Women and Coffee

Last night my amazing Korean tutor who lives in Hong Kong and popped off about my boy problems told me, “I moved to Hong Kong because I got married. But it didn’t work out.”

She’s lived in Hong Kong for 8 years and I’m desperate to know more: if she wants to move back to Korea, what happened with her husband… I asked her if she wanted to remarry to which she swiftly and vehemently said “no”. She added that a boyfriend would be nice. I’m really amazed that she uprooted her life for her spouse and then decided to stay anyway. What a queen!

All this continues to convince me that partnership with a person who’s almost but not quite right is more physically and emotionally draining than simply going your own way. The closer I get to the age cliff of “un-marriageability” (I’ll happily para-glide off of it) the more I think many marriages just seem really really tough. Much tougher than advertised. But I’m very lucky to live in a place and time where it’s my choice.

Lacking someone with whom to split the bills is certainly financially straining but I also don’t have to bend to the will of my father or nation or promise of economic security. It wasn’t until the 1960s that a woman in the US could open her own bank account without her father’s or husband’s permission.

But this brings me to an annoying and patronizing phenomenon that LinkedIn and other financial sites love to scold millennials, and especially millennial women, with: “If you stopped buying coffee every day, you could save a million dollars.”

Well friends, I ran the calculation because I like Excel and I have a lot of free time.

Assuming you buy coffee every workday, your average spending per year will be between $600 (a large black coffee from Starbucks) – $1,300 (a large Starbucks Frappuccino, the most expensive menu item). This also assumes that you plan to spend $2.45 to $5.25 every weekday of every year but instead of handing that cash to the barista, you deposit it into your bank account.

*Starbucks prices as of December 2019
https://food.ndtv.com/restaurants/starbucks-prices-and-menu-1793130

Assuming that you invest this money in a moderate mutual funds account with a conservative 6% growth rate compounded annually, you can save a million dollars. In 78 years.

*Years 11-64 not shown to save space.

Ah yes, I too have no greater desire than to be a millionaire in my 100s.

There is this assumption from older people who are well settled and benefited from the days of pensions and company loyalty who love to preach to younger generations that if they just give up the things that make them happy, they too can have money. You know, I could really save so much money if I didn’t have to pay rent, or eat.

Minimum wage in the US hasn’t risen at all in ten years. That means it hasn’t even been adjusted for inflation in ten years. Companies no longer do a one to one pension match (I actually get a one to one pension match here in South Korea) and usually to get a raise more than 1-4%, young educated professionals must switch companies. That’s how I got a $23,000 raise– an amount of raise I would have never seen at my first company for a decade, even though I was wildly underpaid for my abilities and for the cost of living in one of the richest cities in America.

Of course at that other job, where I was finally being paid within a range I was worth, my year end raise was…. 1%. My company bonus was $800 (before tax). Absolutely laughable. And even though I fought for that salary, the new guy they hired who had a Master’s but no experience, was actually going to get paid $5,000 more a year than me.

I learned then that I should ask at least $15k more than I’m worth because men certainly seem to be doing so. (In fact, a recruiter later told me that what seemed to me a high salary was actually low for my position title.)

Of course, I’m now working a job where pay is set in stone because it comes out of the public purse. Its frustrating in that way (I did well, can I get a raise? No.) but also a bit of a relief: I never have to question where I stand.

However, once I get credentials and some experience I know I can make some serious money in places that are hurting for teachers, like mainland China. In fact, I could make my close to my Associate Product manager salary in China but also have my rent and transportation paid for in addition to low income tax.

And back to the articles. You know how we could also save a million dollars? By getting a raise.

I know I could have saved more money had I chosen cheaper housing when I lived in the US. But that’s the trade-off you choose to make. Would I make the same decision to live somewhere so expensive? Maybe not but I can’t say for certain; I did enjoy my time there.

This is not to say you shouldn’t invest, or save aggressively when you have a goal in mind. But don’t give up your small joys because a man who works for Wall Street told you if you only weren’t so “lazy” and “frivolous” and bought less avocado toast you’d be a millionaire. You too can be a millionaire if you major in finance, move to NYC to become a stockbroker, and play with insider trading.

White Goodman For President - Album on Imgur
I can’t help but think of this scene from the movie Dodgeball (2004).

Basic financial advice still holds: be a good Lannister and pay off your debts, don’t spend more than 30% of your salary on housing if you can help it, aim to save another 30% and establish an emergency fund, avoid any vehicles that cost more than $25k, start investing when you can, and argue for a raise.

And don’t be afraid to keep drinking coffee and eating avocado toast.

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