How To

Frugal Ways to Save on Your Home-Brewed Cup of Jo

It’s practically impossible for consumers who favor fancy coffee drinks to be blind to the so-called “latte factor.” Cutting the $5-a-day habit in favor of home-brewed java is routinely cited in budget tips as a way to save more than $1,500 a year.

Unfortunately, people who brew at home may not be able to give themselves a hearty pat on the back for saving cash. Coffee futures topped $3.00 per pound last year, more than twice the going rate in 2009. At retail level, that translated into an extra $1 per pound last year, a 23% increase. Between that and the growing market for gourmet, artisanal beans that run as much as $50 per pound, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to spend more than $500 a year fueling your cup-a-day (or more!) habit.

That’s a total that both coffee fans and savings experts scoffed at. Here are their tips to cut the bill, without switching to instant or unpalatable office brews:

Stack discounts.

Match up sales, coupons and store loyalty rewards. “Stores like CVS sell coffee, and if you have an Extra Care Card and earn Extra Care
Bucks, there are times when you can get your coffee for free,” says Leah Ingram of SuddenlyFrugal.com. It also helps to look beyond coupon sites and the Sunday circular for deals. Brands such as Eight O’ Clock Coffee may print coupons on the inside of the bag.

Think outside the can.

Online wholesalers, warehouse clubs and discount stores often offer gourmet blends at bargain prices. “Sign up for coffee retailers’ mailing lists, which often yield extra coupons and sales,” says Edgard Sammour of MamasLebaneseKitchen.com. The trade off: You may need to buy in bulk. Plan to split the haul with friends or family.

Create your own blend.

Instead of brewing just gourmet beans, Wade Shepard of Vagabond Journey blends them with a neutral-tasting, low cost bean in a 1:2 ratio. It cuts the cost, and with the right pairing, it tastes almost as good. “I look for the low cost stock bean first and once I find one that is decent, I look for a premium quality bean that mixes into it well,” he says.

Save on a coffee machine.

There is no need to spend $100 or more on a high-end coffee machine. A $20 French press is really all you need, experts told us last year. Even if you want a fancier machine, there are ways to cut the bill.

Avoid single serve.

A recent New York Times investigation found that the tiny, 5-ounce cups of basic brew work out to $51 per pound, which makes them more expensive than most gourmet beans. Do you already own a single-serve machine? Buy a reusable “My K Cup” filter, which lets you “use freshly roasted coffee instead of the very expensive, very mediocre coffee that comes pre-packaged,” says Pat Curry, the owner of Buona Caffe Artisan Roasted Coffee.

Keep beans fresh.

Store them in the wrong place, or for too long, and the coffee won’t taste great. Wait until the last minute to grind whole beans and then use them within 10 days.

Roast at home.

“Green coffee beans can last as long as three years, and cost half the price of roasted ones,” says coffee aficionado Mari Baskin. DIY roasting is pretty simple, too: “All it takes is a frying 
pan or a hot air popcorn popper,” Baskin says.

Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.