Down the Drain

Jonathan Clements

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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