When we moved back to Florida following our honeymoon in 2015, I felt rejuvenated and ready to get back into the workforce. I spent about two months interviewing for different positions around town before landing a pretty good gig at a local web marketing startup.
At my previous job, I never felt like an outcast or anything, but I also didn’t have the best relationship with all of the women there. Since I was the most recent hire among my new (mostly female) officemates, I was eager to try and fit in. So, when I was invited to join them on an afternoon walk to get Starbucks around the corner, I quickly accepted.
What I didn’t realize was just how frequent these trips would be and how much buying even a tall iced coffee would add up. But I also didn’t want to give up the opportunity to bond — and vent — during these coffee breaks. Welcome to my Starbucks predicament.
Noticing the Growing Coffee Trend
The Starbucks runs were weekly — sometimes twice a week if a meeting didn’t go well — and I was buying a drink every time, along with my coworkers. Luckily, this job came with a pay increase compared to my last, so we all made enough money that a coffee from Starbucks didn’t really feel like a luxury even though it most certainly was.
After all, at the office, we had a Keurig, several K-cup flavors, and a variety of creamers, including non-dairy milk, to make a free cup of coffee any time we wanted. We even had diet sodas and teas in the office fridge if we wanted a different kind of afternoon pick-me-up.
What we really wanted, though, was to take a break outside the office. Grabbing a drink from the kitchen just wasn’t the same as physically leaving the building and enjoying a little sunshine on the seven-minute walk to Starbucks.
Did I Want Companionship, Caffeine, or Both?
I made a lot of internal excuses about increased stress, a need to fit in, and the “low” cost of my drink, which I believed for a few months. I needed the caffeine to get through the afternoon. I needed a break from the fluorescent lights and blue screens. I needed to tell my coworkers about the latest email exchange I had with a target.
I also needed my coworkers to like me, and I was worried that I wouldn’t be invited if I didn’t join in on the consumption.
So my Starbucks habit continued, and I dutifully accompanied my coworkers whenever the “need” struck. It took me longer than I’d like to admit to actually recognize the wastefulness and address it because Steven and I don’t really track our spending in excruciating detail. We prefer to focus on the big picture by looking at our change in net worth once a month, and honestly, this one expense didn’t have a noticeable effect on that number. But I slowly became more aware of my excessive spending by noticing how often I had to load my Starbucks account with another $20.
Spending that Doesn’t Impact Your Budget — Why Worry?
You may think I’m a crazy person for feeling my spending habit growing out of control even while it certainly wasn’t wrecking our finances (I mean, after all, it was just coffee). But my internal spending sensor wasn’t broken; it was working perfectly for how I’ve tuned it over the years. Our goal since graduating college has been to save more and spend less in an effort to reach financial independence at a young age. We see the value of our efforts every month when our net worth graph increases, and that motivation keeps us plowing down the path to freedom.
While I certainly could have kept spending what I was at Starbucks without totally derailing our long-term financial goals, it didn’t feel as good once I thought about the irony of this bad habit. I was spending money as a way to mentally escape from work when I could have been using it to slowly buy freedom from that work in the first place.
I decided to try to cut back on my Starbucks consumption, but something still loomed over me: Would my coworkers still include me if I stopped ordering?
No Order Turned Out to be No Problem
Even though I bought coffee a lot less frequently, I still walked with my coworkers to the corner Starbucks every week, and our friendship continued uninterrupted. Come to think of it, this wasn’t the first time I’ve experienced this phenomenon, albeit for different reasons.
Steven and I almost never drink alcohol — mostly because we just don’t like it all that much (although it certainly saves money and calories too). At times, it can feel a little awkward to constantly say “no thanks,” or “I’ll just have a water,” but it’s never really impacted our relationships with friends and family. True friendship shouldn’t have an obligation or a price tag attached to it, so don’t feel pressured to spend more money than you want just to enjoy those relationships.
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Our favorite low-cost activities to do with friends and family include going on walks (not just to Starbucks!), watching movies, playing games, and even sharing home-cooked meals together.
It’s normal to be a little nervous about eschewing wasteful and unnecessary spending in the face of social pressure — hence my Starbucks predicament — but it felt so much better to just enjoy the time with my coworkers without the guilt of feeling like I have to buy something to validate being with them. Be brave and try it for yourself next time!