What’s an Indicator Choice?

Oct 7, 2014 by

You’ve heard of “indicator species,” right? From Wikipedia, an indicator species is “any biological species that defines a trait or characteristic of the environment.”

I want to introduce the idea of an “indicator choice,” particularly as it applies to money. Here’s my definition:

An indicator choice is any money or lifestyle choice that defines a trait or characteristic of the chooser’s financial environment.

By “financial environment” I mean money & lifestyle milieu. Think of your financial environment as all the hundreds of factors—some of which you control and some you don’t—that determine whether you meet your financial goals.

Indicator Choice Example: Making Coffee

On the left is the latest Keurig® 2.0 Brewing System. (You might have mistakenly referred to the Keurig machine as a coffeemaker. Oh, no—it’s a brewing system. Now you know.) Cost = $200.

On the right is the single serve “brewing system” my friend Steve’s been using for decades, I suspect, long before the 1998 introduction of the K-Cup®. Cost, excluding Steve’s mug with the interesting message, = $2.79. (He doesn’t like Democrats either.)


Mr. Fancy Pants’ single serve coffeemaker. $200


My friend Steve’s single serve coffeemaker: $2.79

















 How Do the Two “Brewing Systems” Compare?


  • A Keurig brewing system cup of coffee costs 60-70 cents.
  • I estimate Steve’s coffee—if he buys the good stuff, not the Kirkland® brand I drink—costs about 12 cents a cup. If he drinks two cups of coffee per day, Steve’s ingenious brewing system saves him $350-$400 per year compared to Keurig coffee. That doesn’t count the electricity the Keurig machine consumes constantly to illuminate that lovely little screen, nor of course the amortized cost of the $200 Keurig machine.


  • Both systems produce one cup of coffee. Steve’s “brewing system” lets Steve choose from a practically infinite variety of coffees he grinds fresh.
  • The Keurig can use only the pre-ground coffees—and a dose of additives over which the coffee drinker has no control—that are packed in those little plastic K-Cups®.


  • Waste from Steve’s brewing system comprises an unbleached paper filter and coffee grounds, both of which are compostible.
  • Waste from the Keurig brewing system comprises the non-recyclable plastic K-Cup and its foil cover, and the coffee grounds + additives inside the K-Cup, which in theory are compostible if you wanted to wanted to empty the K-Cup’s contents onto your compost bin and you don’t mind Keurig’s coffee additives in your compost.

Steve’s Life

Steve retired from full-time work a few years ago in his early 60s with a comfortable nest egg. Now he spends his time renovating his home, managing a rental property he owns, writing newspaper commentaries about and generally working hard to advance causes that matter to him, cycling, mountain climbing, swimming, visiting his kids and grandkid, serving as an election monitor in El Salvador, volunteering in various ways to help those less fortunate, being a good friend to his friends—in short, pursuing what he finds fun, interesting, and rewarding.

That’s a pretty good retirement lifestyle in my book.


Retirement Lifestyle = Thousands of Choices

The sort of retirement lifestyle you’re going to have one day will be the result of many thousands of choices you will have made over your wage-earning lifetime. Perhaps I oversimplify (it’s only because I’m a simpleton), but to me Steve’s choice of coffeemakers brewing systems speaks volumes about how he managed a comfortable retirement lifestyle after earning a respectable, but not spectacular, salary during his paid employment years. It’s an “indicator choice” that tells us Steve tends to favor simplicity over glitz, function over flash, what works perfectly well (even better, in this case) over trends popular with the Joneses, and experiences over material goods—all traits that help make for a healthy financial environment.

How do you make coffee?

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