If you’re a coffee drinker, chances are good that you drink it—on average—every single day. Given coffee’s prominent place in your life, it’s worth taking some time to analyze your habit.
This isn’t about cutting back… let’s not get crazy. This is about optimizing your coffee consumption by changing your coffee mindset. And saving money as a result.
If you drink the same beverage every day, it’s no longer a special treat. It’s a habit. And that beverage is a commodity. You don’t have the luxury of elaborate and precious routines, coffee shops, and unnecessary add-ins like cream and sugar.
The marketplace entices us with myriad inefficient ways to drink coffee. There’s the glitz and glamour of Morebucks, single-serving pods, and horrific flavored creamers. You might already be caught in one or more of these traps. But you can break free.
So let’s talk about drinking coffee the correct way. At home, at work, and everywhere else.
Purchase Good Coffee for a Good Price
Store shelves are overrun with all manner of whole bean and pre-ground coffee. So how do we pick one?
Coffee connoisseurs will tell us about the importance of the freshest beans. And how they roast them to bring out unique and subtle flavors. With this mindset, coffee is more of a hobby than a caffeine delivery device. For the rest of us, we’re here for the caffeine. So let’s keep it simple.
You can simplify your coffee-buying decision by imposing a couple of frugal restraints:
- Good coffee means organic coffee. This might not seem like the frugal choice. But organic beans are available for a low price at national grocery store chains. Organic coffee is healthier, and it does less damage to the environment. There’s no reason to drink conventionally grown coffee.
- A good price means under $6.00/lb. To get this price means you’ll need to shop sales and/or wholesale clubs.
Pre-Ground or Whole Bean
Then there’s the decision of pre-ground or whole bean. Either option is fine. It only depends on whether you want to put in the extra effort to grind the beans yourself with a coffee bean grinder.
Some people swear that pre-ground coffee is stale coffee. They would argue that you should grind your beans each morning for maximum freshness. There may be truth to this, but I’m not convinced that it makes much of a difference. Your mileage may vary.
Still not sure what to get? Here are a couple of brands to consider when the price is right:
- Seattle’s Best 6th Ave Bistro® Fair Trade and Organic Coffee (Available at many grocery stores)
- First Colony Whole Bean Coffee (Available at Costco and others)
Choose the Correct Coffee Maker
In the beginning, there is a light. Or an alarm clock. Or a child using her outside voice at 6:30 AM. That’s how you know it’s coffee time.
Should you run over to the single-serve coffee maker and pop in a “Donut Shop” pod? Or climb into your SUV ASAP to hurry up and wait at the Morebucks drive-thru?
No, there’s a better way, and it’s pretty damn simple: A programmable drip coffee maker.
Holy sh*t! What is this crazy invention?
A programmable drip coffee maker is one of the greatest appliances that money can buy. And let’s be clear: It doesn’t take much money to buy one.
Because you’re looking out for future you, the coffee is already brewed and ready by the time you wake up. This is a very important step if you have a 9 to 5 job, or if, for any reason, you want your coffee ready first thing in the morning. You must take care of your important coffee business the night before. This means you already:
- Filled the tank with the right amount of water
- Poured in the correct amount of ground coffee
- Programmed the coffee maker to start brewing at the correct time (Around 6:20 if you’re waking up at 6:30)
This previous night’s routine took only a few minutes of your time. Now you’re springing out of bed with a zest for the morning. You’re excited. After all, you can smell that intoxicating brew. So you throw off the covers and bounce into the kitchen because it’s already there, hot and ready to go down the hatch.
What a great way to start the day!
Single Serving Coffee Makers
Single serving, pod-based coffee machines are convenient. But that’s where their fun begins and ends.
The pods are environmentally irresponsible. They get tossed into the landfill after a single use.
The coffee itself lives and brews within the plastic pods, which might not be safe to consume.
And if you want to drink more than one cup, or you’re making coffee for a group, the convenience backfires. That’s when your pod machine reveals itself to be not only inconvenient, but super-duper silly.
Select a Coffee Cup and Tumbler
You’ve brewed your coffee, now what should you pour it into? A cup? A tumbler? A wine glass? It all depends on where you are.
If you’re drinking coffee in the comfort of your own home, it doesn’t matter what you use as long as it can handle the heat. If you have a fun coffee mug, use that. But even a boring coffee mug will do. Or you can use an insulated tumbler. Use what you have.
Out and About
It’s when you take your coffee out into the world that it helps to be more particular. You should use an insulated, spill-proof tumbler in most cases. I recommend this Contigo Vacuum-Insulated Travel Mug. I use one every day. It fits great in the mesh cup holders on my backpack. I ride my bike to work with it strapped on my back, full of hot coffee. There’s never a leak and there’s never cold coffee. It’s one of those fantastic buy-it-once products.
Compost Your Coffee Grounds
After you brew a batch of coffee you’ll have wet grounds which need disposal. I don’t recommend that you re-brew with them again, but you should be composting your coffee grounds.
Do you even compost, bro?
Composting is a cool activity that everyone’s doing. Even if your city doesn’t yet have a composting program, you can establish one in your own backyard. Or toss them right into your garden soil. Garden soil loves coffee grounds!
If you’re making coffee at work, you can still compost your grounds. Here’s the method I use: Bring a large empty nut container to work. Fill it up with the spent grounds. Once it’s full, bring it home and add the grounds to your home compost system. Rinse and repeat.
Learn to Love Black Coffee
The benefits to drinking black coffee are real and spectacular. Sure, it’s an acquired taste, but it’s in your interest to acquire that taste as soon as you can.
When you drink your coffee black, you’re more independent. You’re not tethered to the nearest pack of sugar, carton of milk, creamer, or (gag!) non-dairy creamer. Any free or cheap source of coffee offered to you is acceptable without restrictions. Truck stops, gas stations, workplace kitchens, or grandma’s percolator. It’s all in play. There’s no need to hunt around for extras to make it “taste good”.
Why yes, I would like a cup of that black coffee. Thank you very much!
Not only will you be unfussy about how you take your coffee, you’ll save the added expense of buying any of those add-ins.
Drinking black coffee is a win for your health as well. There are real health benefits to drinking coffee. So it’s important not to sh*t in your own cup with sugar or creamer.
Even a leading brand’s sugar-free creamer is full of corn syrup and nasty vegetable oils. If you go for the fat-free version, that’s substituting more sugar and weird chemicals.
You need to forget about all that artificial flavor nonsense and drink your coffee black. The bad news is your coffee isn’t going to taste like a candy bar. It’s going to be bitter, but push through and keep sipping. Soon you’ll acquire the taste for black coffee and never look back.
Change Your Mindset on Coffee Shops
The final hurdle to changing your coffee mindset lies in the belly of the beast: The coffee shop. From local mom-and-pops to mega chains, they all have one main job: To trick you into paying too much for coffee.
They do this in three devious ways:
1. Highbrow Coffee
“This coffee is lightly roasted and has notes of lavender and citrus.” Or “This one we made using the pour-over method. That’s why it costs $5.12 with tax.” Or “We brewed this one with next-generation technology. Notice how it doesn’t taste as burned as our house coffee.” As a recovering craft beer snob, I understand how it can be fun to be intellectual about what you drink. But your coffee consumption is an everyday habit, not a special treat. Leave the high-brow coffee to others. You can observe the whole scene with curious amusement. All while clutching your trusty 20 oz travel mug of organic drip coffee.
2. Flavored Coffee Drinks
Many coffee shops will tempt you with drinks full of sugar and the artificial flavors of the season. They crank up the price tag along with the calories. It’s incredible to see how the lines of customers stretch back to the door. But for the love of your health and finances, don’t be in those lines.
3. Coffee Shop Culture
Coffee shops are popular not only as a place to enjoy a fancy bloom or comforting sugar rush. They’re also popular as a “third location”—A place that’s not home and not work, but somewhere… else. It’s a change of scenery where your can get some work done on a laptop. Or stare into space. All while being near other humans. We’re social creatures, so there’s something very appealing about it. You might justify that $5 coffee drink as fair rent to hang out there and work for the afternoon. But remember, you can also bring your laptop and your spill-proof travel mug to the library, the park, or other rooms within your home.
The key takeaway is to view coffee shops as novelties. They’re rare treats to enjoy on occasion, in social situations, or as an escape into an alternate reality.
But be suspicious of the alternate reality they’re selling in there. It’s a world where it’s normal to pay $5 for a fussy cup of coffee or a plastic cup of sugar. After all, that’s how much you should pay for a pound of coffee, enough to last for weeks.
To change your mindset about coffee might seem challenging at first. But you can do it. The mechanics are simple:
- Buy good coffee at a good price
- Use a programmable drip coffee maker
- Get a good travel mug
- Compost your grounds
- Learn to take it black
- Avoid coffee shops
That’s how you can save money and drink your coffee too.
What’s your coffee mindset? And how do you save money on coffee?