Geeking out on the True Value of Coffee

One YNABer contemplates the dollars drained by his daily drip.

“Coffee is one of those things that costs money slowly—the worst kind of drip, where it’s so subtle that you don’t see it,” said Bill in a recent Facebook post.

As a fellow budgeter and coffee lover, my interest perked up. Coffee is an expense that affects a few of my budget categories: groceries, eating out and electricity (though I hadn’t really considered that last one until I read Bill’s post). Lucky for me, he performed a cost-benefit analysis of his caffeine habit. Let’s take a look.

The Cost of a Cup

Bill’s calculation for his daily cup includes coffee, water and the electricity he needs to brew it. He said, “I have this little device … plug it into the wall, then plug anything into the device, and measure the electricity the thing uses.”

(Thrifty tip: Another YNABer, Amy, commented on Bill’s post that she borrowed an electricity usage monitor from her local library!)

After measuring his inputs, Bill said, “[Drip coffee costs] 15 cents per cup. The bulk of the cost (about 12 cents) was the coffee. One note on the electricity; I use a coffee maker that goes into an insulated stainless steel carafe, so my burner does not stay ‘on’ under the machine.”

Drip Coffeemakers v. Single-Serving Coffee Machines

When his wife suggested they try a single-serving coffee machine, because they’re “super fast and fresh,” Bill wasn’t so sure. He said, “I did the math. At Walmart an off-brand, pre-loaded K-Cup®, with tax, costs about 56 cents a cup. Add the electricity and water back in, and we are at about 59 cents per cup.”

When he and his wife are at home, they each drink three coffees per day. At six cups a day, the difference in cost, between drip and single-serving coffee, is 44 cents per cup—or an additional $964 bucks a year!

Bill prefers his insulated carafe (no burner) and explained that the coffee still tastes fresh (doesn’t burn!), even if the pot sits on the counter for a while. Then he said, “As for speed, I challenged her to make four K-Cup® individual runs while I load our coffee maker for four cups, and press go, once. This also means that, when I am ready for my second cup, I just walk over, pour it and keep moving.”

But, as we’ll soon find out, he’s not judging the single-serving coffee machine lovers. He said, “If it brings you joy that equals the cost—this goes for anything—go for it.”

What’s Really In Bill’s Coffee?

Up until now, you might have the impression that Bill is a bit frugal (no shame in that!), but that’s not the full story. Every month, he spends about $95 in his local coffee shops. Yep, the guy who scrutinized his at-home coffee costs, to the penny, isn’t shy about paying a couple bucks to enjoy his go-to beverage away from home.

He said, “I buy the least expensive, non-fufu stuff. I work from home. I have no office mates. I am social. I like being around people.”

When cabin fever strikes, Bill gets out of the house. He says, “At the two local coffee places they know me by name, they know my order (half-caf Americano). This is the cheapest thing I can buy in a half-caf version. I like hearing, ‘Good morning, Bill. Half-caf for here?’ ”

His splurge on coffeehouse coffee isn’t about the beans. It’s about the sense of community that he gets from seeing familiar faces, exchanging ‘hellos’ and being out in the world. Bill said, “I spend a few hours nursing my one cup, and I feel at home. That is completely worth my $95 a month.”

Budget for the Life You Want

If you pause and think about it, would you rather spend your dollars on drip coffee or the single-serving variety? Or do you truly value spending time at your favorite coffeehouse—or something else?

These are the questions that will help you build a budget that you can live with, a budget that will help you achieve your biggest money goals. As Bill said, “This is the beauty of geeking out on this stuff. We get to make educated decisions on what something REALLY costs, and then make value choices about our lives.”

If you’d like to join in the coffee talk, check out Bill’s original post over in the YNAB Fans Facebook group.