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Wake-Up Call: A Price Comparison of Popular Coffee Options

A daily Starbucks habit seems to have become a universal symbol for financial wastefulness. As such, it seems every mommy-on-a-budget or personal finance blog has covered the ditch your daily coffee shop habit topic. Yep, it’s true—a daily tall Starbucks coffee will cost you $733.65 a year, not to mention the travel expenses you incur driving to and from your local Starbucks. Here are some general tips on how to cut down on your coffee expenses, both at home and at the coffee shop:

  • Instead of buying expensive flavored coffee, make your own by adding ingredients like orange peels, dried blueberries, cocoa, nutmeg, and cinnamon to unflavored coffee grounds.
  • Remember, higher priced coffee doesn’t always taste better. Perform a blind taste test using a variety of coffee brands with varying price points—the results may shock you!
  • If you use a drip brewer (a traditional coffee pot), brew your next pot of coffee using a mixture of half leftover grounds sourced from the last pot of coffee’s coffee filter and half fresh grounds. You may not even be able to tell difference between your “recycled” coffee grounds mixture and a completely fresh batch of grounds, so it’s worth a try.
  • If you’re drinking coffee solely for the energy boost, look for natural ways to increase your energy such as eating a balanced diet, meditating, and exercising.
  • If you’re still having trouble saying no to the white cup with the green lady on it, buy yourself a $25.00 Starbucks gift card and make that the only form of currency you allow yourself to spend at Starbucks for the next three months. You may even be able to purchase such a gift card off eBay or Craigslist for less than its face value.
  • Some coffee shops will give you a discount if you bring your own coffee cup.
  • If you’re on the road and need a coffee, remember that a small cup of McDonald’s coffee is less than half the price of a tall Starbucks coffee (and if you’re a senior citizen, remember to ask for the senior discount at McDonalds). Gas station coffee is normally pretty cheap too—a small coffee from 7-11 is just $0.79 in my neck of the woods.

If you’re a good little frugalista, then you’ve broken up with your barista and started making your own coffee at home. Obviously, this tends to be cheaper than buying it at the coffee shop. But there are so many options for home coffee—you can choose from traditional drip brewers that can be used with a variety of different coffee grounds, those single-cup brewing systems with either disposable or reusable coffee pods, or quick-and-easy instant coffee.

Do you have any idea which option is most cost effective? You may be surprised to learn that coffee shop coffee is not the only budget-busting bad guy on the caffeine scene! Check out this handy little chart below to find out the annual cost of  some of the most popular coffee options:

Starbucks Coffee
Initial Cost                                                                      $0.00
Cost per 12 oz. Cup (“Tall” size)                                $2.01
Cost per Year                                                                 $733.65

McDonald’s Coffee
Initial Cost                                                                      $0.00
Cost per 12 oz. Cup (“Small” size)                             $0.89
Cost per Year                                                                 $324.85

Keurig Single-Cup Brewing System with Disposable K-Cups
Initial Cost (Single-Cup Brewing System)*            $24.38
Cost per 12 oz. Cup**                                                     $0.53
Cost per year                                                                   $217.83

*The Keurig B130 Commercial DeskPro Gourmet Single-Cup Brewing System costs $121.74 shipped at Overstock.com. I’m assuming this appliance will last for five years; as such, the initial cost for this analysis is computed as 1/5 of $121.74 = $24.38.
**A box of 160 Caribou Blend K-Cups costs $84.99 at OfficeDepot.com: $84.99/160 K-Cups = $0.53 cost per cup.

Keurig Single-Cup Brewing System with a Refillable K-Cup using Premium Brand Coffee Grounds (Dunkin’ Donuts)
Initial Cost (Single-Cup Brewing System)                 $24.38
Initial Costs (Refillable K-Cup)*                                   $3.77
Cost per 12 oz. Cup**                                                        $0.47
Cost per Year                                                                     $199.70

*Solofill Cup, Refillable K-Cup for K-Cup Brewer costs $18.83 shipped at Amazon.com. I’m assuming this appliance will last for five years; as such, the initial cost for this analysis is 1/5 of $18.83 = $3.77.
**12 oz. of Dunkin’ Donuts Original Blend Medium Roast Ground Coffee costs $8.98 at Walmart.com. This makes approximately 20 – 12 oz. cups of coffee: $9.38/20= $0.47 per 12 oz. cup.

Conventional Drip Brewer using Premium Brand Coffee Grounds (Dunkin’ Donuts)
Initial Cost (Coffeemaker)*                                          $4.95
Initial Cost (Coffee Filters)**                                       $3.98
Cost per 12 oz. Cup***                                                   $0.47
Cost per Year                                                                  $180.48

*A simple, drip brewer coffeemaker, Mr. Coffee TF5 4-Cup Switch Coffeemaker, is $22.95 shipped at Amazon.com. I’m assuming this appliance will last for five years; as such, the initial cost for this analysis is 1/5 of $22.95 = $4.95.
**You must use disposable coffee filters with a drip coffeemaker. A pack of 200 Melitta Natural Brown Coffee Filters at Target costs $1.99, 2 packs cost $3.98.

Single-Cup Brewing System with a Refillable K-Cup using Budget Brand Coffee Grounds (Maxwell House)
Initial Cost (Single-Cup Brewing System)                  $24.38
Initial Cost (Refillable K-Cup)                                       $3.77
Cost per 12 oz. Cup*                                                          $0.073
Cost per Year                                                                      $54.80

*A 34.5 oz. container of Maxwell House Original Roast Ground Coffee is $9.85 shipped at DollarGeneral.com. 34.5 ounces of Maxwell House ground coffee makes 135 12 ounce cups of coffee: $9.85/135 = $0.073.

Conventional Drip Brewer using Budget Brand Coffee Grounds (Maxwell House)
Initial Cost (Coffeemaker)                                          $4.95
Initial Cost (Coffee Filters)                                        $3.98
Cost per 12oz. Cup                                                        $0.073
Cost per Year                                                                $35.58

Instant Coffee using Budget Brand Instant Coffee (Folgers)
Initial Cost                                                                    $0.00
Cost per 12 oz. Cup*                                                    $0.07
Cost per Year                                                                $25.55

*An 8 oz. jar of Folgers Classic Roast Instant Coffee from Walmart.com costs $5.78. It makes approximately 80 – 12 oz. cups of coffee: $5.78/80 = $.07.

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30 thoughts on “Wake-Up Call: A Price Comparison of Popular Coffee Options”

  1. After I stopped breastfeeding I thought I could jump back into my coffee habit as if I hadn’t lost a day but It did not agree with our new single income budget. I purchased a Bodum French press from a friend’s garage sale for $6, switched to trader joe’s coffee with free custom grinding (My fave blend costs $5) As for creamer I get trader joe’s half n half for around $1.39 and flavor with my own spices and extracts when I feel like it. Aside from trial and error with coffee blends and creamers my monthly coffee expense went from $60 to $7. The things I do to avoid caffeine withdrawal…totally worth it!

  2. Marta Lopez says:

    I get Great Coffee from my old Job at a grocery store.Anytime the coffee “expires” i get it for FREE.just because its “expired” doesnt mean its gone bad but costomers will not buy and they dont get credit either.

  3. I have yet to like the taste of coffee but the Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino I love. Not wanting to pay the prices for them, one morning at work I put some hot coco mix into a cup and then filled that with coffee. Yum! Get the chocolate caffeine I always wanted for free! 

  4. Laura Snyder says:

    I brew my own coffee at home. When camping or traveling I use a cone shaped drip filter over my mug, just add a cup of hot water from a comvience store.

    HOW I brew is as important as what I brew.  I buy 3 pound bags of whole bean coffee @ Costco.  I grind it fresh daily.  It’s my one splurge that I coupon at other stores to be able to afford.  That and gasoline are the main reasons I continue to split a Costco membership w/ my son.

  5. I LOVE a good caramel light soy frappucino! And I wish I could say I never blow money on them, but the truth is, I don’t do it often, simply because I do not have time. I have an 8 year old and a 6 month old, I work full time in social services and am in the middle of an editorial business start-up. So, I normally have Starbucks as a treat on the weekends. I take my girls and we make a little “date” of it. During the week, I improvise in a couple of ways.
    My husband brews the stuff at home- whatever brand I’ve couponed for a steal. I use coupons and Publix sales to score big on the coffee house creamers. They have flavors I love, and i can usually snag them for $1 a piece. Of course, I stock up. Then I buy a pack of the convenience coffee cups with lids from my local grocery outlet.
    On a day when I can really pull my plan together, I pour some tasty creamer into one of my cups, pop the lid on and head out. After dropping the girls off at their respective spots, I swing through the drive thru (Burger King makes Seattles Best for 10-20 cents a cup). I order a small coffee, a large cup of ice and combine the two with my creamer barrista style in my car before heading into work. Haha. Sounds crazy, but it gives me that iced coffee for cheap and little time.

  6. I swear by and this is when i do not find a good bag deal is GREAT VALUE 100 %columbian,. 8.95 a can some less some more. It’s a great coffe and when you get a k cup filter ? Awesome. Try it. I have converted my mom and friends. What I also do is mix it with big brand coffee on sale if I get some like the 4.49 starbucks at Target or the 3.99  seattles best a few weeks ago.

  7. As a Starbucks supervisor, I need to protest that some of these suggestions are actually ways of stealing from the company.  Yes, it is cheaper to just buy a shot of espresso and add cold milk from the condiment bar, but that is actually stealing from the company since you’re not paying for all that milk and milk is THE most expensive thing we have to order.  Krazy coupon ladies MUST be ethical, and this is one of the most non-ethical practices I see in my store just to save a few pennies.  Please DON’T spread this as a good suggestion! This is a terrible practice that I see all the time, and it’s just downright stealing.  Pay for what you want.

    We’re also NOT allowed to microwave your drink for you for sanitation purposes. Once a drink has crossed over our counter and you have taken it, we are not allowed to take it back and use our equipment on it because then we cannot control what is coming into contact with our equipment and consequently other people’s drinks. Please DON’T put a barista in this uncomfortable situation.  Furthermore, many stores don’t even have a microwave, so this suggestion still falls flat.

    Starbucks offers coffee and tea refills for $.55 (or free with your Gold card membership) when you bring back both the cup and the receipt from that day. For people who drink multiple cups of coffee throughout the day, this can actually end up being cheaper than brewing your own coffee multiple times a day.  Or, if you’re a Starbucks regular and are used to getting a Venti (20oz), just pay for a Tall (12oz) and come back for a refill. 

    I also need to defend those who may be criticized for spending money on their daily Starbucks.  Starbucks strives to be people’s “third place” where they go in addition to home and work. We strive to connect with customers in such a way that they feel uplifted after they leave our store.  Good managers have ingrained this in their partners (employees), and so it really is about so much more than coffee.  I know many customers who tell me they come in not just for their java fix, but for the friendship, the warm smiles, the little moment of escape from the harsh realities of life.  For many people this is a huge reason why they still spend money at Starbucks, and I would caution everyone against blindly labeling Starbucks customers as “extravagant” or “wasteful”.

    Finally, I just want to point out that even though some of these suggestions may save you a few pennies (like reusing old grounds), you’re going to end up with a really bad cup of coffee.  I am a certified CoffeeMaster (a program Starbucks does to train certain people about coffee), so even though I pinch my pennies and use my coupons, to me a great cup of coffee is so worth a few pennies.  I don’t recommend reusing old grounds at all, as you’re going to end up overextracting the flavor from the grounds and you will have a very bitter cup of coffee.  I also don’t recommend lessening the amount of grounds that you use for the same reason – you will overextract the flavor and get weak, bitter coffee.  The single best way to brew coffee for consistently great results is a French press, and that’s way cheaper than a Kuerig or anything.

    Believe me, I am all for saving money where you can, but for alot of people their cup of coffee or their trip to Starbucks is really their escape, the highlight of an otherwise really stressful day.  Please don’t blindly label these people. Most of us have SOMETHING that we’re willing to pay a little extra for because it just lifts our spirits and helps us get through our day.  For alot of people, that something is Starbucks (or coffee in general), and that’s okay. And please don’t employ methods that actually steal from the company and place baristas in uncomfortable situations just to save yourself a few cents. It’s not worth it, and we don’t appreciate it.

    • Anonymous says:

      If I was the CEO of Starbucks, I’d promote you to Vice-President in a heartbeat! :)

    • Great response! Thanks for taking the time to share. I was in a long-term relationship with a barrista and to this day, he works as a coffee roaster and goes to South American countries to cultivate relationships with farmers. He was not involved with Starbucks, but I can tell you that he takes coffee very seriously, not just as a personal addiction as is often portrayed. For several years, he did not drink coffee himself, because the caffeine had a negative effect on him; however, he still enjoyed making coffee. For him and many others, it is an art form. So, in that light, you could say that buying your latte is supporting art and someone’s talent. Personally, I am in a different place now, which is why I don’t have the time for Starbuck’s or my local coffee house. But for years in college, it was worth the six dollars to have a shady table to study at for hours and not be bothered.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Sam’s Club (and probably other wholesale clubs) have 80-ct boxes of K-Cups for $36.00.  That takes the per cup cost down to $0.45.  The K-Cups are expensive (more so than a traditional coffee pot/filters/canned coffee), but my husband and I were making a pot of coffee every morning and throwing away half.  Then, making a pot later on, and again, throwing away half.  We are only making what we drink and I feel like that more than makes up for what we are spending.  

  9. Erica Kelley says:

    I agree with DunbarFan. Please don’t order the poor man’s latte unless you would like some barista spit in your espresso. The last thing a barista wants to do is refill the carafes a thousand times and microwave everyone’s “coffee”.
    Back in the day when I was a barista at Starbucks, we didn’t have a microwave. I’m not sure if that has changed but I’d be surprised if it has. Most baristas I know take pride in our work and our product so while we want you to get what you want, we know that microwaved milk from the condiment counter is not going to make a good latte.

  10.  Hey, I just wanted to let everyone know that at Starbucks, we are not allowed to warm up your coffee. I am a barista there and have had people try to get us to warm up their coffee. We don’t have a microwave to be able to do that. So just as a heads up. Also a tall coffee with tax (in Texas) is 1.79, not 2.01.

  11. Great post!  My issue is creamers though, costly.  I just purchased Silk Chocolate flavor milk (on sale and coupons of course) and poured half silk and half coffee creamer to my coffee.  It tasted great.  I am already adding up the savings in my head. 

  12. Anonymous says:

    I am not the coffee drinker in the family, but I know how to score “free” coffee for my husband. I use the cashback bonus from my Discover card to get Bed, Bath, & Beyond cards ($20 = $25 card). Then I combine the card with a BB&B coupon. Typically the K Cup boxes are 14.99 at my BB&B. I can use a $5 off of $15 coupon (yes, you can use it on a 14.99 purchase) to make it $9.99, and then I pay with the gift card. Keeps my husband happy…

  13. Anonymous says:

    I was never a big fan of starbucks. I would rather spend the money on clothes or bills. I heard starbucks uses ground up bugs as a food coloring. Gross! I’ll stick to my little $10 coffee maker.

    • Emily says:

      Starbucks is phasing this coloring out in their beverages. However, many products containing red coloring–from food to lipstick–use pigment from beetles to produce red tones. Check the labels! Anything listing cochineal or carmine contains insect bits. Just wanted to clear the air and point out that in no way is Starbucks the only company who has employed this practice.

  14. My husband swears buy Yuban coffee, and we ordered a box of 12 cans from Amazon. When it arrived, one of the cans had burst and one was dented, and the merchant replaced the entire box for free , for a total of 23 usable cans.

    He doesn’t think regular coffee pots make it hot enough, so for Christmas I got him a Cuisinart that has a bonus–a hot water tap that always keeps water hot for us to make tea (and I figure the tea I like costs about 15 cents a 12 oz cup, and his is maybe 8).

    If you like Chai lattes, but find Starbucks and other places too sugary, their Chai teas are cheaper and you can add milk to make them latte without all the sugar.

  15. Anonymous says:

    My husband bought me an espresso machine a couple years ago, and I use the recipes available on the Torani website to make my own Starbucks drinks at home.  These are the same syrups and sauces that are used at Starbucks, and I mix it up a little with Ghiradelli ground chocolate for mocha drinks.  It costs  very little to make them, not much effort (even to someone who is not a morning person), and if you are not a fan of a simple cup of coffee (like me), it also had MUCH less fat and calories than it’s coffee shop counterpart. 

  16. Emily says:

    (double post)

  17. Emily says:

    Great post! This is an area that I am continually improving on. Hubby and I like to treat ourselves to Starbucks on the weekend, but during weekday mornings I brew drip coffee at home (or better yet…drink free, if slightly less tasty, brewed coffee at work). I do have the bad habit of buying Starbucks once in awhile during my afternoon slump, but when this happens I move money around in our budget accordingly, cutting out other splurges elsewhere.

    One thing I want to add–you don’t have to be limited to paper filters with regular drip machines. Most models can accommodate a reusable mesh filter–better on the wallet and the environment!

  18. Danijela says:

    Great article, I am glad you have mentioned this important topic. I would agree that reusable Kcups and single cup brewer is one of the best way to save money but still enjoy in good cup of coffee.  If I may say, I that home edition single cup brewers would be a better example than commercial one, since they cost from $80.00 to $100.00. But, everything else is this chart is great. I just have to disagree on one thing – using a mixture of half leftover grounds and half fresh grounds may be a good way to save money, but it really is not a good way to get a good cup of coffee. Sorry.
    Great post! :)

  19. Danielle Holley says:

    My very first job was as a barista at a Euro bakery, so I’ve been a coffee snob for…well, a long time. Surprisingly, I’ve developed an addiction to Nescafe Suave (not the nasty Taster’s Choice stuff, but the offset hourglass shaped jar that you can often find with the Latin foods). And for the record – Starbucks should never be considered a standard in coffee, they don’t even follow traditional standards. 

  20. I LOVE my Keurig, period. When I am able to find KCups at TJMaxx or Marshalls & they price out to .50 or less per KCup, I will buy them. I bought Solofill Cups at Tarjay for $15 each, I got 2, I like a mug as opposed to a “cup”. I mix Maxwell House darker roasts with Starbucks or whatever up-sell brand is on sale.  And you take your Starbuck coffee bags to any Starbucks for a free Tall coffee. Extra bonus.
    This week at Meijer they are having a buy 8 save $8 event, Maxwell house 11oz. cans are $2 in the sale & with coupons, I paid $1 each for 4. Last year Kroger cleared out their coffees for whatever reason, I scored Stewarts & Starbucks for next to nothing & they lasted over 6 months.
    Iced coffee is my vice in the summer, I hate making it at home. Thankfully International Delights has put that mess in a carton!

  21. I live about 50 miles away from the nearest Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts. I don’t even know what a “Quad Venti Mocha” is. Hubby and I are at least a 1 pot a day couple. We purchase Aldi’s coffee for our Bunn coffee pot. The 33 oz can of coffee costs 5 to 6 dollars. We flavor out coffee with cinnamon or a couple drops of vanilla, or purchase Cameron coffee beans when we splurge, but still mix it with our Aldi coffee to stretch it even further.

  22. i love my kurig and i have the filter basket so if i cant afford to by the k-cups i can just use whatever i have in the kitchen(folgers, dd or godiva-my splurg)

  23. Anonymous says:

    Though I am not a “mommy-on-a-budget”, I would sell my soul to the devil before giving up my Quad Venti Mocha from Starbucks.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Great article and cost analysis!  I am always amazed at people who tell me they’re broke, in debt, etc. and yet, they always have a daily Starbucks!!  Those drinks do add up, as your figures show!

    • Miranda Cortez says:

      Agreed!! My 22-year old sister lives at home with our parents, drives one of my parent’s car, is on their auto insurance, does *not* pay rent, is *not* in school, works part time, and complains about me buying groceries she does not like. When I asked her why she doesn’t buy her own food she says she doesn’t have any money, but every week she buys big starbucks coffees for herself, her boyfriend and our brother. Hah!