We All Have “A Thing” About Money
Updated: Oct 25, 2019
As Kirsten strides through the door, she’s greeted by the warmth of a smile and a friendly nod of the head. The familiar faces and pleasant aroma of freshly brewed coffee make her feel at home. A few minutes of small talk develops with a friend before she’s on her way with her favorite drink and some breakfast nibbles in hand. This daily ritual helps Kirsten get the day started so she can strengthen herself for what’s ahead.
Kirsten’s story is pretty typical as the National Coffee Association reports that slightly more than 1/3 of coffee drinkers purchase their coffee from a source outside the home (1). The “latte a day” is often blamed as a reason for households lacking adequate emergency or retirement savings. I get it, the compounding effect of $5 spent per day at the coffee shop equals $150 per month or $1800 annually. Reducing the cost of the coffee habit does hold potential for increasing financial security, but after reviewing more than a thousand household budgets I believe that “everybody has their thing.”
Sometimes “that thing” is cable TV with a sports package. Sometimes it’s eating out. For others it’s home décor, shoes, craft beer, trips to the salon, clothes, weekend trips or a car payment. Although Kirsten’s name has been changed, her story is real. Kirsten’s coffee trip habit was a significant expenditure given her income. Many people, financial professionals included, might be quick to encourage her to curtail that expense. The reality is that Kirsten’s latte-a-day had little to do with caffeine.
Here’s the rest of the story. Kirsten was just a couple years out of high school and separated by over a thousand miles from her family. She lived alone and was struggling to find community. Her supervisor and coworkers were not the type of person she would normally spend time with, and her military occupation was a far cry from the one she had hoped for when enlisting. For Kirsten, her daily stop at the coffee shop gave her a reason to get out of bed, get dressed and get out the door. She felt welcomed and respected by the barista who crafted her beverage. The atmosphere of pleasant sights, smells, and sounds were the complete opposite of her rough and tough work center. The coffee shop fulfilled emotional and social needs for Kirsten that she wasn’t getting met anywhere else. As our conversation wrapped up, she was shocked to find that we had crafted a monthly spending plan that allowed her to continue filling up at the coffee shop while also meeting other financial needs.
When it comes to money, an oft-heard phrase is “you can have anything you want, but you can’t have everything you want.” The vast majority of us would be well served to identify “our thing” and then prioritize it while sacrificing elsewhere. The compounding effect of ritualistic spending is powerful and I encourage you to spend some time reflecting on your routine purchases. You may find that some are little more than mindless. You may also discover that there is something that provides much more than you realized.
Most of us have felt what it’s like when we make a financial decision that doesn’t align with the opinions of someone close to us. Money isn’t an easy topic, and our relationship with how we earn, save, spend, and give can be complicated. Let’s try to be compassionate with ourselves and one another while remembering that we all have “a thing.”
Oh, and in case you’re wondering - what’s my thing? It’s my kids. And maybe wine.
1 Reuters Health News, March 17, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-coffee-conference-survey/americans-are-drinking-a-daily-cup-of-coffee-at-the-highest-level-in-six-years-survey-idUSKCN1GT0KU