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To latte, or not to latte? That’s the $5-a-day question

Brady Porche

Are personal finance gurus who tell you to cut the lattes full of beans, or do their critics need to wake up and smell the coffee?

We’ve all heard from some money expert or another that we should kick that expensive, unhealthy habit of buying a latte every morning and make coffee at home. And if you’re a loyal coffee shop patron, you’re probably getting sick of hearing it.

As far as easily digestible money tips go, telling someone to stop going to Starbucks is low-hanging fruit. Socially conscious consumers can be sold on the idea of the Seattle coffee giant and its competitors as symbols of capitalism run amok. Others might be susceptible to guilt — fair or not — over sucking down a sugary drink at the start of a workday.

But this coffee-buying advice isn’t exactly sage wisdom. It doesn’t take a best-selling financial author to figure out you can save money in the long term by investing in a Keurig. Each time a money guru dusts this old trope off, you can hear a collective groan from a newer generation of experts who stress focusing on other aspects of your financial life.

The latte cliché is “crap,” in the words of both “Rich Bitch” author Nicole Lapin and “Pound Foolish” scribe Helaine Olen. Instead of cutting the coffee, Lapin recommends establishing a 15 percent “crazy expenses” budget to prevent overindulging. Olen suggests that the price of a latte is irrelevant given the runaway costs of necessities such as housing, health care and education.

Not blowing steam
But should the latte cliché be ignored altogether? Just because a saying or piece of advice has become worn out doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

Few people slip the phrase “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” into casual conversation these days. But those red and green juicy fruits are rich in antioxidants (so is coffee), and they can help defend the body from various ailments, including cancer, heart disease, allergies and viral infections.

For the price of one Starbucks venti café latte (roughly $5 with tax and tip), you can buy a bag of quality ground coffee and get your caffeine fix every morning for about a week or more, depending on how much you consume.

If you spend $5 per week on coffee instead of $25 (assuming you make a latte stop every work day), that amounts to $80 saved per month. That’s not a financial windfall, but it can provide some breathing room if you’re living paycheck to paycheck or just have many inflexible expenses.

Shake up your coffee routine?
Trimming $80 from your monthly budget is only so helpful if you’re truly struggling to manage your finances. Besides, ending your daily Starbucks trips is a drag if you consider them a simple pleasure and not a pricey bad habit.

So, who benefits the most from shaking up their coffee routine? The advice seems best suited for those who get pleasure from squeezing small savings out of everyday life. Rewards hounds might be ripe for this kind of bean counting, though many major coffee shops have robust loyalty point programs.

But if you’re in need of a financial makeover, it’s better to focus on bigger things such as increasing your income, downsizing to a smaller home or shopping around for less expensive health or auto insurance rates. Self-denial can be a virtue in lean times, but that doesn’t mean you have to cut the “small joys” out of your life.

In the meantime, keep buying those lattes. They’re not cheap, but rarely does coffee roast a household budget.

See related: Goodbye, Starbucks, and your watered-down rewards, 4 easy ways to stack your card rewardsExperiences? Great! But sometimes, we need stuff,

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