There have been several articles and blog posts lately attacking the ‘Starbucks makes you broke’, and other ‘give up coffee and save money’ advice. There are those that like to debunk anything that appears to pass judgement on any of their habits or indulgences, and then there are those that have simply missed the big picture. ‘Broke by coffee’ was never about the coffee.

It is, and always has been, about priorities. This concept isn’t anything new – most people of the older generation gave up everything that wasn’t an absolute necessity, to go into business, pay off debt, or set some money aside for a rainy day. Priorities have changed over the years, and on the surface it doesn’t appear as though debt repayment and saving for the future are high on the list. Looking at your daily habitual expenditures is a good way to spot the holes in your financial behavior, but somewhere along they way the big picture message delivered in any article that had “money” and “coffee” in the title, was missed. Perhaps it is because people are so shocked to realize how much is spent on daily coffee habits, that the finding is repeated as a stand-alone savings problem. Coffee is simply a great example that everyone can relate to, of an everyday expenditure that can add up to a fortune in future value.

Now, don’t panic… you don’t have to give up your expensive lattes, but you do have to prioritize your decisions:

Is it more important to me that I drink expensive coffee for the next 20 years, or have $50,000+ to travel when I’m older?

Should I go out for lunch every day, or brown-bag it and save $30,000+ to put toward a house down payment?

You can apply this line of reasoning to everything from clothing and entertainment, to chocolate, smoking, and drinking. There are also bigger and more complex priorities (particularly relevant to the younger generation), that can save you lot more money. In hindsight, I’m sure most university and college graduates that are saddled with crippling student debt, wish they would have understood how important their choice of priorities was going to be to their future. If they could wind back the clock, this question should be on the top of their list:

Is it more important for me to be in this particular program of study even though the job prospects are poor – OR – that I am not saddled with student debt that I can never repay, and go into another field that actually has employment opportunity? Tough questions like this are the ones that can have the biggest impact on future financial well being.