I’ve always considered myself a relatively low-level coffee drinker. Most of my life has been spent with coffee more as a part-time indulgence than a regular habit, but there have been recent periods of my life where I’ve started drinking it more regularly.
The first was the birth of my son, a little over a year ago. Long nights and early mornings spurred a daily coffee routine that really helped me get through those first few months. Since then, I’ve been off and on with the habit, though recently I’ve gotten back into the daily routine, as the addition of this blog to my daily responsibilities has kept me up later than usual and I’ve felt like I needed a way to make up for the lack of sleep.
My coffee habit is still relatively mild, typically just a single cup in the morning, but since I like to challenge my regular habits I’ve been thinking about what it means and whether it’s truly for my long-term benefit. As I thought about it, it started to feel more and more like a coffee habit might be comparable to a debt habit, so I thought I would explore that comparison here.
Debt allows us to buy something today that we don’t currently have the money to pay for.
Caffeine allows us to do something today that we don’t have the energy to do otherwise.
In both cases, there are natural ways to create the reserves we need (saving, sleep/exercise/etc.), but a lack of reserves is forcing us to borrow the resources needed to meet today’s responsibilties.
Negative long-term effects
The potential negative long-term consequences of debt are well-known. It decreases our financial flexibility, tying us to the lenders we owe and hindering our ability to choose the life we want to live. In extreme cases our debt can overtake us and force us into bankruptcy.
A coffee habit can get us from two angles: lack of sleep and the direct health effects of coffee.
The biggest potential negative long-term consequences come from a lack of sleep. If we’re using coffee or other sources of caffeine to fuel a sleep-deprived lifestyle, it’s very possible that we’re sacrificing tomorrow’s health for today’s productivity. Although everyone is different, research shows that most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep per night. And there are significant health concerns associated with sleep deprivation. According to WebMD, short-term consequences of lack of sleep include decreased alertness, memory and cognitive impairment, increased stress, decreased quality of personal relationships, and increased chance of automobile injury. But perhaps even scarier are the potential long-term consequences, which include obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression, and early death (though this is also associated with getting too much sleep).
The potential negative effects of coffee itself are much tamer, but they are present. Moderate amounts of caffeine are perfectly healthy for most people, but once your habit passes 4 cups per day (over 500-600 mg of caffeine), you run the risk of insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, upset stomach and muscle tremors, among others. There are also potential health effects when you add excessive amounts of sugar or cream.
There can be benefits when used in moderation
Though both debt and excessive amounts of coffee can have negative consequences, they can also be beneficial when used properly.
Most people could not afford a home without the use of a mortgage. Although in the short-term home ownership can be a poor financial decision, over the long-term it can save you money. And of course the lifestyle benefits of having a stable home in which to raise a family are an important consideration. Debt can also be used to fund a college education, or even to buy a car that allows you take advantage of opportunities you otherwise couldn’t. Anyone who takes advantage of credit card rewards is using debt to their benefit. (Even if you pay your balance off in full every month, it’s still debt. You just aren’t paying interest on it.)
Likewise, coffee in moderation has several positive benefits, the most obvious of which is the increased alertness you feel after drinking it. Even if you get enough sleep, the extra boost from a good cup of coffee can help you start your day feeling good and being productive. But there are numerous studies showing long-term benefits of coffee as well. This article from lifehacker sums them up well. Namely, there is evidence that coffee can make your smarter, improve physical performance, decrease your risk of Type II diabetes, Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s, protect you from liver disorders, decrease your risk of premature death, and provide your body with important nutrients and antioxidants.
Suffice it to say, there are ways to use both debt and coffee to your advantage.
I don’t think debt or coffee are inherently bad. When used properly, there are clearly benefits to be gained from both. I have to say though that going into this, I had a much more negative perception of the health effects of coffee than the research seems to suggest. Going forward, I think the key is to know how it can help me and also how it can’t.
Coffee can’t replace sleep, just like debt can’t replace savings. A proper amount of both savings and sleep is critical to your long-term health. But supplementing those with a moderate and responsible amount of borrowing in the right places can potentially help you reach your long-term goals.
For now, I’m keeping my daily coffee habit. What about you?
Photo courtesy of ultrakml