If you've heard it once, you've heard it a million times. That daily caramel caffe mocha (hold the whip, please) will undo all your financial dreams, make retirement impossible until age 85, and maybe even carve a hole in the ozone layer.
It's all too much for John Schwartz, who wrote an entertaining essay in The New York Times (registration required) to ask financial-advice columnists worldwide to stop scolding him for his daily trip to Starbucks.
If that coffee makes you happy, he argues, buy it. Why earn money if you can't spend it?
Does he have a point? Do human beings need a little daily extravagance, a small luxury that makes the everyday slog through work worthwhile?
However, Schwartz and his family save money, and his essay illustrates that he's a good model for holding daily expenses down.
He walks to the train each morning. He "eats on the cheap" at lunch. Some of his suits came from Goodwill. He drives an old car, and the family doesn't have cable. He may spend almost $6 a day for a coffee with a shot of espresso for himself and a latte for his wife, but he cuts back in other areas to compensate.
The daily coffee becomes a problem when the rest of the budget is full of little extravagances, or when that spending prevents you from reaching your other financial goals.
Take credit card debt. If you spend $3 every work day on coffee, that's roughly $60 each month spent on fancy drinks that could be applied to an outstanding credit card balance. Forgoing the coffee every day could mean an extra $720 that you can pay on that card in a year. This is exactly the math that makes Schwartz groan, but it can be eye-opening to add up the cumulative cost of those little purchases.
Let's say you have retirement or college savings in mind but can't quite find the dollars in the budget to put away enough money. That's the time to examine whether cutting the fancy coffee or the cable could make a meaningful contribution to that goal.
Sometimes, a lofty goal can be inspiring. Want to retire early? Accumulate $1 million in Starbucks stock? Take a bird-watching trip to the Amazon? Cutting back on the fancy coffee suddenly isn't a sacrifice but a speedier way to make that dream come true.
Then, if your savings and other financial goals are in order, sit back and enjoy your coffee.
Fool contributor Mary Dalrymple drinks tea but isn't immune to the call of a mocha (with whip). She doesn't own any Starbucks stock, but she welcomes your feedback.