The Pricey Song of the Siren

As dedicated readers know, I have recently implemented an Austerity Now! package of discretionary spending constraints. In this amplified state of diligence, the analysis of monetary value for items once commonly purchased becomes a new consideration. My business takes me onto the roads of the Charleston Tri-County area on a daily basis, and if the road trip becomes extended, I find myself yearning for a hot cup of Java the Hutt, a nickname a former manager of mine had for coffee which has stuck with me for years. He wasn’t much of a manager, but he could coin a nifty phrase.

I’ve long been a fan of Starbucks, going so far as to buy shares in the company. I proudly told everyone who ever mentioned a cup of coffee in conversation that I owned the famous Seattle-based coffee emporium, albeit a tiny speck of it. While no longer a shareholder, and less enamored of the place than I once was, I still find myself drawn to the Green Siren when I see her calling to me from the side of a busy road or intersection.main-qimg-abd21b60f728d344e6d4474b1b2c48a0-c

While Starbucks’ prices have been the butt of many a joke for years, I always justified my purchase because I stuck with the brewed coffee rather than the more elaborate handmade concoctions they offer, and my indulgence was only $2.32. A tad more than a comparable cup at Dunkin Donuts admittedly, but not so much so that it drove a change in my preferred vendor. However, under the increased scrutiny of Austerity Now! not knowing the markup on a bit of bean soaked in hot water caused me to drive right by the Siren’s beckoning melody and straight to a spreadsheet for a bit of calculation.

My preferred at home brew is a Cuban espresso under the brand name of Cafe Bustelo. I don’t drink it as espresso; I just brew it normally and it provides a rich and flavorful cup, as well as more of the health benefits for which coffee is known, than a more lightly roasted bean. I purchase a 10-oz brick at the local Wal*Mart for $2.98. No spreadsheet is required to know that brewing our own coffee at home is significantly less expensive than buying one out, from Starbucks or anyone else. But it wasn’t until I did the actual math that the shocking truth of the extravagant markup was revealed.

Each cup of my home brew, equivalent to the Grande-sized Starbucks coffee I purchase for $2.32, costs me $0.10 to make. Add $0.08 for the Stevia sweetener I have to purchase separately which Starbucks “gives” away at their mission control station for coffee perfection, and you get a comparable price of $0.18 for a cup of Joe’s Joe. The Starbucks Grande brewed coffee is packing a staggering 1187% markup. Granted, I am not including the costs of electricity used by my coffee maker, or the prorated costs of the coffee maker itself, nor the intangible value of not having to actually do the work, but I think the point is made. Allowing oneself to be seduced by the sultry tones of the mythical sea creature perched atop the ubiquitous Starbucks establishment is exposing oneself to flagrant retail inflation on an astonishingly affordable product.

Perhaps once the heavy veil of austerity has been lifted from my eyes, I will again indulge in overpriced coffee, but as Thomas Paine famously wrote in his letter to the Abbe Raynal; “The mind once enlightened cannot again become dark.” 

Austerity Now!

Being self-employed is challenging. Then again, so is being employed and come to think of it, being unemployed is assuredly demanding, but in not quite the same way. It seems most of what we face in life is difficult.

My chosen profession as a Realtor® creates ebbs and flows of highs and lows. Peaks and valleys in business bring the accompanying peaks and valleys in discretionary funds and the time has come to reign in spending like Greece, but without the rioting and social unrest.

I’ve had to expend significant capital of late on the business itself, which has brought about the need for constrained spending. It’s not my first austerity package, and I have developed a keen eye for wasteful expenditures.  In the past, johnnie_walker_black_label_scotch_whisky_4397004_i0easy reductions were found by eliminating Mr. Walker’s amber restorative for example, which while delightful to consume, comes in at a whopping $145 a gallon and probably gives one cancer. No, this time the cuts will require more creativity, and perhaps more sacrifice. As I opened my cabinet this morning for my ritualistic caffeine pill and nicotine gum, I had to reach deep into the box, for there was only one strip of cool-mint flavored drugs left.

I started chewing nicotine gum several years ago after reading that it was a powerful fat burner, and that unlike other fat burners, one didn’t adapt to it making it less effective over time. I started very slowly being quite wary of its sordid reputation, but the more research I read the more I was convinced that not only was nicotine good for fat burning, it was a cognitive enhancer and a powerful appetite suppressant, and that its dangerous reputation was guilt by association with the cancer causing cigarette smoke nicotine is so closely affiliated with.  Soon, my 2MG dose in the morning became a 4MG dose, followed quickly by another 4MG’s before heading to the gym. Then a 4MG piece after breakfast, perhaps one while going for a long drive. One in the early evening while walking the dog was pleasant, and sometimes, even late into the evening if I was feeling hungry but didn’t want to add to the day’s caloric indulgence, I’d sneak another 4MG piece of the apparently addictive substance.

Now I have proudly proclaimed many times, and I’m sure the boast can be found on this blog somewhere, that I don’t have an addictive personality and can stop doing anything at will. My résumé features what can be considered almost insurmountable addictions that I have waylaid effortlessly, including cigarettes, coffee, alcohol and chocolate. I once went 30 days with no Cool Whip. While I don’t wish to relinquish the stinging, peppery burning in my cheeks, the price tag is too steep, especially at the high volumes I’ve been consuming. A box of 170 pieces looks like an endless supply when first opened, with row upon row of yellow rectangles, sealed in absurdly difficult to open, multi-layered foil packets. I tear off the box top exposing the armada of drugs knowing that I can make them last if I want to, and feeling the power of restraint run through me. Yet somehow, as if time itself has been compressed, I find myself staring down at the last lonely ribbon of warriors. I decided today that a replacement box was not in the offing, and exercising tremendous willpower, I reduced their number by only one. Just 4MG of nicotine for today, December 19, 2016, but in only 7.5 hours, I will allow myself 4 more.

I tend to rip the bandage off quickly when a decision is made, but this time it felt different. Had I gone on with my usual unfettered chewing I’d be completely out in two to three days, and this being Christmas and all, it felt wrong to cause myself such abrupt sorrow. Instead, I will milk this last batch of nicotine with small teases of what once was, until the last foil wrapper is discarded, and I have to avoid the aisle at Wal*Mart that houses their replacements. May the strong winds of capitalism fill my sails soon, for until then, I will be tossed about by the whims of the seas.