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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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    • Jason Matthews profile image

      Jason Matthews 4 years ago from North Carolina

      I love this. A great hub: funny and practical! Thanks for sharing some great coffee tips!

    • mercuryservices profile image

      Alex Munkachy 4 years ago from Honolulu, Hawaii

      I am not a huge fan of Starbucks and typically would prefer to support a local business or the neighborhood coffee shop, however Starbucks seems to be everywhere... and the points brought up in this article are true. I admit to owning a Starbucks card myself. While I do not find their coffee to be of the best quality, if you follow these tips, it is actually cheaper to be a Starbucks customer. The free wifi and refills help make my time writing in coffee shops cheaper as well.

    • FullOfLoveSites profile image

      FullOfLoveSites 4 years ago from United States

      Well, I just go to Starbucks as a rare treat for myself, so it's a way to be able to enjoy Starbucks which I feel is a luxury. Voted up and useful, interesting.

    • drpennypincher profile image

      Dr Penny Pincher 4 years ago from Iowa, USA

      Great tips, especially important with coffee prices creeping up. I like to buy bags of Starbucks coffee beans at the grocery store when the bag has an offer to bring the empty bag to a Starbucks shop for a free cup of coffee.

    • profile image

      T Nicole C S 5 years ago

      As another fellow barista at Starbucks, I do want to point a few things out. I will agree, these are great tips, and there is nothing wrong with any of them. However, the tips about splitting one drink between two cups, and putting shots in a big cup and filling it up with free milk, push the limits. They are allowed, but I have worked with managers who, if they see too much of this, will get permission from higher up to take action to regulate these behaviors, because it does cost the store money. I would recommend being careful with those two, as if done too much in too many store, they could lead to corporate taking action to stop those things from happening. Just a friendly warning.

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Starbucks does add up. I like to go there as a once in a while treat but definitely not everyday. But when I do go, I'll have to keep these tips in mind. Voted up and shared.

    • ClarkSteveB profile image

      Steve Clark 5 years ago from Northern, VA

    • mandination profile image

      Amanda W 5 years ago from Pittsburgh

      I work as a barista at Starbucks, and I can confirm that these are some great tips! I'm always surprised at how many regular customers don't know about the perks of having a reward card. There's no membership fee at all, and you can load the card with the exact amount for each purchase at the register if you don't have extra money to spend.

      There are definitely a lot of options to try to save money on drinks at Starbucks. For instance, if a misto is too pricey or you prefer less milk, a barista can add up to 4oz of steamed milk (including soy) for no extra charge.

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 5 years ago from Iowa

      I love my non-fat lattes but it makes me think twice when I realize one latte is about a week's earnings on Hubpages! : ) Great tips.

    • aykianink profile image

      aykianink 5 years ago

      Didn't realize you could bring your own mug to Starbucks. Surprisingly complex article. Thanks, Tips.

    • tipstoretireearly profile image

      tipstoretireearly 5 years ago from New York

      Dear Redberry - Thanks for stopping by! Saving a little even a few times a month can still make a difference.

    • Redberry Sky profile image

      Redberry Sky 5 years ago

      Interesting info - I only go to coffee houses a couple of times a month maybe, but I could still save money using some of these, cheers :)