How Much Is a Diet Coke Worth?
by Ester Bloom and Meaghano
Ester: Hi Meaghan! Happy May.
Meaghan:Hello! Yes it’s so nice out. I wore a dress with no leggings to the doctor this morning and was suddenly reminded that thigh chafe exists. Spring at last!
Ester: Spring! And what better way to celebrate than GOING TO THE MOVIES.
Meaghan: It’s a beautiful day to sit indoors.
Ester: It’s always a beautiful day to sit indoors. That’s the magic of cinema. But — and this is the saddest part about being a parent, so beware — I don’t get to do it that much anymore.
Meaghan: But when you do, do you really DO IT UP? i.e., spend $1,000 on popcorn?
Ester: For a long time, and I mean about 10 years, Ben and I had these movie passes to AMC. We bought them in bulk back when he was a law student at NYU; they were $5.50 each *and* came with free popcorn. It was the best ever. It allowed us to be cheap AND YET still enjoy popcorn at the movies!
Meaghan: $5.50 is amazing! Because of the student discount? I don’t go to the movies that often even now, whoops, but when I do I usually just buy the overpriced refreshments anyway. It feels like the ultimate luxury — cue flashbacks to that particular shame of childhood where you’d try to cough over the sound of your contraband can of grocery store coke opening.
Ester: Oh yes. Sometimes I feel bad, because I tend to go to little neighborhood theaters like Cobble Hill Cinemas, and I know they make their money by selling overpriced food and drink. But especially if I go to a Loews or something, I will definitely bring a bottle of Diet Coke in with me in my purse. My addiction requires me to ingest DC at every opportunity, but even I can’t stomach paying $3.00 for a cup.
Meaghan: Oh my god I used to have the DC addiction so bad.
Ester: Please don’t tell me you’ve quit. I hate when people tell me they’ve quit. Worse is when they tell me to quit.
Meaghan: Listen there are worse things to be addicted to, I say live your life. BUT YES I QUIT I’M SORRY. Anyway but nothing tastes as good as Diet Coke from the um, soda jerk thing. I feel like you pay for the magic of how good it tastes with the popcorn.
Ester: That’s so true. I have to battle my addiction — or rather, my instinctive cheapness battles with my addiction constantly, and I’m just kind of a sidelined observer wondering who’s going to win this time. At times I’ve come up with rules for myself: I will only spend x amount per drink, or per week. For a while, when Mike and I first worked together actually, I would only spend $1.25 — $1.50 every other day. So I would buy one bottle from a street vendor and split it over two days.
Meaghan: A sideline observer to your addiction sounds very zen. And spending only x amount on Diet Coke as a way to justify your dependence on it, hmm, sounds like Mike enabled you. Ha.
Ester: Oh totally. He was always game to come with me on my jaunts. It was my/our version of a cigarette break. Sometimes you just need to get out of the office, you know?
Meaghan: Oh I know! That is one thing about working in an office I kind of miss: the feeling of freedom when you sneak out onto the street to go get a coffee or lunch or something. Which is sad but so real.
Ester: So is there anything you love enough that you’ve had to make rules for yourself in terms of how much you will let yourself spend on it?
Meaghan: Hmmmmm. I am sitting here thinking. I guess I don’t love anything enough? Or the things I would spend money on — clothes, eating out, trips I guess? — I don’t really let myself do much of anyway. I guess it’s like, “Okay we went out to dinner last night, we have to not do it again for a few days.” Or like I can not buy another ONESIE from the Baby Gap for a month. There us not a concrete amount though.
Ester: Wow. How many onesies have you bought? (You know to buy big, right? Cause they grow out of the “newborn” size suuuuuper fast.)
Meaghan: Yes I am buying like 3–6 mo or 6 mo. Not that many! I feel like it’s so dumb to spend money on a thing he will wear for two weeks. I have probably bought like…8 things? On sale?
Ester: That is very restrained! My friends threw me a onesie decorating partie which was one of the best things anyone’s ever done for me. They brought plain white onesies of all sizes and then made them so awesome, with puff paints and creativity, that I ended up saving them. They will live forever! (In a drawer. Or maybe Lara will use them for an art project someday.)
Meaghan: I wonder if Lara will become addicted to Diet Coke. Hah. No there will probably be something else by then. Some kind of pill.
Ester: Want to see a terrifying picture?
Ester: BAD MOTHER oh well. She knows that I like it so she loves pretending to drink it. She will fish the bottles out of the recycling and “drink” them for me so that I will laugh and groan and hug her and hate myself all at once. Parenting is the biggest, scariest mirror life will ever make you hold up to yourself.
Meaghan: Ha! That is adorable. And somewhere a Diet Coke ad exec is shedding a single tear.
But back to the movies, or ridiculous costs of things in context. I think when something has an absurd of painful price I try to rephrase it to myself as a question. Like, Okay $5.00 for a Diet Coke is insane. But would I pay someone $5.00 for a Diet Coke right now? If the answer is yes, and I have $5.00, then yes. Or like with taking a cab to the airport. It feels extravagant to me — $30 or whatever when taking the train and Airtrain would be $7.50. But would I, at 5 a.m., pay someone $22.50 to be able to sleep another hour? Yes, maybe.
And what if you were abroad somewhere and hadn’t had a Diet Coke in awhile and really wanted one, how much would you be willing to pay to get it?! Or would your principles win out?
Ester: Principles! I also will not steal it ever. Like, coworkers of mine — not Mike, obvs — used to go to Chipotle, ask for a water cup, and then fill the cup up with soda. I was horrified.
Meaghan: Oh my god yes I am too Catholic for that. I’d be afraid of “getting in trouble” even though that is not really a thing when you’re an adult.
Ester: Well, I’m not sure anyone would arrest you, or kick out of a Chipotle, for stealing $.75 of soda, but they could. And then you’d never get to be president.
Meaghan: Ha. Or they’d be like, Miss, why are you stealing Diet Coke? And I would cry and want to die of shame. So I guess mine aren’t principles so much as fear-based.
Ester: Eh, most people’s principles are fear-based, when you get down to it. They’re how you know you have SOME limits. I used to have many more limits, too. Once while backpacking with a friend we were unreasonably convinced that we would be better people if we could keep our expenses to an artificial low, something like $500 total. So we put ourselves through lots of inconveniences we could have easily avoided through spending small sums of money. But the principle! Somehow the principle of the thing was worth the inconvenience.
Meaghan: Plus bragging rights. But yeah for so long the question for me has been, “Can I afford this?” And the resounding no kept me from spending money on things like movie theater Diet Coke. But now the question just changes to like, “Well how ridiculous is it to pay $5.00 for a Diet Coke?” Or “Am I willing to spend $5.00 on Diet Coke at this particular moment?” or, “How much of an asshole am I for paying $5.00 for Diet Coke when I could smuggle it in in my bag for $1.99?”
Ester: For a long time I had a hard time finding clothes that fit me. Once that became easier, though, I still had the feeling that if anything looked even remotely right on me, I should buy it immediately, and I had to stop myself. Scarcity, or the perception of it, plays interesting tricks on the brain.
Meaghan: Totally. Like when I am eating ice cream and am eating it as if there may never be more ice cream in the world so I better eat it NOW.
Ester: But that is exactly how one SHOULD eat ice cream. 🙂
Meaghan: See, principles!
Ester: Enjoy your warm weather, improved economy, and ice cream, everyone!