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The Latte Factor: More than just coffee

Published May 12. 2010 05:00PM

"I'd like a nonfat soy latte, please."

If you've ever uttered those words (or simply asked for a cup of black coffee at a higher-end coffee shop), you know what comes next the bill. Takeout coffee is big business. Americans want their caffeine fix frothy, and they want it now. They're also willing to pay for it!

The National Coffee Association estimates that adults drink about 3.2 cups of coffee per day. While the average cup of brewed coffee is $1.38, an espresso-based drink will set you back nearly $3. Multiply that by three cups a day, five days a week, and 50 working weeks in the year. We're talking big money. Just buying a few "cheap" cups of coffee will cost you $20 a week, or more than $1,000 each year! Expect to pay double that price for high-end coffees.

The Latte Factor

"The Latte Factor," created by financial expert David Bach, isn't really about coffee. The Latte Factor is simply a metaphor for the small, frequent expenses that we think don't matter. Buy a $1 cup of coffee no big deal! Buy a $1 cup, 50 times a month now we're talking serious spending.

My Latte Factor is actually … coffee. How original, right? Feel free to substitute your own guilty pleasures here, because the principal remains the same.

I like coffee. It gets me through the day and tastes good. And because I add a big glug of soy milk to my coffee, I'm getting a healthy dose of protein and calcium with each cup. So how can I balance my need for caffeine with a tight budget?

The obvious solution is to brew my own coffee which I do. I can buy yummy vanilla-flavored coffee beans for just $4 a bag, and that bag will last me nearly a month. Would you rather pay $4 a month or $4 a DAY for the joy of being well-caffeinated? I choose frugality.

What is your Latte Factor? We all have them. Whether you enjoy iced coffee on a hot day, or like to stop by the local store or vending machine for a snack each day, the small, frequent costs in our day-to-day lives can add up quickly. Take the time today to identify your budget's weak points, and then lay out a plan of attack to stop the frivolous spending.

The biggest problem you will face is inaction. It's easier to stop by the coffee shop each day, rather than brew your own coffee. You know it saves money when you DIY, but will you find the time and energy to face your own Latte Factors?

For me, finding time to brew my own coffee in the morning can be a hassle, especially when I'm running late. Now when I expect a busy morning, I set out my coffee mug, grind some beans, and get the coffee pot prepped before bed. It's a simple matter of hitting "start" before I hop in the shower.

But I LIKE going to Starbucks!

I've bought Starbucks a few times. It's OK, but I don't think it tastes much better than the stuff I make at home. What I've learned is that people don't really go to Starbucks for coffee. They go for the experience of ordering fancy coffee from a barista, and then enjoying their drink in a yummy-smelling coffee shop.

If you order coffee in New York City (where most of my Starbucks encounters occurred), you'll find that there's also a certain amount of prestige in chugging cinnamon-flavored coffee while power-walking through the streets of Manhattan. Again, it's not about the beverage itself. It's really about the experience and the morning routine.

Whether you enjoy your morning coffee routine or have another "Latte Factor" in your life that brings joy each day, know that you don't have to give up your guilty pleasures entirely.

Life is no fun without the occasional nonfat soy latte! But when you save treats for just that occasional treats they can be so much more enjoyable. Your wallet will thank you, too.

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