It started with a beverage.
Of course it did.
No, I’m not talking about an actual latte. Truth be told, I don’t drink coffee of any kind. Not even the kind that comes with a heaping of high fructose corn syrup and a caramel swirl.
This was a Diet Coke.
I had some time to kill before I needed to pick up my son, so I stopped to fill up my tank of gas. As I tapped in the numbers into my spending tracker, I realized that I was under budget for the month. Way under budget. In fact, I only filled up once all month.
89 cents for a drink. The sign stared at me, but it didn’t have to stare for long.
As much as I hate to admit it, I was out of the car without so much as a second thought. After all, I was earning more money. And so many people spend so much time talking about the fallacy of the latte factor. It was time to try something new.
I was going to savor having enough.
I was going to adopt an abundance mindset.
I was going to have a Diet Coke.
And that’s where it all went downhill.
A Month of Ignoring the Latte Factor
In the spirit of full disclosure, know this. I believe in the latte factor. One of my favorite teaching moments to blog about was when I had the chance to teach a student about the latte factor. But I don’t just teach it. I lived it. The 200-plus pairs of shoes that I’ve since sold off attest to the fact better than I can.
But after years of living in a world where the drum beat for the other camps–Camp Increase Your Income and Camp Big Three Expenses–virtually drowned out the one that says little purchases matter, too, I decided to yield. Surely, that many people couldn’t be wrong.
RELATED POST: The Real Problem With the Talk About Lattes
Now, here’s what you need to know. I’m not filing bankruptcy as a result of this month. I’m not jeopardizing my financial future or my family’s. I’m sure as heck not mailing back my Plutus Award for Best Frugality Blog. It wasn’t that bad. But it wasn’t good.
We went over our grocery budget for the month by $70.25
We were over our spending/fun money by $47.01.
In other categories where we came in at or under budget, I could easily pull out $5, $10, $20, or more that I wouldn’t normally spend. Fuel, home repair, and even our gas and electric bills as I YOLOed it up an extra degree or two on super chilly nights.
That’s easily an extra $200 in just one month. That is more than half of what we put into our son’s college fund. That’s nearly a quarter of our mortgage. That is our grocery budget. It’s not a lot, and then suddenly, it really is.
I also didn’t really benefit from allowing myself the freedom to splurge. In fact, I felt the opposite. I take a great deal of pride in being mindful with my money after being reckless for so long. So this wasn’t nearly as fun as I had imagined.
The Cost is Higher than Just Dollars
This month was tough on a our budget, but it was tougher on two things that are more important: our health and the environment.
Sometimes, my indulgences are healthy. Usually, they aren’t.
I’m not going to pay someone to dunk a tea bag in a cup of hot water. But I will pay someone to execute just a few more steps to make me a chai latte from concentrate. The difference might is a few dollars, and it is also a few hundred calories.
RELATED POST: Why I’m Skipping Starbucks
Don’t get me wrong. Not every splurge was calorie-laden. Some were entirely calorie free. Like the Diet Coke that I spent all month swilling down after fighting tooth and nail to quit the habit (again and again). When I look back on all the little extras I lined my life with this month, I can’t say any of them made me healthier. These splurges either had no impact or were a setback health wise.
Let’s go back to that pop. I actually didn’t think when I bought that Diet Coke. I didn’t even realize until the full impact of what I had done until it was already in my hands. What I was holding was so far beyond a to-go cup at Starbucks. I was holding bonafide Styrofoam. This cup was going to out live my kids’ kids’ kids’ kids. Even if we can’t measure convenience in dollars (I know, some of you are going down swinging that this isn’t actually a financial burden), we can measure it in environmental impact.
Generally, the more convenient something is, the more plastic it comes wrapped in. That block of cheese that I have to slice? It comes conveniently pre-sliced as string cheese with each tube encased in a plastic sleeve inside a plastic pouch. The financial cost might be measured in cents but the environmental one is measured in plastic.
Final Thoughts on the Latte Factor
Once again, we are locked in a debate where both sides refuse to budge. We are overlooking the easiest of answers. You do both. Of course you do. You might not be willing or able to both at all times, but you don’t slash the big expenses just to undo your progress with smaller ones. You don’t grow your income just so you can spend more of it.
In a system that is all about growing the gap, I can’t think of a stranger practice than taking all that time and effort to put yourself ahead with dollars, just to eat them back up a few cents at a time.
The latte factor is real.
Unchecked, it is an issue.
Is it the biggest money issue anyone faces? Of course not. The latte factor isn’t what is putting people into debt. The latte factor isn’t to blame for the student loan crisis, housing bubbles, or stagnant wages. But just because it isn’t the cause of those financial hardships doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem. Sometimes it’s the simplest problem to understand and the easiest to tackle.
So Tell Me…What would your month look like if you let your life fill back up with lattes, real or metaphorical?