Cutting Expenses

Frugal Alternatives to Starbucks

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I have not been to Starbucks in 9 months, and I am going strong!  Not only that—I am saving $800 a year just by making some adjustments to my coffee habits!  It isn’t possible for me to go without coffee at all in the morning, but I have slowly figured out what the most delicious cuppa is for the price…and I want to share this information with you.

If you are a new parent, you are probably drinking more than one cup a day. If you aren’t budget conscious when it comes to purchasing your coffee, you can really be setting yourself back financially at a time when you simply cannot afford it.   I have been there, and it is amazing how fast a simple cup of coffee* can add up!

I didn’t save $67 a month on coffee all at once—it took me a few steps to figure out what options I had and to find the perfect balance between taste and value.  Believe it or not, there are frugal alternatives to Starbucks, and you can break your expensive coffee habit if you are motivated.

Starbucks is not a good option for families on a budget.

When I was working outside of the home and my family was making just over six figures a year, I would go to Starbucks.  A lot.  I would usually stop there before my shift and pick up an extra hot flavored latte (mocha most of the year, but in the fall I loved pumpkin spice).  In the summer, I enjoyed green tea frappuccinos.

I would usually go to Starbucks  four times a week on average—three times during the work week, and once on my day off.  It cost me $4.51 a pop for a latte, and a little more for a frappuccino.  This hurt!  Even if I just stuck to lattes, this added up to $18.04 a week, or $938.08 a year!   Oh my goodness!

When I started to cut down my spending, I knew I had to stop going to Starbucks. 

At first, I tried to only get drip coffee (which is much cheaper), but every time I got in line intending to just get plain coffee, I would be tempted by their ads for the newest seasonal lattes.  I would either give in and get one, or I would leave disappointed with a plain Pike’s Place roast in my cup.

Starbucks can quickly become a habit, particularly with lattes, because it has all the addictive ingredients in one cup—sugar, fat, and caffeine.  And it is expensive!  I know a few people who will have a latte on occasion, but I know far more people who know their barista by name.  If you are one of these people and are struggling with your finances, it is time to explore other options for your caffeine fix.

K-Cups are a better deal than Starbucks, but I hesitate to call them a frugal option.

I bought a Keurig with a gift card after our wedding—I tried it at my parent’s house, and I was impressed with the quality of the coffee and how easy it was to make a single serving cup on demand.  We enjoyed our Keurig for a few months before we decided we needed to cut down on our budget even more and find a cheaper option.

K-Cups are expensive, too!  Dunkin Donuts K-Cups go for $7.79 for 10 K- Cups ($.79 for a cup of coffee).  They are really good, but this adds up quickly!  You can find some cheaper K-Cup brands like Folgers Gourmet ($.70 a cup), but the cheapest I have been able to find is Kirkland Signature Breakfast Blend Coffee at Costco, where you get 200 K-Cup pods for $81.99—which comes out to $.41 a cup.  They are okay, but nothing to write home about.

Our Keurig is now in the garage collecting dust.  We abandoned the expensive K-Cup game when we had to cut our expenses in half in order for me to be a stay-at-home mom.  And you know what, I don’t miss it.

Keurig Hack:  If you really want to buy an expensive Keurig, and believe the convenience of single cup servings is worth it, the most frugal method would be to use your favorite ground coffee in a K-Cup filter.

The absolute best frugal alternative to Starbucks is to make old-fashioned coffee at home.

This can’t come as a surprise.  The cheapest way to make coffee is to do it the same way people have for a while now—old-school drip coffee.  You can get a Mr. Coffee coffee pot for about $20, or you could go the pour-over coffee route, get yourself a french press, or make a pitcher of cold brew at home.

Most people who are really into coffee and have highly developed coffee palates use these methods—they aren’t the people you find at Starbucks.  You could take your Starbucks money and invest in really fantastic coffee that you can make at home.  It would really open your eyes to what you have been missing!  However, if you are on a budget, you might want to postpone coffee as a hobby, because it can be quite pricey for really good coffee.

When you are making the classic drip coffee at home, the biggest question for most people is whether to buy ground or whole beans.  I have found that there is not too much difference in cost per oz, but it makes a big difference in flavor—I highly recommend buying whole beans and grinding them at home.

I have spent a lot of time trying all the budget and brand-name brands of coffee to find something that tastes really good and is the best for my wallet.  Dunkin Donuts makes excellent coffee, but it costs $7.39 for 12 oz ($.28 a cup).  Folgers Gourmet costs $4.99 for 10 oz ($.22 a cup), and it frequently goes on sale at my local Food Lion—you have to try the Vanilla Biscotti, it is so good!

The absolute best deal for your money—the best tasting cup of coffee at the lowest price—is Kirkland Signature 100% Colombian Coffee-Dark Roast at Costco.  It is $12.73 for 3 pounds (48 oz), which works out to $.12 a cup!   We even found it on sale last month for $10!  And it is really good coffee—way better than other budget brands like Folgers and Maxwell House.

I now spend $3.36 on coffee per month + $1.89 on half and half = $5.25 a month on coffee!

I now save $802.92 a year by switching from a bad Starbucks habit to drip coffee at home!

Can’t give up your lattes?

Make them at home!  Buying a new espresso maker can be crazy expensive, but you can pick one up used.  And if you really are a latte person, in the long run, this is the cheapest way to get your fix.

For the rest of us who need the latte fix from time to time, there are ways to cheat and make a latte at home without espresso.  My favorite recipe is this one for a Pumpkin Spice Latte—you have to try it!  I actually love it more than its Starbucks counterpart, and it uses real pumpkin!

If you love Starbucks but hate the price, there are frugal options out there for you!  You can use K-Cups for convenience, but classic ground coffee is definitely the cheapest option.  Bring your delicious yet frugal coffee to work with you in a thermos, and you are all set!  When you get a craving for a latte, just make it at home.  You can break free from your Starbucks habit and save a ton of money in the process!

Tip:  To stay motivated, buy or make a thermos that reminds you of your financial goals.  If you are taking your Starbucks money and putting it toward a trip to Disney World, rock a Mickey Mouse thermos to keep you on track!

*For all of the calculations above, I use “cup” to mean my 12 oz mug of coffee.  Most people drink coffee this way instead of measuring literal 8oz cups for themselves.  One K-Cup can fill my mug, and when I measure out ground coffee I use 2 1/2 Tbsp to make a single mug cup—I measured it on my food scale at home, and this equals .458 oz to make a mug of coffee.

Have you broken up with Starbucks?  Have you done anything fun with the extra cash?

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