As any Starbucks lover 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 — as well as choices that don't 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 their saving goals.
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. With the following tips and suggestions, you can cut down on the cost of regular trips to Starbucks and easily save money.
1. Order an Espresso With Room Instead of a Latte
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 high-cost drink.
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 a meaningful savings relative to a latte.
This substitution makes even more sense 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.
2. Order a Chai Tea Instead of a Chai Latte
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 the savings are worth the differences.
3. 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 to get a membership card, then manage your rewards account through the My Starbucks Rewards app. The app includes convenient features that let you 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, free in-store drip coffee refills and regular offers for discounts and other giveaways. You'll also earn two stars for every $1 you spend using the app or rewards card in stores — and it doesn't matter what you buy.
The one drawback of the Starbucks loyalty card to keep in mind 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.
4. Order Iced Tea Without Water
If you’re more of a tea person, you’ll save money by ordering your iced tea without water. This hack might seem odd, but you’ll get two drinks for the price of one. For each iced tea order, Starbucks pours from a pitcher of double-strength tea, and then waters down the drink. But if you order your iced tea with no water, you'll receive a full cup of the double-strength tea. It has a stronger flavor that can be watered down into two drinks.
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5. Buy Starbucks Coffee Grounds
Your local Starbucks isn't the only place to get your daily coffee fix. Whether you prefer light, medium or dark roast, purchase Starbucks coffee grounds from your local grocery store. For example, pick up a 20-ounce bag of Pike Place Medium Roast Ground Coffee from Walmart for $11.18, or get a 12-ounce bag of Starbucks Italian Roast Dark Ground Coffee for $6.98. This method saves time and money, plus you’re able to enjoy your favorite brew anytime.
6. Order a French Press to Share
If you're out with friends and you're all drinking the same brew, order an off-menu French press instead of individual coffees. The price and available size for the French press varies by location, but you’ll get at least 32 ounces of coffee to split with the group (typically for less than $5). Do the math and you’ll spend less than ordering your own drink.
7. Split a Venti Frappuccino
Instead of getting your own 12-ounce tall Frappuccino, order one 24-ounce venti to share if you’re drinking the same flavor as your friend or partner. This hack saves money because the venti is only slightly more expensive than the smaller tall. Why pay $8.80 for two tall Caramel Frappuccinos at $4.40 each when you can get one venti size for $5.85?
Keep in mind, however, that you won’t get the discount if you ask the barista to split the venti for you. To save money, ask for an extra cup and split the drink yourself.
8. Get Discount Starbucks Gift Cards
Using a Starbucks gift card is another way to save money on coffee, and there are plenty of ways to get your hands on these cards. For example, check with your credit card company to see if you can redeem your reward points for a Starbucks gift card. Additionally, consider signing up for Groupon. This deals website will occasionally offer half-off for Starbucks, where you’ll find $10 eGift cards for $5. It also doesn't hurt to check out sites that sell discounted gift cards like Raise or Cardpool, or sign up for survey websites like Swagbucks. For every online survey you take, you collect points redeemable for gift cards, including Starbucks cards. Taking surveys is a clever way to make money online.
9. Convert Spare Change Into Coffee Money
Taking your rolled coins to the bank is old school. Coinstar is a faster, easier way to turn your coins into cash. Simply dump your loose change into the machine for a cash voucher, or exchange your coins for an eGift card to Starbucks or a variety of other stores or restaurants.
10. Order a Refill
Did you know that Starbucks offers free refills on brewed coffee and tea? This is need-to-know-information if you’re a coffee or tea drinker. But to get your free Starbucks refill, you must make the initial purchase with a Starbucks gift card or the mobile app. Just show a copy of your receipt and get your refill. Unfortunately, this deal isn’t available at the drive-thru.
11. Order a Short
If you've heard rumors about a secret Starbucks size, the rumors are true. The tall, grande and venti aren't the only options for coffee and tea. If you’re in the mood for less, order the company’s off-menu 8-ounce short. This is perfect if you don't drink a lot, or if you’re looking to save money.
12. Skip the Bottled Water
Cold water might go perfectly with your coffee or snack, but you don't have to buy the coffee shop’s pricey bottled water to wet your throat. Because Starbucks uses filtered water when preparing its coffee and tea, ask for a courtesy cup of ice-cold water instead.
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13. Bring Your Own Cup
The next time you go to Starbucks, request the company’s $1 reusable cup. Bring the cup for each subsequent visit and you’ll snag a 10-cent discount no matter the beverage or size. Although the Starbucks reusable cup doesn’t offer huge savings, they do add up over time. Plus, the cup pays for itself in just 10 visits.
Douglas Ehrman contributed to this article.