Is a Coffee Habit Comparable to a Debt Habit?


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.

Borrowed resources

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

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42 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • June 12, 2013

    What a great comparison! Moderation is key!

  • Holly Johnson June 12, 2013

    I am a total coffee addict, BUT I don’t drink it after 1 or 2 p.m. I sleep like a rock so I don’t think it’s a problem for me. I’ve really cut down, though. I used to drink 6-8 cups a day and now I drink more like 3 or 4.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 12, 2013

      Yeah, not drinking it later in the day is definitely a good strategy. If I drink more than one I start to get jittery, so that’s plenty for me!

  • DJ Wetzel June 12, 2013

    HAHA. I would never give up my coffee addiction, but I enjoyed your comparison and I think it has merit!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 12, 2013

      Most people wouldn’t, and from the research it looks like don’t really have to. Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Andrew June 12, 2013

    Great analogy! Nothing is black and white…there are always gray areas…so like Jules said, everything in moderation. I think I am like you. I don’t drink coffee right now, none. But when the baby arrives, I have a feeling I might need the caffeine. I don’t foresee drinking more than 2 cups though.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 12, 2013

      Oh yeah, the lack of sleep thing with a baby might be a cliche but it’s no joke. And it’s a great point about nothing being black and white. People are always searching for the answer, but the answer is almost always that “it depends”. Not the most satisfying thing in the world, but the truth.

  • DC @ Young Adult Money June 12, 2013

    I drink too much coffee…and I add too much cream : (

  • AvgJoeMoney June 12, 2013

    Great analogy. I love how the message needs to change depending on the audience. For someone who can’t stay away from debt, a debt-free life might fit the bill. However, for responsible people, leverage can go along way…alongside a great cup of java.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 12, 2013

      Couldn’t agree more. There’s no one right way for all people to go about things. Knowing your own personal limits is key to making the right decisions for yourself.

  • John S @ Frugal Rules June 12, 2013

    Love the analogy Matt! I used to drink coffee much less before we started our business and now that I am up at all hours I drink it nearly every day. I never drink it past Noon though so it does not impact my sleep at all.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 12, 2013

      Sometimes it feels like life just necessitates it. I guess that’s what, in the long run, I’d like to avoid though. I don’t want coffee to be the only way I can survive, I just want it to be a supplement. Just like I want my savings to be what keeps me going, with debt available as a tool in my arsenal that I can use at my discretion.

  • Pauline June 12, 2013

    Great analogy. I don’t drink coffee, never liked it much or took the time to acquire the taste. If it does allow you to function better then that is great, and the cents going to that will be saved in extra productivity.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 12, 2013

      It’s weird how it’s such an acquired taste, and yet so many people drink it. I’m not sure I’ve heard anyone talk about how much they loved coffee the first time they tasted it. But like you say, if it is truly benefiting you then it’s certainly a useful tool.

  • Shannon Ryan June 12, 2013

    Great analogy, Matt. I agree that debt or caffeine are not inherently bad. It’s when it becomes excessive and out of control is when the problems start. You have to know which side of the coin you fall on. Can you handle debt responsibly or should avoid it? I’m more of a tea drinker but it still has caffeine in it. I actually find it more relaxing than stimulating and it thankfully does not affect my ability to sleep. Coffee for me is more a pick-me-up.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 12, 2013

      My wife likes tea as well. It’s never really been my thing. Your point about having to know yourself is a really good one. There are very few things that are inherently bad, but there are plenty of ways you can abuse those things with bad consequences.

  • Grayson @ Debt Roundup June 12, 2013

    Spot on Analogy Matt. I am like you. I didn’t even drink coffee before my son was born, but now I have a cup every morning. I would like to get back off of it and just go back to cold water, but that means I need to come up with a plan. Just like debt, you need to start with a plan.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 12, 2013

      I’ve been thinking I’d like to get back off it too, but the research I did for this article really seems to show that it can be good for you in moderate amounts, or at least not bad. I was kind of expecting to find that it was bad for you no matter what. But either way, you’ve got to find what works for you.

  • Pretired Nick June 13, 2013

    I’m the same: A couple cups of homebrew in the morning. Not a big deal. But people who have to buy a $6 coffee milkshake every day make me crazy!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 13, 2013

      I make my own coffee too, but I can understand why some people would pay for theirs. If you’ve got the important stuff handled, indulging in certain areas is fine by me.

  • Greg June 13, 2013

    Everything in moderation, right? I read drinking coffee is good for my heart. So I drink one cup in the morning and that is it. And, of course, so as not to add to any debt issue, I drink the free stuff at work 🙂 .

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 13, 2013

      I was definitely surprised by some of the health benefits. Makes it easier to justify the regular habit.

  • Ree Klein June 13, 2013

    Loved the comparison! Another possible down-side of coffee consumption (which I love) is the risk that a person might start taking sleep aids to counter the effects of the caffeine.

    I suppose that would be like borrower against your house to pay off your consumer debt. Bad idea all the way around!

    Ree ~ I blog at

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 13, 2013

      Good point about sleep aids. Hadn’t thought about that but it could definitely be a negative consequence. As for your example, I do agree that people with debt problems should try to avoid solving them with more debt. But at the same time, if you can swap a higher interest rate for a lower one, that can definitely make financial sense, assuming you have a real plan in place to pay off the lower one. But it’s dangerous if you start relying on that to get you out of jams.

  • Charlotte Baker June 13, 2013

    It would probably be wrong for me to admit that reading this article made me want a frappuccino…but it did! At least I make my own. And it didn’t make me want any debt…so that’s good!

  • Budget & the Beach June 13, 2013

    I love how debt can be compared to so many things. lol! I was a one-cupper a day person but now that I exercise in the morning I prefer this powder called e-boost because it’s easier on my stomach. I think all in all, anything in excess is bad….although I guess no debt at all is better than even a little debt. 🙂

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 13, 2013

      Interesting, hadn’t heard of e-boost before. Looks like a pretty good alternative. I tried some OTC caffeine pills at one point because coffee was rough on my stomach, but those just made me jittery. I’ve been exercising in the morning too though and I think that definitely helps my energy.

  • Lindsey @ Cents & Sensibility June 13, 2013

    Matt, I love the way you take your time to really look at the habits and patterns in your life and make conscious decisions that work the best for you. I always come away from reading one of your articles thinking a little differently about things.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 13, 2013

      Thanks Lindsey! To be honest, I haven’t been very conscious about my decisions for a lot of my life. It’s something I’ve been trying to work on recently. Thanks for the encouragement.

  • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer June 14, 2013

    Great post, Matt. I’ve never been a coffee drinker (Thank God. Can you imagine what our debt load would be if I was a latte’ girl????) but I do indeed get the whole debt thing. Proceed with caution and moderation, I’d say.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 14, 2013

      Haha, yeah I don’t really picture you as the Starbucks triple venti espresso type (is that the right terminology? Haha). Caution and moderation are almost always good things.

  • Kim@Eyesonthedollar June 15, 2013

    I don’t drink coffee, but do like a diet Pepsi with ice in the morning. It also started after my daughter was born. I don’t think it’s too bad. When I have a soda, I try to drink and equal or greater amount of water throughout the day. It would probably be best to give it all up together, but I think you have to have at least one vice, right?

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 15, 2013

      I don’t think soda, coffee or anything in that vein is bad for you in moderation. Drinking water as well is a great way to make sure you’re giving your body what it needs. I drink a ton of water every day. It definitely helps me feel helpful.

  • Good points. Regardless of what time I go to bed, if I wake up before 6, I seem to need coffee to get through the morning. After 6, and I can function fine without it. However, if I consume just about any kind of caffeine after 8pm, I’m going to have trouble sleeping that night.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 17, 2013

      Oh yeah, any coffee after 2 or 3 gives me trouble. Interesting that 6am is such a tipping point for you. I actually find that waking up earlier is tough no matter what time I go to bed too. But I also like getting up early to get things done.

  • June 24, 2013

    What an interesting comparison.. one that I’m sure a lot of people would rather not make (myself included) just out of a deep love for coffee and financial responsibility. I would echo the point about moderation, making coffee at home, trying to switch it up and not have a cup every day (to curb the addictive nature of caffeine) etc. Great conclusion!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney June 24, 2013

      Haha, yeah I wasn’t real excited about the comparison either, which is maybe why I came to such a positive conclusion for coffee!

  • GamingYourFinances July 1, 2013

    Going to stick with my coffee habit but I did stop buying coffee every day. This should save me $468/yr! That money will go directly onto the mortgage. We’ll be debt free in 2014!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney July 1, 2013

      Making your own coffee is definitely a good money-saver. Congrats on the path to debt freedom!

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