Five ways out of the coffee shop beverage trap

It’s not called The Latte Factor™ for nothing. A daily coffee shop habit (once or even twice a day) can put a $1,000+ dent in your wallet each and every year.

Aside from kicking the caffeine habit completely (sacrilege!) there are a number of ways to cut down the cost of a coffee habit.  Some are more palatable than others, so not all of them might be for you, but they all end up being cheaper than a trip to Starbucks.  Here are five alternatives for that caffeine fix, with the breakeven point expressed conveniently in units of Starbucks® Brewed Coffee Venti drinks (1 SBCV = $2):

  1. Instant coffee (Breakeven: 2.5 SBCVs).  After drinking brewed coffee for so long, I was a little loathe to go back to instant coffee, but it’s really not all that bad to my taste!  It does the trick, and the only equipment that’s needed is something to heat up water.  So let’s say you have a microwave available, and get one 8-ounce package of Folgers instant coffee for about $5 in the grocery store.  That’s good for up to 120 6-oz cups of coffee, or over 40 Ventis.  By the time you’ve hit ten regular cups of instant coffee, you’re already ahead.
  2. Ground coffee with an inexpensive coffeemaker (Breakeven: 11 SBCVs). Get a cheap coffeemaker for $10 and a package of ground coffee like Eight O’Clock coffee for maybe $8, and a package of coffee filters for $4, and you’re good to go.
  3. French press coffee maker with ground coffee (Breakeven: 20 SBCVs). This isn’t a method I’ve used at all but I’ve heard people claim that the coffee is very good when done this way.  French presses are in the range of $30.
  4. Whole bean coffee with a thermal carafe (Breakeven: 50 SBCVs). The oils in the coffee evaporate with time, so getting a grinder like a Krups grinder for $20 will allow the coffee to stay fresher for longer.  Additionally, a thermal carafe coffee maker for around $70 won’t heat the pot directly, scorching the coffee with time.
  5. Keurig with double K-cups (Breakeven: 70-120 SBCVs).  This is the most expensive way out, but it’s still cheaper in the long run than an equivalent Starbucks habit.  The Keurig Elite retails for $120 and K-cups go for about $0.50 apiece, so doubling those up to a 20-ounce drink is about a buck just in the (disposable) K-cups.  We’re got reusable K-cups for $20, which cuts out the need for filters and lets us use our own grinds.

What are your alternatives?

John Wedding

Husband. Father. Web publisher. Musician. John has blogged at Mighty Bargain Hunter since 2005, helping people to recognize life's good deals.

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  1. nessili says

    But the whole reason I go to Starbucks is not for the caffeine intake, but for the awesome lattes. I tried making my own lattes at home with an espresso maker, but it didn’t work well at all :( I’ve the tried cheaper lattes at Sheetz or McDonalds, and they’re nasty. So Starbucks it must remain.

    However, I did register for a gold card at Starbucks (any gift card works–they’ll send you a gold card with your name on it when you reach that level). It takes off the additional expense of flavored syrups (50 cents–I get the sugar-free vanilla) and other “upgrades” such as changing from milk to soy (60 cents–my daughter prefers soy hot chocolates.). I now get $1.10 off of my pricing just because I use my gold card. Also, registering gains me free drinks (1 per every 12 I buy I believe), coupons sent to my email box, and a free drink on my birthday :)

  2. says

    I admit it, I am addicted to Starbucks 3-4 times a month. That is my limit for this indulgence. My Starbucks is in a bookstore, I frequent to catch up on my reading. I guess it is a wash, because I don’t buy anything at the bookstore.

  3. says

    Every money-saving blog falls into this amateur trap. You cite The Latte Factor, and then you follow it up with a foolish fallacy. Because, like restaurant costs, the #1 cost of a retail latte is labor. Not milk, not coffee, not commercial rent. Labor. Labor costs you pick up yourself with your alternatives.

    Your Breakeven calculations dismiss personal time and labor as even a factor, and yet it is the latte’s #1 cost. This is why rich people don’t usually choose the “change my own motor oil” option as a great way to get them there.

    If you really believe your time and labor is worthless as your Breakeven calculations say, I have a proposal. Please come to my house, and I will gladly pay you the $0.25 cost of cleaning supplies plus a bonus chipped in if you clean my toilets. It will be a great Breakeven deal for you.

  4. says

    Another alternative is to burn uncooked rice in a pan. Just put it directly in the pan heat it there until it becomes brown then put it in a container. Put it in the water and stir, once the water color turns like coffee, drain it and remove the rice. Put sugar. A kilo of rice costs less than a dollar and you can have at least 8 cups of coffee from that. It’s really cheap and it’s good to try something new.

    • John Wedding says

      @Dylann: OK, I read that, and first I thought you were trolling me. Then I did the research, and saw that this was legitimate! Thanks for the tip!

  5. says

    I am aware that the price of a latte at a coffee shop includes labor, rent, etc. My approach is to consider the latte at Starbucks, etc. to be a treat. If I have it every day, it’s no longer a treat. I have instant coffee at home and am very happy with that. Treating myself to a latte when out is more special. Plus I don’t want all the calories that come with so many of those lattes. I know I can order it skinny, but I’m too tempted by the full-fat full-sugar versons. Plus my budget is happier with just an occasional treat.

  6. says

    My husband would love a Keurig, but I feel like it’s just too expensive for someone who doesn’t drink coffee every day. He’s more of a “three cups a week” type of guy, and the investment for a Keurig doesn’t seem worth it (esp. when we already have a cheap coffeemaker at home).

  7. says

    I love Starbucks, but I recently discovered I have an intolerance to coffee. Now I don’t step foot in there. :)

    However, I agree that a Starbucks card where you can get upgrades for free as well as a free coffee after 15 coffees you purchase is a good deal. However, I would still treat Starbucks as a splurge and drink coffee at home. You can even buy Starbucks’ syrup to try to recreate your favorite drink.

  8. says

    @nessili: If you go for taste, and like it, not a problem! This is more for people who haven’t tried other options and ruled them out. That, and didn’t Starbucks change their program recently? Unfortunate turn of events.
    @krantcents: That, to me, seems to be a nice level of restraint.
    @greg: Fair enough, but also: It costs gas and time to go to a Starbucks or beverage shop. If it’s a workplace shop, it takes time to go to the shop, order the drink, and wait for it to be made. I can usually make a drink faster than it takes me to wait for someone else to make it. The time passes away regardless of whether I’m standing in line, or adding / removing grounds from a filter cup. So the time / labor issue is a non-starter. That, and The Millionaire Next Door would suggest that many rich people are indeed frugal in this way.
    @Maggie: Great point! Salty Caramel Moccachinos are a treat.
    @Elizabeth: Do you have a small coffeemaker? Seems like for 3 cups per week a bunch goes to waste?
    @Melissa: Nice point about the syrups! My wife has some sugar-free Torani syrups she likes.

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