Americans buy more than 4 million caffè lattes, cappuccinos, frappuccinos, and other Starbucks beverages every day. A quick cup of coffee, a few moments of pleasure. What could be wrong with that? If you ask David Bach, a lot. According to him, the Starbucks latte is one of the leading sources of our money woes.
Bach calculated that eschewing a $5 daily bill at Starbucks—because who, after all, really needs anything at Starbucks?—for a double nonfat latte and biscotti with chocolate could net a prospective saver $150 a month, or $2,000 a year.
People couldn’t get enough of the latte factor. It seemed to explain all our woes, all our lack of financial discipline. Give up that latte and save a six-month emergency fund!
There was only one thing wrong with the latte factor. It wasn’t true. It didn’t work mathematically. It didn’t work in terms of what we were actually spending our money on. And it didn’t take into account what life costs were actually rising or falling.
As Elizabeth Warren and her daughter, Amelia Tyagi, revealed in their book The Two-Income Trap, the problem was much more complicated than many personal finance gurus would have it. It wasn’t that an entire generation had suddenly decided to purchase lattes and other frivolities at the expense of their financial futures.
Warren and Tyagi demonstrated that buying common luxury items wasn’t the issue for most Americans. The problem was the fixed costs, the things that are difficult to cut back on. Housing, health care, and education cost the average family 75 percent of their discretionary income in the 2000s. The comparable figure in 1973: 50 percent.