An industry of experts exists to advise us on how to spend our money. Some of those experts are truly on your side and sincerely want to help you be better with money. Some of those experts are … not exactly on your side, and are perhaps more interested in riling us up about our spending. It can be difficult to tell them apart, and it makes our already-fraught relationship with money even worse.
Earlier this month CNBC generated an outrage cycle about money advice by tweeting this story, in which the personal finance professional Suze Orman claimed that buying coffee means “you are peeing $1 million down the drain as you are drinking that coffee.” (Even the legendary writer Susan Orlean weighed in.) Earlier this summer, USA Today generated a similar negative buzz when it published an article from the money website The Motley Fool that claimed Americans waste an average of $18,000 a year on “nonessential items,” which they said included personal grooming, gym memberships, restaurants, coffee and lunch. These are all on top of similarly shaming articles that tell us we’re not rich because we sleep in and travel; because we buy shoes and jeans; and, of course, because we buy too much coffee.
While it is true that every one of us — including yours truly — can and should be smarter about spending, these small, sometimes necessary purchases are a just a sliver of a much wider story about our struggles with money that, in large part, can be traced back to the Great Recession, the debt load for younger Americans and broader trends about wage stagnation.
“For Americans under the age of 40, the 21st century has resembled one long recession,” the Times columnist David Leonhardt wrote earlier this year. “I realize that may sound like an exaggeration, given that the economy has now been growing for almost a decade. But the truth is that younger Americans have not benefited much.”
So, no, your coffee habit is not the reason you aren’t a millionaire,nor are the haircuts you get or the gym membership you have. But how can we improve our financial situation when we’re being shamed for enjoying a latte? Who can we trust? Is the advice we’re reading truly advice or is it meant to sell us something? It’s a mess!