Latte factor: the total cost of your regular, nonessential spending to show how much you could be saving each year. “Look at all that money!” A student gasped, staring at her calculator in disbelief. Sure enough, that burst of excitement flagged the attention of several other students. “Money?” “What money?” “Whose money?” “Where did it all come from?” As a crowd formed around the calculator, questions flooded my classroom after school, and a story was born.
Last week, one of the students in our writing club came to me with the idea of writing about all the things her one friend could do with her money if she didn’t buy Starbucks every morning. Before I could stop myself, my eyes lit up and the words “latte factor” barreled out my mouth. It was a stupendous moment. Staying after school of her own free will, this student had been reflective and inquisitive enough to stumble upon an idea that not nearly enough grown-ups–nevermind young people–consider, an idea that could have immediate and long-term implications for her and for her friends. It was the closest to teacher nirvana I have ever come.
I understand that there is nothing novel about the latte factor in and of itself anymore. The profusion of research my student unearthed with a few Google clicks is a testament to that. What was more interesting was what unfolded when this student pushed herself out of her desk and strolled over to two teachers who had stopped by. She excitedly strung together a sentence about Starbucks, this Dave Bach guy, an online calculator, and maybe having enough money to buy a new phone all on her own by next year.
Perfectly in sync, both teachers craned their necks. They had never heard of the latte factor*. To make things more exciting, when I prompted her to explain her research, they still looked puzzled. It wasn’t that my wonderful coworkers didn’t understand the concept; it was that they had never thought of their spending in that perspective. Schooled by an 11-year-old. It doesn’t get much better than that**.
In case you’d like to indulge in the full middle school experience, here are some of the ideas and questions that bounced around my classroom once the latte factor was explained:
- Who teaches grown-ups this stuff? Does my dad know about this?
- Maybe I should stand outside Starbucks and tell people.
- If you add up all the little things you buy in a week, you could get something you really wanted.
- I wonder if my parents realize they’re giving me this much money every year.
- Why don’t we do this in math class?
- After a year, I could buy a phone.
- If I started saving now, I could buy a car by the end of high school.
- When people say they don’t have a lot of money to donate, I bet they don’t think about their Starbucks money.
Next month, her story will go to print. I am uncertain of how widely it will be read, but I do know it had a profound impact on the dozen or so students in my room and those two teachers. I can’t promise that she’ll decide to solely write on matters related to all things personal finance, but I do know that this lesson on lattes is one that she won’t soon forget. Neither will her teacher.
* In other news, this moment was probably the first time I really regretted blogging anonymously. Not because I’ve written about the latte factor previously (I haven’t) or because I am an expert on all things money (I’m not), but because I realize there are so many more conversations I could be having with people in real life. We could be talking about finances, not The Batchelor (I refuse to watch).
** No, seriously. If I could push all of my students to “out-think” me, only then have I truly done my job. Don’t memorize facts. Learn how to ask questions.
So Tell Me…Are you surprised that this would be such a hot topic in middle school? How do you talk to children or teens about money?