Suze Orman wants young people to stop “peeing” away millions of dollars on coffee. Last month, the personal-finance celebrity ignited a controversy on social media when a video she starred in for CNBC targeted a familiar villain: kids these days and their silly $5 lattes. Because brewing coffee at home is less expensive, Orman argued, purchasing it elsewhere is tantamount to flushing money away, which makes it a worthy symbol of Millennials’ squandered resources.
Orman’s not alone in this view. The old guard of personal finance has spent years turning the habit of buying coffee into a shorthand for Americans’ profligacy, especially that of young Americans. Dave Ramsey, a finance personality who hosts a popular radio show on getting out of debt, says that forgoing lattes is one of four keys to saving thousands of dollars. Kevin O’Leary, one of the investors on the entrepreneurial reality show Shark Tank, once told CNBC, “I never buy a frape-latte-blah-blah-blah-woof-woof-woof.” Even the official Twitter account for Chase Bank has gotten in on the fun, intimating via meme that a failure to brew at home is why young people don’t have any money.
In the face of coffee shaming, young people usually point to things like student loans and housing prices as the true source of the generation’s instability, not their $100-a-month cold-brew habits. Nonetheless, coffee endures as a personal-finance flash point because it provides such a tidy intersection of generational tensions. A cup of coffee embodies changes in everything from how younger Americans eat to where they live and how they approach their finances. For young people who buy one each morning, the walk up to the barista can be a shame-tinged tug of war.