on points. Dreamy!

Note to me: Italians seem to prefer espresso over lattes so no conflict there.

As a money coach, I encourage clients to consider their values when setting their spending plans. It was time I took my own advice. If dollars are a limited resource, I prefer any of the options above to my latte habit. In a credit driven world, where financial boundaries are eroded, that’s not how we see things. Many would scoff at concern over a $4 a day habit. The unconstrained sense credit gives us is illusory – now or later the bill must be paid.

At this coffee establishment, digital dollars are the favoured purchasing method and boy do those dollars fly! A quick tap or scan of your card and $14 bucks are gone, yet your wallet feels no lighter. School kids seem to be big buyers. Their parents must be millionaires.

I use cash to pay for the daily minutia of life and I recommend every one give it a try. Research says when cash is used vs credit we spend about 10% (there’s that figure again) less. Using cash makes us more discerning and from what I read in the media these days, we’d all benefit from some of that.

You may see it differently. Just throwing in my 2 cents.