Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Latte Factor Revisited, Small Lower-Waste Moves, etc.

Photo from a recent weekend visit with K to Felix Roasting Co., on one of the rare occasions when I add a pastry to my coffee order. I couldn't resist the Instagram-friendly matcha croissant from Supermoon Bakehouse!

Turns out I spoke too soon about not buying as many lattes and flat whites this year. It seems that certain types of busy periods at the office, depending on the kind of tasks I'm doing, can increase my cravings for those small indulgences. All these fluctuations in my fancy espresso (or matcha) drink consumption habits these past few years, combined with how I carefully track every expense by individual transaction in YNAB (so I know, down to the penny, how much I actually spend at coffee shops each month, and exactly how often I go), give me what I think is an unusually specific level of insight into all those "latte factor" discussions that just won't go away.

With the ~12-15% tip I typically give at coffee shops, each of my flat whites, lattes, or matcha lattes cost ~$5/each, sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less, depending on my exact order and which shop I'm visiting. In an "ideal" month, where I'm happy with how often I'm indulging and feel like I'm using the drinks as a slightly special treat rather than, er, an unthinking habit I'm getting a bit dependent on, I'm visiting a coffee shop around ~2x/week and spending ~$42/month. (Keeping in mind that between Starbucks rewards, redeeming all my Drop cash-back for Starbucks gift cards, and "get one free for every 10 or 11 purchases" loyalty cards at my smaller, local coffee shops, I'm generally getting ~1-3 free drinks a month.) So ~$42/month is my "happy medium" baseline number. 

In a more typical "not so good" month in the past, I'd generally be visiting coffee shops around ~3-4x/week, and spending more like ~$62/month. That's when I start feeling like "okay, I'm maybe starting to buy these espresso or matcha drinks more out of habit than actual enjoyment," which is not my favorite thing. Whenever I've fussed about indulging in too many lattes in the past, that's generally what was happening. 

This month has been a more unusually indulgent one, where my average is looking more like 4-5x/week, resembling that "visits Starbucks every workday" stereotype that most people who think the "latte factor" is a real thing like to talk about and deride. I think it's because I'm a bit more caffeine-addicted than usual, want my dose earlier in the morning, and the office coffee isn't hitting the spot quite as much. This is a slightly new phenomenon for me, and maybe I'll cut down on it sharply in short order by regularly making homemade cold brew again, so I'm not quite sure yet what this month's actual spend will be, but if things kept up, it'd likely be ~$85/month~$43/month more than my "happy place" baseline.

That's getting to a fairly significant amount of added spending for the month if it's going to be a recurring issue, but the conditions of contemporary American life are also such that this extra $43/month might not mean much. Given recent changes with how my insurance company covers my choice of contraception (which is also an important, even essential, part of my acne-fighting regime), the price for me now holds steady at a monthly co-pay of $39 and change (or, more specifically, that's per 28-day supply). And because the pharmaceutical companies, health insurance companies, and  pharmacy benefits managers ("PBMs") all act in ways that have resulted in upward hikes to the price of acne-oriented and other dermatology prescriptions, I also now have two other medications with $75 copays per 3-month supply. Oh joy! So the extra spend from when I feel like I'm way overindulging at coffee shops by going every workday covers my contraception each month with less than enough for another latte left over. That's significant, but I can't see how it apparently turns into a life-changing number each year for most localities in the US.

And I still don't quite know how my bank gets its number for $100/month savings by "turn[ing] your latte into something grande" and saving all your coffee shop spend in a high-interest savings account instead, as going every workday doesn't get me that close to $100 a month. Maybe adding in a pastry once a week would get me there, but it's the rare coffee shop that stocks pastries that are particularly tasty (I'm admittedly very picky, as I ultimately prefer savory foods to sweet). I suppose I might also be a bit above average in my ability to turn my frequent purchases into free drinks through loyalty cards, Drop cash-back, and Starbucks Rewards.

With all those coffee shop purchases I've been admitting to all these years, there follows another obvious point arising from the more environmentally-conscious minimalism-ish side of my interests: Knowing that I have this habit, and that it's not going away anytime soon, it's long past time to turn away from using all those single-use paper cups by buying a reusable coffee cup to hold all those lattes and flat whites!

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Many a person out there would no doubt be extremely unimpressed (and reasonably so) with how many years it's taken me to make this decision. But it also isn't as easy a choice as one would think, in my opinion, at least with the factors I personally need to take into account when choosing the right reusable coffee cup.
  • First, there's the question of the correct size I should buy, as the total volume of each of my orders across my various favorite coffee shops comes in at anywhere from 6 to 12 oz, with an occasional foray up into 16 oz. (12 oz is probably the best size for me, I don't really need those occasional grande-sized drinks.) 
  • Second is the durability and functionality of the cup. If I'm going to potentially use it every workday, I want to avoid any item with design details or features that I find annoying, and I'd  also like it to last. 
  • Third is the, ah, very real question of the weight of the cup, given that I'd need to carry it with me to and from work every weekday. This might sound like excessive fussing over a few mere ounces, but I've experienced a few times now that whenever the delicate equilibrium of what I carry daily to work in a particular handbag is disrupted by even a marginal amount of extra weight, my shoulders, back, and neck promptly begin to fuss. And yes, one easy way to fix that might be to switch to a backpack, but I'm not quite ready for that step yet. 
With all those details in mind, I think I'm close to settling on what I'd like to get. It's down to either the very popular KeepCup (also available here) or the similarly popular Joco Cup (also available here). One might think that the KeepCup clearly looks like a better choice because it has a stopper to keep the drink inside the cup, but I don't actually think I need that detail because I've never had an issue with spills while carrying my drink in a standard coffee shop paper cup and plastic lid with no stopper. I might also prefer the look of the Joco Cup. Neither of these glass travel cups are known for having good insulation or keeping drinks warm, but because I don't need mine to be better than a paper cup for this purpose, that's no big deal.

Oh and in other obvious moves towards a lower-waste lifestyle and the rejection of as much single-use plastic as possible, through decisions I make only after waiting a ridiculously long time, I've recently stopped using the single-use plastic forks, spoons, and knives from my various lunch spots. My office has always had a large set of silverware around for communal use, so using and then washing one of those forks and knives every day is a move I could have, and should have, made much sooner! 

Speaking of other disruptions to the delicate equilibrium of what I generally carry in my work handbags, here's another small thing that happened recently, though it's got nothing to do with coffee or moves to a lower-waste lifestyle: My trusty "purse" umbrella, the smallest, lightest folding one that I take with me just in case, on days when there's barely any chance of rain, or even no precipitation expected (I'll switch it out for a larger, sturdier folding umbrella on days with a high chance of rain, or expectations of heavier storms), has finally given up the ghost. It served me well for nearly six years. And that it lasted this long was honestly a surprise, as it was noticeably flimsy when compared to larger folding umbrellas, had gotten a little creaky to fold and unfold, and the end of one of the ribs had been broken for more than a year. I could never recommend umbrellas this size to anyone else, as I think the small size and light weight almost inevitably come with durability trade-offs. It was a Totes umbrella I dug out of a TJ Maxx, and I think the exact design has long been discontinued, there's only a single overpriced listing on Amazon for one like it. 

This unfortunate event wasn't going to be worth commenting on, as our household owns an incredible number of law firm-branded folding umbrellas from our on-campus recruiting days. It'll be years before we ever need to buy another umbrella, unless we're careless and forget to carry one on what turns out to be a rainy day. So I just switched to another of our many umbrellas, all of which are folding umbrellas a bit larger and heavier than my dearly departed one, carrying it in my current work handbag of choice, the ultra-light and small-but-not-too-small Madewell Medium Transport Tote (worn casually here). Alas, within three days, there was that familiar twinge in my back and shoulders again, a clear sign that a lighter umbrella is preferred, whatever the trade-offs in durability and function. I've gone with this "Vumos" one on Amazon, because it seems to be the closest in size and weight to my old one. 

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