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The joys of a five-dollar coffee

By Mihret Yirgeta, October 1 2023— 

The worst brand of financial advice that has come out of so-called gurus in the past decade has been the message that if you stop buying a five-dollar coffee every day you could afford to buy a house. This lovely nugget of wisdom comes from the well-meaning — we hope — minds of millionaires and billionaires, people who have amassed such incredible levels of wealth that they don’t understand how the rest of us mere mortals live the way we do. But is this advice actually feasible?

While it is not only coffee that has come under scrutiny, (it was also avocado toast, new phones, eating take-out and *insert ubiquitous modern thing*), the general advice is to cut out supposed frivolities in our lives. This is touted as the absolute solution to acquiring wealth. However, this line of thinking completely disregards the privileges and luck that got these people where they are today. There are many barriers that might hinder someone from being able to save enough, to afford a house, a car, etc. If I have a job that only pays me minimum wage, there is not much chance that I will be able to afford a house soon. If I have student debt, I am already starting out at a disadvantage. If someone has a child, that is an extra person and expense to take care of. If I have two jobs to make ends meet and I do not have time to cook for myself, I have no choice but to eat out.

The narrative of “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps” is very misleading. What most wealthy people will not tell you is that they had help along the way. They had help in the form of possibly wealthy parents who loaned them money to start their business, got them connections to investors or were able to send them to prestigious schools. They had help in the form of the ability to invest all of their time into their business because they did not have to make ends meet. They may not have had to deal with barriers due to their race, gender or general appearance. The assumption that everyone lives the same kind of life with the same problems is in itself a problem.

Additionally, this advice is incredibly condescending. There is the implication that people who are not wealthy are just not smart enough, not hard-working enough. Clearly, they need someone to tell them how to budget. Can you tell I am rolling my eyes as I write this? No one who is trying to save money does not know where every single scent in their bank account goes. Telling people what to do with their money is patronizing, especially if they have yet to ask for your opinion. It feels like poor shaming. Trying to save can be very stressful and watching every expenditure is exhausting, so to be told your one indulgence is the reason you are struggling is infuriating at best.

Finally, what is wrong with getting myself a treat? Small luxuries can bring mental release when life’s pressures threaten to overwhelm you. Sometimes, that fancy, frilly, coffee concoction is the only thing getting someone through the week. It would not be kind or ethical to ask someone to give up one of their only sources of comfort while they are struggling, whether that is financially, academically, or in any other way. Buying that five-dollar cup of sugary caffeinated goodness is not setting them back a ridiculous amount, but it can give them a sense of hope and strength and that is priceless.

This article is a part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.

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