How to drink coffee cost-effectively in college

By Kaitlyn Hoevelmann, University of Missouri

Drinking coffee as a college student can get expensive quickly. Whether we like it or not, many college students seem unable to fully function without a daily caffeine boost. In 2019, nearly half of 18 to 24-year-olds in the U.S. are coffee drinkers, according to Statista.

Since coffee is inevitable, there are options college students can consider. Whatever you do, do not fall into the trap of grabbing Starbucks every single day, because it’s located on every other corner and it’s easy and effortless to order on the app and pick up between classes.

So let’s consider the options for a cup of daily coffee, looking at Starbucks vs.  Keurig, a regular coffee maker and a French press. I’m basing the prices off the Columbia, Missouri, area, and I’m not factoring in tax, so assume my estimations will be lower than the actual prices.

From a Starbucks next to campus, I can purchase a grande freshly brewed coffee for $2.10. However, in my experience, once I’m at Starbucks it’s hard to resist buying something a little bit tastier than black coffee, like a grande Skinny Vanilla Latte. This will cost me $4.15.  If I purchase a latte every day for a week, my total weekly spend will be $29.05. Assuming a semester lasts approximately 15 weeks, my total cost for coffee for one semester will be $435.75.

The Keurig option is cheaper. I can go to Walmart today and purchase a simple, pod-using Keurig for $59. I can purchase a box of 96 Great Value brand 100% Arabica Donut Shop Coffee Pods from Walmart for $24.92. My upfront cost of the Keurig and the coffee pods is $83.92. Based on this information, the daily cost of drinking coffee using a Keurig would be about 87 cents a day, and $91.35 for one semester.

However, given the length of the 15-week semester as 105 days, the 96 cups won’t quite cover it. I would have to purchase another box of pods, which would make this cost higher. It’s also important to think about the environment when considering purchasing a Keurig. There are many problems when it comes to recycling K-Cups, including a traceability issue. The capsules are too small for some sorting systems.

As far as coffee makers go, I could purchase a Mainstays 5- Cup Black Coffee Maker with Removable Filter Basket from Walmart for $9.88. I can pick up a 30.5-ounce container of Folgers Classic Roast Ground Coffee, Medium Roast, for $6.96 from Walmart. According to the packaging, this container size makes up to 240 cups of coffee. I can purchase 200 Great Value brand coffee filters from Walmart for only $1.38. Therefore, my upfront cost of the coffee maker, ground coffee and coffee filters would be $18.22, making the daily cost of a cup of coffee around 8 cents, weekly cost 56 cents and total cost for the semester $8.40.

However, it is important to consider that coffee makers make more than one cup of coffee at a time, so the price would end up higher each day. Either coffee would go to waste or you would have to drink more than one cup, which would incur more costs over time. At least for me, I try to limit myself to one cup of coffee in the morning. However, this might be the best option for someone who drinks more than that.

The last option, and what I will vouch for as the easiest and most cost efficient, is a French press. Perhaps the best thing about the French press is that I can easily make one cup of coffee at a time. I purchased mine from T.J. Maxx for $25. I can pick up the same 30.5-ounce container of Folgers Classic Roast Ground Coffee, Medium Roast, for $6.96 from Walmart that makes 240 cups of coffee. The upfront cost of the French press and ground coffee is $31.96. I can drink coffee for 240 days at a cost of about 13 cents per day, or a weekly cost of 91 cents. This makes the total cost of coffee over an entire semester $13.65.

Overall, coffee shop drinks and Keurigs are a no when it comes to drinking coffee on a tight college budget. Don’t fall into the temptation of grabbing a coffee from Starbucks on the go, and don’t be tricked by the easiness of using a Keurig. If you’re like me and need to drink coffee everyday but want to limit your intake, the French press is a great choice. If you’re a bulk coffee drinker, the coffee maker may be your best bet.

Over one semester, the French press cost of $13.65 is a lot less than the Starbucks cost of $435.75.

Hoevelmann is an economics and journalism honors student at the University of Missouri.

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