Starbucks Sign
Credit: Via flickr: d'n'c

Starbucks has become the target of many personal finance writers. "For the cost of a latte a day... you can become rich!" It is true that some people spend a large amount of money at Starbucks each month, such as those that visit the cafe twice per day. However, the reality is that for most of us our Starbucks habit is not going to be any where near savings to become rich. Our culture's eating-out habit (fast food and restaurants) hits our personal bottom line (and waist line, adding to increased health expenses) more than our daily coffee. 

So rest assured that I am not going to preach the "give up Starbucks" campaign. But I will provide you with five tips to help reduce your daily coffee expense; and these tips are coming from a former Starbucks barista (that would be me). 

Drink Brewed Coffee

I used be a mocha junkie, and in the summer time it was Frappuccinos. These are among the most expensive drinks on the Starbucks menu, ranging from $4.00 to nearly $6.00 a beverage. They might be tasty, but they hurt the pocketbook. To combat these expensive sugary drinks, I committed myself to develop a palate for brewed coffee. This started with coffee, cream and a hint of sugar, and eventually evolved to plain black (and now I'm a bit picky when it comes to bold versus mild brews). There are a few benefits to drinking black coffee:

1. Lower cost. My daily Starbucks habit is $2.10, which is the current cost for a grande brewed coffee in my market. This is approximately $2.25 less than grande mocha. Given my twenty visits per month to Starbucks, I am saving $50 per month by switching to black coffee. 

2. More caffeine. I am not a morning person, so caffeine is a daily necessity. On average, brewed coffee has 30mg of caffeine per ounce. Espresso shots have 75mg per ounce. This might look to be in favor of espresso beverages, but the default grande latte or similar drink only has two one-ounce shots for a total of 150mg of caffeine. My grande brew is 16-ounces for a total of 480mg of caffeine (16-ounces x 30mg per ounce). 

3. Healthier. Not only is black coffee cheaper and has more caffeine, but it has hardly any calories and no sugar. The long-term impact could equate to money saved on health related expenses by lessening your sugar and caloric intake. 

Starbucks Rewards

I am surprised at how many people I see paying for their Starbucks beverage with cash or a credit card multiple times per week. Starbucks has a decent rewards system for those who pay with a registered Starbucks card. To receive the rewards you have to register your card at and use it with each purchase. Each time you swipe your registered card you receive a "star". The benefits are great:

* Free beverage with every 12 stars earned (for me this free beverage is when I splurge on a venti mocha, which is worth about $5).

* Lots of random coupons - I occasionally get offers for dollars off espresso beverages or star bonuses with qualifying purchases.  

* Free refills when you sit in. I sometimes use Starbucks as an away from home office. I can order a tall (which is the small size) black coffee and receive free refills during that visit. 

** Bonus tip - with the current Starbucks reward system, you earn one star for each transaction on your registered card. If you order a coffee and a breakfast sandwich and pay together, you will only receive one star (one transaction). Speed up your earning rate by separating these items into separate transactions. Some employees might get a little annoyed, but most baristas understand. Have them ring up your coffee and pay with your card. Then have them ring up your sandwich and pay again. Now you have two stars instead of one (and that much closer to a free drink!). 

Use Your Own Mug

Many people are not aware that if you bring in your own mug for a Starbucks beverage you will receive a $0.10 discount. It may not sound like much, but if you're a Monday thru Friday visitor like I am it can add up to a little savings, a few dollars a month. And if the small savings doesn't sound worth it to you, consider the environmental impact you're providing. That is one less paper cup being used, times the amount of visits per month and year - you could be saving 200 or more paper cups per year (on top of $20 or more). 

There's a "Short" Option

It is not listed on the menu, but Starbucks offers a "short" option for hot beverages. A short is an 8-ounce cup, which can be used for any of Starbucks handcrafted hot beverages. If you're looking for a quick caffeine kick, a short black coffee will save you about $0.15 (depending on the market) over a tall. It is 4-ounces less, but for some people even a 12-ounce drink is too big. Why waste the coffee and change? Also, if you're a registered Starbucks card member and you're staying at the cafe, use the tip mentioned above - order a short coffee and utilize the free refills benefit.

Breve Latte on the Cheap

Every now and then I get a craving for an iced espresso with cream. There are two ways to order this: a standard ice latte with half-n-half, or an iced doppio espresso with half-n-half added from the condiment bar. The difference? Around $2.00. This cheaper version might have more ice, but you could always order with light ice to make room for more cream. Half-n-half not your thing? Most Starbucks also stock non-fat and 2% milk on their condiment bars. 


There are certain luxuries in life that are worth paying for. And for me, Starbucks is one of those. I have a set amount budgeted each month for my coffee habit. Sure, I could quit coffee and save that money for retirement. But, the reality is that increased savings over time is not going to put a huge chunk of money in my 401(k), and there are plenty of other areas I could work on that would make a bigger impact on my personal finances. 

Even still, I have adapted and now prefer black coffee. That has saved me quite a bit each month in my Starbucks expense. I always pay with a registered Starbucks card and, when purchasing multiple items, I ask for each one to be rung up separate to utilize my rewards. 

To each his own, but if Starbucks is your guilty pleasure like it is for me try some of these money saving tips. Those savings can be used for other Starbucks purchases! 

Starbucks French Roast Dark, K-Cup for Keurig Brewers, Dark Roast Coffee, 54 Count
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Some days I have early work meetings, and on those days I can't get myself up early enough to make it in to Starbucks. Fortunately, I have a Keurig machine and can brew a quick cup of Starbucks coffee in preparation for the morning.