Tuesday, March 12, 2013

When a treat's not a treat

The other day I popped into the Starbucks in our local Target. Staying home with Baby M, who can't leave the house except for doctor's appointments, means that I don't get out much, so I was excited to treat myself - plus I had a gift card, so it was basically a free treat!

I always order a tall soy no-water chai latte from Starbucks. The spicy, nutty flavor is divine and the size is just right. It was the perfect complement to a snowy day.

Of course, you can probably see where this is going. I tossed in a little packet of cookies to use up every last cent on the gift card ($.28 out of pocket) so I didn't notice that the cost of the latte was a little more than usual. I had gloves on so I didn't notice that the cup was slightly larger than usual. And it wasn't until I was out of Starbucks that I took a sip and realized that this was not my tall soy no-water chai.

No, it was a grande non-fat chai, with water added to the chai concentrate. UGH. I peeked at the receipt, and sure enough, that's what had been rung up. Since I missed correcting the cashier when she rang me up and was already out of the store, I decided to just suck it up and stick with my incorrect beverage. It would probably be close enough to give me the little pick-me-up I'd been hoping for.

Only it really wasn't. The soy gives the chai a nutty flavor that was utterly missing from my drink, and the watered-down chai left it not nearly as spicy as I like it. Plus, cow's milk - ick!* And since I can't finish a grande size of the version I do like, of course, I didn't finish the grande version of the one I didn't like.

It got me thinking about value - the expected value of something and the actual perceived value of something. I would not have paid real money for that drink - and in fact, if I had paid the $4 in cash that it cost, I would have gone back in and apologized that I missed the mistake but asked for the drink I really wanted. Because it was a gift card, I just sort of accepted it, even though it wasn't that enjoyable. But someone spent that $4 in real cash - the person who gave me the gift card. I'm sure they wouldn't have wanted me to get something I thought was actually kind of gross.

Even more than that, I had gone in expecting a treat and didn't get what I was hoping for. This left me unsatisfied, and was, I think, partly responsible for the unplanned purchases that I made while grocery shopping afterwards. Ice cream in a blizzard? Pre-made sausage pancake corndogs? Who am I? 

When a treat is rare, anticipated, and hits the spot, it erases desire for itself. This gives it power. Taking away any of those elements, I would argue, leads to something that can cause financial or other excess - too much spending, too many calories, too many wasted minutes.

*I hate cow's milk! I feel like I can taste the grass and the onions and whatever the cow has been eating.

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