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- I’m happy to spend $5 on an Americano, even though I earn a fairly modest income.
- Getting out of my tiny apartment keeps me sane and I love supporting local businesses.
- I prioritize my coffee expenses over other things, like new clothes or regular haircuts.
As a freelance writer with a fairly modest income, I’m definitely not someone who “should” regularly spend close to $5 on an Americano, which is often what it costs these days after taxes and tip. (at least in Seattle, where I Direct). Yet I do, and I honestly think it’s justified.
Although the rising costs sometimes make me wince when I swipe my card, and I know how much I could save by making all my drinks myself – between $500 and $1,000 a year, according to one estimate – I know that in the end, posting in a coffee shop is worth it to me.
You can’t put a price on sanity
Personal finance experts often refer to dining out as an obviously frivolous expense – the first place to cut in a budget. This advice misses a key aspect of reality for those of us who spend most of our days at home, constantly rubbing shoulders with our relations or roommates: preparing every meal or drink at home would mean never escape it. This is especially true for those of us who live in small spaces, like the basement apartment I share with my wife and baby, and it can lead to feeling both claustrophobic and isolated.
I know when I’ve gone too long without leaving the house because my anxiety begins to slowly rise, like a whistling kettle on the stove. The smallest irritations, like someone sniffling or coughing, are intolerable. That’s when I know it’s time to go. That $5 cup in a public place pays for mental health. Almost immediately after entering a bustling little cafe, the heartwarming din of music, commerce, and overheard snippets of strangers’ conversation melt away my frustrations.
I like to support local businesses
In our atomized culture, coffeehouses are public spheres that foster community – country clubs for the masses, so to speak.
There are practical benefits for physical businesses, as foot traffic is associated with less crime. According to a calculation by Harvard Business Review, an open retail business provides “more than $30,000 a year in employee benefits in terms of avoided theft alone.” However, most of all I love living in a world where local stores and the people who run them can thrive.
Many service industry workers I have known have activities outside of work such as music, art, writing, studies and activism – these are activities that enhance the workplace culture. a place, and they are people that I want to be able to continue living in my city, especially as it is increasingly geared towards high-income workers.
There is intimacy in sharing drinks
Some of my fondest memories from college involve sitting in cafes “studying” with my friends, thinking philosophically in a non-conscious way that only naïve youngsters can. When my husband and I first started dating, we would often post at a coffee shop to have “some alone time together”. And when I had a baby last year, taking her to cafes to meet other parents made me feel like little could be again.
In the United States, running a latte (especially, God forbid, a PSL) is often referred to as basic – the domain of wealthy white women. But globally and historically, the practice of sitting around a table with friends sipping hot drinks is deeply rooted in many cultures.
In East Africa, where coffee originated, it is often taken for granted that the drink is best enjoyed communally, ceremonially, over a long period of time. Viennese café culture, which became famous thanks to intellectuals and artists like Freud and Trotsky, is such an important national symbol that it is included in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list. The organization called cafes special places “where time and space are consumed, but only coffee is on the bill.” (Or, as one of my friends said, the price of the drink is like a parking ticket).
I prefer it over other expenses
There are a lot of things I don’t buy. I recently had my first haircut in a year. I also didn’t buy new jeans or shoes during this time. While I would appreciate having more of these things, giving them up doesn’t diminish my happiness as much as never leaving my house on any given work day.
In my former job as managing partner at The Financial Diet, we talked a lot about building a budget based on one’s unique preferences, not a template that says “X amount for restaurants, Y amount for clothes”. It instilled in me the philosophy that ultimately it doesn’t matter if something is “overpriced” as long as it fits into my budget and makes me happy. Paying an exorbitant amount for an Americano, it turns out, makes me happy.