Featured, Financial Psychology

Buying Coffee Is Worth It

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I go to a coffee shop almost every morning to work on this blog. Before starting Millennial Money Diaries, I got a latte 1-2 times a week–it was a special treat. Now I pay $2.73 daily for a cup of coffee and admission to work at my local coffee shop in the mornings.

When I was a college student, I couldn’t imagine paying money for the sake of getting work done. I had friends who would go off on their own to work at a nice coffee shop or even just the local Starbucks on campus. They would even go just to organize their life. I just didn’t get it. It seemed like an incredible luxury to be able to buy coffee just to get 1-2 hours of homework or life work done.

On top of that, I was indoctrinated early by my parents, who never bought coffee out of the house. I pretty much thought people who pay for coffee instead of making it themselves were just lazy, wasteful chumps.

Being on the other side of this, it must mean I’ve made it! I’ve made it to the side of luxury.

Here’s why I no longer cringe at the thought of buying coffee:

My Apartment is an Endless Tunnel of Distractions

When I’m at home, I get distracted by all sorts of things. If I’m anywhere within a 5 foot radius of something I can lie down on, I’m going to lie down. I’m a creature of comfort and having my bed and couch a few feet away constantly necessitates yet another “2 minute” break which turns into a 10 minute cuddle session with my throw blanket or comforter.

The kitchen is right on the other side of the couch, and when you’re stuck on a problem, it’s tempting to take a breather by just going through all your cupboards or fridge for snacks.

There always seems to be something that requires cleaning in our apartment. Whether it’s putting the dishes away, or vacuuming, or organizing all the old mail on the dining room table where we do work…when you’re stuck on a problem, it’s so easy to see all the other things you can be making progress on when you’re surrounded by all the other things you need to do.

When you go to a coffee shop you immediately eliminate all of these distractions. If you’re stuck, you sit there until you’ve figured it out. There’s only a reasonable number of times I can keep going to the bathroom for a break! Of course I could choose to stop getting distracted at home, but there are so many little decisions involved in every step. I believe in adding friction between you and bad habits and removing friction between you and good habits. This is an example of adding friction. I’m adding physical distance between me and my distractions so I literally can’t be distracted. Eliminating choice is so much more effective!

Limited Time = Greater Productivity

When I first started doing work at Starbucks occasionally a few years ago, I would never bring my charger. There was just so much involved in crawling under my desk, bumping my head, and bumping into the chair to remove it. Then there was the added stress of finding a free table with an outlet. Then there was the crawling under my desk to get it plugged back in at home. I couldn’t handle all of that so I started leaving my charger at home.

So when I got to the coffee shop, I knew I could only be there (optimistically) for 3-4 hours before I had to head home to charge my laptop. That made my time there valuable. I couldn’t afford to waste an hour on reddit or worse, on Youtube which would start draining my battery really quickly, so I always made the most of my time.

Incentive To Make Commute Time Worth It

In college I hated spending time goingย to the coffee shop. It always took me 15 minutes to get out the door because I had to collect my things. Like…crawling under that desk for the computer charger. Then making sure I always had a sweater on me in case I got cold. Then making sure I had my keys and phone…and the phone charger, which was a whole other annoying unplugging/replugging event in itself.

It would take me another 10-15 minutes to walk across campus to whichever coffee shop I’d set my sights on. And the entire time I was heading there it would grate on me that I was spending almost 30 minutes alone just getting there! I was already counting the “waste of time” it would be to lose another 15 minutes getting back home. My brain would round up my commute time, and I would feel so burdened by the fact I was going to be in transit for an entire hour AND I was going to pay money on top of that to get work done? Time is money and money is money, damn it.

But I always got so much more done at the coffee shop because I wanted to make up for lost time. I was trying to equalize the sunk cost of commuting there. At home I would have taken my sweet time anyways–making a cup of tea, settling in, doing some “light” internet browsing before getting started. That would have taken more than an hour!

So I came to learn what all of us inevitably learn at some point. There’s a cost to productivity. Yes, you can try and focus at home and eliminate distractions, etc, or you can pay for a cup of coffee and settle in for what reliably produces good work. I’m lucky to be at a point now financially where $2-$3 on a coffee everyday isn’t a really stressful amount to put towards a non-necessity. It does still add up to almost $1000 a year if I’m drinking it 365 days out, so it’s definitely non-negligible when you look at the total. But $1000 a year seems a small price to pay for 365 days of getting shit done!

How do you view the daily coffee? Is it unnecessary luxury or a daily necessity? And what other things do you buy now because of the value add that you wouldn’t have considered before?

Jing is currently a software engineer based in Oakland, CA. She left her job in New York, moved to San Francisco unemployed, and more than doubled her salary in 4 months.

24 thoughts on “Buying Coffee Is Worth It

  1. I am not a coffee drinker myself but understand the need to have it on a daily basis, you would feel more productive by having that cup of coffee. So I guess it depends on the person, if you need coffee it’s a necessity but if you dont need coffee and still drink it a few times a week then its a unnecessary luxury.

    1. Yeah I think for some people they definitely do rely more on the coffee to just be functional! I haven’t found the absolute need to drink coffee to wake up, but it is kind of a nice reinforcement pairing productivity with coffee!

  2. I love this, especially as everyone always poo-poos buying coffee out. I loved your hack of “forgetting” the charger on purpose. To be honest, I’ve never understood working in coffee shop, but you’re making me consider it! It takes me an embarrassingly long time to complete my blog posts and I’m positive a big part of that is distractions at home. We have plenty of shops in our neighborhood we could test out my theory on. Might do a date work session with the husband soon!

    1. Yeah and I think coffee is usually the first to go when we try to cut our spending. It really depend on the purpose for drinking it! I think the issue is many people lack the deliberate choice or reason for buying it out as opposed to drinking free coffee at work. I actually skipped 2 mornings at the coffee shop this week and I was so much less productive ๐Ÿ™

  3. I had the same aversion to drinking / working in coffee shops as you did. My parents always made their own coffee too, and were people aware of how much money they could save if they just drank it at home?! But there’s something about kick-starting that productivity and putting yourself in a situation where you have to do some work that really makes it worth it.

    I’m really starting to look at habits and strategies that help with productivity and creativity, and this definitely ties right into that!

    1. Exactly! I’ve been really interested in productivity tips too! I think it really has to do with taking a little time to figure out why you may be paying money to do something you could be doing for free, or asking the question is there a good reason for this habit or do I just do it without intention?

  4. You brought up some great points! Confession: for the past 4 weeks, I’ve made it a goal to go to our nearby library [literally down the road] to do blog work on the weekend but I always seem to end up on the sofa typing up blog posts. Definitely going to try a coffee shop next week!

    I would also venture to add that spending a few dollars on coffee is a small price to pay for decreased stress. Having your blog content all ready to go is DEFINITELY a huge stress relief.

    1. The couch is my next favorite spot (as long as I can resist the temptation to lie down!) Let me know what you think of coffee shop working ๐Ÿ˜€

      It’s SO worth it! Not having my blog in tip top shape actually keeps me up at night!

  5. I like this take on going to coffee shops. I’m not sure if it would work for me, but I like the idea of building the structure and routine around a task. Different environments definitely make me act differently or enforce habits that are tied to them. It’s nice to have a fresh place that doesn’t have established bad habits so that you can start fresh!

    1. Indeed it’s not for everyone ๐Ÿ˜› I envy those who haven’t established bad habits at home! I’ve been working on my bed since college so I have quite a lot of conditioning to overcome…

  6. Hey Jing – just came across your blog (from a comment on Tawcan’s site). I like it! I’ve never been able to be super productive in a cafe, as much as I love the idea of being sat by a window with my laptop, cup of coffee and some papers etc. while rain drizzles outside I think unless I had noise cancelling headphones I wouldn’t be able to put together a coherent sentence. As for a daily coffee, I think it’s entirely worth it if it’s something you value (the admission fee, ritual, flavour, environment …) for $3 that’s a lot of value.

    1. Thanks for stopping by! The rain drizzling outside would be a great addition to my ritual ๐Ÿ™‚ It is hard to get work done if the ambiance is loud, but I love the energy of coffee shops actually because often times a lot of other people are working and being productive too! I’m also one of the lucky ones who filter out talking as white noise, but working at a cafe would be totally counterproductive without the ability to do that.

  7. Coffee is definitely a luxury I would never give up. Especially the coffee shops in the bay area, they are just to die for. The ambiance + great coffee + mac = life.

    1. Agree! The Bay Area has amazing coffee shops (and coffee!) If you think about it, it’s actually quite thrifty…4 hours at a coffee shop for a couple cups of coffee? There aren’t many paid activities that are that affordable ๐Ÿ˜›

  8. What ever works for you!
    Personally, I don’t like working at coffee shop. It’s noisy, seating is limited, and wifi is probably not very secure. And I don’t like paying for coffee. ๐Ÿ™‚
    I get distracted as easily at coffee shops. As long as the internet is there, it’s easy to get distracted.

    1. I think that’s the one thing I forgot to factor in, for many, coffee shops can be a bit loud. I’m just realizing how lucky I am that I can filter out talking like white noise!

      The only benefit of having Comcast wifi is they allow you to use their secure network profile for working at cafes. It’s been available everywhere I go and is so helpful!

  9. I used to wonder the same thing about going to the local coffee shop to get more productive until I bought my own espresso machine. Part of the appeal is making your own coffee before getting down to work at my desk.

    I can vouch for being more productive if there is a time constraint however.

    1. Yeah I was discussing with my friend that in many cases, it’s the ritual you build around productivity that matters most! I happen to have a great one that started at coffee shops, as well as an anti-habit of wasting time on reddit and watching youtube if I’m at home.

  10. Ha! You’ve got a wonderful counter to my post last week. If you’re in a situation like this where you find it much more productive to be at the coffee shop, it may well be worth the small “investment.”

    Personally I will admit this… Given the choice of working from the Starbucks vs. the library right across the street, I’d probably go for Starbucks. More energy and coffee smells to heighten the senses. Either would be an improvement over my basement office!

    1. Thanks for stopping by Cubert! Agreed, I don’t have anything against the library, but if you can stand the noise of a cafe, which I’ve realized is an issue for more people than I expected, the atmosphere is so much more vibrant!

      I’d still just like to learn to MAKE good coffee though, just for the sake of enjoying something I brewed myself, so there may be an AeroPress in my future ๐Ÿ˜›

  11. I don’t know… it just sounds like denial to me. I get that coffee’s “good” itself, but for $5, the double shot , non-fat, honey nut triple mocha explosion still seems like the wrong way to go about it. If you absolutely need the caffeine hit, while you’re on the road, sure… the large coffee from McDonalds for $1 makes sense. If it tastes like crap, that’s not what it about… it’s about getting Smacky his little fix so he doesn’t use it as an excuse to be a jerk all day.

    Free wifi is there to lure you in to suck down more expensive drinks, and there’s some of that at McD’s too.

    1. It can definitely be hard to resist the deluxe drinks on the menu, but I generally only pay for coffee since it’s the cheapest thing on the menu. The coffee is less about the caffeine fix and more about focus and productivity, more like a price of admission since I don’t want to be frugal to the point of not supporting my local businesses by not getting anything!

  12. Hi Jing,

    If it makes you happy and more productive, it’s completely worth it. I don’t believe in skipping the lattes like Ramit Sethi always says. It’s more important to focus on the big wins IMHO.

    Frankly, I don’t like the taste of Starbucks coffee since I drink coffee black. Their beans tend to taste … burnt … We drink Lavazza or Illy that we brew from home. Love the flavor and although it’s not cheap coffee, it is more affordable than buying coffee outside. If I ever semi-retire, I might look for a local coffee shop that I can hang out at and blog. Cool!

    1. I think it’s so hard to make the decision every single day to skip it especially if there’s a practical purpose! Yeah, getting a raise is definitely going to do more for you than skipping coffee, as long as we’re deliberate about which things we choose not to skip.

      I hate Starbucks coffee too, the only blend I can stand is blonde! We usually go to local coffee shops that brew Four Barrel coffee…I believe it’s a local SF roaster ๐Ÿ™‚

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