By Douglas Ehrman
As any lover of Starbucks will tell you, there is a real cost to a true caffeine addiction. With menu options that range from your basic drip coffee to elaborate espresso concoctions, or even choices that do not even contain coffee, America’s top purveyor of gourmet coffee drinks knows how to make money.
Consumers often sabotage their savings by overspending and letting their buyers’ impulses override they saving goals. With the below tips and suggestions, however, you can cut down on the cost of regular trips to Starbucks and protect your bottom line.
ORDER BASIC MENU ITEMS AND GET CREATIVE
While Starbucks baristas will whip up nearly any combination of flavors at your request, by carefully understanding what goes into many drinks you can get creative and save a lot. It’s all about ordering a basic (and cheaper) menu item and adding complimentary, free ingredients like creamer, milk or even vanilla flavoring to get it closer to your favorite but high-cost drink. This will significantly cut what you pay while getting you essentially the same beverage. Here are two easy examples of substitutions that are much cheaper.
ORDER AN ESPRESSO WITH ROOM INSTEAD OF A LATTE
The basic ingredients of a latte are espresso and steamed milk, while an Americano contains espresso and water. By opting for an Americano with extra room in the cup, you can add your own milk at the store for free. An Americano is priced similarly to drip coffee, so this Starbucks menu hack represents meaningful savings relative to a latte.
This substitution makes even more sense in the summer time when you’re ordering your drink on ice. An iced latte is just espresso and cold milk (not steamed), so order an iced Americano or a double-shot espresso on ice and add milk yourself to get essentially the same end result for a fraction of the price.
ORDER A CHAI TEA INSTEAD OF A CHAI LATTE
This is a similar idea to the substitution suggestion above: Opt for a chai tea with plenty of room in the cup and add your own milk. You can save significantly because the cost of hot tea is dramatically less than the cost of a chai latte. In this case, the drink has some other differences from the original chai latte and won’t taste exactly the same, but it’s close enough and the savings is worth it.
JOIN THE MY STARBUCKS REWARDS LOYALTY PROGRAM
Starbucks has done a great job of making its loyalty program both easy to use and a helpful, money-saving tool. You can easily sign up through the Starbucks site and get a membership card, and manage your rewards account through the My Starbucks Rewards app. The app includes convenient features that allow you to order ahead of time, pay electronically at the store, quickly reload gift card balances and more.
Most importantly, your My Starbucks Rewards membership will qualify you for plenty of free giveaways. For example, you get a free espresso drink on your birthday, plus you will receive regular offers for discounts and other giveaways. You’ll also get freebies if you’re a frequent Starbucks customer; after you have made 30 purchases in a year, you qualify to receive a free purchase for every 12 items you buy. Related to your Starbucks membership, if you follow Starbucks on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, you can be alerted to coupons, free drink certificates and other promotions.
The one drawback of the Starbucks loyalty card that you should be aware of if you are looking to save money is that it makes spending easier. When you pay with cash, you have an easy reminder of how much is leaving your wallet. When you just scan your Starbucks card or phone, it is far easier to be oblivious to the true cost. Loyalty programs can also be a privacy concern since they help stores track your spending habits. While the Starbucks card has advantages, being aware of risks is important.
FIND STARBUCKS DEALS ONLINE
Similar to the offers you can find on social media sites, Groupon is often a great way to save money at Starbucks and its online store that sells its signature brand of coffee and related items. While these deals are not always available, when they do show up they can lead to significant savings. Beyond Groupon, other sites will have similar deals from time to time or highlight current offers from Starbucks, so searching for Starbucks deals can yield savings that you might otherwise miss.
KNOW STARBUCKS POLICIES
Starbucks offers a few simple ways to save money, but only to those who know to ask for them. For example, if you bring in your own mug, you save $0.10 on your drink order. By using your own mug, you can do something for the environment and save a few cents along the way. If you are a Starbucks regular, this can add up to real savings over time.
Another policy that is not widely broadcast is Starbucks’ refill policy. If you are drinking drip coffee and want a refill during the same visit to the store, you will only be charged $0.50. This couples well with the free Wi-Fi, making Starbucks a great place to hunker down and get some work done away from the office.
Your love of all things Starbucks does not have to cost you as much as you think if you follow the above tips. While nobody would suggest that gourmet coffee is the economical choice in most cases (it’s almost always cheaper to brew your own coffee), if you plan carefully you can save on these caffeinated indulgences.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Douglas Ehrman writes for GOBankingRates.com a leading portal for personal finance news and features, offering visitors the latest information on everything from interest rates to strategies on saving money, managing a budget and getting out of debt.