Dec 11

I Love Dunkin’. My Partner Prefers an Indie Coffee Shop. Are We Doomed?

My boyfriend and I are very alike … except when it comes to our coffee orders. We have several Dunkin’ Donuts within a five block radius, but he always insists on walking all the way to his favorite coffee shop, which is more expensive and farther away. I think this is silly. He can get pretty much the same thing and save money at Dunkin’. Who’s right?

— Looking For Caffeine, Not a Cardio Workout


Dear Looking for Caffeine,


This situation sounds like a “no big deal” scenario, but it’s one that plays out in countless friendships and relationships — and is more important than it might seem at first glance. What’s going on here is a classic conflict in “brand compatibility,” which is the role that brand preferences play in relationships. While it may seem minor, studies have shown that brand preference plays a significant part in how we identify ourselves. Resolving brand incompatibility is more complex than just choosing whichever coffee shop is more convenient. Just as early birds and night owls have to adjust when they get together, people who have allegiances to different brands may also need to adapt and find workarounds in their relationships.


Brand loyalty is a big deal

Brand compatibility comes into play with your coffee shop, as well as your choices in snacks, restaurants, clothing, banking, and more. It touches on your personal identity and how you want the world to see you. It’s also about the relationship you feel you have with a company. Loyalty towards a brand is tied up in that brand’s image, the story the brand shares, and the community of people who also like and identify with that brand.


There are different levels of brand loyalty. We all know someone who will only buy a certain brand-name phone or laptop, no matter the cost. But most people have some level of brand loyalty, even if they don’t realize it. And brand loyalty doesn’t have to be about a specific brand. Some people find loyalty in bypassing brands in favor of no-name or local manufacturers. Regardless, brand loyalty isn’t that easy to shake, and your boyfriend isn’t being ridiculous to want to literally go the extra mile — or pay more money — for his favorite coffee.


How brand compatibility affects relationships

Research shows that brand compatibility can become a relationship issue when one partner feels that the other person has more say. So, if your boyfriend already feels like you’re calling most of the shots in your relationship, your insistence on Dunkin’ may feel like a power play. Meanwhile, if you feel you always have to bypass your fave coffee drink to get his choice, you may be resentful, especially if you feel you’re paying more for that coffee than you would otherwise. It’s also important to recognize that it’s sometimes worth it to pay a premium for experiences that please us. For him, the expensive mocha itself may just be one part of the whole experience, which includes the walk over there with you.


The real deal about the extra dollar

If you’re both struggling to save money, it is true that little expenses add up. But it’s also true that allowing for small splurges may help you stay committed to your savings goals. If the latte runs are important to both of you, find some wiggle room so you can occasionally opt for an expensive drink without guilt.


When it comes to this particular argument over which coffee to choose, the best option is (you guessed it!) compromise. On Saturdays, take a walk to “his” place and on Sundays, head to yours. If you’re doing a coffee run, choose his favorite, with the understanding that he’ll do the same for you. And as far as wanting to save money? If the relationship is serious, you may as well start a loyalty account, collect points, and consider those expensive coffees an investment in the health of your relationship.


Elizabeth Dunn, Ph.D. is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia who researches how time, money, and technology shape human happiness. She is also the scientific advisor for Happy Money, a financial company that combines psychology and money to help people live happier lives. Have a question for Liz? Write her at and check back every Tuesday for her next column.



I Only Paid Cash For a Week, and I Finally Took Control of My Spending (Kind-of!)

Help! My Boyfriend and I Can’t Agree About How to Spend Money

Should You Ditch Your Partner to Travel With Friends?