Certain financial advice columnists will have you believe that retirement is unattainable for those who spend $4 on a daily cappuccino. There’s even a whole theory (the “latte factor”) regarding how small choices in beverage consumption add up to significant losses in long-term savings. Or as Suze Orman puts it, spending money on coffee is like “peeing $1 million down the drain.”
I’ve been a fan of Starbucks since the now familiar green and white logo started cropping up on street corners in my city two decades ago. A year ago, after reading one too many articles shaming me for my guilty pleasure, I decided to challenge myself to see how I could support my coffee habit without forking over lots of cash. (Note: I already have a well-established retirement and emergency fund, so this wasn’t about reducing coffee-flavored debt.)
Here are the four strategies I used.
1. Completing online surveys
In our data-driven world, companies rely heavily on feedback from potential consumers before bringing products to market. Increasingly, they are turning to online survey aggregators to get that feedback.
Anyone can sign up to participate. I’ve been a user of Survey Junkie for well over a year, which awards survey takers points for each survey completed, with one point = one penny. That may not sound like much, but each survey ranges from 10 to up to 320 points. Once you’ve hit 1,000 points (or $10), you can cash out, either by PayPal or through gift cards to places such as Amazon, Sephora, and — you guessed it — Starbucks.
Spending just a few minutes each day (such as while commuting on the train/bus) adds up. I’ve earned roughly $250 in the past 12 months, which is a lot of grande blonde roasts.
Now, some of the surveys can get repetitive — you have to enter certain demographic information endlessly — but there is satisfaction as well, especially when I later see a product in the store whose packaging I possibly influenced by sharing my opinion.
2. Keeping the change
You may have seen those ubiquitous green machines in chain grocery stores across the country — Coinstar has over 20,000 machines nationwide and has now expanded into eight countries. If, like me, you still use cash for some of your smaller purchases, these machines come in handy.
Sure, you can use Coinstar to convert coins to greenbacks, but if you do so you will pay a fee that reduces the value of your coinage by a whopping 11.9%. However, Coinstar also has a free e-gift card option that has no hidden fees, with about a dozen participating vendors, including Starbucks. There’s usually a minimum of $5 in coins you must have on hand to take advantage of the machines, but there’s no real maximum — well, until the machines can’t take any additional coins.
3. Picking up pennies
I live in a city where it’s easy to find pennies, nickels, and sometimes larger denominations of money discarded on the ground. On the street next to parking meters, outside of nightclubs, and beneath the bench press at the gym are all places where it’s easy to spot a spare dime.
A while back, after a particularly lucrative year finding over $60, I began to drop my street winnings into a special jar. At the end of each calendar year, I’ll tally my “winnings” and add them to the change pile noted above.
This past year was pretty average — a little over $15 — but hey, that’s three tall flat whites and some change to spare.
4. Talking about it
Most of my family, colleagues, and friends know that I like coffee. Whenever someone is stymied for a gift for my birthday, or want to repay me for pet-sitting, I gently remind them that I am happy to accept gift cards to my favorite café. There is no shame in suggesting what you like if someone asks — especially if they know it’s a gift that will go to good use.
These four techniques supported roughly 90% of my Starbucks purchases in 2019 which, admittedly, is not a daily but a 2–3 times a week habit. But the challenge proved that there are creative ways to fund your guilty pleasures without flushing your earnings in the toilet.