Yesterday my mom looked up from her Kindle and said, apropos of nothing, “A couple generations ago, you would have been married by now. But the millennials got hit really hard by two different financial crises, you know, the crash in 2008 and now COVID.” To which I said, “Yes. Yes, the financial crisis is definitely the reason I am not married. If it were not for the economy, surely suitors would be breaking down the door and I would be wed. Let’s go with that explanation.”
Whenever there is any talk about why millennials aren’t buying houses, or having kids, or if someone asks for student loan debt forgiveness, it’s only a matter of time before a commenter says, “Well, if only kids these days wouldn’t buy expensive coffee all the time, they would be able to save their money!”
Back in March (eons ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth), I started experimenting with buying fancy coffee. I spent day after day, week after week, stuck in the house and bored. Getting a new bag of coffee in the mail was exciting. New flavors broke up the monotony. Some brands that I have enjoyed have been Rwanda Bean and Green Tree Coffee and Tea (both based here in Maine), Chicago French Press, CaribBrew and Sweetgrass Trading Co. But my favorite coffee, which is my current go-to for daily life, is a blend called “Sunrise Warrior” from Native Coffee Traders. It’s organic and fair-trade and costs $10.95 for a 12-ounce bag of ground beans. I could certainly buy coffee for cheaper, but I would rather ensure that my morning cuppa (or, to be more accurate, cuppas) was grown in an ecologically responsible manner by farmers who were paid a fair wage for their work.
What can I say, I’m a bleeding-heart liberal.
But that’s coffee I make myself at home (like all the internet financial advisers say to do). Let’s say we are talking about fancy coffee shop drinks. I don’t actually know much about Starbucks (the stereotypical fancy coffee shop) drink pricing, because I’m more of a Dunkin’ girl. Fortunately my sister is an expert in this subject. I asked her how much a fancy Starbucks drink costs. She said somewhere between $5 and $10, depending on how many bells and whistles you get. I was a little afraid to ask her to go into detail about what, exactly, the bells and whistles could be.
Let’s say we average it out to $7.50. If you bought a $7.50 latte every single day of the year – 365 fancy cups of coffee – you would pay $2,737.50. As of August, the median home price in Maine was $270,000. It would take 10 years of a $7.50 daily coffee habit to save up a 10 percent down payment for that median home. When young folks complain about financial issues, I suspect it’s a lot easier for older folks to be glib and tell them to drink cheaper coffee than it is to reckon with the fact that millennials are the first generation in American history to be worse off than their parents.
A cup of good coffee – or, in my case, a 34-ounce travel mug from the hardware store – is a treat for the senses. The caffeine keeps you going and can push you through a long day. Science seems to go back and forth on how healthy coffee is, but if you drink it black, it’s low-calorie and fairly good for you. (And if you spend the money for good coffee, you can actually enjoy drinking it black, because it won’t have that sour aftertaste.) I’ve finally started a new job, but it involves a daily commute from Buxton to Brunswick and back again. I wake up at 6:15 in the morning and get home around 6:15 at night. Not to go full Charlton Heston, but you can take my pot of delicious coffee when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.
There’s not much of an incentive to scrimp and save and live not only frugally but also monastically if all your hard work and squirreled-away pennies can be blown away by a sudden, unexpected medical bill (even if you’re lucky enough to have insurance). Delayed gratification works only if you are sure that the reward will come. For most millennials struggling to get by, there’s no security that our hard work will be able to amount to anything in the end. So why not have the nice coffee?
For most people these days, small luxuries are affordable. The basics of a good life – health care, housing – are not.
Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at: