All through undergraduate university years I never was a coffee drinker, but suddenly in South Korea in 2008 I found that I needed to take caffeine to the next level in order to not literally fall asleep while teaching English pre-school in the morning. Cafes are quite ubiquitous in the Seoul area, and I soon moved from high fat, high sugar, high calorie frappuccino drinks to cappuccinos and lattes. Standard drip coffee is quite rare in South Korea, so I wound up spending about $4.50 per day most days on these elaborate drinks. This habit continued for a few years while traveling and relocating to Canada and later the United States. When my income contracted, I did make it a less frequent habit. Over the years, however, I probably sunk $6000 in cafe spending, though this offered sanctuary, social outings, and complimentary WiFi.
Flash forward to 2015 and I decided I wanted to decentralize this process a bit and make my own frothy espresso-based drinks. The frother, a pump that I insert milk into and push about 20 times, and then stick into the microwave for about 20 seconds, set me back $21 including tax. Faced with savings interest rates less than 1% per year, I calculated that I would save about $300 a year working with raw materials, which would be like a 3% return on $10,000 locked into a certificate of deposit (term deposit) – a figure unmatched in today’s safe investments environment.
The thing about low interest rates and economies of scale is that they do induce a type of corporate fascism in that there are no stable returns and thus the people with a bit of foresight and discretionary income have to sit on their money. Money that does not circulate brings the economy down, particularly in a consumer-based economy. Therefore, on one hand I am being “forced” to austerity that hurts small, local business in order to get myself ahead, but on the other, that does not really take the responsibility away from me to make sure that I support local business or labor at large.
The compromise has been to go to cafes just as frequently as before, but save the more elaborate drinks for home, but order the most basic filter coffee at cafes when going out and still tip the barista/institution the same amount – typically $1.
How are you handling these daily, seemingly trivial, consumer Faustian choices?