Search for how to save money at Starbucks, and you’ll find millions of results. People love finding ways to cut their costs at a place they love. Some go to Starbucks to meet friends or to grab a quick pick-me-up at lunch. And for many, it’s a daily habit: wake up, grab a coffee, and drive to work. The company has carefully crafted a strategy of home, work, and Starbucks. Their goal is to have you spending significant amount of time at their retail stores.
Personally, I have a couple cups of coffee each day. Sometimes they’re from Starbucks, and sometimes they’re not. As a frugal person, it’s hard to see any purchased coffee as a thrifty choice. It’s not. To brew a pot of coffee might cost $.40-.50. If you get a tall coffee at Starbucks, that’ll set you back about $1.89 (and that’s just for a plain coffee). Of course, the frugal choice is staying home, but sometimes I like going out and grabbing one on the go. Sometimes there’s just something wonderful about working in a coffee house.
Regardless, my ultimate goal is to save every dollar and dime I can no matter the place. People tend to criticize Starbucks for being “too expensive,” but a cup of coffee is pretty reasonably priced. If I go anywhere else in town, I’ll be looking at about $2 or more for the same size.
It’s been two years since I last wrote about saving money at Starbucks. Much has changed with the company and my wallet since then. Nowadays, I can save 20% or more at Starbucks — every day. Here’s how you can, too.
1. Start with a cash back card (6% savings)
To achieve this level of savings, you must start with a cash back credit card. Personally, I use the Blue Cash Preferred card from American Express. This card is designed to give you 6% at grocery stores, 3% for gas, and 1% for everything else. I only use the card for grocery and gas purchases (bonus tip: the Amex card even works at Aldi to save me an additional 6% on groceries).
Now, you might be wondering how Starbucks could ever be considered a grocery store. How could someone actually net 6%? The answer takes a couple more steps to understand. Stick with me.
2. Buy an eBay gift card to purchase a Starbucks gift card (10% savings)
At a local grocery store, look at their gift cards aisle. If they’re like mine, you’ll find tons of options from Amazon, Chilis, and even Starbucks. But you don’t want to buy a Starbucks gift card yet; albeit, that’d net you a cool 6% rapidly. Instead, we need to buy an eBay gift card.
After buying an eBay card, search on their website for a Starbucks gift card. You’ll find tons of offerings. A good rule of thumb is 10% — that’s the expected discount off the face value of the card. This process takes time. To purchase an eBay gift card, then a Starbucks gift card, and wait for it to arrive at your home might take a couple weeks. For me, it’s worth it because I know I’ll eventually go to Starbucks again; when I do, I want to save.
3. Register for Star Rewards (5% savings)
In the last couple years since I wrote about saving at Starbucks, they changed Star Rewards. The process involved some chicanery, but the bottomline is they devalued their entire program. For every dollar spent, people earn two points. Once earned, you can buy almost anything with a reward (how about a venti fancy-frap or calorie-packed pastry?).
Based on my coffee calculations, it now takes 35 cups to get a reward. Ouch! This miniscule savings does help, though. By registering the card with an established reward account, you’ll save about 5%, conservatively.
4. Bring your own tumbler (5.3% savings)
I bring a reusable tumbler before I ever scan my rewards card. Thankfully, Starbucks provides a hearty 10-cent discount each time.
Want to look like you just got a Starbucks and be frugal, too? Starbucks sells a reusable tumbler for $2 (and I believe it’ll count for Star Rewards as a purchase).
Order a tall coffee for $1.89, and then it becomes $1.79. Ten cents might be laughable, but over time these costs add up. By using a tumbler each time for coffee, you’ll be saving about 5.3% more. If you forget your tumbler, order a short coffee (8 oz) to save about $0.10 off a tall.
5. Take advantage of free refills (50% savings)
Most coffee places don’t offer free refills. For registered Star Rewards members, cups of coffee can be refilled for free. Now, a $1.79 cup of coffee can become $0.90. Or, $0.60 if you really are looking to get your coffee buzz on!
Even without the refills, Starbucks becomes a solid option for those looking to have a cup of coffee while out on the town, crossing the country, or just looking to get a little work done. By combining these strategies, I save over 20% every day at Starbucks.
Do you go to Starbucks? What tricks do you have to save at coffee shops?