Save Over $1,000 A Year Just By Changing This One Habit

Photo: Courtesy of James Ransom/Food52.
A latte a day will cost you $1,642.50 per year.

Last week, I made a payment of more than $3,000 for my child’s nursery school. Non-refundable. It’s just a quarter of what I owe for the year. Yes, insane. I had to take a big breath before executing payment and tell myself that before long, he’d be in kindergarten — and that’s free. And it’ll be okay, it’ll be okay, paying these expenses won’t get us dispossessed.

I had to dip into my savings account to make the payment, since my take-home pay doesn’t nearly cover expenses. I realize I’m lucky to have savings to dip into, even if they’re supposed to be adding up for retirement one day out there in a distant, peaceful, financially secure future. So in the meantime, I do what I can to be frugal and take as little as possible from my savings to cover my ample regular expenses: housing, utilities, clothes, coffee.

Yep, coffee. I’m a relatively modest coffee drinker — most days, I have one cup in the morning. And most days, it’s a single-serving French press I prepare myself with a generous splash of milk or half-and-half. No sweetener. But earlier this year, I treated myself to a late-day medium latte at Stumptown for a whopping $4.50.
Photo: Courtesy of James Ransom/Food52.
Think about it: If I bought that same latte every day for a year, it’d cost me $1,642.50. Some people buy that kind of drink twice daily, spending more than $3,000 annually. That’s the kind of money I could use to start a college savings fund. It’s real money, not random pennies under the pleather cushions in a rec room.

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It was several years ago when I started French-pressing at home, and there were different reasons for it: I loved (and still do) the suspenseful ceremony of the slow, resistant plunge; I’d long-endured a lack of kitchen counter space in my New York City residency and was grateful for the economy of the device; and, finally, I objected to the cost of a daily caffeine fix from any number of fancy cafes.

My only coffee expense was buying beans. I didn’t even bother getting a grinder; baristas will grind it for free.

But at the coffee shop that day, I marveled at the snaking line of customers shelling out cash and decided it was time for a more scientific cost analysis. How much do I actually save in making my own coffee? How much is my self-righteousness worth? And how much more wasteful would I be if I had never bothered making my own?

So on April 8, I bought two bags of beans from La Colombe for $25. They lasted from April 9 through June 19. That’s 72 days of coffee. In that time period, I also bought approximately $20 worth of creamer — sometimes whole milk, sometimes half-and-half. That totals $45 in at-home coffee expenditures over a two-month (and change) period. By my reckoning, that comes to 63 cents a day for my morning kick. It’d have been even cheaper had I not tripled grounds on days that my folks stayed over — but that’s part of the calculus, I suppose. I’m not so cheap that I’m going to charge my parents for what they consume.
Photo: Courtesy of James Ransom/Food52.
Related: Make Your Own Flavored Coffee Creamer

Had I bought a daily medium latte at Stumptown for 72 days, I’d have spent $324. Hopefully, I’d have been sufficiently mindful to use the discount punch card — the one where you get a free cup with every 10 purchases. That would’ve meant essentially paying for 66 medium lattes. Over that same 72-day period, 66 medium lattes cost $297.

Even if I’d opted for the cheapest drink on their menu — arguably the one most akin to what I make at home: a small regular coffee — at a cost of $2.50, I’d have spent $180 over 72 days, or $165 with consistent discount punch card use. Imagine how much I’d spend if I bought that for an entire year. Scratch that — no need to bother imagining a thing. I’ve got a calculator right here. It’d be $912.50, without punch card and roughly $836 with. That’s simply too much green for something dark and roasted.

Coffee intake is one small, manageable realm in which I control exactly how much — or little — I spend. I’m sure there are countless other areas in which I could save. Do I really need to buy heirloom tomatoes? Probably not. But knowing that I’m not spending nearly $1,000 a year on coffee, and instead am paying more in the ballpark of $230, gives me a sense that I’m not entirely wasteful.

And that sense, on my micro, personal finance level, is priceless.

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