I Broke the Takeout Coffee Ban (Just Once, I Think)

December 10, 2014

I’m now five months into the yearlong shopping ban I started on my birthday (July 7th). Did anyone think I wouldn’t last this long!? You can raise your hand, I won’t be offended. But the good news is I’m 5 months down (or 41.66% complete for you percentage lovers) and am proud to say I haven’t given up – at least, not entirely. I want to update you on both the shopping ban and the takeout coffee ban, but each suffered a minor setback after my last update and they now deserve separate posts of their own. The shopping ban setback was a little more intense, so let’s start with takeout coffee…

So far, the first 30 days of the takeout coffee ban have still proven to be the most difficult. During that time, whenever I felt the desire to go out and get a latte, the ban forced me to say no and, at the same time, recognize what my triggers were. By the 3-month mark, I felt as though I’d figured out what all my coffee habits were and thought I had successfully changed them. When my brain told me to get a latte before heading out to run errands, I told myself no and downed a glass of water before leaving instead. When I saw people pouring out of Starbucks with their red cups in hand, I reminded myself I had delicious beans from one of my favourite coffee shops in Toronto back at home. And when friends asked me out for coffee, I either said no or suggested we do something active instead. It only took 3 months, but I was certain I had kicked my takeout coffee addiction.

Just a few weeks after writing that update, however, I broke the ban – and I didn’t even realize it until it was too late. David was in town and we were having dinner at a Mexican restaurant on Commercial Drive. During our meal, we actually talked about our coffee drinking habits, the equipment we used to make it each morning, etc. I mentioned I only drink almond milk, which we both agreed is impossible to make foam with, and I added that not many coffee shops offered it anyway. Dinner went on and, when we were done, David asked if I wanted to go out for coffee. Without blinking, I said yes. We then walked up and down Commercial Drive, in search of a coffee shop that was still open. When we finally found one and walked up to order, I pointed out what was on the menu. “Omg! They have almond milk!” (I’m easily amused.) We paid, sat down, and I finished my entire latte before we brought up the shopping ban… which I then realized I had just broken.

I wish I could’ve seen the look on my face; it must have been total shock. How did that just happen!? Why did I say yes to coffee? I say no to everyone! Ahhh! Poor David felt awful, but we were also fascinated by the entire transaction. For starters, when he asked if I wanted coffee, nothing inside me registered that the answer was supposed to be no. As we walked up and down the street in search of a coffee shop, all I could think was that I hoped we found one soon. (It was raining.) Then we all know I got really excited about the almond milk. When I handed over my credit card to pay, no part of me felt like I was breaking any rules. And I sipped on it for probably 15-20 minutes, before we got on the subject of the ban and realized what I had done. “I wonder how many times you’ve done that without realizing it,” David added. I’m certain the answer is 0 (before this), but honestly… would I have even realized I’d done it this time, if we hadn’t talked about the ban while at the coffee shop?

I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit thinking about this event, and I keep searching for the answer to one question: why didn’t I remember I was in the middle of the ban? I have a few ideas. First, if I simply analyze it as a habit, drinking a coffee after dinner is something I never, ever do. Since it was a situation I don’t usually find myself in, maybe none of my usual triggers were present to tell me not to? The second idea I had revolves around who asked me to have coffee. David doesn’t live here, and it was only the second time we’d hung out in person, so I’m not in the habit of saying yes or no to him about anything. We’d also talked a few times about meeting up one day, and it was nice to finally do so. And then the conversation was good and I had no idea when we’d see each other again, so maybe my brain just blocked the ban so we could keep talking?

My third guess came from some research I did around why we forget things. I discovered interference theory – more specifically, retroactive interference – which occurs when new information interferes with our ability to remember old information. Perhaps all our talk about how much we like coffee followed by his invitation to go for some registered as new/exciting information, which interfered with my ability to remember that I wasn’t supposed to? I don’t know. I’ve also joked that maybe he asked me on purpose, as a test. But David has been one of my biggest supporters of the shopping ban since the start, so there’s no way that’s true. (Or is it…?)

No matter what the right answer is, the fact is that I broke the takeout coffee ban once in October. I avoided all possible coffee shop interactions with friends in Vancouver in November, so I know it hasn’t happened since… but could it have happened once or twice before I said yes to David!? Based on the (lack of) evidence, I guess we’ll  never know.

I’ll share my shopping ban update on Monday. Until then, I’m curious: has something like this ever happened to you – where you did something before realizing you weren’t supposed to?

Flickr: duncan

  • Alice @ Earning My Two Cents December 10, 2014 at 4:25 am

    I understand. I think it’s easy to get caught up in excitement over something, even so small as almond milk, and then Just go buy it. I have found myself waiting in line to checkout and then I come out of a “shopping blackout” and realize that even though it’s inexpensive, its not in the budget and have to get out of line and put it back. Or the rationalization begins and I try to talk myself into it. Sneaky, sneaky brain.

    • Cait Flanders December 10, 2014 at 8:16 pm

      Ohhh the rationalizations! Just wait until Monday’s update re: the shopping ban. Our brains are super sneaky, indeed.

  • Mrs. Frugalwoods December 10, 2014 at 4:37 am

    Totally, I think it happens to everyone at some point. The good news is that yours was just with a coffee–not too expensive an undertaking. I’m on a clothes shopping ban for 2014 and I did pretty much the exact same thing–I bought a $0.50 belt at a garage sale and didn’t remember the ban until much later in the day! I blame Mr. FW for not reminding me ;).

    • Cait Flanders December 10, 2014 at 8:16 pm

      Haha, yea why didn’t he remember? ;)

  • Giulia December 10, 2014 at 4:48 am

    I understand it, but coffeee is not so expensive, however I planned to don’t buy books for 6 months, the ugly truth is that I can resist to clothes, bags, shoes but not about bookshop, luckily I fix a budget for everything:P or I’d must declare bankruptcy for books overspending!!!

    • Cait Flanders December 10, 2014 at 8:17 pm

      Ha, you and me both.

  • Alicia December 10, 2014 at 5:00 am

    I made a semi-valiant attempt to stop drinking coffee last month. It lasted about 5 days. But that’s because I had to keep re-setting it because my habits and auto-pilot were stronger than my mind early in the morning. I wouldn’t think anything of it. Or my “work husband” offered me a cup of coffee because I was freezing in my office. I drank half the cup and then realized “oh I’m not supposed to be drinking this”. It’s just because it’s so engrained in routine. Plus, it’s nice to be able to hang around and chat over a warm beverage – it’s soothing.

    • Cait Flanders December 10, 2014 at 8:19 pm

      So did you stop the challenge altogether after 5 days, or did you eventually stop drinking coffee? Also, why did you want to stop? Maybe the reason wasn’t motivating enough? Just brainstorming here! I’m curious why these challenges do/don’t work.

      • Alicia December 11, 2014 at 3:28 am

        My main reason is I am using coffee and caffeine as a crutch to wake up on weekdays, but the weekends I dont at home. I’m still trying to limit my coffee, but I thought over Christmas break when I have 9 days off I will have more of a stretch where I don’t drink coffees and hopefully will reset then.

        • Cait Flanders December 11, 2014 at 8:55 pm

          Interesting! I definitely drink 1 big cup every morning – but that’s usually it. I just don’t want to waste money on something I can make at home, or that adds so many unnecessary calories to my diet. Good luck at Christmas, girl!

  • L December 10, 2014 at 5:54 am

    Don’t beat yourself up to much over it, you’ve done great thus far! I do remember having conversations with myself about cutting down the amount of shopping I’d done and then swipe I bought something online! I put a sticky note on my credit card that read, “Do you really need this” it helped. Good luck with the last 7 months !

    • Alice @ Earning My Two Cents December 10, 2014 at 6:11 am

      Love the idea of putting the sticky note on the credit card!

      • Leigh December 10, 2014 at 11:33 pm

        It worked well for me when I was trying hard to get my credit card back to zero. I kept the current balance owing and a list of questions wrapped around it. It also helps as it become embrassing to use, AND I got a long lecture from the university bookstore person about never having my pin on my cards. If only she knew those babies were well memorized!

    • Cait Flanders December 10, 2014 at 8:20 pm

      I’ve heard that a sticky note works well. Maybe I need a picture of a coffee mug with a big red “X” over it, in my wallet, haha. Thanks, L!

  • Jenn December 10, 2014 at 6:06 am

    Habits and Routines are hard to break. Quitting cold turkey is harder. I think the fact you realized then and not a week later is indicitive that you’re definitely making changes. I wouldn’t beat yourself up over it. Consider it a “special treat” and let it go. Poor David probably won’t pick a coffee shop again :-)

    • Cait Flanders December 10, 2014 at 8:26 pm

      It’s not so much that I’m beating myself up over it… I’m really just fascinated that I managed to completely forget about the ban that night, when every other time someone asks me to go for coffee I say something along the lines of “I’m not allowed”. Ahhh well. I can definitely consider it a special treat. :)

      • Jenn December 12, 2014 at 8:57 am

        I made it 5 days without Starbucks, but since someone else paid – I guess I don’t have to count it. Definitely added “don’t even think about it” to my Starbucks card.

  • Stephanie December 10, 2014 at 6:31 am

    Yes! I’m on a spending freeze until next September, and I cracked on cyber monday. But it didn’t even register until after the receipt hit my inbox. Whomp whomp.

    • Cait Flanders December 10, 2014 at 8:28 pm

      Oh man. You’ll appreciate my shopping ban update next week, then. Hopefully it just serves as a good lesson/reminder of how to try and avoid what’s being marketed to you.

  • David Cain December 10, 2014 at 7:52 am

    Heh… I swear it was not a test.

    I think it’s good that you had enough awareness to catch yourself at some point during the coffee-drinking process. I know I’ve broken commitments without even realizing it. But I think the important thing is how you respond after. I have a long history using those slips as an excuse to fall off the wagon for a bit and then start again the following Monday. This is a terrible strategy. The three bucks you spent has virtually no practical impact on the financial rewards of your habit, as long as it doesn’t lead to further spendy behaviour. And it looks like you take your slip very seriously. You were certain that you hadn’t done it absent-mindedly before, so I don’t think it was an indication of any real danger to your commitment, just a reminder of how close we are to living out our old ways.

    • Cait Flanders December 10, 2014 at 8:43 pm

      I have to be honest and say I did have a few thoughts like that, after this happened… I felt like I’d failed and, therefore, wanted to throw in the towel (at least for a while) and just give into my cravings. So it definitely had the potential to make me give up on the challenge! But, for that exact reason, I had no choice but to take the slip seriously. I don’t ever want to waste money on takeout coffee, like I used to. One “no” at a time, I suppose. :)

  • Kris December 10, 2014 at 7:58 am

    I think to some this may seem a little “crazy”. Its only a coffee! It’s only $5! Don’t be so hard on yourself!

    But I totally understand why you had the reaction you did. It feels like you opened the floodgates, in a way. All I can say is close ’em right up, and hope you REALLY enjoyed that almond milk latte, because it was the last until your spending ban is over :) You’re doing great btw!

    • Cait Flanders December 11, 2014 at 6:23 am

      Haha, I did enjoy it – thank goodness, because you’re right about it being the last one. Thanks, Kris.

  • Leslie December 10, 2014 at 8:13 am

    The brain is a fascinating thing, isn’t it? I had decided that dairy and my digestive system don’t get along, and therefore all dairy must be avoided. I was halfway through a slice of cheesecake before my conscious brain registered the “cheese” part of the dessert name!

    I think it’s brilliant that you did see your slip-up, and that you’ve taken a hard look at the possible triggers/absence of triggers. I’m betting that the sneaky part of your brain won’t get away with that one again!

    • Cait Flanders December 11, 2014 at 8:47 am

      I’ve done that with dairy a few times too, Leslie. (And between you and me, I don’t think most digestive systems love it… just few people are willing to admit that!) Here’s hoping our brains jump on board soon. ;)

  • Rob December 10, 2014 at 10:27 am

    “I guess we’ll never know.”

    (sigh) Cait, Cait, Cait! It seems pretty obvious to me. You and David were simply enjoying each other’s company, were both feeling relaxed after eating a lovely meal together, and the day-to-day cares of the world (like budgets, savings, spending bans, etc.) were on the brain’s remote back burner. You both were aware of your takeout coffee spending ban – but just not at that moment. It’s not as if you were then going to “fall off the wagon” and start repeatedly reverting back to (long past) bad old spending habits that used to get you into so much debt. Right? So don’t over analyze it. Give both David and yourself a break and “don’t sweat the small stuff”. I rather doubt that buying take-out coffee in future is going to ever be a regular full time habit of yours, even after your yearlong shopping ban is over. The new habit is setting in quite nicely. No worries, friend.

    • Cait Flanders December 11, 2014 at 8:45 pm

      I’m certainly not sweating it, but am instead just truly fascinated by how our brains work, and why mine “forgot” I was on this ban. It’s all good, though. And so it goes. :)

  • susan December 10, 2014 at 10:48 am

    Quick question since I’m new here. Is this just no takeout coffee to drink or to pay for? Would it have counted if David actually bought you the coffee instead?

    I’m sure that you probably haven’t done this before but the “newness” of it all probably took you off your square. Reset and go!! I too like the sticky note idea. Maybe I should use that for more things. ;)

    • Cait Flanders December 10, 2014 at 10:55 am

      Great question! I haven’t been letting people buy me coffee, because that defeats the purpose and just pushes my spending onto other people. So yes, if I’d let him buy it, I probably would’ve considered that another “break” of the ban.

  • Gretchen December 10, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    That’s crazy! And they say it takes 21 days to form a habit, but I guess that’s wrong!

  • Bridget December 10, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    We forgive you!

  • Michelle December 10, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    Oh yes! Totally done this. Especially with clothing. I’m in mid hand over of my credit card, I actually do realize but continue handing over the card anyways. Coffee is a tough once because its habitual, almost like smoking. I don’t smoke but its similar. You have a set routine you develop and its very hard to break.
    You’ve done amazing otherwise, I wouldn’t get too upset about one small infraction :)

    • Cait Flanders December 11, 2014 at 8:50 pm

      You hand it over anyway? I’m not judging that, I’m just curious: what’s your thought process when doing so? Do you tell yourself something like “oh well” or “I’ll stop after this”? I almost rationalized an unnecessary purchase last week, so this stuff is really interesting to me right now.

  • AshleyNL December 11, 2014 at 3:42 am

    So random question. Did you take that picture of a coffee cup or get it off the internet? The reason I ask is the colour of the cup, the pattern in the coffee and the table look like a shop here in St. John’s NL called Fixed Coffee and Baking. Just curious. Also I understand what you mean about habits being so ingrained they are hard to change. I think my problem is trying to change too many little things at once instead of just focusing on one habit at a time!

    • Cait Flanders December 11, 2014 at 8:48 pm

      I got it from the Creative Commons section on Flickr (link is above). :)

      And that can certainly be a problem, Ashley. I’ve changed numerous habits/aspects of my life, but usually focus on one at a time. Good luck!

  • Brittany @ Fun on a Budget Blog December 11, 2014 at 4:44 am

    There is a threshold of attention that our minds can actually manage . Maybe your awesome conversation and focus on a new person left no room for thoughts of coffee–not even a tall ;)

    Plus I think you are still succeeding if your one slip up in 5 months is an unconscious one :)

    • Cait Flanders December 11, 2014 at 8:51 pm

      That’s probably a good way to think of it. Thanks, Brittany!

  • Cecilia@thesingledollar December 11, 2014 at 4:56 am

    Oh, totally. I can’t think of any specific examples I’ve done myself right now (as I finish my cup of coffee in bed in the morning, heh) but I do remember once when I did it to someone else. I was in college, and a Jewish friend of mine went off to a Passover seder, and I happened to bake brownies while she was gone. She got back just as I was cutting them up in the dorm kitchen and I offered her one and she ate it and only then did we both realize — uh, Passover, flour, OOPS. I felt really bad, because we both knew it was Passover! For heaven’s sake! But we both just spaced out. Oh well.

    • Cait Flanders December 11, 2014 at 8:53 pm

      Interesting! So you were the David in this situation. It definitely wasn’t your fault. It’s interesting she spaced out too, during something like that… but when you’re comfortable with someone, I suppose you just accept their offers without question. Thanks for sharing!

  • Raquel December 15, 2014 at 7:09 am

    This is totally understandable. I think you just got caught up in the moment. I also find it interesting that we unconsciously eat and drink a lot. I remember when I was on a fast with my church, the first few days I almost ate a lot of off limits things simply because they were offered to me. I probably would have never sought out the foods, but being asked made me momentarily forget about my fast.