Updated: Unfortunately, Starbucks reduced certain benefits, and is making it more difficult to find these powerful savings. I’ve changed a couple points to reflect the shift.
Starbucks is a favorite scapegoat of budget-minded personal finance gurus. Spending $4-5 on an espresso drink is unfathomable. The basic understanding is that if you spend that much every day or even a few times a week, it adds up. Spend $5 for 120 days (1/3 a year) and you’re looking at a staggering bill of $608. For someone on a strict budget that can really hamper your goals. Few people who are frugaling would argue that they have an extra $608 lying around for coffee.
Today, I’m presenting a slightly different angle. As a student, I’m often away from home for extended hours. I frequently make coffee before I leave, but I like to have a cup in the middle of the day, too. This presents a budget versus energy conundrum: To have the coffee and get my rocket fuel, or save money and feel tired.
Rather than choose one option, I’ve decided to save money at Starbucks and reduce the amount of times I frequent the major coffee chain. When you look at the prices at your local Starbucks, you probably see a variety of high-priced, calorie-packed drinks – all exorbitantly indulgent and painful to your pocketbook. But the way I see it, I immediately take 12-13% off that price – every time.
Here are 5 tricks for staying frugal at your favorite coffeehouse:
1. BYOT: Bring Your Own Tumbler ($0.10 discount)
Anytime you bring your own mug or tumbler, Starbucks rewards you with a $0.10 cup discount. Filling up a 16+ ounce tumbler should cost you over $2, but the discount helps keep it under that. I always carry mine around, as it’s far greener than using and throwing away paper cups every day. An added perk of using a tumbler is that it stays warmer for longer and you drink slower.
2. Use, Register Your Starbucks Card (8.33% discount)
This is pretty simple: Get a Starbucks card and register it online. Yes, you’ll sacrifice some privacy and Starbucks will have a rough estimate of every location you could possibly be in (just think how many Starbucks there are in the world). In exchange for this location information, Starbucks rewards you with 8.33% (or more) and free refills on brewed coffees.
Basically, once you register the card and start using it, you’ll collect drink points. For every 12 drinks/food items, I get a free one. When I bring my own tumbler ($0.10 discount) and use that with my Starbucks card, I’m actually receiving an additional 8.33% off the final price in the form of a future reward. The best part is that the reward can be for anything. Once you collect your twelfth bonus drink, you can use it for a venti whateverfrap at $5 or buy a bacon gouda sandwich (like I often do). These both cost more than my traditional morning/afternoon coffee, and effectively cause your total discount per order to be even more than 8.33%!
3. Order The “Short” (cheaper and you still get free refills)
What’s a “short”? Well, it’s an off-the-menu drink size that every Starbucks employee knows about. Instead of the tall size, which is 12 oz, the short is a measly 8 oz. Now, if you’re on-the-go and a regular coffee drinker like me, it’s hard to fathom drinking such a paltry sum (am I right?). But if you’ve got some time on your hands and you’ll be hanging out at Starbucks, it’s by far the best deal.
Order a short coffee with your registered Starbucks card and you’ll pay a face value of about $1.65 (depending on the location). Based on the 10% discount from before, your short, brewed coffee will ring in around $1.49. At that price, you’re likely to beget the myth that Starbucks is a super expensive coffee chain. The best part is that you can still get free refills on these drinks, too! I regularly get a refill, which effectively halves the price per cup at $0.75.
4. Use A Rewards Card To Pay Your Starbucks Card (2% discount)
I’m back to using credit cards after a brief experiment only using cash. When used responsibly, credit cards can maximize your savings for purchases you were already going to complete. When you refill/top off your Starbucks card using a rewards credit card, you still get the bonus points that the credit issuer pays out.
Let’s say I use a rewards credit card to refill my account. By doing so, I get an immediate 2% discount to the Starbucks refill/order. If you follow the previous method, you’re actually going to be paying only $0.73 per cup!
5. Buy Starbucks Coffee At A Grocery Store ($5 per pound)
This is one of the simplest methods to save when you’re out and about and need a coffee fix: Buy a pound of Starbucks coffee at your local market. On the front of every bag of Starbucks coffee nowadays should be a coupon for a free tall coffee. To be honest, Starbucks coffee is hardly ever the most inexpensive, frugal choice at the supermarket, but when you combine free drink deals and maybe a coupon from the Sunday ads, you’re in serious business.
Starbucks regularly offers a $2 off coupon on the purchase of 2 one-pound bags of coffee. Let’s say one pound is $8 – multiply that by 2 and you’ll get $16. Use your coupon and the price gets knocked down to around $14. The two bags will include two tall coffees, as well. That is a value of about $4. Effectively, this brings your grand total for the 2 bags to about $10 after all your savings ($5 a pound).
Unfortunately, the free coffee for a bag of coffee is actively being phased out. Scoop up some of the last bags with the old design, and you’ll still get a free cup!