My Starbutts Drive-by

March 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Spending

big_buttsHave you seen a collection of butts like these?  I have.

This past week I drove through the parking lot of a local business center to drop off a movie we had rented. Next door to the movie store was our local Starbucks. It was quite busy with the “on the way to work” morning latte’ and muffin crowd.

I have never been a fan of Starbucks (although I did own some of their stock during the boom years.)  I think they sell mostly low nutritional value items for mostly not-worth-it premium prices.  (I admit it is easier for me to say this because I do not drink or even like coffee.)

For some reason, I found myself briefly fixating on – how shall I say this – the anatomy of the customers going into and coming out of Starbucks.  Let’s just say that a majority of the Starbucks customers seemed to be transporting muffin tops, spare tires, or large cabooses.   And they were not carrying these anatomical accessories in their hands, if you know what I mean.

So it struck me as I resumed my morning commute that Starbucks is one of those places where American consumers can practice two of the vices that we are famous for:  spending too much and eating too much.

I decided to check out the nutritional value of the Starbucks menu.  To its credit, you can access all of it in great detail on the Starbucks nutrition website.  My casual study of the drink items told me that the typical coffee-based beverage was in 300-500 calorie range, with 8-25 grams of fat.  That is a lot for a morning drink.  Add a muffin or piece of coffee cake and things can quickly get out of hand.

Then I came across a recent article from the New York Times, reporting on a new campaign that Starbucks has launched to try to undermine the perception that Starbucks sells items at premium prices.  Starbucks wants consumers to understand that the “average Joe” can afford a “cup of Joe” at Starbucks.  I’m not sure that will work.  These are people who are willing to plunk down $3 or more for a cup of coffee each and every morning.  This is a classic example of  “I deserve it”  luxury spending.  Do you really want these customers thinking that a coffee and muffin experience at Starbucks is in the same money league as the McDonald’s drive-thru?

Mr. ToughMoneyLove doesn’t like spending $3-$5 every day for breakfast, at Starbucks or anywhere else.  Whether you “deserve it” or not, I think it’s a wasteful extravagance.  It can also lead to the “Starbutts” syndrome that I observed this week.  I eat at home or eat something at work that I brought from home.  The average cost is less than a $1.  That savings can add up, in my wallet and around my waistline.

I think I will get some push back on this from coffee-beverage lovers.  What do you think about my observations?

Photo credit:  R4vi


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14 Responses to “My Starbutts Drive-by”
  1. Matt SF says:

    Starbutts — love it! Starbucks will never overcome the disposable income image.

    They can spray paint themselves with whatever image the PR department creates each year, but as long as a mocha frappa crappa latte costs $4/cup, they’ll always be among the first companies to take a hit during an economic downturn.

  2. K-money says:

    I don’t like coffee myself so I too am lucky that this is not a temptation for me. My roommate works within sight of a fast food place and a sandwich shop and noticed that the fat people go to the fast food place and are munching their food as they leave the drive-thru window while the sandwich shop customers are fitter and more likely to be on foot. If you want to discover if a place serves junky food just watch who the patrons are.

    BTW – I had a hard time finding your newest post when I clicked on the link, it just brought me to the home page and from there it isn’t obvious (to me) where the newest post is. Other than that I like the new look.

  3. SJ says:

    Ugh I hate coffee; or rather, don’t see the point.
    Eating out for breakfast is sooo overpriced; on the other hand it’s also my favorite meal to eat out for =) … after all-nighters or what not hehe.
    McDonald’s bfast was brilliant!

    I think the model kind of works… it IS overpriced but they’ve done a decent job at showing it as a luxury good well within everyone’s reach.
    And then there’s mcD that offers free coffee’s mondays (or did?)

  4. MasterPo says:

    Starbucks isn’t selling “coffee”. They’re selling a concept, a feeling, a state of mind (and a status symbol).

    Personally, I rarely bought a SB drink even years ago when time were better. Now I haven’t had one in memory.

    I think 7-Eleven ha better coffee. :-)

    But even that adds up over time.

    Get a coffee maker and make it yourself.

    Or better still – drink water.

  5. Tom says:

    I have to admit I love Starbucks coffee.
    But it sure is a waste of money so I’ve been trying to cut down …
    My plan is to completely stop but I’m finding it so hard.
    Someday.

  6. CLB says:

    I don’t think the issue is the issue of can a person more cheaply make coffee at home (yes) or if it is a waste of money to buy it (that’s a personal opinion). The issue is has the buyer sat down, looked at their options and budgeted. I don’t begrudge someone the purchase – I make it on occasion myself. I do wish people would realize that the $4 spent on coffee is the choice to not spend $4 elsewhere. That may mean a person can’t buy a new house/car/etc. in order to have this daily ritual. Does it matter where a person spends their discretionary money so long there is a corresponding sacrifice? If two people were to compare where their money went, one person’s necessities would be another’s frivolous spending.

    As for the anatomy of the customers, it’s an overall trend in America and is an interesting comparison to American’s penchant over spending. I really view eating right as ‘spending’ my daily calorie allowance and budget it much like I do my money. Again, I think it’s less of a issue of how a person spends their food budget, but that every person should recognize that there is a cost – eating one item (say a 400 calorie latte) means that there has to be a give somewhere else.

  7. TMN says:

    I was thinking about this the other day while looking over my budget. I calculated that a morning latte and bagel + butter ($4.10, ~680 calories) is less than 20% of my monthly food budget ($450) and somewhere between 35-45% of my caloric intake depending on the day. That actually seems like a pretty good value to me.

    Now, I personally can’t stand Starbucks. Their coffee is weak and bitter, and their food selection is definitely biased toward the “frosted and stuffed with sugar” side of the spectrum. Tully’s is my favorite, since their coffee has actual flavor and they carry some simpler and presumably healthier food items. But I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with frequenting a coffee shop for breakfast. It’s possible to do so and still be financially and nutritionally responsible.

    For individuals such as those in the picture above I’d be very surprised if a visit to Starbucks was more than a small fraction of their budget in terms of calories or in terms of dollars.

  8. Roger says:

    I don’t recall seeing any ‘Starbutts’ at the only Starbucks in which I spend any sizable amount; in fact, most of the females I saw getting coffee were slim, fit, and most definitely not carrying any extra ‘anatomical luggage’. (I regret that, given my personal preferences, I didn’t give a rat’s patoot about the physical appearance of the male customers.) However, as a caveat, the only Starbucks I spend any time at happens to be in my girlfriend’s college library, and thus is almost entirely frequented by coeds. So, the only real conclusion there is college-age Starbucks customers are more in shape than middle-aged Starbucks customers (an observation that could easily be extended to frequenters of other establishments, I would think).

  9. LOL! There’s a reason Starbucks tends to be populated with megafauna: the coffee itself is awful — too awful to drink unless you dilute it with cream and saturate it with sugar. Once you have your sicky-sweet drink in hand, you see there’s nothing to eat at Starbucks but…yes! MORE sweets. So if you go in there hungry, you come out with a sweet gooey drink and a sweet gooey foodoid thing to stick in your mouth.

    I gained 15 pounds after Semi-Demi-Exboyfriend and I got in the habit of visiting Starbucks and Starbucks knockoffs every day or two. I’d never had a weight problem in my life…but then I’d never put cream, chocolate, and sugar in coffee before, either. Atkins took it off, but two years later it came back, unassisted by caffeinated confections. It’s true that once you put fat on, you’re unlikely ever to be truly rid of it.

    A plague, I say, upon Starbucks and all of its imitators. 😉

  10. Funny: Thanks for helping making the point of my article: There are better places to spend your money and your calories!

    TMN and others: I will grant you that my personal survey was far from scientific. And I could probably find a high percentage of overweight people walking into and out of lots of different food establishments. It’s just that Starbucks as a concept has always bothered me. It’s kind of like buying gas at a full-service station (do we still have any of those?)

    Thanks for visiting.

  11. katy says:

    You are on the money. I have a neighbor who probably lives on credit cards and says ‘I like to treat myself’! I don’t ask her why she’s pissing away her money. The same people who play lotto at my last workplace go to sbux twice a day. Single mothers…I think it makes them feel special.

    I’ll make Bustelo at home.

  12. I love their chai lattes. If I could make them at home instead, I would. But it never turns out the same :(

    Anyway, what’s the harm in a little treat now and then?

  13. Ryan says:

    @Fabulously Broke: Now and then is one thing – daily habit is a whole other thing. I occasionally go to SB and pay $4 for a frozen coffee drink. Maybe once every six weeks or so, and it doesn’t break my budget.

    It’s the same mentality as diets – most people suggest having a “free” meal built into your diet, so you don’t go crazy. There’s nothing wrong with a juicy burger or chicken wings, as long as that isn’t your nightly dinner.

  14. Too funny!
    True some Starbucks look like the Sunday line at the Old County Buffet and in other neighborhoods it looks like the line at the Gold’s Gym. I guess it depends what part of town you’re in – it’s defiantly a weird phenomenon!

    I do agree it’s a bit extravagant for a cup of coffee everyday both money and calorie wise. Though the atmosphere is a reasonable spot to hang out and get together away from the house without dropping the cash for an entire meal – clean, fairly quiet, comfortable etc, You know what your getting. At least that’s what I see here in Seattle.

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