The Coffee Grind -- Savings Experiment

Savings Experiment: Save at the Coffee Shop
Savings Experiment: Save at the Coffee Shop

There are those of us who should not be allowed in public without having a cup of coffee first. That said, java is also an expensive habit. Luckily, you can have your cup and drink it too by cutting certain corners.

Look Before You Leap

Abstinence is the best policy with respect to saving money; but for most of us, when it comes to coffee, that's neither possible nor desirable. So before you take any drastic measures, simply track what you spend. Don't alter your buying habits; just spend a week chronicling your expenses. Though it may feel cumbersome at first, it can be illuminating to learn how, when, why and where you spend money.

You don't have to save all of your receipts, as there are so many apps to help you track your spending right on your phone as you make your purchase. One favorite is the Latte Factor, which helps you add up your total daily expenses and average spending over time. The app's calculator can generate your daily, weekly, and monthly average. Once you measure your averages, you can click on the Latte Factor's "see savings" button to see what you could be earning, albeit approximately, in one, five or ten years time if you invested that money instead of drinking it. It may help you look before you leap, or at least before you lap up another latte.

Test Your Taste

Cup of coffee
Cup of coffee

Expensive doesn't necessarily mean you're getting a better bean, or a tastier one. Starbucks (SBUX) is getting more expensive -- the company recently announced a price hike -- but New York Magazine food critic Adam Platt found that patronizing the Seattle-based chain might not be worth it: In a blind taste test, Platt discovered that Starbucks ranked last in termed of taste -- and it's 31 cents more per cup than Dunkin Donuts. Opting for Dunkin Donuts (DNKN) over Starbucks could save you almost $230 a year. But it's always possible to be penny wise and pound foolish. There are also hidden costs: For instance, investing in fair trade coffee will save you and the planet more money in the long run. Common sense can also result in saving cents.


Bring your own mug. You'll be kinder to the environment and waste fewer plastic, paper, or -- gasp! -- styrofoam cups. It might also prevent you from impulse buys at overpriced cafes. The same can be said for owning the other tools of the trade, like a coffee maker, to avoid the temptation to always go out.

If you're out and craving coffee, bringing your mug may also result in saving some money. Many mom-and-pop coffee shops, as well as chains like Starbucks, will deduct anywhere from a dollar to ten cents for sparing them an extra cup. If you did that 360 days out of the year, you would save -- you guessed it -- $36.

Customer Care

Always ask if your favorite mom-and-pop coffee shop offers a punch card for regular customers, or free refills or other deals. If you purchase whole bean or ground Starbucks coffee to brew at home, you can bring in your empty bag and receive a free small cup of joe. Some places offer rewards on your birthday. And it's not just major chains like Cosi that reward returning customers. Small, local coffee stores like Joyce Bakeshop in Brooklyn thank patrons for their routine business with a free coffee after a certain number of purchases. Other coffee shops, like The Mustard Seed Cafe in Los Angeles, offer free refills! When it comes to coffee, customer loyalty incentives abound.

Skim the Top

Why waste money on a lousy latte or questionably concocted cappuccino when you can save by buying a regular coffee and adding milk yourself? Another thing to remember is that iced coffee tends to be more expensive, so when you can get a hot coffee and an extra cup with ice, do. At Starbucks, you can order a tall coffee and a cup of ice for free and mix them. You'll save about forty cents a cup.

Coffee isn't the worst impulse buy, nor should it break the bank. Like all things that taste or feel good, you'll want to use moderation. It's easier to think straight after one or two cups of coffee, but the inverse can be true if you've had three or four.