When Is a Treat Not a Treat?
I’m not a coffee drinker, and I never have been. A common debate in my house growing up was whether McDonald’s or Dunkin’ Donuts served better coffee. I can tell you that the vast majority of what my parents drank then and what they drink now comes out a Taster’s Choice canister. So maybe the bar was never very high to begin with.
But even when it became the trendy outing with my friends when we got older, I never quite developed a taste for coffee. It doesn’t matter how much or how little. Even if it’s buried under a half pound of whipping cream and a hundred chocolate chips and a thousand calories, if there’s coffee in the drink, I can taste it. And I won’t drink it.
But I would still join my friends at Starbucks on occasion. But it was actually my first boss who made Starbucks seem special. She would treat us to Starbucks if business was particularly exceptional. I would never order anything fancy, but I savored their hot cocoa. At fourteen when I was earning five-dollars-and-change an hour, being treated to a fancy drink felt like the highest of praise. (In hindsight, I realize the real treat would have been having her throw a few more cents at my hourly earnings).
Related Post: The Latte Factor Lived in My Closet
So when it a treat not a treat? I know this sounds like a bad joke half concealed on the end of a wooden popsicle stick, but it’s actually an important truth. Treats, indulgences, splurges, call them whatever you’d like. But once a treat becomes a habit, it is loses its former status.
Fast forward to my real career: teaching. The occasional Starbucks gift card I would receive as a teacher? That was a huge treat. I would stash them away and then stop by Starbucks on a Friday morning once in a while. It was the perfect way to celebrate the end of the week. Before long, I also found myself staring at that mermaid sign on Monday mornings. I needed just a little something to fortify myself for the week ahead. Eventually, I needed a mid-week pick-me-up. It was hump day after all.
Before I knew it, I was a regular.
At a coffee shop.
And I don’t even drink coffee.
A Latte Does Not a Breakfast Make
But if I could swing these indulgences with my gift cards (and let’s be honest, my husband’s gift cards), what did it matter? It’s true that the visits were no longer occasional treats but an established part of my routine. But if you’re not paying for it, is that really so bad?
In a word, yes. I am not a coffee drinker. But I do adore tea. While Starbucks can’t claim to serve the best tea, it isn’t awful. So I would order a tea and be on way. Or if I was meeting friends in the cafe, I would delight in my gold card status and enjoy complimentary refills.
But then I got to thinking. Is a tea bag really worth $2? So I upgraded the size. Another tea bag, a bigger cup, more hot water. Add another $1. Wait. That didn’t make sense for long.
If I was already spending so much, why not make it a latte? If I’m going to drink the tall for 150 calories, why not order the grande? But what’s a little treat here or there? Make it a venti.
Eventually, I created a habit for myself where I’m not only drinking hundreds of calories before I eat any breakfast, I’m also hitting my sugar quota for the day before 7 am. While this habit may not be costing me anything financially, it’s a recipe for nutritional disaster. And it went largely unnoticed for long enough that it has been a hard habit to break.
The Kicker is the Cup
The real disaster, though, is the cup. I’m not talking about the seasonal cups that do or don’t wish you a merry Christmas. I’m talking about any Starbucks coffee cup.
They look like paper cups. They are called paper cups. But they’re paper cups the same way that cream of chicken soup has chicken in it. It’s in there someway somehow, but you can’t really see it or even taste it because of all the other stuff that gets tossed in the mix. Starbucks paper cups are, in fact, coated with plastic.
That means that they can’t currently be recycled very effectively. And if you’ve been paying attention, you know that we have a plastic problem. It’s in our landfills, it’s in our oceans, and it’s caught in limbo as China and other countries who used to import our recycling have now taken a pass.
While Starbucks recently pledged to create a more eco-friendly cup that may even be compostable, it’s important to remember what they’re serving now. Plastic-lined paper cups. Over 4 billion of the get passed out annually, which means that this coffee giant is creating a giant problem.
Being the problem solver that I am, I decided to start bringing a reusable cup with me. I really got in the habit of tossing it in my work bag each night. I was so committed to cutting down on disposable cups, I even make it a goal of mine for the year.
But in my effort to go green, I had to sacrifice my time. When you bring your own cup, gone are the options of mobile ordering (which always feels a bit like cutting anyway) or using the drive-thru. After a few weeks of standing in line with the other regulars, I thought I was developing a new habit (look how far we’ve come from thinking of Starbucks as a treat!).
That was until I waited in line, gave the barista my personal cup (which totally sounds like a feminine product and not the Dr. Seuss travel mug I passed off), and I watched another barista lovingly craft my chai and efficiently pour it…into a paper cup. Once she realized her mistake, she poured the drink out of the paper cup and into my mug. And you guessed it, promptly threw the paper cup in the trash.
Final Thoughts on Skipping Starbucks
Most money bloggers will tell you it makes financial sense to make coffee at home. Others argue that you can order out for your latte and drink it too. But not every expense is one of purely dollars and cents. And in the case of Starbucks, this is one cost that I can’t justify anymore. That doesn’t mean I won’t ever meet you for coffee. But it does mean that it’ll be a real treat. I’ll also be bringing my own cup and ordering tea.
So Tell Me…Have you ever made a decision that wasn’t money related but it still paid off financially?