Smart Buying

How to Save Big Bucks at Starbucks

Is your caffeine habit putting a grande dent in your wallet? Try these tactics to slash your coffee tab.

It’s hard to take a walk around a city block without coming across a Starbucks. The coffee company boasts more than 23,000 stores in 70 countries and enjoys cult-like status among its caffeinated devotees. And, if you're one of them, you've likely heard the news that the chain is planning to boost its prices as soon as July 12.

Even without the price hike, rumored to be upwards of $0.30 for some beverages, your daily drip is hurting your wallet: At one Washington, D.C., location we checked, a plain tall brewed coffee currently costs $1.95. Drink one a day and you’ve sunk $712 into your habit over the course of the year. The bill goes up—way up—if you’re ordering larger sizes or anything fancy.

So, before your next venti skinny vanilla soy latte becomes even pricier, read up on several ways to dial back your Starbucks budget.

First and foremost, join the free My Starbucks Rewards Program if you haven’t already. You’ll get a free birthday treat, free in-store refills on coffee and tea, plus special discount offers and freebies just for being a member.

Under the recently revamped rewards structure, members will receive two stars for every dollar spent. Earning 300 stars during a 12-month period will take you from the basic Green level to the Gold level, which comes with the added perk of a free food item or drink for every 125 stars you earn, as well as monthly Double Star Days. On those days Gold members will earn four stars for every dollar spent. Time your visits on those days to earn your free rewards faster. Another easy way to rack up the stars is to be your office’s designated coffee runner. Picking up your co-workers’ lattes (which they reimburse you for, of course) means you’ll quickly earn rewards on their dime.

There are other ways to trim your tab whether you’re a rewards member or not. Only want a small caffeine jolt? Opt for the unadvertised “short” size, which is 8 ounces compared with 12 ounces for a tall. At that same D.C. Starbucks, a plain short brewed coffee is $1.70, so you’ll save about $90 a year simply by downsizing from a tall. Bring your own re-usable cup for a 10-cent discount. That alone will save you another $36.50 annually.

As for what you’re pouring into those cups, stick with brewed coffee, advises consumer-finance expert Andrea Woroch. “Espresso drinks cost more than coffee and the fancier the concoction, the more you’ll pay,” she says. “If you’re indulging regularly at Starbucks, cut back on those fancy drinks and go with coffee to save yourself money.” Use your free reward on a fancier beverage. And, don’t bother spending money on a bottle of water to wash it all down. Just ask the barista for a cup of water.

Also consider purchasing discount Starbucks gift cards at sites like Gift Card Granny or Cardpool, says Woroch. Alternatively, she says, you can swap your spare change for a no-fee Starbucks e-gift card code at a Coinstar kiosk. Coinstar kiosks also pay out cash for unwanted gift cards. And don’t forget you can sometimes redeem credit card rewards for a Starbucks gift card, she says.

“If you are a multiple-cup-per-day person, you might want to look at it a little bit differently,” suggests smart shopping expert Trae Bodge. “Do your most important cup of the day [at the Starbucks store] and hit the deli or office coffee machine for the rest.” There’s also the option of making your own coffee or tea, she says—with Starbucks coffee or tea, naturally. My Starbucks Rewards members will still score points on purchases at Teavana and Evolution Fresh stores, plus specially marked products at grocery stores, in addition to purchases made at Starbucks stores.

When all else fails, consider a side gig as a barista, as employees are entitled to 30% off drinks, food and merchandise.

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