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10 Ways to Save at Starbucks

Updated on April 23, 2013
Your Starbucks Addiction Doesn't Need to Break Your Budget
Your Starbucks Addiction Doesn't Need to Break Your Budget

Will your Starbucks addiction kill your budget? Or, can you savor your caffeine without hurting your retirement? Luckily, you can enjoy the Starbucks experience by saving money in 10 ways.

The “Latte Factor” Financial Risk

Financial advisors often cite the “latte factor” as a substantial risk to retirement. Assume you’re addicted to Starbucks lattes. You stop each morning on the way to work and spend $5 on a latte. Since you work an average of 20 days each month, you’ll spend $100 per month on lattes. If you instead invested that money at 5% interest over a 30-year career, you'd have saved $83,226 for your retirement nest egg!

Luckily, you can minimize the latte factor AND enjoy the Starbucks experience.

Use a Registered Starbucks Card

The easiest way to save at Starbucks is to use a registered Starbucks Card. Pick up a Card at any Starbucks, and register it online. There's no charge. Once you use it to buy something at Starbucks, a free drink for your birthday will be loaded onto your Card!

After your fifth purchase, your Starbucks Card will be upgraded to the Green level. You’ll get free refills (a $0.50 value!) on brewed or iced coffee, or tea refills, while you’re in the store.

After your 30th purchase within a year, your Card will be upgraded to the Gold level. Along with the Green level benefits, you’ll receive a free drink for every 12 purchases. You can also choose to receive special offers and coupons via email. And you’ll receive a personalized Gold card. Once at the Gold level, you stay there simply by making 30 more purchases in a year.

My experience with the Card shows it can go a long way towards minimizing the latte factor. The free drink for every 12 purchases reduces my average cost per drink by over 8% (or more, as explained below). I also enjoy several free drinks, and some free food items, each year due to the free birthday drink along with the Starbucks coupons I receive now and then.

Select Upgraded Drinks When They’re Free

When Starbucks gives you a free drink, they generously allow you to select whatever drink you’d like. So, while I typically earn my free drinks buying “tall” size coffees for $1.75 each, I redeem my free drinks by selecting fruit smoothies for my daughter or Mistos for my wife. In both cases, the value of my free drink exceeds the value of my regular coffee, and I save more money. If I buy 15 drinks for $1.75 each, and receive a $5 smoothie for free, my total payments will be $26.25 for the 16 drinks vs. their retail value of $31.25. That's an average discount of 16% (ignoring taxes).

Starting October 16, 2012, "free drinks" can also be used for free food items. This will provide more opportunities to use free drink rewards for higher priced menu items.

Reload Your Starbucks Card Using a Reward Credit Card

If you use a reward credit card to buy or reload your Starbucks Card, you lower your net cost by the amount of your reward. I typically add money to my Starbucks Card online using my Fidelity rewards VISA card, which means that I get a 1.5% reward. That’s a discount of 2.6 cents on my $1.75 coffee (and more for my family’s more expensive drinks). It’s not much money, but it still lowers my latte factor.

Use Your Own Reusable Mug

Starbucks offers a 10-cent discount to customers who use their own reusable mug. Along with the savings, you reduce the environmental impact of your Starbucks outing. By reducing the cost of my coffee from $1.75 to $1.65, I save more than 5%, which further lowers my latte factor.

Buy a Less Expensive/Smaller Drink

There are many ways to save money by buying less expensive drinks. Instead of an expensive latte, try an espresso on ice in a big cup and add milk (whole, half-and-half or non-fat) from the complimentary condiment bar. Or, you may find you like a less-expensive Misto as much as (or more than!) a more-expensive latte, especially if you like extra milk. Or, instead of paying for a flavor shot, use the condiment bar’s free mocha powder, cinnamon or other flavoring.

As for buying a smaller coffee drink, that’s a no-brainer if you drink brewed or iced coffee, or tea, in the store. Just buy a tall and then get a free refill with your Gold level Starbucks Card. If you buy a different type of drink, consider if you really drink—and enjoy--every drop of your Venti. By buying a smaller size, you can cut the cost of your drink by 10% to 20% or more.

Use Starbucks as a Substitute for More Expensive Outings

A trip to Starbucks is typically less expensive than going out for lunch or dinner at a good restaurant, or for alcoholic drinks at a bar. So, if you’re looking for a nice place for a date or outing, think of Starbucks. You’ll get as nice an atmosphere as a more expensive place, but at a fraction of the price. A visit to Starbucks is an economical way to scratch your itch for a fun night-on-the-town. And people-watching at Starbucks is likely to be better than most restaurants.

Have Breakfast at Starbucks When Traveling

Many people have big dinners when traveling. When they wake up, do they really need pancakes from room service or a trip to the hotel’s buffet? Not only do these breakfasts add on pounds, but they're expensive. As a quick and cheap alternative, consider Starbucks for breakfast. You can get an egg sandwich or bagel with a delicious cup of coffee for much less than the price of the hotel’s breakfast. Many Starbucks also sell bananas during the morning.

Split a Venti with a Friend

Since Starbucks doesn’t charge for an extra cup, you can split a Venti-sized drink with a friend, spouse or date. That cuts the price down to size, and drinking half of a Venti drink can be plenty.

Enjoy the Freebies

A visit to Starbucks often comes with freebies. You can surf the Internet using the free WiFi. You may find a free sample of a baked treat or drink, especially around the holidays. You can often read a newspaper left by a previous customer, particularly near airports or business hotels.


From free drinks, free refills, reusable-mug discounts, less expensive drinks, free WiFi, free samples and other perks and benefits, you can save money while enjoying the Starbucks experience. So you can have the Starbucks experience without killing your retirement!


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