Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Broke Student Finals Survival Strategy: Make-Your-Own Starbucks Part 1

Ah, coffee. A must-have for most college students, especially during the hellish weeks that we all know as "finals" (or "f*** I never learned sh**" if you're into that). You'd be hard-pressed to find a student in the library this week without a cup of coffee clutched in their trembling little hand. But at what cost?? No, I'm not talking about the expense of your sanity, health, or sleep-deprived car wrecks; I'm talking about how expensive Starbucks coffee is. Oh my god, IT IS SO EXPENSIVE. How expensive, exactly? Well say you're a casual Starbucks drinker. You only buy a coffee 4 days out of the week when you have class, and you just get a tall of whatever holiday drinks happen to be out, so it's only about $3.60. Sadly, that $14.40/week habit adds up to $57.60 per month, $230.40 a semester and $460.80 in a school year! And that's not counting the times when you got a Grande or some extra syrup or went to Starbucks on the weekends. It adds up, guys! But don't worry - I'm about to save you that $460, and it will only cost you maybe $30 MAX if you really go all out.

My in-home coffee shop, complete with rainbow-organized tea bags!
I resisted coffee for a long, long time. I was a green tea girl, and I drank those big canned energy drinks when I needed a boost. But then one summer I lived in an apartment that had a 100% free unlimited fresh-brew, fresh-roasted coffee machine filled with fresh Starbucks coffee beans. You just pressed a button, and the beans were ground and brewed before your eyes. It was amazing (and made paying rent totally worth it). I became a daily coffee drinker that summer, and when I moved back onto campus, I use one of my Swagbucks Amazon gift cards to buy myself a cute little one-cup coffee machine that came with a travel mug! Since then I've built up quite a little coffee empire on my kitchen counter, which you can see in that picture there. The orange coffee machine, which is actually not currently used for anything aside from making my kitchen look adorable, was found at Goodwill. And that brings me to the point of Part 1: How-To: How To Make Your Own At-Home Coffee Shop.  (PS: this would make a neat gift idea for your favorite Starbucks-addicted broke student friend!)

How To Make Your Own At-Home Coffee Shop.: What You Will Need and Where to Get It


1. Coffee Machine I mean, duh. But have no fear! Not only are coffee makers cheap and easy to find and use, but you can have one in your dorm room! Yay! The best places to get a good, inexpensive coffee machine:

  • Thrift Stores like Goodwill and the Salvation Army sell small appliances and frequently have coffee machines. Expect to pay anywhere from $2-$7 for one.
  • Post and ad on your local Craigslist or your school's Online Classifieds asking if anyone has a cheap one to sell for around $5.
  • Ask for one for free on your local Freecycle board. To find your local Freecycle chapter, visit Freecycle.org.
  • Amazon.com has some nice little ones for around $10-$15. I really like the one-cup machines that come with travel mugs so you can brew it and then take it right to class with you. There are some good cheap ones listed below. (Remember: you can use your Swagbucks points to redeem for Amazon gift cards!)
2. A Mug After you've got yourself a coffee maker, the next thing you need is something to put that coffee in once you brew it. If you bought a machine that comes with a travel mug, skip this step. If not, head to your nearest thrift store - they usually have some good mugs, and most of them end up being unintentionally hilarious (#1 Grandma? Hot Tasty Butts? ...that second one is a restaurant in MO, I didn't just make it up.) Or ask on Freecycle, most people have lots of mugs lying around. If you want a convenient little travel mug to take with you to class, hit up Amazon. DON'T go to a store, they usually tend to run about $15-$20 at a Target or Starbucks. Here are some fairly cheap travel mugs:

3. Coffee Again, kind of a no-brainer, but this one is a bit trickier. When I first started out brewing my own coffee, I went straight to the Dollar Tree and bought some coffee from them. As you can imagine, it was sub-par quality. So don't feel bad if you opt for the $8.99/lb coffee beans from Kroger or your local health food store - it's probably worth it, and it's way cheaper than Starbucks anyway. Grocery and health food stores typically have fresh beans and a grinder right there in the aisle. Dunkin' Donuts also has decent ground coffee, and of course there's always instant coffee like Folger's if you're not picky.

4. Creamer and Syrup Now that you've got the basics, it's time to have some fun! The flavored creamers and syrups you get are what will transform your at-home coffee into a Starbucks-esque dream come true. (You can also always stick with plain milk, though!) First you need some tasty creamer. Here's where to pick that up:

You can get creamers like this one at
the grocery store!
  • The Dollar Tree occasionally has International Delight creamer bottles, in flavors like Hazelnut and French Vanilla. Those are the same creamers in the little cups at gas stations and whatnot, and they are delicious!
  • Grocery Stores usually have tons of different creamers in both powder and liquid form. They'll also have fun flavors like Peppermint Mocha and Creme Brulee. Kroger in particular has a great selection of creamers. Pick out some fun flavors!
  • Gas Stations You know those little creamer cups I mentioned earlier at the gas station? Well as long as there isn't a limit to the amount you're allowed to take, why don't you go in there and buy a coffee and then, ahem, grab a couple of extra creamers to take along for the ride? I wouldn't condone this if I hadn't tried it myself many times in full view of the gas station attendants and confirmed that it is definitely NOT stealing - they've never said anything to me about it, and if there's a limit on the creamer you can take there is usually a sign. That said, don't steal.
Syrups are the other add-in that take your coffee from basic to baller. They can be expensive and difficult to find, though - I found mine (pictured above) at The Dollar Tree for $1 each! They will also have them at Grocery Stores, though they tend to be a bit on the pricey side. But if you always get a splash of Sugar-Free Hazlenut in your Starbucks, it might be worth the cost.

5. Sweeteners, Extra Goodies The last part of your DIY at-home coffee shop is the sweeteners and other extra goodies! You know what kind of sweetener you like best, so I suggest stocking up on it. Again, as long as it's free and unlimited, go ahead and grab some sweetener packets at a fast food place or gas station - just make sure it's REALLY free and unlimited, and buy something while you're there so you're not being a total dick. As for Extra Goodies, here's where you can have a bit of fun and get creative (or don't, because this stuff is totally optional.) How about Whipped Cream or Cocoa Powder to top off your drinks? Or Sprinkles? Or Cinnamon, Vanilla Extract, or Chocolate Syrup? In some of the recipes I'll be mentioning in my next post, we'll be using goodies like Hot Chocolate, Peppermint Extract (or candy canes, or peppermint candies) Eggnogg and Canned Pumpkin. So get creative in your grocery aisle! Like I said at the start of this article, even if you spend $30 on your at-home coffee shop today, you're still saving yourself from a $460/school year habit. Or to put it more simply, if you make your own drinks at home instead of going to Starbucks for 2 weeks, your at-home coffee shop will have paid for itself.


Of course, some of you are probably making a face right now and rolling your eyes and thinking "oh my god, this is way more work than just actually going to Starbucks, $460 be damned!" And, yea, you're right. So for those of you who just prefer the convenience of having someone else make your own coffee, I've got you  covered too! Here are your alternatives:

Circle K has tons of yummy coffee options for only $.99!
  1. Buy Your Coffee Somewhere Cheaper Just hear me out on this one: there ARE cheaper places to buy coffee than Starbucks, and they DO taste just as good. Some of the best and cheapest coffee drinks I've had come from gas stations, especially Circle K and QuickTrip.  Both of these gas stations serve 16oz flavored cappuccinos for $.99! You can make your own coffee drink by mixing and matching yummy stuff like French Vanilla Cappuchino or Pumpkin Spice Latte or plain old flavored coffee. Not only is it cheaper, but you get MORE coffee, and it tastes DELICIOUS. (Plus: free unlimited flavored creamer!) If you buy one of these coffees 4x a week for a school year, you'll spend only $128 - practically 1/4 of what you'd spend going to Starbucks!
  2. Use Gift Cards Sometimes it's just gotta be Starbucks. I get it. So for those times, why not use a free Gift Card? Where would you get those gift cards for free, you ask? Why, that site I keep talking about getting Amazon gift cards - you can ALSO redeem your points for Starbucks gift cards! I'm talking about  Swagbucks, of course. They offer $5-$100 gift cards to Starbucks. They are slightly more expensive than the Amazon gift cards, but the average daily Swagbucker can usually make about 2250 points in a month - enough for about $15 in Starbucks gift cards. Not bad, eh? At least that's one week's worth of Starbucks paid for each month! That adds up to a savings of $120/school year. To learn more about earning Swagbucks, read this entry. 
Stay tuned for Part 2: Make-Your-Own Starbucks Drink Recipes!!

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