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Brewing Coffee at Home vs. Buying at a Coffee Shop

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Vanguard's coffee... the cheap stuff!

When I went to the best financial conference ever a few months ago, Vanguard had a booth. They were giving away coffee and reusable carafes (not sure what they are called, but you can see them in the picture).

Vanguard's coffee marketing pitch was simple. The average coffee costs $1.48 and they can make it and sell it at 26 cents. Their fund expenses are 1/5th the average... just like the cup of coffee they are offering you.

They take the analogy and show that with Vanguard funds you'd have nearly $64,000 more over 30 years than if you invested in funds that have average expenses. In my opinion, the marketing geniuses at Vanguard hit a home run with this campaign.

The only "problem" is that they convinced me of the value of their low expense ratios well over a decade ago.

I'm more interested in the coffee. Here's the curveball, I don't even like coffee. I can't stand the stuff.

However, from a personal finance perspective, coffee is amazing. People toss around David Bach's Latte Factor® to refer to the huge financial impact that small recurring purchases make over a long time. However, it is very rare to see such a calculation done with coffee (or latte, or espresso, or frapamochachinoresso).

So let's do this.

First up:

How much does it cost to brew a cup of coffee?

That sounds like an easy question, but there's a lot to it. I thought about breaking down the math, but I took the Lazy way out and relied on some others. There's no need to reinvent the wheel. The Simple Dollar prices coffee at $0.44 for 16 ounces or $0.22 for 8 ounces. Coffee Detective says it is $0.27 for a 6 ounce cup... or $0.36 for 8 ounces, while noting that Maxwell House can be done $0.08 per 6-ounce cup... or 10 cents at our normalized 8 ounce cup.

However, Dr. Penny Pincher takes the cake. He goes into way too much detail about the cost of brewing a cup of coffee. He uses 16-ounce as his coffee size and comes up $0.60 for a great cup of coffee or $0.11 for a cheap cup of coffee. For our 8-ounce cup, it would be $0.30 for a great cup or 5.5 cents for a cheap cup.

Averaging the Simple Dollar's coffee, Coffee Detective's coffee, and Dr. Penny Pincher's great cup of coffee comes to about $0.29 to brew 8-ounces of coffee at home. That's very close to the Vanguard example of it costing 26 cents.

How much is a cup of coffee at a coffee shop?

There are a lot of coffee shops out there and there are a lot of sizes of coffee. To simplify things, I picked the three that I consider the largest, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, and McDonalds, and averaged the prices of two sizes:

Coffee Shops  
Coffee Shop Avg16 oz.$1.75
Starbucks (Tall)12 oz.$1.75
Starbucks (Venti)20 oz.$2.25
Dunkin Donuts (Medium)14.oz$1.79
Dunkin Donuts (Large)20 oz.$1.99
McDonalds (Small)12 oz.$1.00
McDonalds (Large)20 oz.$1.69

[Pricing data has been pulled from websites such as Hack the Menu. I'm sure that prices vary by region and stop.]

So the average coffee shop coffee is going to give you around 16 ounces at around $1.75. The most "average" cup of this sample size is the medium Dunkin Donuts which comes in at 14 ounces for $1.79.

That's a little more than Vanguard estimates, but perhaps they took the cost of the smaller sizes. After all, this is twice the amount of coffee on average as what we estimated for brewing at home.

The Cost of Coffee at Home vs. Coffee Shop

Even though I'm not particularly a fan of coffee, I know people take their coffee seriously. I'm not going to weigh in on personal taste preferences... to me they all taste horrendous. There's also value to the comfy chair, winks from the barista, and free wifi at Starbucks. (Wait, I'm just imagining the winks when I order the flavored tea?!?!)

I'd like to conclude by saying that you'll save millions by brewing at home. I just don't think that's true. Brewing at home costs 58 cents for 16 ounces and the coffee shop is around $1.75. It looks like you can save yourself $427 a year by brewing at home.

Last updated on June 6, 2016.

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8 Responses to “Brewing Coffee at Home vs. Buying at a Coffee Shop”

  1. The popularity of machines like Keurig’s has closed the gap considerably between home brewed and ‘outside’ coffee. EXcluding the amortized cost of the $200 Keurig machine, the electricity to run it (the machine uses electricity all the time, not just when brewing), and the burden on landfills of zillions of those non-recyclable little plastic single serve cups, Keurig coffee costs about 70 cents per cup. That’s starting to compare pretty favorably, especially when you factor in all the items I didn’t cost out above, to the outside coffee numbers you collected.

  2. Money Beagle says:

    I purchase good french roast ground coffee and brew it at home. I also purchase real half & half to go into it as the non-dairy cream is also non-edible in my opinion. All told, it’s much cheaper to brew my own and I feel I’m getting the exact quality and taste that I want.

  3. We are great lovers of coffee and we always brew ours at home. We buy whole beans, grind them, and use a melitta filter pour-over method, which is quite efficient and cheap. The expense for us is a really conscious decision–we like good coffee and we spend extra to buy pretty decent beans. To us, cheap coffee from McDonald’s or Dunkin (sorry, Boston), doesn’t taste nearly as good as our home brewed joe.

  4. robyn says:

    and then there is the cost of the cup, the sugar, the milk, the stirrer, the flavoring, washing cups, pots, waste, equipment … yes, i’ve done the calculation [actually saved my ex employer more than $600/yr by switching to a coffee pot from a Keurig] but you are comparing pomegranates to bananas. both are fruit, both grow on trees, but they are nothing alike.
    also, if you frequent panera or einstein, they include refills. so you could end up paying $1.80 for 3 or 4 8 oz cups. or if you use a refillable mug its only 99 cents …

    ps: i drink tea. i go to starbucks for tazo passion. it does NOT taste the same at home, i swear it doesn’t!

    • Lazy Man says:

      Robyn, I’m not sure that the comparison is pomegranates to bananas. The solutions are nothing alike, but the end result is somewhat the same… you get coffee. I’d say it’s almost like comparing climbing a tree to get a banana and buying one in a grocery store. Different methods, but you get a banana in the end.

      There are some cheaper coffee shop places around. I hope providing some of the calculations inspire others to do the same. Tomorow’s article (spoiler alert) shows that it can be significant.

  5. […] last couple of days, I've been covering the cost of coffee. We covered the brewing coffee at home vs. buying at a coffee shop and the cost of single-serve (K-Cups) at […]

  6. […] spectrum, but the best data I found had it being around 95mg per 8 ounces. As we covered recently (Brewing Coffee at Home vs. Buying at a Coffee Shop), the cost is around $0.30 cents a cup. For someone to get the annual 109,500mg of caffeine from […]

  7. Lazy Man, I am a big fan of the 60 cent great cup of coffee at home! Saving $427 a year is worth doing, especially since you can make coffee at home that is better than what you can get at a coffee shop. Thanks for linking to my article, I will return the favor sometime!

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