I got off the Acela train in Washington, D.C. the other morning at 8:50 a.m. There in the station, winding down the hall was a curious line. People waiting for another train? Nope, Starbucks.
The line could not have been shorter than 20 minutes. As they always do, the friendly morning Starbucks workers were trying to move it along -- taking people's orders in the line and transmitting them via headset -- but anyone hopping in for a latte was looking at a serious investment of time.
I guess it's a triumph of branding, because within 100 yards in Union Station, there are several other wonderful spots to get coffee. Au Bon Pain, for instance. Or the Crumbs Bake Shop. McDonalds, likewise, serves a satisfying cup. You could have been in and out of any of those places in 3 minutes. Because none of them had a line.
In personal finance literature, people sometimes talk about the "latte factor" -- a phrase David Bach came up with to describe small repeated expenses that add up over time. Spend $4/workday on lattes at Starbucks, and you're drinking down $1,000 a year. But as I looked at the line, I realized there's a more important latte factor -- the tax on your time.
Because think about it: What else could you do with 15-20 minutes every morning? That's a time when many people are. You could go for a brisk walk, and probably lose a few pounds over a year. You could start your own blog and post daily, and over a year have a real readership and be an "expert" in your field. You could work on your resume and hunt for a better job. You could do some daily strategic thinking on how to move your career ahead. You could leave for work 15 minutes later and spend time focused on your family, or use that time to pray or meditate instead.
Instead, buying into the Starbucks mystique, people are throwing that time away. Yes, people were checking email in line, but we all spend way too much time on email anyway. Don't make the same mistake. Go where the line is short, or make your own coffee. Not to save money. To save time that you can use to do something far more energizing.