So yesterday I was at Starbucks. I know. I KNOW. I wasn’t born yesterday; I read Buzz Feed. I know that I can pay for my kids’ college education and buy a small Caribbean Island to retire on if I cut out my daily Coconut Milk Macchiato. I know how many calories are in a Midnight Mint Mocha Frappuccino—totally not worth the two-hour spin class required to burn THAT off my hips. I’m sure you get it too—no one reading this blog is going to admit to going to Starbucks on purpose.

In addition to the facts (according to Buzz Feed) that (duh) Starbucks is not good value-for-money and (duh) not worth the calories, I have my own reasons for avoiding the place. First, it’s more tedious than I can handle that the sizes at Starbucks are “tall,” “grande,” and “venti.” These are all “big” in my book and trying to remember which is big, bigger, and biggest is up there with my inability to remember the difference between mean, median, and mode. Second, Starbucks makes me feel old and cranky. They have this intrusive ritual of asking you to give your name so that Eva or Trevor can scrawl it illegibly on a paper cup and then mispronounce it forty minutes later when your drink is ready. And worst, the baristas can never seem to believe that my 1999 name, Ashley, really belongs to the fifty-year-old reality standing in front of them.

Despite my best efforts to avoid the indignities and frustrations of an Old Gal at Starbucks, I was LURED there yesterday by none other than Pokémon GO. This actually happened. I’m at the pediatrician’s office with my son. He’s having a super–embarrassing, 13-year-old “well visit” involving several mortifying inspections. While I’m talking to the doctor, my son sees, on his phone, that there is a Poke Stop RIGHT ACROSS TOWN and, in addition to getting a coveted Poke Ball, he can also get a Pokémon GO FRAPPACHINO! The Poke Stop is a Starbucks. How clever. So, we go. After all, there has to be some upside to enduring the dreaded “well visit.” It literally takes forty minutes for the blessed drink to be made because neither Trevor nor Eva knows the recipe and they have to look it up on their phones. When the frothy delight finally emerges, however, it is tragically delicious. A Starbucks Monster, who looks just like my son, is created.

The very next day, my son is “craaaaving” a Pokémon GO Frappuccino. Can we go back? Is Starbucks nearby? Can he use his Visa Gift Card from Christmas? NOOOOOO! We are NOT Starbucks people. We are make-a-whole-pot-of-coffee-for-the-cost-of-one-cup-of-Starbucks-coffee people! Frugal Mom had to triumph here and make a point; I could halt this tumble down the (Starbucks) slippery slope with the already-paid-for stuff in my cupboard.

Searching desperately, I found the dregs of a vanilla ice-cream carton in the freezer. Cold and creamy. Check. Scrounging around the “other stuff” shelf of my cupboard, I found a couple packets of petrified Pop Rocks from my last too-long wait in line at Old Navy. Excitement. Check. Ice cream, Pop Rocks, whipped cream, and a cherry—the Pop Rocks Sundae is born! THIS was my Frugal Triumph, I thought. It’s home-made and cheap and I can take a cool picture of it. I mean, who doesn’t love to create something that friends can save to their “Fun Kid Food” boards on Pinterest?

Now, while this fun, frugal concoction did put an end to the wheedling and whining to return to Starbucks, I eventually realized that the real triumph came a bit later. This shared experience created a small crevice that could be stretched into a tiiiiny opening for a conversation with my thirteen-year-old son. That’s right, an ACTUAL conversation with a teenage boy! First the conversation was light. What else could we do with Pop Rocks? Could we dip strawberries in chocolate then roll them in Pop Rocks? SURE! Could we mix them in a protein smoothie? WHY NOT? Can we sprinkle them on the dog’s food? Maybe not. Then we moved into more important territory, into the concept of “value-for-money” (obviously, not in those words). How did the expensive, trendy treat compare to the homemade treat? What is the cost of convenience and when is it worth it to pay the premium? We discussed the notion that once in a while it’s okay to indulge in a treat like a Pokémon Go Frappuccino – but it’s just that, a treat. And when we do decide to indulge in a treat, we need to be aware of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. We talked about the consequences of habitually buying and consuming on impulse.

We were nearing a fifteen-minute conversation record when I made a death-defying, acrobatic dive into one last topic… An analysis of the sinfully-genius, targeted marketing techniques that persuaded us to 1) get in our car, 2) drive waaaaay out of our way to Starbucks, 3) buy an expensive, unhealthy drink, and 4) think it was a really great idea. How did those advertising techie geniuses do it? Why did their sneaky tricks work on US of all people? I mean, have I not established that I am sufficiently hardened to the likes of Starbucks? I used to worry about the effect of TV commercials on my kids, but the TV couldn’t track where we were at any given moment and the TV couldn’t come into the Doctor’s office with us! The TV stayed at home, in its corner, with those nasty little commercials locked inside until the adults decided to let them out. We are in a whole new realm of targeted, individualized, location-based marketing that makes impulse buying and consumption difficult to resist, even for the wariest consumers.

For me, as a Mom, this was a great reminder to talk to my kids early and often (for fifteen minutes MAX) about our family’s values around consumerism and consumption. I realized that perhaps the most compelling discussions with kids come when we adults make questionable choices ourselves (in my case, zooming over to Starbucks to get that Frappuccino). It’s amazing how insightful and engaged teenagers can be when the topic is analyzing the missteps of their parents! This was my real Frugal Triumph!

 

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