Thursday, November 29, 2007

If anyone mentions "the latte factor," I'm going to lose my mind.

When I was growing up, no one drank lattes except on tv. My dad is a caffeine addict with a fondness for espresso, but he never bought them at coffee shops. He brewed them himself in a little espresso pot on the stove using beans bought at a warehouse club. Later, my aunt bought him an espresso machine for his birthday. My brother and I thought it was very exciting at the time, and my dad steamed some milk for us when he first got it. Neither of us ever developed a taste for coffee.

We first got a Barnes and Noble in my area when I was in junior high, and with it came an attached Starbucks. My dad and I used to go there on Saturdays for an hour or two between martial arts classes. He'd drink an ordinary coffee, I might have milk, and sometimes we'd have cheesecake. It was nice. We'd sit and talk before drifting off to go find things to read, and he treated me like an adult, perhaps not as an equal, but as a reasonable person deserving of respect and interest. Those conversations over cheesecake mean a lot to me.

Nonetheless, coffee shop culture never became a part of my daily life. It was a special occasion, a treat. When I first heard the term "latte factor" I was incredulous. Do you mean to tell me there are ordinary middle class people who buy fancy, overpriced coffees every day? Since starting college, I've discovered that this is indeed a reality.

Many writers of personal finance articles and blogs seem to be laboring under the delusion that everyone does this. They preach that by brewing my own coffee, buying my soda in bulk or quitting entirely, and by not buying bottled water I can save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars a year. I'm sure that advice helps some people and gets them thinking about their spending. For me, it's useless. I don't drink coffee, have around two sodas a month (generally when someone else provides them), and have purchased bottled water perhaps four times in my entire life.

So while those articles are suggesting I can save huge sums of money by getting rid of habits I was never in in the first place, others are reminding my that every single penny I spend in my entire life could have been put to some better purpose. After all, there's no area of spending that couldn't somehow be cut, freeing up more money to invest for retirement. I'm sure even as you're reading this, someone is penning a post about how by switching to generic toothpaste for the next thirty years you can have an extra $87 when you retire.

Then there are the folks who insist I'll never build real wealth (whatever the heck that is) working for someone else. In their eyes, only fools and cowards take W-2 jobs and take orders from others. Everyone should consider becoming an entrepreneur, even those who know they have neither the temperament nor the skills to be happy striking out on their own. Folks who do otherwise are making a huge mistake, even people like my aunt, the lawyer, who semi-retired very comfortably in her early fifties. Can you imagine how much more she could have made selling dog toys on eBay???

As you have no doubt guessed, I'm feeling a little burned out on the pf blogosphere today. There are lots of lovely, friendly, inspiring people out there, but there are also plenty of people who do a good job of making me question every financial decision I've ever made. I think I'm going to cut my blog reading back for the next couple of weeks since finals are looming anyway and focus on only reading posts by people I really enjoy.

I'm hoping I'll come out of those weeks a little saner. Last night at the grocery store, I found myself taking an inordinately long time to decide whether paying an extra 22 cents a box to get the macaroni and cheese I really like was worth it. I felt mildly guilty for buying an apple juice from the vending machine outside my econ class on Tuesday, even though I had the money and had been looking forward to juice all afternoon. There's this ridiculous notion that being frugal means sacrificing everything you can possibly bear in the hopes of a better future. That isn't a good way to go through life. I've got to strive for a better sense of balance.


M said...

"Everyone should consider becoming an entrepreneur, even those who know they have neither the temperament or the skills to be happy striking out on their own."

Love this quote, and I think you could take the idea even further by applying it to almost any of the "fits all" tips to be found online (and elsewhere).

Many give advice and set standards without taking into account the many variations within a group of people. Just as you said, not every should be a business owner; not everyone will be better off cutting out their daily latte or its equivalent; not everyone will or should move simply for financial reasons and so on.

There are so many factors involved and that is part of what it is to be human. We are complex, as are our lives, and easy or generic answers do not work for us. What is a great formula for one person is disastrous for someone else.

As with anything else, you have to find what works for you, and leave the rest behind. I guess the hard part is figuring out what applies to you and what doesn't. But based on this post at least, it sounds like you are doing a pretty good job of that already.

sort-of grown-up said...

Wow, I totally feel you on this. We're trying to figure out investment, and it just seems like every resource is either "this is what a mutual fund is!" and "you should save some of your money for retirement!" or all about get-rich-quick tricks.

The one book I've liked best of everything kept simplicity foremost, and that made it a good fit.

Oh, but now I've rambled.

--Kate : D

Amy said...

I thought of you, and this post, when I read Trent's post about cheese today.

Hope finals are doing well.