Do You Really Need That? - Smart Money Seed


Do You Really Need That?

Small purchases are deceitful little bastards.

"A $2.00 coffee is harmless, right? Such a small purchase doesn't even move the needle of your bank account. It's only $2.00!" - an insincere small purchase out there somewhere

This is exactly what small purchases say to us all the time. Who cares if I spend $2 on a coffee, it's not like I'm buying a new pair of shoes or going out to eat. Small purchases make us think it's no big deal, but this is just part of their cunning act. 

A story all coffee lovers can understand.

Most of the legwork for Smart Money Seed's initial launch was
completed at Mission Coffee in Columbus. Our attempt at an
artsy photo didn't go quite as well as we hoped.
I pledged my alliance to coffee during my sophomore year of college. Since then, I can't remember many mornings that haven't started out with the bold, beautiful beverage. Soon enough those crooked small purchases discovered my addiction and haven't stopped harassing me. Starbucks, Tim Hortons, McDonalds... all of these coffee options at my fingertips waiting for me to indulge on my favorite morning drink. So why is this small purchase such a bad thing? Let's do some quick coffee math.

If I were to buy a $2 coffee everyday for a year, that's $730 down the drain. Throw in a few cappuccinos each week and that easily takes me over $1,000. I can find round-trip flights to Colorado for less than that! I can't give up coffee cold turkey, but there has to be better options. 

What does the math look like for coffee grounds? According to Cafe Milagro, I can make about 34 cups of coffee from a 12 oz bag, which means I need about 22 bags of coffee per year if I want to have two cups a day. This equates to about $200 a year if I want to drink Starbucks coffee. Even if I upgrade to K-cups I can still stay close $500 for the year. Either way, I still have enough savings for that trip out to the Rockies.

Despite my love and passion for coffee, I am able to curtail a lot of those small purchases by making most of my coffee in my pot at home or my Keurig at work. It's okay to still treat yourself to a nice coffee every now and then. In fact, this blog's first start was at a coffee shop in Columbus! I know, how basic are we? 

Guilty as charged.

I'd love to give you another example of me triumphing over those terrible small purchases, but I must admit that I am currently losing a battle of my own.

One of the cool perks of my job at Battelle is a cafeteria located just a few steps away from my office. Tons of tasty lunch options are available everyday, and they even serve breakfast! The convenience of grabbing a hot meal and being back to my desk within 10 minutes is very nice, but it comes with a price.

When I first started working, I only used the cafeteria for very busy days when I didn't have time to pack, but oddly enough, I soon found that I never had time to pack. I gave in to the convenience and no longer had the drive to pack a sandwich ahead of time. I tried to break my buying ways by bringing tortillas, turkey, cheese, and mayo to work to make wraps in my office, and it worked... for about a month. After 4 consecutive weeks of turkey and cheese wraps I was burnt out and went back to buying.

Too much of anything can be a bad thing. There is no excuse for me to buy my lunch 5 days a week, but that doesn't mean I need to pack everyday. Similar to coffee, my new goal is to only buy lunch once a week. This will certainly force me to sharpen up my packing habits, but it will still allow for me to enjoy the convenience of an easy, hot meal. Now wish me and my wallet some luck!

We're in this together.

Embarking on our journey for Texas in George.
I'm still not sure I've had better barbecue and 
spicy fried chicken in my life. 

Christian decided to fess up, so I might as well come clean too.

In the summer of 2014 I had an internship at Marathon's Galveston Bay Refinery. That meant a 19 hour drive in my 1994 Toyota Corolla to my apartment in League City, Texas. My dad, doing one of those things that dads just have to do sometimes, graciously volunteered to drive down with me. I guess I shouldn't say have to do because we both really enjoyed those few days we spent on our road trip despite his insistence on playing songs specifically about every major city we drove through. My ability to talk Dad out of stopping at any of the scenic overlooks along the way definitely aided my sanity.

Somewhere along the way, we got into one of those deep conversations just like you'd see in the movies. I want to preface this by saying that my dad grew up with loving parents who worked hard to provide for him and Uncle John, but he certainly wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth. My dad is the epitome of a self-made man. Although my family has never lived an extravagant lifestyle, my parents have worked incredibly hard to provide a comfortable life for us.

Dad, did you ever think that you'd live this life? Are there ever times that you step back and think "Holy shit, how did I get from where I started to where I'm at now"?

Yeah I actually do think about that sometimes. Especially when I can treat myself to something outside of the basic necessities, you know?

Is there something specific that makes you feel that way?

When I can buy something to drink while I'm driving, that makes me feel really rich.

As I reflected on this revelation, I realized that I also got a lot of enjoyment out of having something to drink while I drive. It also reinforced my understanding that my dad and I are quite simple men. To this day, I'll pop into a gas station for a Vitamin Water if I'm heading off for a drive any longer than about an hour and sometimes shorter.

I know I should buy these drinks in bulk at the grocery store, and that's something that I'm working on doing more often. I'm sure the extra $0.50 per bottle I'm paying at the convenience store has added up to something substantial over time, and I really don't get any extra benefit from this buying pattern.

A lesson from our past life.

What if someone dangled a Snickers, Slim-Jim, or Speedy Freeze, in your face all day while you worked? You'd probably be tempted to give them a try, right? Welcome to our prior lives delivering ice for Home City.

Walking in and out of gas stations and grocery stores all day takes a toll on your wants and needs, and before you know it, that Speedy Freeze becomes something you can't live without. This is just another great example of how small purchases play tricks on us and steal from our hard-earned cash. Believe it or not, however, we didn't spend our entire paychecks on candy bars and pop.

Our tried and true method for fending off those wants that seemingly become needs is simple; make a rule for yourself and stick to it. Save the Speedy Freezes for tough days, only buy Slim Jims on Friday, or limit yourself to 2 Snickers a week. The key is to make a rule that is realistic and achievable. After that, you just need to hold yourself accountable!

Disclaimer: This is a finance blog, not a food blog. We know some of our eating habits are questionable.

So what is the point? 

The message is simple: plan ahead and stand your ground. Pack your lunch, brew your own coffee, or make a list before you go to the store... whatever it takes to get rid of those bastard purchases. I'm not saying to never treat yourself to a bold Starbucks coffee or a refreshing Speedy Freeze, but just indulge in moderation.

Whatever your small purchase is, I challenge you to stand up and kick it in the teeth. Stop giving in to its devious ways and re-gain control of your money!


  1. Definitely something good for all of us to think about. Would be good to have some visuals on how those small savings can add up if invested in a 401(k) or IRA.

  2. Bravo! Great job - thoughtful message for all.