College 101

College 101: Costly Caffeine

I love coffee, and I drink a lot of it. I don't think that's a bad thing, at least not for my health or anything (I have a normal heart rate, so I'm not worried that I drink too much), but it has been kind of a drain on my finances. I get most of my coffee at Starbucks, because I like the way the coffee tastes there. I don't really want to switch to a cheaper place, but buying a coffee or two (and sometimes one of the fancier drinks) at Starbucks day after day is something that I probably shouldn't be doing on my college-student budget. I'm not broke, but I’m not rich, either. Experts, how can I get my coffee habit to fit my financial needs?

We all have our habits, but sometimes we don't realize just how powerful those habits can be. Experts who study habits tell us that "habit loops" keep us in patterns that we might not even recognize, allowing us far less autonomy in our daily lives than we might believe ourselves to have. Unless, of course, we make our habits work for us instead of against us.

Of course, you don’t want to change good habits. If you're a regular runner or eat well, those are habits to celebrate, not to change. And having a bit of coffee is not an unhealthy habit by any means. In fact, caffeine may be good for us, in moderation, of course. Like all things, caffeine has the potential to do harm if we have way too much of it, which is why you should limit your coffee intake to about 4-5 cups per day at the most. But, as you point out, the expense is the scary part of this habit.

Budgeting pros say that our little indulgences, such as a cup of coffee at a popular chain, can really add up. Think about it: A grande (medium) coffee at Starbucks costs $2.10. If you have one of those a day, though, that’s more than $60 per 30-day month and $766.50 per year, just for coffee. And that doesn’t count the other consequences of frequent coffee-buying, such as the excessive waste generated by the cups and straws.

One great way to keep up your passion for coffee without going broke is to get your own coffee and make it for yourself. A bag of ground coffee can cost as little as as a few bucks. And coffee can get even cheaper if you buy in bulk. You’ll still save even if you choose to splurge on the coffee you think tastes best (including a bag of the same stuff that Starbucks uses). Per cup, experts say, homemade coffee can cost as little as 27 cents a cup.

Making your own coffee won't just save you money. It will also give you more power over your coffee options. As a coffee lover, you may find that making your own coffee allows you to explore options like cold brewing, grinding your own beans, using a french press or a pour-over coffee maker, and other creative and artful ways of making a cup of joe. You could even try roasting your own coffee beans. As a true coffee fanatic, you may soon decide that you can't stand to go back to the coffee shop — it would simply be too limiting!

When you buy your own coffee, it's easy to branch out and try different coffee beans and blends. In fact, you could even sign up for a subscription delivery service that specializes in coffee. Just as there are meal prep and fashion delivery-box subscriptions, coffee lovers have options, too. And by signing up for a coffee subscription, you can ensure that you're always stocked up on the coffee you need while satisfying your coffee-connoisseur side by exploring the many different flavors that a delivery service will offer.

None of this means, of course, that you should never buy a cup of coffee again. It's perfectly fine to enjoy a cup of coffee at a small shop or popular chain. But you should be careful about your habits if you want to save money. Try to reprogram your habit loop by replacing your morning coffee with one that you brew yourself at home, and see if you can save yourself some money.

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