The Lattè Box

, by Ngakma Shadröl Wangmo

A couple of years ago I was thinking about how I, as a person with a small income, could come up with something like $1000 to donate to Drala Jong. It occurred to me that there was something I’d heard of called ‘saving money’ and though I’d never previously tried it myself, I thought it could be applied to this situation. So I came up with the idea of the Lattè Box.

The idea of the Lattè Box is that every day, instead of taking myself out to a café for my [required] morning coffee, I would dose myself at home and put $3 into the Lattè Box. Since I was going out for coffee nearly every day and sometimes spending more than $3 (although I never actually order lattès because I hate milk) I knew I could probably afford it.

Q: Why would I call it a Lattè Box if I never actually drank lattès? Why not call it a Coffee Box? Or a Caffeine Addiction Receptacle? Huh?

A: Because ‘lattè box’ sounds interesting and exotic and somewhat artistic. ‘Coffee box’ is awkward and inelegant. ‘Caffeine addiction receptacle’ sounds like a spittoon.

Onward: I happened to have a skull-sized black box with a matching cover which I thought would look nice sitting on my small black iron table, so I cut a slit in the top of the box and designated it as the official Lattè Box. Each day I dragged three dollar bills (‘notes’ for you British) out of my wallet and stuffed them through the slit into the box.

Problem #1: Not having the right change. Some days I only had a five-dollar bill. Or even a ten or twenty. The obvious solution was to make change from the Lattè Box itself, since it had a bunch of ones in it. BIG MISTAKE! [See What I Have Learned at the end of this narrative.]

Problem #2: Not having enough cash. Some days I just didn’t have much cash on hand. I could go to the bank and get some, yes, but that would mean walking the vast distance (a few city blocks) to the bank and sometimes I just didn’t feel like it. Especially when it was cold or raining. I realize that this confession of supreme laziness is not making me look very good. Oh well. At any rate, there was something of a Psychological Barrier to leaving the house just to get $3 to put in the Lattè Box. Usually I just figured I’d make it up in a day or so when the universe flowed some more cash in my direction or I had to go to the bank for some other, more compelling reason. Also BIG MISTAKE! 

Things went on pretty smoothly for several months. Money was accumulating in the box in spite of my now having gotten in the habit of making change from its contents (putting in a twenty and taking out a ten and two fives, for example). Soon the Lattè Box only contained large bills which made it even more likely I would delay my daily contribution if I didn’t have the exact change.

And this led to an even bigger problem. A barrier had been breached. One night a delivery of Chinese takeout food arrived and I found I didn’t have enough cash to pay for it so I opened up the Lattè Box and ‘borrowed’ some. BIG BIG MISTAKE!

After this discipline started to break down. I acknowledge that it is all my own fault rather than that the method doesn’t work. I got too casual about the box and was often making change, borrowing and replacing, etc. Naturally the numbers got muddled. I’m leaving out a lot of specific details because I don’t want this to get too long. Studies Have Shown that people don’t like long emails.

The result of all this behavior was that at the end of the year I didn’t have even close to the $1000 I thought I could easily accumulate. I still think it is not the method which is at fault but the execution. I will explain.

What I Have Learned

They make piggy banks out of ceramic with a small slot exactly because then you can’t take money out once you put it in without busting open the pig. Breaching the in/out barrier is definitely a mistake. The money has to go in and stay there till it all comes out at the end. ‘Borrowing’ from the bank is a road to ruin.

Also, one has to be absolutely strict about paying in the $3 every day and not skipping it for a few days and figuring I’ll put in $15 five days from now to make it up. It’s too easy to get confused, or to forget about it. 

My Lattè Box had an easily removable cover so I could reach in there any time and play with the money, make change, borrow, steal, whatever, and tell myself I’d settle up and then forget. I ended up paying the Drala Jong contribution in installments because I had robbed the box too many times. That still worked but it would have been a lot easier if I’d just left the money in the box. Khandro Déchen pointed out that since you can contribute even small amounts easily via the Total Giving website [or PayPal], she just contributes the proceeds whenever she sells one of her streptocarpus plants rather than saving the money in an envelope or something. This is a great idea. The piggy bank would also work. It just needs to be something where you can’t get the money back out. Or maybe you just need to be a more disciplined person than I am. Do as I say, not as I do.

The Drala Jong project seeks to create a home for the Aro gTér Lineage. Please see the Appeal page for more information about the Drala Jong project and how to help.