Why I Still Don’t Buy Overpriced Coffee

Why I Still Don't Buy Overpriced CoffeeIt’s been a long while since I wrote about coffee so here is an update. In 2012, I was a financially independent millionaire and I refused to buy overpriced coffee. I didn’t need to because my old workplace offered free coffee as overtime pay for their overworked engineers. Great deal for the company! Now, I’m a retired engineer/blogger/stay-at-home dad and I still refuse to buy expensive coffee.

Okay, refuse is a strong word. Let’s just say I rarely visit our local Starbucks. The last time I went was to meet with the tenant who was moving out of our rental home. We sold that home in 2014 so that was about 4 years ago. I’ve visited a few coffee shops since then, but only to catch up with friends. We usually avoid Starbucks because I prefer to support the local shops. Am I just being a cheap bastard? Yes, that’s part of it, but let me justify my cheapness.

The picture is from our Cancun vacation. The coffee shop was part of the package. We drank a ton of cappuccino there.

***Don’t leave yet. Skip to the last section for an awesome coffee brewing tip if you don’t want to hear my take on the latte factor.


Now that I don’t get free coffee anymore, I should buy coffee, right? Not really. These days, I only drink coffee in the morning. We brew it in a French press at home and that’s all I need. I blog from home so it would be more trouble to go out and get coffee. By the way, our French press is over 10 years old and it still going strong. Also, I don’t need the afternoon pick-me-up anymore. Life is less stressful and I don’t have to be ‘on’ all day long. That’s one huge advantage of early retirement, I could live life at my own pace. The free cafeteria coffee was never that good anyway.

Some people like to blog in a coffee shop, but that environment is too distracting for me. In that case, I think it is fine to buy coffee because you’re using their wifi and it is work related expense.

How much are you really saving?

Are you really saving that much money? Let’s crunch the numbers. A medium caffe latte cost around $4 at Starbucks. Let’s say you buy 2 drinks every weekday. That comes out to about $2,000 per year. If you invest that instead of drinking it, you’d have over $250,000 after 30 years (8% gains annually). That’s a quarter million bucks! It is a significant sum. This is David Bach’s “The Latte Factor” that most of you have heard about.

Focus on big wins

I enjoy our modest lifestyle and rarely go out for coffee. It works well for me, but many experts argue that you should focus on big wins instead. You only have so much energy and if you focus on the little things, you won’t have energy for the big stuff. Here are some big wins.

  • Live in a cheaper home. Housing is the largest expense for most American family. If you can cut expense here, it’s a very big win. Currently, we live in 2 bed, 2 bath condo. It’s a bit cramp and we’re looking to move into our duplex at some point.
  • Drive a cheaper car. We share one car so we’re doing pretty well here.
  • Move to a more affordable location, aka geoarbitrage. Portland is getting more expensive, but it is still the cheapest big city on the west coast. Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Francisco are way more expensive than Portland.
  • Don’t buy the latest gadgets. Do you upgrade to the new iPhone and other tech. gears every time there is a new release? This can be wasteful because cutting edge gadgets are always more expensive.
  • Cook at home and eat out less. We cook most of our meals at home. It’s more frugal and much healthier than eating out all the time.
  • Max out your 401k and Roth IRA. Everyone needs to save for retirement.
  • Stay healthy to avoid medical bankruptcy.
  • Get scholarship instead of paying for college. I hope our son can get a full ride, but we’re saving in a 529 plan just in case.
  • Make more money. This one is another big one. If you can make money at work, it will offset this coffee expense. Side hustling like blogging or driving for Uber can help increase your income too. Retire by 40 generated over $250,000 since I started blogging. Check out my awesome guide on How to Start a Blog, if you want to give it a go.

I don’t agree with this focus on big wins theory. If you can’t save on the little things, you probably can’t save on bigger things either. Most people spend too much on everything. Is there a real Starbucks customer who drives a cheap car and live in a smaller home purposely? When you’re living it up with your coffee, you’re probably living it up everywhere else too. Personally, I think it’s best to win big and small. They are not mutually exclusive. Let me know what you think in the comment.

The only exception on the list is the last one – make more money. If you can make more money, it will probably offset your coffee expense. This is easier said than done, though.

You shouldn’t buy expensive coffee if…

Hey, if you are doing well financially, then don’t worry too much about getting a nice Frappuccino® once in a while. However, you shouldn’t buy expensive coffee every day if…

  • You have consumer debt. Pay off your high interest debt first.
  • You spend more than you earn. This is the cardinal sin of personal finance. You have got to fix it because this is a downward spiral.
  • You’re not saving for retirement. Retirement saving should come way before a cappuccino.
  • You spend more on coffee than you save. People, get your priority straight. If you don’t know the answer to this one, then you need to closely track your expenses for a month or two.
  • You don’t know about compound interest, financial independence, or how to invest. Teach yourself these basic concepts before spending money on overpriced coffee.
  • You have kids, but don’t have a College Savings plan. What’s more important, your kid or your overpriced coffee?
  • Feel free to add more to this list.

Make awesome coffee at home

Here is the coffee brewing tip I promised at the beginning of this post. Once you figured out how to make good coffee at home, it’s not a hardship. I’ve been enjoying our French press coffee for many years and it just got a lot better. Cold brew – Oh Yeah!

Jeremy (Go Curry Cracker) was raving about cold brew coffee earlier this week so I looked it up on YouTube. Cold brew is extremely easy for us so I tried it out. All I needed to do was to put coffee into the French press, add room temperature water, and leave it on the counter at 5 pm. The coffee was ready by the next morning and it was fantastic.

I heated some milk and made a latte with the cold brew. It was chocolaty, smoother, and easier to drink. It was delicious. Try it at home if you haven’t tasted cold brew yet. I know, I’m a bit late to this trend.

cold brew

And yes, the twitter conversation inspired this post. It was on the back burner for a while now because I wanted to respond to the win big theory. The cold brew talk pushed it back to the top of the queue. Also, Jeremy should go ahead and occasionally enjoy his nitro cold brew. He earned it. Thanks Jeremy and Justin! Justin (Roots of Good) also tried cold brew at home, but he wasn’t impressed. Feel free to jump into the conversation if you catch us on Twitter.




What do you think? Which camp are you in, win big or win everything? Have you tried cold brew?

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is investing in commercial real estate with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the USA so check them out!

Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. They have many useful tools that will help you reach financial independence.

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77 thoughts on “Why I Still Don’t Buy Overpriced Coffee”

  1. I agree with you Joe. I focus on “all” wins over time (large and small). It all adds up. I’m always looking to fine tune my spending on bills, expenses etc. Nothing wrong with treating yourself once in a while, but spending that much on coffee, restaurants, etc every week is excessive and a waste to me.

  2. Great title, dude. I still don’t get it why people go to Starbucks and spend dollars when they can get equally satisfying and stress-busting coffee at a regular cafe for a fraction of the price. The argument that it’s a privilege and showoff is hardly justified when your savings and retirements are at stake. Anyways, I am going to share this with my WhatsApp groups and start a discussion.

  3. Hanging out at coffee shops is one of my treats. I’ll go at the weekend with my wife, during the week with friends, and sometimes during the day just to watch the world go by. When I look at how much we spend, I know it’s an extravagance, but it’s one that we can afford. Life has to have it’s little luxuries, and this is one for me.

    By the way, I’m not even a coffee connoisseur, I enjoy the whole experience as much as the coffee. Some of the big chains are OK, but I agree with you that the independent shops are often more fun.

  4. I like green and red/black tea … and a bit of instant coffee in the early morning … overseas we like kings, but back home like everyone else … with a 2 maid-chefs and a chauffeur or driver as they are called here … not expensive … anyway so I can get the maid to whip me up a brew of tea if I like or do it myself ….

  5. Hi Joe,
    For me it’s a no brainer – I very rarely buy coffee, but that is because I drink it black with no sugar, and I have a real problem paying that amount of money for someone to run some hot water through some ground beans!
    I do occasionally buy one when out and about, but I would guess its about 3 a year (unless work related) – and still take my own coffee into the office, even though I have an allowance I can claim daily for coffee!

  6. I actually cut out coffee as a part of my diet before my wedding in 2 months, so I am saving more all around! Although it was free at work, at home we crushed our own beans which we purchased from Costco. I believe we bought a massive bag of coffee beans for around $13 that has lasted us close to 3 months…It blows my mind the price some people pay for coffee when it literally costs less than .10 cents to make on your own.

    Gotta have that Starbucks though right!?

  7. ” If you can’t save on the little things, you probably can’t save on bigger things either.” Dang Joe, dropping truth bombs early this morning:)

    I’m with you on the win everything argument, but I indulge from time to time although I prefer a medium McDonald’s coffee, black.

    As for home brewing, I’ve tried it all from french presses to chemex. My favorite tasting coffee comes from hand me down percolator. 30+ years old and still makes fantastic, piping hot coffee. The only negative is that it makes a small amount.

    • I usually get McDonald’s coffee when I’m on the road too. Cheap and good enough. 🙂
      What’s the name of your percolator? Chemex sounds good, but looks like a lot of work too. Cold brew is easy.

  8. Hi Joe,
    I’m a bit late to two parties – reading your latest post and trying cold brew! I agree about Starbucks – the coffee is too expensive, and I don’t like the taste of their choices. Mild is too mild, dark is too bitter for me. Anyway, I’m going to give a cold brew a try. And the French Press is definitely the way to go for making your own coffee. Who needs little pods of old ground coffee to fill up the landfills when you can have something SO much better! Thanks Joe – I enjoy your blog and have now been blogging myself for over a year. I’m not making any money at it, but I sure am having fun. Some may consider that priceless.
    ~smile~ Roseanne

  9. We cold brew our coffee (and reheat it for hot coffee) and it is SO much better than regular coffee. The “smooth” part is the reason we switched. From everything we read, the acid levels are much reduced in cold brew. And now when we drink regular coffee if we are out, you can usually tell right away. I rarely get heartburn and the other day after a coffee at school, I got it. We buy pretty basic coffee too. No need to spend a ton of money.

  10. Every time we feel the urge to pop into our local cafe, we make a point to resist the urge, whip out our phones, log into our internet banking app and send £2.65 over to our mortgage account.

  11. I make a coffee at home every morning and it roughly works out to 20 cents a cup. Most of the people I work with spend $4-$10 a day at work buying multiple coffees. It may seem like a small thing but it adds up quickly.

  12. I buy the cans of coffee when they are on special. they had Maxwell house in March for 4.99 for 30 some ounces of grounds. So i stocked up with my limit of 4 have 1 left but have some other coffee i got in the reduced rack will use next.

  13. Coffee expensive can be astronomical. The power of compounding small sums of money. I drink instant coffee and enjoy it just as much as a bought coffee. Although I feel like I get socially judged for it.

  14. I have always been a frugal person, I got this trait from my grandmother who worked hard for a rather small paycheck and always thought of purchases in terms of time-to-earn.

    So when I first started interacting with money all the way until recently, I was a win at everything person. However, now I’m striving for simplicity and focusing on big wins and being okay if I don’t win at everything. But this is now that many of the day-to-day habits are ingrained in me, so even with no real effort, I’ll usually make more frugal choices than the average person. I just don’t fret if my purchases could have been 1% cheaper any more.

    • I think it’s okay to focus your frugality when you’re comfortable financially. People that are struggling should focus on small and big stuff. The small wins will encourage them to save more. I don’t fret that much anymore either.

      • Agreed. Focusing on the small and big wins in my younger years allowed me to build habits that snowballed and now are just 2nd nature and allow me to focus my energy on the big stuff.

  15. I don’t think I’ve bought more than a dozen coffees in my adult lifetime, though I used to get coffee as a social thing quite a bit when I was in the 16-17 age range.

    It’s just not that convenient. At home I can load the coffee maker in under 2 minutes, press brew (and unload the dishwasher while waiting!) and three minutes later I’m sipping a hot brewed coffee that cost about $0.05-$0.10. 5 minutes and under a buck per week.

    To go out, I’d have to walk, bike, or drive the half mile to the end of the street and get coffee from Starbucks, IHOP, McDs or Burger King for $1-2 for a basic brew or $2.50-5 for a fancy drink. It would take at least 10 minutes no matter how I got there and that’s assuming the order gets filled quickly.

    For me, it’s not the price, it’s the convenience of having coffee at home. I don’t have to do much to enjoy it!

    • Our Starbucks is just a couple of blocks away, but you’re right about the convenience. I don’t want to stand in line and interact with the barista. That makes me sound like a recluse… It’s so much easier to have good coffee at home.

  16. I don’t buy expensive coffee (unless I have a coupon or a gift card) and make all our coffee at home (drip). Add a little cinnamon and all is good. Even use the grounds for gardening. Saving money every day

  17. We have free coffee at work, but it’s the worst tasting swill ever. Life is too short to drink bad coffee (or bad beer). No way I’m going to wait in line at the coffee shop every morning either. I brew at home in my Mr. Coffeemaker and bring a travel mug plus small thermos full to work every day. Drinking it is a higlight of my morning!

    I do buy coffee sometimes when traveling, but have been given enough Starbucks giftcards that I haven’t had to pay cash in awhile.

  18. Well … I don’t drink coffee at all, home-brewed or otherwise. So a big saving right there.

    Also, coffee is a carcinogen, that is why a warning label is warranted.

  19. But $4 coffee is soooo good 🙁

    LOL, Psych…. i actually strongly dislike the taste of coffee. Not drinking it has never been an issue for me. If it’s not free, no way in hell I’m paying for it. I don’t care if it’s Starbucks or Mc Donald’s

  20. I with you on the big wins theory. Sure, big wins make a more significant impact, but how often are you buying a house or buying a new car? Small wins are financial decisions you make much more often and create a habit of saving. So I’m team Win Everything! Also, with coffee, I never really drank it. It seems many are addicted to their coffee…and also to craft beers =) I will admit to drinking coffee occasionally nowadays since I have 2 little kids.

  21. Unfortunately for myself, I find it much easier to save on all of the little things and harder to save on the big things. I’m working on it.

  22. I started drinking coffee when I was 8 (mom would take me to 7-11 and hook me up with an 8oz cup, plus a mocha creamer or two). But seven or eight years ago I decided caffeine did me more harm than good, and 99% ditched coffee and sodas.

    I miss it. Once every month or two I’ll splurge on a flat white from the fancy indie roastery seven blocks away; we’ll call that a $50/year expenditure, and that’s quite enough to occasionally appreciate the good stuff. Otherwise it’s entirely herbal tea, water, gin, whisky, or beer.

  23. The beauty about financial independence is that you can focus on the big wins and not worry about things like coffee. On the other hand, you didn’t get here by wasting money. Our habits are so particular about what frugal wins have value for us.

    • Right. When you’re just starting out, you need to control your expense. Once you’re comfortable financially, you can pick and choose. I don’t mind buying coffee, but it’s just not my routine. Coffee at home is good enough.

  24. My husband loves lattes and used to go out for the $4 hit every afternoon.

    Instead, I got him to revamp the old classic espresso maker I had given him as a gift in 1986. Without YouTube at that time, we never figured out that it needed new seals, so the espresso wasn’t good. Now, with help online, we updated the seals and he learned the tips of a pro barista. Now every day after lunch, he brews the best espresso and can steam the milk for a really, really good latte.

  25. We enjoy WAWA coffee occasionally, cheaper and imho better then Starbucks. But it’s a special treat. Usually I use a French press and a container of Folgers at home.
    I do agree. Your money habits are not something you can turn on or off based on the size of the expense. Control has to exist across everything. That doesn’t mean you have to shut off the expensive coffee, but it does mean you have to consider it if you don’t have control of your expenses in general as part of the bigger change.

  26. We love coffee–though we did go to half-caff once we realized that we were addicted to the caffeine…–but 99% of the coffee we drink is brewed in-home with the best coffee we can get through Costco (and sometimes they have great deals on artisanal ones like PT’s Coffee that our local Costco carried for too-short a time). But that aside, I think something we’d like to do more is to be intentional with our coffee-drinking (and with everything else, like eating out).

    Whether we’re spending $5 on a latte at a small roaster or using our stainless steel Bodum travel press (the coffee stays so hot!) while driving across the country or just sitting down with a decaf at home after dinner, it’s increasingly getting important for us to savor the coffee and appreciate it as fully as we can. We’d like to be this intentional with everything else too!

  27. Joe, I agree: “If you can’t save on the little things, you probably can’t save on bigger things either.” I’m not a coffee drinker. While working, the company offered free coffee. Once a while, I might get a little bit in the mid afternoon to keep me awake. Since retirement, I don’t need coffee anymore.

  28. We each buy coffee 1-3 tines per week (I don’t get anything fancy so it’s under $3 instead of $6) but we have successfully done the top down cost cutting (Smaller home and used cars – rocking a 2002 Honda right now).

    I try to drink the coffee at work, but some days I don’t feel like cleaning out the pots as I am in pretty early.

    • A few times a week isn’t bad at all. You’ve got your finance under control so enjoy!
      It’s those people who aren’t doing well financially that need to stop buying expensive coffee.

  29. I totally agree with you. If you can’t save on small things, then it’s also difficult to save on big things. Everything adds up wether it’s a $4 latte or $10 avocado toast.

    I don’t consume any caffeine. But hubby drinks tea almost every day. He gets the tea bags from Costco. I just found out that he reuses the tea bags and thought it was frugal and cute hehe.

  30. I think you nailed it Joe! I’ve never understood the folks who buy coffee when it’s available for free in the office. Maybe I’m just not a connoisseur or maybe I was influenced by reading David Bach when I was 22 before succumbing to peer pressure.

    You’re point about focusing on the big and small wins is vital. I’ve found that when I go out of my way to save a dollar on something small, it gets me to focus even more in the big stuff. If you pack lunch every day to save $10, how can you not negotiate as hard as possible when buying a car?

    • Fresh cappuccino is much better than the cafeteria coffee that’s been sitting around. But, it was good enough for me when I needed an afternoon pep. Home made coffee is the middle ground.
      I agree with you about small wins. It’s practice for when you have to fight for the big stuff.

  31. I’ve had one coffee in my life and it was from the place that invented Irish Coffee (not sure if that qualifies as coffee).

    I never understood the big expenses vs. the small expenses debate. You only buy a house a few times in a lifetime. If you are being frugal with cars, the same is true. That’s the big stuff. I wouldn’t include staying healthy and getting a scholarship because they are out of your hands (though you can increase your odds).

    I put the dining out and tech purchases as the middle ground as they aren’t one time things like a car or house purchase, but repetitive purchases like overpriced coffee.

    I’ll see your poetic license on the making money section, but it isn’t saving :-).

    • Heh heh, I don’t think Irish coffee really count.
      I think tech purchase is pretty big. People who likes the cutting edge spends a ton of money on new gadgets.
      People use the make more money argument a lot, though. Mostly when they’re trying to sell you a course or something.

      • I’m going to count the Irish Coffee because it was brewed coffee with the alcohol added afterwards. I think it was at least 90% coffee, so I’ll round up ;-).

        The tech purchases can be huge. My thought was that they were a middle ground and not like buying a house or car.

        Would you like to buy my course on how to resist being pushed to buy courses?

  32. We try the win everything approach coming from a constant-optimization mindset, but sometimes cannot. It has to balance out with time and frustration. At what point in the shoe-shopping process do you just bail on deal-searching and spend that $70 instead of pushing down to $50? How many grocery stores do you drive or bike to in order to save a couple extra bucks? (Or just go to the one with price matching.) I guess it’s also all related to the 80/20 principle…

    As for coffee, I gave up on that in high school. My wife was a regular coffee drinker until she was pregnant and it make her sick, so she stopped cold turkey. Now she drinks tea instead (steeped at home, of course).

  33. Expensive coffee? Gah! I’ve got better things to do with my money than flush it down the toilet.

    I’ve never understood why coffee is so popular. I guess it’s the whole “affordable luxury” thing. People want to feel pampered like they’re leading some fancy-pants life.

    A generation ago it was cigarettes, not coffee. Funny how things can change and still stay the same.

  34. I don’t get free coffee at work, so on my work days I make a single cup using my Aeropress. At home I have a $20 Mr. Coffee drip that’s now 15 years old and still going strong. I buy either the Trader Joe’s stuff that’s $4.99 a bag or sometimes Amazon runs a sale on the Kirkland stuff in the big can for super cheap. It’a all Colombian stuff and very good.

    And yes, screw Starbucks. Have been maybe 10 times in my life only because friends forced me on bike rides, and will not support. They homogenize America, blight the landscape with cookie-cutter stores, and drive small shop out of business.

  35. Hey Joe, I used to actually drink my fair share of expensive coffees not too long ago. However, I’ve subsequently cut out coffee completely from my diet and all similar types of tea drinks (eg. boba) for health reasons 9 months ago. I don’t plan on returning to that lifestyle ever, and I suppose I’ll reap the benefits of additionals savings as well. 🙂

  36. Well put. Persistent habits really add up and coffee can become a bit of a nonsensical one.

    I used to buy 2 cups a day and now buy coffee around once a week, socially. Instead of buying take away coffee for work, I brew my own at home or drink green/herbal teas.

    Buying an Aeropress, ceramic coffee grinder and thermos have been one of the best things I’ve done to curb ridiculous coffee expenses. And over time I’ve come to prefer home made coffee to the cafe style flat whites and lattes 🙂

    • I heard good things about the Aeropress. I want to try Chemex first, though. It looks really neat. We don’t have space for it at this time so it’ll have to wait until we move.

  37. Well, my husband banned me from coffee (ban is a strong word) because the last time I had caffeine from a chocolate hazelnut expresso shot bubble milk tea (the ultimate drink sin) he found me making a cobb salad from scratch in the living room 4 in the AM. He woke up and asked me what in the world I was doing. I said I was making my own buttermilk dressing because I couldn’t fall asleep. Haven’t had any caffeine since!

    Screw it, until we’re FI, I’ll take win everything!

  38. Love the simplicity of this post! Once Starbucks changed its’ reward program I stopped altogether, even with the basics. Have been doing the K-cup thing and getting my cost down from .50 or .70 cents per cup to about .25 per cup with coupons, and buying slightly more in bulk. Good points on who shouldn’t be buying expensive coffee.


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