June 18, 2005

"A latte a day on borrowed money? It's crazy."

Students shouldn't go to cafés? The Washington Post weighs the question and points to a website that does the calculation: "a five-day-a-week $3 latte habit on borrowed money can cost $4,154, when repaid over 10 years."

How bad is that, really? You might easily blow $4,154 on a single vacation after college or getting a few extra options on your car. By contrast, it seems extremely sensible to buy years of a daily pleasure, which gives you some nutrition and focuses your mind and which gets you out of your little room or the library and puts you in a bustling, social environment, where you have your own little table and can get some good studying done.

A café is not just the coffee. It is an entire hours-long experience that contributes to your success as a student. It's true that to be financially savvy you have to realize that you spend a lot of money by spending a small amount of money on a daily basis, but there are much worse daily expenses that call out to students: bars, movies, cigarettes, fatty snacks.

I think the café-going student is operating at a high level, making a good choice. Do the calculation for yourself and think about whether Future You approves of that expense. I think the answer will be yes!

33 comments:

Murky Thoughts said...

Caffeine is steroids for intellectual work. In this competitive world, no price is too high. It's survival of the jitteriest.

Troy said...

A thousand times "Yes." Law school was hard enough with the escape (read "help") of strong black coffee. And a handful of chocolate-covered espresso beans are good for the Bar exam too.

Hollywood Freaks said...

If they are going to look that close at how much coffee costs, then they should step back and look at all the costs of college. Is a bachelor's worth earning?

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
L. Ron Halfelven said...

Counting future dollars on par with present dollars? It's crazy.

Jim H said...

You can't really call the expense of a latte more justifiable than the expense of a fatty snack. An unmodified latte IS a fatty snack.

That doesn't mean you should pass on them. "On the day of judgment, every person will be held accountable for every permissible pleasure he beheld but did not partake." -The Talmud

chuck_b said...

In college, the coffee shops (we never called them cafés) worked great for review time, but not for the heavy lifting. Too much music and commotion.

For real studying, I needed silence and a much bigger table. I had a spot in the library on the fourth floor near the photography books. I'd claim my table, pull down a dozen random black and white photography books and get to work studying. Then every 40 minutes, I'd stop and spend a 10-15 minutes flipping through the photography books, looking at the pictures and reading the captions. I enjoyed that a lot and did some of my best work.

The coffee shops were less intensive and more conducive to relaxed studying and letting the mind wander.

Ron said...

What good is an economics that finds fault with coffee? Perhaps our net positive would be in not having such economists around...

"Leave the gun, take the cannoli"

PatCA said...

Of course you're right!

But the WaPo and the media have to occasionally jab America's favorites, McDonald's and Starbucks, to show their vast superiority in all things and to illustrate what indeed is the matter with Kansas.

gs said...

Seattle University Law School's director of career services Erika Lim was interviewed for the article. "The consequences of latte-larded law school debts are worrisome for the legal profession, she said, insidiously tilting career paths toward jobs that pay more but satisfy less." By which she means, e.g., going into corporate law instead of becoming a public defender.

My boggling mind can splutter out a few comments. First, I don't begrudge anyone, including people slogging through postgraduate training, a bit of luxury to mollify the harshness of the daily grind; the yiddish term 'menschlichkeit' would appear to apply. Second, who the bleep is Erika Lim to pontificate about the welfare of the legal profession and about what jobs are and are not satisfying? Aren't law students adults who combine intelligence with a grasp of practical affairs. If they're not, why were they admitted to law school? Adults can make their own choices and be responsible for them. As for gourmet coffee 'insidiously tilting career paths' etc., sheesh, Lim might as well talk about Starbucks creating false consciousness among apprentice legal workers.

Then there's the guy from the student loan company who, as it were, wants law students to live on a daily crust of bread and boiled egg until they pay off their loans. Contrasted with Lim's nanny-knows-best prattle, such shameless rapacity is like a breath of fresh air.

Mutter mutter mutter...

Ann Althouse said...

GS: On the pro-Lim side, it seems she's only against the tilt caused by debt. She wants students not to undercut their own options by having so much debt that they'll choose corporate law not because they love it but because it pays more.

Joe said...

I would gladly pay you four years from now for a latte today.

My Q.: is the taxpayer paying the interest on the latte while the student is in school?

Head of Royal Intelligence said...

My goodness! No wonder America has the lowest rate of savings in the industrialized world. First of all, nobody's saying that students should give up coffee entirely, just that they should buy a $20 coffeepot and stock up on $2 cans of Maxwell House and make their own. Second of all, you all are really okay with students piling on *more* debt for luxuries when they're already in debt so deep they'll be lucky to have a positive net worth before they hit 50? I'm wracked with guilt for weeks if I buy myself a much-needed new pair of shoes when I have outstanding debt, let alone an overpriced coffee! It's the legacy I got from the grandparents who raised me, who were adults during the Depression: debt is slavery to the bank (or, today, the credit card company), and the only way to be truly the master of your own fate is not to owe anyone anything, ever, because once you owe money to the bank, the bank owns a part of you. I know it seems quaint and peculiarly working-class today, but I'm perfectly happy to live within my means like that and to be the only 24-year-old grad student I know with not a nickel of debt.

John R Henry said...

What about bottled water? At about $1.00/bottle for even cheapo bottled water, how much does the student pay over 4 years?

This is an even bigger scandal since they can get free water at any fountain and buying water doesn't get them a place to sit down.

in 1999 I spoke at the National Soft Drink Association convention. The keynote speaker was the president of Coca-Cola. His talk was how Coke got into the water business.

He told me that they had looked at how Starbucks took a 25 cent cup of coffee, put some "chemicals" (his word) in it, a patented cardboard sleeve and some foam and boosted the price to $2.50.

Coke figured they could take the production facilities, same bottles and everything else, remove the expensive sugar and flavors and just sell the water for the same price.

Bottled water is one of the biggest and stupidest beverages around. And people spend around $4,000,000,000 a year on it.

15 years ago, who would have thunk it?

John Henry

gs said...

Ann, your rejoinder about Lim is fair enough. I won't follow through as I would regarding a public figure. Suffice it to say that she has a valid point about student debt, but her way of making it could be counterproductive.

Debt involves risk. An individual's level of risk is determined by necessity and personal choice. There is not a predetermined "right" or "wrong" amount of risk. (However, one can estimate the odds incorrectly. Such a mistake can be harder to live with than the fact of a negative outcome.) While it's not necessarily so, I suspect that the odds of various futures as implicitly estimated by commenter H.R.I. are more pessimistic than the typical indebted grad student's estimate.

By borrowing money to purchase comforts, Kim's law students are probably using part of their psychological credit line of total acceptable risk. As Kim indicates, their debt load could make it hard to turn down a corporate job in favor of an attractive nonprofit--but it could also make it hard to quit a corporate job and start their own practice.

Still, although I lived frugally in graduate school, students are welcome to their lattes afaic. "Cleave ever to the sunnier side of doubt."

This topic has reminded me to order "The Substance of Style"...now that it's out in paperback.

Dad said...

Head of Royal Intelligence-
Someday you will be wealthy, whether you are a public defender or a corporate hack. The rest of these people are the same ones that some wag once said are born every minute.

Andrew Shimmin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Andrew Shimmin said...

Will no one stand up for cigarettes? Coffee is nice for an hour, but cigarettes are a constant delight. Coffee is a friend with benefits; cigarettes are devoted, lifelong spouses. Plus, they make you look way cool.

Sorry for the delete; devoted, or devout, not both at once.

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks, Andrew. Thanks for helping with the Social Security imbalance. It's not how long you live that counts, it's whether you found life while you were here. And if cigarettes are meaningful to you and you had a steeper, shorter arc in this world, celebrate that. Good for you, and thanks for contributing to the pot without making withdrawals. We need lots more people like you. Smoking is cool! And a young corpse makes a great, high drama funeral.

Andrew Shimmin said...

Point taken. Didn't mean to offend; I thought modifying cool with 'way' made it clear I was kidding. Your young corpses shot, though, misses the mark. Smokers don't die young, even if too young.

Ann Althouse said...

You're right, Andrew. They die looking awful. Perhaps motorcycles, then...

Dad said...

Or little Audi sports cars.

Andrew Shimmin said...

Yeah; motorcycles totally rule!

Knemon said...

"I'm perfectly happy to live within my means like that and to be the only 24-year-old grad student I know with not a nickel of debt."

I hear that (25-year-old, otherwise ditto).

But I still think this is a silly article. The student profiled is in debt for $100,000+ - a daily latte is a drop in the bucket.

Be said...

Maybe it has to do with who's paying the more than $4k. I got an academic scholarship, that is - my university paid for everything but room and board. My first year there, I had to come up with over $500/mo outside of what my school gave me. This was in the late 80s, and I had no real marketable skills. So...I worked 12/wk in work study (the maximum allowed in addition to my scholarship) and 37/wk at my job (at 4.25/hr - no health insurance). I had no money to drink (illegal) alcohol, no money for food beyond what they gave for free at work or what was on the food plan at school, much less whatever it cost for a latte (and they didn't sell them outside of the North End back then).

My sophomore year, I moved into an apartment where I paid $110/mo in rent (In Boston?) in addition to about $20 in utilities. I lowered my rent enough that I could give up the work study and a few hours at the music store. That allowed me to save a little bit up for study abroad (and believe me, you needed it, as anything outside of what you brought with you had to be earned under the table).

In short, if the $4+k for coffee were paid for by mommy and daddy - sure - it's a worthy expense, by all means.
Otherwise, not really.

David said...

If I were marketing an overpriced product which went up even further in price every year...and if some of my customers were having budget problems...I might think about launching an attack on some of the *other* things they spend their money on, so they would have more for my product.

Just sayin'

dadahead said...

It's silly to rely on coffee to get you through law school.

Modafinil is so much more effective, people. Fifty times the energy and none of the jitters.

peapies said...

um...am I missing something? Why would anyone, let alone a college student, be buying coffee on credit anyhow? And since when did coffee, let alone cheap coffee, become a right? Question Washington Post, would a story-line like..."Students who have NO PERSONAL (their parents do however, paying their tuitions) worth see no problem in over-extending themselves for COFFEE!

don't have the money? don't buy it! novel idea, no?

Kev said...

I'm with Ann on this one. The "coffee experience" is indeed about the atmosphere, sociability and so on. Even if I've had my morning coffee already (made at home, so I do save a bit there). I still may make it to Starbucks in the evening, either to meet with friends or possibly to read (if I'm tired of being stuck at home on a night with nothing going on).

I also like bottled water--in fact, the Dasani brand made by Coke, as mentioned by a previous commenter. Part of me realizes that, on one level, it's insane to buy water. But, on the other hand, my tap water tastes just plain bad, whereas I really like the Dasani taste (does that make me a "water snob"?). I also take medicine that dehydrates me on occasion, and a bottle of water is enough to last me through an entire class or rehearsal without having to make repeated trips to the water fountain, so I can justify the extra expense.

Oh, and in my post on the subject, I pointed out that Ann's surname would be a cool name for a genre of pop music (alternative crossed with house). Ever heard that one before?

lindsey said...

Kev, Dasani IS tap water.

Kev said...

Well, even if it is, it's still better than the stuff that comes out of my faucet; they must remove all the amoebas or something. Besides, it's not like I can just drive from Texas over to England to use their taps... ;-)

RIchard said...

My fiancée and I both got to the point where we love our coffees. I'm a poor college student and she just graduated and started her job. You know what we did? We spend a whopping $30 dollars on a cappuccino machine. That's it. For the price of some coffee grounds, milk, and syrup (chocolate or caramel) we have our fix. You can even buy Starbucks coffee beans to brew at home.

As far as bottled water goes you'll spend a dollar for a container for water anyway. If I buy a bottle I'll refill it at least 5 or 6 times from a fountain.

-- Richard Zeien

valueprep.com said...

The enviroment as you wrote, is the main reason it is great just as long as the socializing stays to a minimum and the studying is at it's max. capacity. When everyone starts with ea. other though, it can be not much different than the frat parties on sat. night.
Great Post,
Brin
http://loan.valueprep.com/pay-day-loan.html