This is the second feature in our Crushing Costs series. It aims to summarise shortcuts to Financial Independence so you can work out what actually works well and which of these tools will help you achieve your goals. We also want to cut out some of the myths that people say will make you richer.
Can you get rich by cutting coffee?
When I was younger I read an article that suggested by saving just $5 a day, you could become a millionaire before you retire. The article compared this feat to simply cutting just one coffee a day. Sounds simple, right? To make it clear, the article was talking about the coffee you buy from a coffee shop, not the type you brew at home. In the UK this usually means Costa, Starbucks, Nero etc. Is this true? Could I be missing out on an opportunity to reduce my time to Financial Independence?
Save $5 a day and you will be rich by the time you will retire. This was burned into my psyche since my late teens for some reason but I never used to drink coffee so I guess I never really paid it that much attention. Or, did it stick with me because there was something wrong with this calculation. I thought saving £5 (because I live in the UK) would be easy, I had always been good at saving. But hang on a second, £5 every day? This soon adds up and who exactly is buying a takeaway coffee every day? Let me tell you who, 36 year old me! Ok, maybe my coffee dependence isn’t that bad but I have slowly let Starbucks infiltrate my daily routine. Let’s crunch some numbers and see how much this addiction is costing me and if it is worth me cutting this from my current lifestyle?
Are you Addicted to Caffeine?
I used to hardly ever drink tea and coffee but that all changed when I started working in an office. The tea and coffee kept coming, someone always wanted a break and the caffeine flowed like the River Nile through our workplace. We all needed the extra caffeine to get us through our stressful days. Before I knew it, I was addicted! The good news was that I wasn’t the only one. According to the Telegraph, the UK was the 3rd largest consumer of tea in the world (2014 study). Coffee, by comparison, ranked the UK at 45 according to the ICO (International Coffee Organisation), even the US only came 26 however, this study was done a few years ago. Anyone who travels the country and frequents our (insert sarcastic voice here) glorious motorway services, would have noticed more and more drive-thru caffeine cathedrals. Now, I don’t even have to get out of my car to get my fix!
As it turns out, I’m only moderately addicted to caffeine according to this survey. So why do I feel so drawn to pulling my car into these convenient coffee stops?
How much are you spending on coffee?
My office-based caffeine addiction never used to really be a problem, at least financially. I might need to review my coffee intake to improve my health but let’s save that for another time. When my finances really started taking a hit was when my job role evolved. I used to travel around the country occasionally, maybe two to three times per month. As I got better at my role my colleagues wanted to put me in front customers more. Eventually, I was out of the office more than I was in. Soon I was out I was stopping to fix my caffeine itch almost every day. I would stop once on the way to meet a customer and again on the way back. I also had a penchant for Starbucks large caramel macchiato at £3.60 a hit (sometimes more at the drive-thru). An occasional treat turned into a £50+ a month habit. It also had an impact on my health. Driving around the country, sitting in a car, is not good. Eating convenience food from motorway services is not good. Drinking a huge sugary drink brimming with caffeine twice a day is not good. My new life was takings its toll on my finances and my body.
I’m too afraid (and embarrassed) to go back through my bank statements and actually calculate how much money I transferred to Costa and Starbucks combined, but I’m pretty sure my £50+ per month estimate is extremely conservative. I also purchased muffins, croissants and sandwiches all of which are hugely overpriced. For the purpose of this assessment, let’s assume I was spending around £600 per year.
By comparison, if you are buying a latte on your way to work each morning, you too would be spending around £600 of your take-home salary per year. If you are a standard rate taxpayer, you are drinking £750 of your salary. For higher rate taxpayers, it’s £1,000!
I can’t give up coffee
I personally enjoy drinking coffee and I know it is deemed as a fundamental necessity for a lot of folks, right up there with air and water. I’m not advocating an outright ban on coffee per se, but it’s got to be worth becoming more conscious of the cost. Frequent trips to Starbucks soon add up. Going to the drive-thru as a treat on your way to work is fine. My “treats” eventually became my habits and it took its toll by the end of the month. The gradual “death by a thousand cuts” extended its subtle grip as the cost of all those small ticket expenses added up.
What am I doing about it?
I knew I had to take action. Driving and travelling for work was now my job and if I didn’t do anything about it I was going to end up fat and poor!
I’m now that guy you see driving down the motorway with his silver thermal mug. I now prepare a better tasting coffee at home thanks to my Aeropress. I would highly recommend one of these if you haven’t tried one yet. Both of these paid for themselves after just a few missed coffee stops. I also have one more trick up my sleeve. When out on the road and pull over to work, I usually have to find a suitable location with good Wi-Fi. Guess what, coffee shops are great for this. I can put my caffeine addiction on business expenses! So, for me, I still get my occasional treat but when I do I don’t have to re-mortgage. Guilt-free pleasure! (ignoring the health impacts here)
When I do have to buy a coffee, I have switched my beverage of choice. I now drink a double espresso con panna. This is thanks to coffee aficionado, FIguy101. It’s safe to say when we went out on business together and he ordered this drink I ridiculed him. The reason – most places had no idea what the hell he was talking about. If you, like me, have no idea what this drink is, its a double espresso with whipped cream on top. A good barista will know what you are talking about – apparently, according to FIguy101, this is how the Italians drink coffee! The “con panna” (as we call it for short) has two benefits. One, it’s much healthier than a coffee swimming in sugary syrup yet still only 35 calories and two, it’s much cheaper, typically less than £2.
Can I get rich giving up coffee?
The short answer is yes and no. If you are frequenting Costa-lot all the time then reducing or even cutting these indulgences can help. If you are a mere mortal, like most, then you could be spending more than you think. Tallying up my coffee shop visits opened my eyes to the impact on my budget. For me, I have reduced my coffee intake and changed what I order, this has had a positive impact on my finances and my health.
I have added a table below taken from Business Insider that demonstrates the power of saving small amounts over time. The key is starting young. The chart assumes an annual return of 12% which is hugely ambitious so you need to digest this with a pinch of salt however the principal is the same. The younger you are the less you need to invest to retire with wealth. Here at learntofi.com we made the mistake of not investing and cutting our expenses when we were in our early 20s. According to this chart, we would have to save around £11-12 per day if we were starting from zero versus a 20-year-old saving just £2 per day. As you can see this is a huge difference.
By adding my reduced coffee expenses to the gains made from packing lunches I am several thousand pounds better off per year. Using just the conservative £600 saving from coffee alone, if I had invested and allowed it to compound over 20 years, I would be nearly £20k better off. I won’t be rich, but I will have more options and that’s what Financial Independence is all about.
So, buy less coffee, stay healthier and save money. I’ll drink to that.
This article is part of our “Crushing Costs” series. If you enjoyed reading this please like and share using the links below. If you would like to find out other ways we have saved money, please follow us. We generally hang out on Twitter and Instagram. Alternatively, leave your e-mail address to get notified when we release new content. See you next time.
“We want to do a lot of stuff; we’re not in great shape. We didn’t get a good night’s sleep. We’re a little depressed. Coffee solves all these problems in one delightful little cup” Jerry Seinfeld
How did you work that out CashCurrator:
For the purpose of this exercise we will assume each worker spends 232 days at work per year (52 weeks minus 4 weeks holiday minus 8 bank holidays)
To work out salaries I have used The Salary Calculator and not deducted for pensions, student loans or any salary sacrifices.
Compound interest calculator courtesy of Monevator