A Simple Way to Save $1000? Make Coffee at Home

August 12, 2015

A latte a day will cost you $1,642.50. 

Last week I made a payment of more than three grand for my child’s nursery school for next year. Non-refundable. It’s just a quarter of what I owe for the year. (Yes, insane.) I had to take a big breath before executing payment and tell myself that before long he’d be in kindergarten and that’s free and it’ll be okay, it’ll be okay, paying these expenses won’t get us dispossessed.

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I had to dip into savings to make the payment, since my take-home pay doesn’t nearly cover expenses. I realize I’m lucky to have savings to dip into, even while they’re supposed to be adding up for retirement one day out there in a distant, peaceful, financially-secure future. So in the meantime, I do what I can to be frugal and take as little as possible from savings to cover my ample regular expenses: housing, utilities, clothes, coffee. 

Yep, coffee. I’m a relatively modest coffee drinker—most days I have one cup in the morning. And most days it’s a single serving French press I prepare myself with a generous splash of milk or half-and-half. No sweetener. But earlier this year I treated myself to a late-day medium latte at Stumptown for a whopping $4.50. I hate to sound like a fogey (aka a Gen-X’er), but I remember when candy bars cost a quarter. For real.

Think about it: If I bought that same latte every day for a year, it’d cost me $1,642.50. Some people buy that kind of drink twice daily, spending more than $3000 annually. That’s the kind of money I could use to start a college savings fund. It’s real money, not random pennies under a pleather cushion in a rec room. 

More: Cold brew is so hot right now. Learn to make it at home.

It was several years ago when I started French-pressing at home. There were different reasons for it: I loved (and still do) the suspenseful ceremony of the slow, resistant plunge; I’d long-endured a lack of kitchen counter space in my New York City residency and was grateful for the economy of the device; and, finally, I objected to the cost of a daily caffeine fix from any number of fancy cafés. 

My only coffee expense was buying beans. I didn’t even bother getting a grinder; baristas will grind it for free. 

But at Stumptown I marveled at the snaking line of customers shelling out cash and decided it was time for a more scientific cost analysis. How much do I actually save in making my own coffee? How much is my self-righteousness worth? And, how much more wasteful would I be if I had never bothered making my own?

So on April 8, I bought two bags of beans from La Colombe for $25. They lasted from April 9 through June 19. That’s 72 days of coffee. In that time period, I also bought approximately $20 worth of creamer—sometimes whole milk, sometimes half-and-half. That totals $45 in at-home coffee expenditures over a two month and change period. By my reckoning, that comes to $.63 a day for my morning kick. It’d have been even cheaper had I not tripled grounds on days that my folks stayed over—but that’s part of the calculus, I suppose, and I’m not so cheap that I’m going to charge my parents for what they consume. 

More: Make your own flavored coffee creamer.

Had I bought a daily medium latte at Stumptown for 72 days, I’d have spent $324. Hopefully, I’d have been sufficiently mindful to use the discount punch card—the one where you get a free cup with every 10 coffee purchases. That would’ve meant essentially paying for 66 medium lattes. Sixty-six medium lattes over a 72-day period will cost $297.  

Even if I’d opted for the cheapest drink on their menu—arguably the one most akin to what I make at home: a small regular coffee—at a cost of $2.50, I’d have spent $180 over 72 days, or $165 with consistent discount punch card use. Imagine how much I’d spend if I bought that for an entire year. Or, scratch that—no need to bother imagining a thing. I’ve got a calculator right here. It’d be $912.50, without punch card. Roughly $836 with it. That’s simply too much green for something dark and roasted. 

Coffee intake is one small, manageable realm in which I control exactly how much—or little—I spend. I’m sure there are countless other areas in which I could save. Do I really need to buy heirloom tomatoes? Probably not. But knowing that I’m not spending nearly $1000 a year on coffee, and instead am paying more in the ballpark of $230, gives me a sense that I’m not entirely wasteful. 

And that sense, on my micro, personal finance level, is priceless.  

Photos by James Ransom

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Sara Ivry
    Sara Ivry
  • swagv
  • Thomas
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  • Andrew Vaught
    Andrew Vaught
Sara Ivry

Written by: Sara Ivry

Sara Ivry is a freelance writer, editor, and podcaster based in New York City. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Bookforum, Adweek, Money, Design Observer, and other outlets. The host of the National Magazine Award-winning podcast Vox Tablet, she has worked on audio projects for Gimlet Media, Slate Studios, Kveller, Understood.org, and other organizations.


Sara I. August 21, 2015
@swagv Interesting. Are you suggesting that I'm depriving baristas of additional income by making my coffee at home, and not even accounting for their hard work in my calculation? Or, that I am devaluing my own labor/time/effort in my calculus? I can see the latter point, though the time is 5 minutes, max, and it's a labor I enjoy, so it hardly feels like work, whereas cleaning my toilet does feel like a chore I dislike, and I think of time spent there in far more economic terms. That said, I stopped using Cable TV years ago.
brentb September 13, 2015
That's strange. I was hoping you were going to try to write an article for the general public -- and not write an article to justify things for yourself and for your own personal preferences and lifestyle choices. If the latter point, why should the rest of us care?
swagv August 21, 2015
You do realize that all the personal self-help financial gurus gave up on the latte tax idea a decade ago, so why are you still pitching it? You could do better cutting cable TV. But the best part here is that your financial analysis values your personal time and attention as "free" - as in “Can come over to my house and clean my toilets, please, since your time is worthless?” free.
Because retail coffee is like restaurants: you’re not paying for the ingredients. Coffee is less than 10% of Starbucks operational expenses (look up their balance sheet if you don’t believe me). What you are paying for is labor in the time and attention you divert. Others get paid at least minimum wage for this, and yet you value your own time in their place as absolutely worthless. May as well churn your own butter from milk if you believe that.
Thomas August 15, 2015
I've been thinking about doing this myself for a while. I usually only buy coffee to have in then sit and write or a few hours so I feel I'm spending the money on the environment (in a good way.) I do plan on making more coffee at home though and just taking it with me in a thermos for the day.
garlic A. August 16, 2015
How Very J.K. Rowling of you! What do you write?
Thomas August 16, 2015
Thank you! I write a blog over at www.presentpath.co.uk and fiction.
garlic A. August 16, 2015
Nice blog! I need more simple in my life. I write about food -- making it, eating it and sharing it. www.garlicandzest.com
witloof August 14, 2015
Yup. in the summer I make a batch of cold brew for about $24 and it lasts for a month. Huge huge savings.
Andrew V. August 13, 2015
Even buying super premium beans, when you make coffe at home, it's usually come out to be about .75 per cup or less per cup.
Anastasia August 13, 2015
Really, I have about 3-5 coffees a day and prefer not have it outside without reason. With the amount of it I usually drink it would break me:)
AntoniaJames August 12, 2015
This is a real eye opener. When you say the savings is a "start" for a college fund, you're right. It's just a very small start, but of course, an excellent idea!

If your child starts an Ivy league or similar private college in 15 years, you actually need to be putting aside $1500 **per month**, starting now, assuming college costs increase 4% per year and the return on your tax deferred investment is 6%. If your child goes to a public university and you're in-state (I use Cal-Berkeley as an example), you need to save a mere $800 per month, starting now.
And that's on top of your SEP-IRA, or whatever else you're doing for retirement. Kind of sobering, isn't it? ;o)
mrslarkin August 12, 2015
Ha-ha AJ! So true!! My oldest off to college next week. Wish us luck!
AntoniaJames August 12, 2015
MrsL, good luck! How exciting. ;o)
Jackie P. August 12, 2015
12K a year is a bargain! We're doing 1400 a month! You lucky bastard. Also Trader Joes makes a decent coffee. No need to keep running out for teeny bags of Stumptown.
garlic A. August 12, 2015
I am constantly saying the same thing to myself. We ALWAYS make our coffee at home (and typically drink about 3 cups each). I fill a "to go" cup and head to the gym -- where I see a line of cars snaking around the parking lot (and blocking my gym entry). I sip my home-brewed java and shake my head at those who spend a fortune for their coffee klatch!
mrslarkin August 12, 2015
I was having this same conversation in my head yesterday when I plunked down nearly $5 for a Grande Flat White at Starbucks. I am insane, but I did enjoy every sip.