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Buying Iced Coffee Is Not A Waste Of Money

You’re walking from your dorm to the library in the morning and you realize: you forgot to caffeinate before leaving. You only got five hours of sleep last night, and the last thing you want to do is study and then go to a two-hour-long lecture with a high likelihood of nodding off. You turn the corner and see the on-campus Starbucks, a light at the end of your uncaffeinated tunnel. You start walking over, already thinking about what you’re going to order, before thinking to yourself, I just bought a coffee a couple of days ago, I really shouldn’t get another. And I always get it with oat milk which is an extra dollar but if I have dairy it hurts my stomach even though it’s cheaper and—

Stop! Yeah, been there, done that, I hate to say. But seriously, why are we guilt tripping ourselves out of buying a $5 or $6 cup of coffee? Is buying coffee a waste of money, like we’re so often led to believe?

There has been a rise in coffee-buying shaming in recent years. And what I really can’t believe I’m admitting to is that I’ve actually been falling for it. Personal finance gurus and entrepreneurs worth millions of dollars have been urging consumers to stray from small and unnecessary purchases, convincing consumers that spending a few bucks on a latte from your local coffee shop will run your bank account dry. Kevin O’Leary, a successful entrepreneur, television personality, and one of Shark Tank’s prime investors, once told CNBC, “Do I pay $2.50 for coffee? Never, never, never do I do that. That is such a waste of money for something that costs 20 cents. I never buy a frappe-latte-blah-blah-blah-woof-woof-woof for $2.50.” Okay, so what kind of coffee is O’Leary getting that is only 20 cents?

Regardless of what O’Leary and other personal finance gurus say, the reality is that buying a cup of coffee several times a week isn’t going to break your bank — even if you are currently unemployed (which I know a lot of college students are, myself included, due to the pandemic). In her book All the Money in the World: What the Happiest People Know About Getting and Spending, Laura Vanderkam explains that small purchases — like buying a cup of coffee — can actually have a positive effect on people’s happiness and is something that you shouldn’t worry about treating yourself with. It’s only a few dollars! 

However, college students have much less financial stability and freedom than millennials and older adults, which can make students feel guilty about spending money on frivolous things when tuition, student loans, textbooks, and more (the list goes on…) cost so much. But I promise you, buying one coffee isn’t going to sink you into instant student debt. Just because you’re studying and working toward your future doesn’t mean you can’t spend money on things that bring you joy (yes, even if it is a frappuccino).

Women especially also fall victim to coffee-shaming and are especially shamed for buying so-called frivolous food items like expensive coffee (Starbucks pumpkin spice latte frappuccino, anyone?). When it comes to women loving something — like an iced caramel latte with almond milk — they ruin it, according to men. But when men love it? It’s not an issue. Certain food and drink items, and especially things like lattes, have become a feminized thing — but the reality? Lattes have no gender! So can we stop shaming women especially — college women included — for enjoying a $5 or $6 cup of coffee that they deserve to have if they please? 

Still worried about saving money? In her book, Vanderkam also urges caution and suggests that limiting big monthly purchases — like splurging $400 at Sephora and instantly running dry your entire biweekly paycheck — might be something to avoid and can actually make a big difference in your financial stability, even for years to come. 

So, maybe don’t buy a $6 oat milk vanilla latte every day, but once to a few times a week? Not a problem. Treat yourself! After the year we’ve had, we’ve all earned it.

Zoë is a writer and recent graduate from Loyola Marymount University, where she received her Bachelor of Arts in English. Formerly, she was an associate editor at Her Campus, where she covered Gen Z pop culture, beauty and style trends, and everything in between. When she's not writing or editing, Zoë can be found reading, sipping coffee, and exploring new places in California.