Chocolate and Gold Coins

Monday, June 20, 2005

Javanomics and Free Choice

I read an article in the WaPo Saturday that I should have commented earlier on. It was called Javanomics 101: Today's Coffee Is Tomorrow's Debt by Blaine Harden. Half Sigma commented about it here.

The premise of the article is just ridiculous. It points out that if you buy a latte (coffee with milk) every day for ten years, you could have used the same money to pay off a $7500 debt. I was thinking, “Is that all? I need to drink more coffee – it’s a bargain.”

The article starts out with a profile of a new law school graduate:

At a Starbucks across the street from Seattle University School of Law, Kirsten Daniels crams for the bar exam. She's armed with color-coded pens, a don't-mess-with-me crease in her brow and what she calls "my comfort latte."

She just graduated summa cum laude , after three years of legal training that left her $115,000 in debt. Part of that debt, which she will take a decade to repay with interest, was run up at Starbucks, where she buys her lattes.

Now, at this point we know that her $115,000 debt has almost nothing to do with her Starbucks habit. But the article goes that way anyway.

The habit costs her nearly $3 a day, and it's one that her law school says she and legions like her cannot afford.

"A latte a day on borrowed money? It's crazy," said Erika Lim, director of career services at the law school.

What is wrong with Erika Lim? What is her problem? Does she have a problem with students who go to her law school exercising their free choice? Just because they borrow money to pay for the outrageous tuition at law school, does that mean they have mortgaged their soul and the law school has the right to run the lives of their students?

The starting salary of a lawyer in the D.C. area is over $100,000 per year. Kirsten Daniels can pay off all of her Starbuck debt in about a week of labor. It will take longer to pay off her law school debt.

Starbucks didn’t respond to the article but another coffee place, Tully’s, did:

Its chief financial officer, Kristopher Galvin, said he had never before heard any complaint about the long-term financial impact of spending $3 a day on coffee, either for consumers or for students buying the drinks with borrowed money.

"I would guess, based on my years in college, that having lots of good coffee would help you get through college and help you pay back those student loans," Galvin said.

What isn’t mentioned is that all of that really good coffee adds up to more than debt, it also adds up to a lot of happiness. People are happy when they are free to choose. I would never say that people don’t make mistakes. But happiness comes from making your own mistakes instead of living out the mistakes that other people have made. I find it just incredible that anyone would seriously entertain the idea that they could, with just five minutes of looking at Kristen’s life, know better how to run Kristen’s life than Kristen could spending 24 hours a day 7 days a week running her own life. And Kristen isn’t exactly stupid; she has a law degree (which Erika Lim doesn’t by the way – is this part of the issue?).

I have a nice life. Sometimes I think about what makes me happy. And you know what I discovered? What makes me happy is the freedom to do whatever I like. I have enough money that if I want to go to Starbucks and have coffee, which I do from time to time, I can do that and not worry one bit about the expense. I have that kind of money, and that’s nice. And for someone who might be reading this post 2000 years from now (possible, you never know) the coffee at Starbuck in 2005 was really good. The 20 minutes I spend in the coffee shop savoring my coffee and just enjoying the moment is really nice.

It sounds like a MasterCard commercial: Coffee at Starbucks every day for 10 years: $7,500. The freedom to spend your money at wherever you choose: priceless. Some things money can’t buy, for everything else there’s MasterCard.


Patrix, who write an excellent blog called Nerve Endings Firing Away, comments:

I don't believe that this topic has been raked up again. I had blogged about this almost 2 years back when some idiot asked me to give up my coffee so I could become a millionaire. Crazy people!

Here's a sad story of someone who foolishly followed this advice and did become a millionaire...and missed out on the happily ever after part.


  • I don't believe that this topic has been raked up again. I had blogged about this almost 2 years back when some idiot asked me to give up my coffee so I could become a millionaire. Crazy people!

    By Blogger Patrix, at 11:29 AM  

  • Hi Patrix
    So that's why you're not a millionaire!

    But you're happy, right?

    That cup of coffee in the morning, it sure is nice, isn't it?

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 12:42 PM  

  • But $3 is still a lot of money for a cup of coffee.

    I remember when I got a $5000/year raise, and believe it or not, I thought "now I can afford to buy a coffee at Starbucks every day."

    By Anonymous Half Sigma, at 9:00 PM  

  • I agree with Half Sigma that $3 can be too much in the long run. I suffice on plain ol'black coffee...a mocha sometimes if I feel like splurging :)

    By Blogger Patrix, at 11:15 PM  

  • Hi Patrix and Half Sigma
    I think the calories are more significant than the cost. That is expecially true if you indulge in the sweets. So for that reason, I don't go every day.

    I like regular coffee with cream and sugar and the latte/south Indian filter coffee. The latter I just brew at home - that cost me very little.

    But its the calories that add up over time.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 6:01 AM  

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