This is why you're broke 

This is why you’re broke, coffee edition

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Is $5.27 too much to pay for a cup of coffee?My first time at Kaffee 1668, the line was literally out the door. When I got to the counter, I ordered a small mocha. I had barely uttered “no whipped cream,” when the barista looked me straight in the eyes and said, “We don’t do that here.” Still, nothing caught me off guard quite like the tiny beverage’s $5.27 price tag.

The ideal coffee shop for productive work joins a number of crucial components in perfect harmony: free WiFi, plenty of electrical outlets, plenty of seating that does not force unwanted bodily contact, quiet or nonexistent music, adequate but not overpowering lighting and, most importantly, a clean and accessible bathroom.

Kaffee 1668 boasts most of these necessities. Their WiFi is more reliable than that at Starbucks and their ambiance less mass-produced and artificially cheerful than that of Dunkin’ Donuts. There is never a line for the bathroom, no matter how many people are lingering; it’s as though the quiet crowd, glued to identical, silvery laptops, is above basic bodily functions. They sip and occasionally discuss, in lifeless tones, their varying espressi flavors, while amateur tasters are all but scoffed at. In New York City, even Starbucks has a “you sit, you drink” policy, but when I tested this at Kaffee 1668 by sitting down without ordering a drink, I was met with perplexed looks mainly from other patrons (the baristas were probably too busy concentrating), though never verbally confronted.

Then come the downsides. The wooden seats made to look uniquely chopped and crafted by a rugged, axe-wielding mountain man are frankly uncomfortable for the lower back; the lighting (one candle per table, some lacking flame) is only workable until sunset; and a small mocha without even the option of whipped cream costs $5.27. Maybe that’s reasonable for the occasional splurge but, unfortunately for me, the habit has reached critical mass.

While I own an espresso machine, which long ago paid for itself, doing just about anything in the city seems to require having a coffee cup in hand (it helps that there’s a Starbucks on every corner, which is just fine when you’re in a hurry). I will purchase approximately one to two caffeinated beverages per day, in addition to the coffee I make at home.

The cost of that habit averages out to $7.50 per day. Let’s throw in my monthly bag of espresso beans at about $12, and I’m looking at $2,881.50 per year spent on coffee. That’s a number I don’t want to think about and seriously regret calculating. That’s about four months’ rent for one person in a decent Brooklyn apartment. Still, nothing brings me joy like coffee does, and it (almost) always tastes better when it’s not from home.

What do you think? Do you have an everyday habit that adds up big over the course of a year? Share your story with us for our next installment of “This is why you’re broke.”

(Photo: Alissa Fleck)

{ 11 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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11 Responses to “This is why you’re broke, coffee edition”

  1. Special_Ed says:

    “Still, nothing brings me joy like coffee does, and it (almost) always tastes better when it’s not from home.”

    I started roasting my own beans a few years ago, and the exact opposite is true for me. I can’t get a good cup of coffee anywhere, now. I spend around $200/year on beans and about $10/yr on filters and I am all set. I didn’t know what good coffee was until I started doing it myself.

  2. CrazyRcPilot says:

    I am a perpetual “Project Junkie.” No, I don’t drink coffee and I don’t smoke either so I figure I am probably in the neighborhood of $3k in savings a year on that. I still purchase caffeinated drinks, but mostly a $4 bottle of Mio Water Additive can satisfy my buzz for a month.

    The habit I do have, is projects. I am constantly finding ways to improve my ’71 Super Beetle, my motorcycle or the fix-er-upper house I reside in. I’m sure the total down-to-the penny costs would shock me, but the time spent is something I get great value out of so its a palpable process.

    I think Gabrielle Iglesias says it best, “I don’t drink diet coke to be healthy, I drink diet coke so I can eat regular cake.” So I am content in saying that I’ve curbed one habit to feed another.

  3. cc says:

    Nicely written article.
    Bird’s eye from a mature adult, however, is “you are all still followers – silver computers, name brand coffee shops, yada yada yada. Try thinking outside the box. Plus you will later realize that the coffee and soft drinks have depleted your health.

  4. fabclimber says:

    Great article and comments. Humerous too.

    For some reason I have always had free coffee on the job, so I never frequented the coffee shops. Some years ago I realized that I never had Starbucks coffee. Now I avoid it so I can have “Never Had Starbucks” on my tombstone.

    The reason I’m broke is that I wanted my kids to get a great education. They are financially independent and have moved out of the house. It was well worth it!

  5. Alissa says:

    Thank you for these insightful comments. I love the “Never Had Starbucks” ambition, it’s a unique one! I think I’ve compensated for your lack!

    And CC, coffee is certainly depleting my health–at least my mental health–quickly. Anxiety is off the charts!

  6. Kristin Wong says:

    Mostly commenting because I really love your writing and wanted to tell you that.
    I also had a coffee house habit, and for me, the value was less about the coffee and more about leaving the house so I didn’t go stir crazy (I work from home). Now that I’m on a tighter budget, I’m trying to find free ways to not go stir crazy (or just deal with the craziness).
    Anyway, great writing!

  7. Joyce says:

    Many I know are broke because they might take care of their needs, but they have too many wants. They cannot afford many of these wants, but they insist they will get them. They borrow for many because they refuse to do without. They need some insight into Financial panning, but they won’t take the time to read, and/or they do and say the hell with it.

    • Alissa says:

      I think having a concrete budget really helps. You realize how much you’re spending if you keep a record and you’re forced to face it rather than remain in denial!

  8. Brandon Duncombe says:


    That sounds like an interesting post: Free ways not to go stir crazy. I’d read that 😉

  9. BoscoLote says:

    Kristin, fantastico! I see the add-up analysis, and I have one thing to offer- have a “Trader Joe’s” market in your neighborhood? The comment about “coffee always tastes best when it’s not from home” means only one thing: distilled water, and nice organic beans(affordable). (was that 2 things?) Yeah, I know-there sure is something driving commerce and that 5.95 cup-it’s that good feeling we may get from illusion. Home is best, if we can look inwards and try for the best!

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