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- I’m happy to spend $5 on an Americano, even if I make a fairly modest income.
- Getting out of my small apartment keeps me sane, and I like supporting local businesses.
- I prioritize my coffee spending over other things, like new clothes or regular haircuts.
As a freelance writer with a fairly modest income, I’m definitely not a person who “should” regularly be spending nearly $5 on an Americano, which is often what it costs these days after tax and tip (at least in Seattle, where I live). Yet I do, and I honestly feel it’s justified.
While the rising costs do make me wince sometimes when I swipe my card, and I’m well aware how much I could save by brewing all my beverages myself — anywhere between $500 and $1,000 a year, by one estimate — I know that ultimately, posting up at a cafe is worth it to me.
You can’t put a price on sanity
Personal finance experts often talk about dining out as an obviously frivolous expense — the first place to cut from a budget. This advice misses a key aspect of reality for those of us who spend the bulk of our days at home, constantly rubbing elbows with our relations or roommates: Making every meal or beverage at home would mean never escaping them. It’s especially true for those of us in small spaces, such as the basement apartment I share with my spouse and baby, and it can lead to feeling somehow both claustrophobic and isolated.
I know when I’ve gone too long without leaving home because my anxiety begins slowly rising, like a piping kettle whistling on the stove. The smallest irritations, like someone sniffling or coughing, feel intolerable. This is when I know it’s time to leave. That $5 cup in a public setting pays for sanity. Almost immediately after I enter a bustling little coffee shop, the comforting din of music, commerce, and overheard snippets of strangers’ conversation melts my frustrations.
I like supporting local businesses
In our atomized culture, cafes are public spheres that foster community — country clubs for the masses, so to speak.
There are practical benefits to brick-and-mortar businesses, as foot traffic is associated with less crime. According to a calculation from Harvard Business Review, an open retail business provides “over $30,000 a year in social benefit just in terms of larcenies prevented.” Mostly, though, I just enjoy living in a world where local shops, and the people who run them, can thrive.
Many service industry workers I’ve known have pursuits outside of work like music, art, writing, studying, and activism — these are activities that enhance the culture of a place, and these are people I want to be able to continue living in my city, especially as it becomes ever-more catered to high-earning workers.
There’s an intimacy in sharing drinks
Some of my best memories from college involve sitting around cafes “studying” with my friends, musing philosophically in the non-self-conscious way that only naive young people can. When my husband and I first started dating, we’d often post up in a coffee shop to have “together-alone time.” And when I had a baby last year, taking her to cafes to meet up with other parents made me feel like myself again in a way few things could.
In the US, clutching a latte (especially, God forbid, a PSL) is often joked about as basic — the domain of wealthy white women. But globally and historically, the practice of sitting around a table with friends sipping hot drinks has deep roots in many cultures.
In East Africa, where coffee originated, it’s often taken for granted that the drink is best enjoyed communally, ceremoniously, over a long period of time. Viennese coffee house culture, which rose to fame thanks to intellectuals and artists like Freud and Trotsky, is such an important national symbol that it’s included on UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage. The organization referred to coffee houses as special places “where time and space are consumed, but only the coffee is found on the bill.” (Or, as one of my friend’s referred to it, the drink price is like a parking ticket).
I prioritize it over other expenses
There’s a lot I don’t buy. I recently got my first haircut in a year. I haven’t bought new jeans or shoes in that time, either. While I would enjoy having more of these things, forgoing them doesn’t diminish my happiness as much as never leaving my home on a given workday would.
In my former job as a managing partner at The Financial Diet, we talked a lot about building a budget based on one’s unique preferences, not some template that says “X amount on 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 within my budget and makes me happy. Paying an exorbitant amount for an Americano, it turns out, makes me happy.