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Down the Drain

Jonathan Clements  |  June 2, 2019

TODAY, I REVEAL this year’s most embarrassing moment: On a recent Sunday, 14-year-old Sarah—stepdaughter of a moderately well-known financial writer—spent $16.47 to have two Starbucks specialty drinks brought to her by the food delivery service DoorDash.

Let that sink in for a moment.

In our defense, my wife and I were away for the weekend, and Sarah was staying at a friend’s house. In my defense, we aren’t talking about my DNA.

As you might imagine, this incident prompted quite the dinnertime conversation. I pointed out that, in many states, someone with a minimum wage job would need to work two hours to buy the two drinks. I also noted that $16.47 represented 11½ days of Sarah’s pocket money. But mostly, I suggested that it simply isn’t right to have an adult pick up two drinks from Starbucks and then deliver them to two 14-year-olds. Children should not have adults at their beck and call.

Sarah’s response: “It’s my money.”

We live in a wealthy town just north of New York City. My wife and I joke that we’re in the town’s low-income housing, which would seem even funnier, if you knew how much our apartment cost. Amid this affluence, Sarah’s behavior is no aberration. From what I gather, students regularly call the local pizza parlor from school and have them deliver to the main entrance—even if it’s just a single slice.

All this appalls me—for reasons good and bad. Whenever I go to the grocery store, I’m shocked at the bill. When did everything become so expensive? I’ve self-diagnosed this as “old people’s disease.”

And my ailment doesn’t stop there: If the cost of living strikes me as expensive, the way people live seems even more extravagant. Who needs those luxury cars, or the latest iPhone, or countless cable channels?

But then I tell myself I’m being silly. Why shouldn’t people live more extravagantly? Inflation-adjusted per-capita GDP is double what it was 41 years ago. We should be living better.

I’m just not sure 14-year-olds should be. When I order pizza to be delivered, I remember being in my 20s—and not ordering pizza, because I couldn’t afford it. That makes today’s pizza taste that much better. There’s nothing like the pleasure of a gradually rising standard of living.

But if you’re 14 and you’re already spending $16.47 to have two specialty drinks delivered, how much better can it get? I fear the good folks at Starbucks have their work cut out for them.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter @ClementsMoney and on Facebook. His most recent articles include Great DebatesDebtor’s Dozen and Here to Retirement. Jonathan’s latest books: From Here to Financial Happiness and How to Think About Money.

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PaulXIII
PaulXIII
1 year ago

Did they tip as well?

Jonathan Clements
Jonathan Clements
1 year ago
Reply to  PaulXIII

Apparently they did. From what I gather, teenagers aren’t great about tipping. We’ve tried to impress upon Sarah that this is how delivery people and wait staff make much of their income, so she needs to factor it into the cost.

Phil M
Phil M
1 year ago

I’m actually surprised it wasn’t delivered by drone. Starbucks had issues delivering coffee and it still being hot until they went to drones for a lot of their door-to-door service. No issues with children opening the door to someone either!

Langston Holland
Langston Holland
1 year ago

I’m wildly over thinking this Starbucks thing, but it’s an interesting topic.

I really think this boils down to living for the moment vs. living for a lifetime. Fast food provides no where near the satisfaction of a purposefully cooked meal, but it takes training and patience to learn this. The long game also becomes more fun in the short term when married to anticipation through experience.

Those with backgrounds that taught the long view are decreasing for a variety of reasons and have done so repetitively throughout history as disposable income increased. See Israel in the Old Testament. Yet people and cultures have also done well in both abundance and want, thus a high level of wealth isn’t the determinate, it’s just an enabler. Wealth can insulate from the consequences of believing and engaging in self-destructive ways. Cultures that believe we are born with positive natures are less likely to promote long view character molding in their youth than those who believe we are born with negative natures.

The incentives for the most powerful cultural influencers have quarterly financial targets or 4 and 6 year election cycles. Thus a bottom-up approach is needed to overcome this opposition and the contributors here are part of this solution. Fight the power! 🙂

Bill Combs
Bill Combs
1 year ago

You say: “But if you’re 14 and you’re already spending $16.47 to have two specialty drinks delivered, how much better can it get? I fear the good folks at Starbucks have their work cut out for them.” I think you last sentence misses the point. Your question is a good one: “How much better can it get?” But I think the real conclusion to be drawn is that it does not have to get any better for this 14-year-old and lots of other young people. They have such a great life now, as proven by the $16.47 order, what economic incentive do they have to succeed?

Great blog, by the way.

Dan H
Dan H
1 year ago

“Why shouldn’t people live more extravagantly? Inflation-adjusted per-capita GDP is double what it was 41 years ago. We should be living better.”

How come more people don’t think that being able to retire a few years earlier (if at all) counts as “living better”? I don’t live like a monk or anything, but we live well within our means and I’ll have the option to stop working well before 55. That’s my definition of “living better” – not overpaying for sugar liquids and convenience.

TaskForce141
TaskForce141
1 year ago

Thanks to taxes and paycheck deductions of all kinds, it takes about $1.50 of gross income to buy $1 of product.
So, if it really was her earned wages, it’s really $24.70.

TaskForce141
TaskForce141
1 year ago

If you look up the nutrition stats on Starbucks’ website for their specialty coffees, you’ll be astonished at the calories, fat, and sugar. A grande white chocolate mocha with whole milk and whipped cream has 14g of sat. fat and 53g of sugar.
She just paid $16.47 for obesity, heart disease, and cancer.

Jonathan Clements
Jonathan Clements
1 year ago
Reply to  TaskForce141

Not that it’s any comfort, but apparently these were specialty drinks, but not coffee specialty drinks. I suspect the nutritional stats were just as bad, but with less caffeine.

David J. Kupstas
David J. Kupstas
1 year ago

To me, the big issue here is developing good habits. If you’re 50 years old and sitting on a million bucks in savings, sure, pay for the Starbucks delivery. The ability to do so should be something you strive for. What if you don’t make much money in your adult years? You’ll be in for quite a shock when you can no longer afford the Starbucks delivery. Why grow accustomed to it? (By the way, the 50-year-old with the million bucks may not WANT Starbucks delivery, having learned to live quite well without it.)

GW
GW
1 year ago

Just to add the slightest bit of balance:

Value of Time

What if Sarah and her friend were studying intensively for an AP Bio test and aced it? Or working on a sophisticated play for English that won an award? Would the saved time getting a delivered caffeine boost then be worthwhile?

Standardization of Rapid Home Delivery

Rapid delivery has become a basic facet of our society. Tens of millions of homes in the US have Amazon Prime. With drone deliveries a few years away (yes, the technology is here; it’s simply arranging the logistics and addressing regulatory concerns) delivery Times will routinely be in the order of hours to minutes. A Starbucks via drone is no stretch at all and beverage delivery via drone is currently being trialed in one market.

So rather than this being about an adult at one’s beck and call, I intuit it’s more about rapidly changing expectations for delivery timing and availability.

CJ
CJ
1 year ago

Whenever I go to the grocery store, I’m shocked at the bill. When did everything become so expensive? I’ve self-diagnosed this as “old people’s disease.”

Right there with you. I rarely buy tics for concerts or events, but someone I love was playing nearby. Went on ticketmaster’s site – the service charges totaled almost 50% of the original ticket price! Stadium parking was $30. Um no thank you. I’ll just replay the CD (yup – kids – that round plastic thing old people used to buy.) And while I’m at it, I’ll pour myself a glass of wine from my $10 bottle – the same wine I’ve seen restaurants and venues here charge $15-17/glass to buy.

I spend plenty on travel, dining and other pleasures. I just want a modicum of reasonable value for my money. If more people walked away from nonsense like ridiculous resort fees, high ticket service charges and unreasonable liquor markups, you wouldn’t see it nearly as often.

(What gets me is that pay raises aren’t matching the nuttiness. Many companies are still doling out 1-2% wage increases, if that.)

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