Mikey Rox - The Penny Hoarder

There’s a lot of online chatter among environmentalists -- professionals and amateurs alike -- about the wasteful nature of K-Cups, those tiny plastic pods for single-serve coffeemakers. Even the inventor of K-Cups thinks they’re a terrible idea in hindsight.

Unfortunately there’s not much we can do about that now -- K-Cups are here, and there’s no sign of stopping them. Instead, we can do what we do in any challenging situation: make the best of it.

To keep some of them out of our landfills, why not try reusing K-Cups?

Here are a few creative ways to give your K-Cups a second life as organizers, teaching tools, craft projects and more.

1. Seed Starter

Perhaps the best way you can reuse a K-Cup is to give back to the planet what plastic is taking away: life.

That’s why I love the idea of using the pods as seed starters for plants. Great for novice and veteran vegetable gardeners, as well as botanically curious kids, the whole idea just feels so full-circle.

Emily Cope, a nutrition counselor in Rochester, NY, is a pro at this project. She shared a few tips for anyone who wants to give it a try.

“After I use each K-Cup I allow it to dry, use a Sharpie to label it, peel the top off and remove as much of the grounds as possible,” she explains. “I then add organic potting mix and a seed or two.”

In fact, these little pods are tailor-made seed starters.

“The K-Cup is the perfect vessel to start seeds [in] because it already has a hole in the bottom, which is necessary for soil drainage and the traces of coffee grounds add beneficial ingredients to the soil and can lead to more healthful seedlings. Once the seedling has outgrown the K-Cup, [it] can be replanted in the ground.”

2. Holiday Crafts

K-Cups are great for crafts related to holidays, including Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. When the kids are out of school and restless around the house, pull out your stockpile of K-Cups along with your other crafting essentials to make a few keepsakes that you’ll treasure for holidays to come.

Some of my favorite ideas include this DIY Advent calendar, these turkeys that you can use for seat assigning, and these spook-tacular Halloween lights.

Cristin Frank, author of the blog Eve of Reduction, likes to make Easter more festive with these dyed-egg holders.

3. Circular Stamp

If you need a perfectly circular stamp, used K-Cups are your best bet. This is particularly great if you want to create a lot of fun faces.

Make many stamps on craft paper and let kids’ imaginations run wild as they bring the circles to life as people, animals, snowmen and other fun options.

4. Paint Cups

Rather than putting paint on one of your dishes or newspaper, use individual pods to separate colors. When you’re finished, you can pour the leftover paint back into the bottle and rinse out the K-Cup for next time.

You can use your leftover pricing dots to solve the puncture-hole-in-the-bottom problem here, too.

5. Teaching Tools

Another fun way to engage kids with used K-Cups is to use them as teaching tools.

Kathy Griffin’s Teaching Strategies (a completely different Kathy Griffin, y’all) provides 10 ways to facilitate common core math and literacy, while Happy Hooligans suggests using the pods as money-sorting cups to help kids learn how to count change.

These are just a couple educational ideas for used K-Cups; you can find more online or come up with some of your own.

6. Minimalist Wreath

If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, this stark minimalist wreath made by gluing clean K-Cups together in a circular pattern will help you get into the spirit.

Alternatively, since the cups are white and provide you with a blank canvas, you can make a wreath for any occasion with a bit of decorating -- no need to wait until winter.

7. Party Lights

I mentioned the Halloween K-Cups lights earlier, but the fun doesn’t stop there. You can make party lights to brighten up a party with any theme.

It goes without saying that you can create festive twinklers for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas with a touch of creativity, but K-Cup lights also are perfect for smaller events like birthday parties, wedding or baby showers or a nighttime cookout.

Assembly is easy. Just pop individual lights through the hole in the bottom of each used K-Cup, and voila!

8. Marquee Lighting

Because I tend to lean toward industrial design, marquee lighting is a favorite element of mine. The problem, though, is that it can be so darn expensive; quality letters, numbers and symbols start in the $250 range per piece.

If you’re not quite feeling the impulse to fork over that kind of cash, you can make a DIY version using K-Cups. I have to say, too, that this budget hack actually looks pretty decent, and I think it’s perfect as an extremely thoughtful, handmade gift.

9. K-Cupsicles

What I love best about this genius idea for K-Cupsicles is not that I now have a new way to cool down this summer, but that the portion size is perfect to keep the calorie count in check. Sometimes you just want a little bite of something, and these tidbits of tastiness are sure to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Remember that you’ll want to close the hole in the bottom of the pods with tape or hot glue so the liquid doesn’t seep out. There’s nothing worse than a messy, sticky freezer.

10. Frozen Herbs

Freezing herbs is a good way to preserve your abundance so they don’t rot before you have a chance to use them up; otherwise you’re just wasting money.

Many people lengthen the lifespan of herbs by chopping them up, putting them in ice cube trays, and topping up each “cube” with olive oil.

The same concept applies to K-Cups, however, so you can free up your ice cube trays. To cover up the puncture hole on the bottom of each pod, consider a spot of hot glue or tape.

11. Scoop for Dry Goods

Have trouble getting dry goods, like coffee or sugar, out of the canister without spilling? Tired of keeping a spoon in the canister full time?

Let an empty K-Cup serve as the solution to this age-old problem. Works like a charm.

12. Organizers for Small Items

Small items like hair accessories, sewing and office supplies are just the right fit for empty K-Cups.

Separate your items into individual pods, label them if you’d like, and place them in a handy carousel for easy access.

13. Concrete Candle Holders

I would have never thought of this unusual use for K-Cups, which is why I’m glad I stumbled upon it. What a cool idea if you’re into industrial décor. I’m into that sort of style, so this totally piqued my interest.

To make your own, follow the instruction for the concrete candle craft at Lots DIY.

14. Confetti Poppers

Sure, it’ll be a mess to clean up, but how fun are these confetti poppers made from used K-Cups?!

I should probably put a Dustbuster on my Christmas list in anticipation of New Year’s Eve, and these would be great for a birthday party, too.

15. Jell-O Shots

Yes, this one is for adults only (though, come to think of it, K-Cups would make excellent Jell-O molds for kids).

K-Cups are actually ideal for Jell-O shots because their narrowness makes it easier to remove the Jell-O with your tongue than when using the traditional wide, ramekin-style cups.

However, you’ll need a fast fix for the hole in the bottom of each K-Cup. A tiny piece of Scotch Tape or a stroke of Wite-Out will do, but I prefer the small peel-and-place yard sale pricing dots for their convenience.

Your Turn: What other interesting ways can you reuse K-Cups? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Disclosure: You wouldn’t believe how much coffee The Penny Hoarder team goes through. This post contains affiliate links so we can keep the grinds stocked! (But not with K-Cups; we’d go through way too many.)

Mikey Rox is a personal finance expert whose work has been published by more than 100 outlets across the world, including CNN.com, The Huffington Post, Wise Bread, MSN Money, Money Crashers, Avant Credit and Business Insider, among many others. He splits his time between homes in New York City and the Jersey Shore with his dog Jaxon. Connect with Mikey on Twitter @mikeyrox.

Whether you’re part of the vengeful Kanye camp in your feelings toward Taylor Swift or you harbor undying love for her like her bestie Lorde, there’s no denying this: She’s as smart a businesswoman as they come, and she’s making all the right moves.

That’s lucky for you, because Taylor Swift can teach you a lot about how to run a business.

From understanding your target audience to becoming a social media superstar, here are nine ways Swift is killing it in her business -- and how you can follow her lead.

1. Be Relatable, Likeable and Approachable

While you might feel close to some musicians and recording artists (there’s a difference), others seem so unapproachable (here’s lookin’ at you, Mariah) that they earn a reputation of being egocentric and off-putting. It’s obvious that Swift has recognized the characteristics of the latter and, as a result, has made a conscious effort to stay grounded.

“Taylor Swift is so successful because she’s not afraid to be vulnerable and she uses this to get more people to relate to her and like her,” explains Rachel Jimenez, operations manager at Logos Lifetime Enterprises Presents.

“Taylor Swift is young, beautiful, rich, thin, and a talented musician and businesswoman. However, people see her as human because her songs talk about the hard times she goes through, things that a lot of people can relate to,” she observes. “The opposite of this would be someone like Britney Spears who was also young, beautiful, thin and rich -- but people disliked her because she would flaunt her successes, and she was rarely vulnerable. People wanted her to crash and burn, and they loved it when she did.”

Be a Taylor, not a Britney. Don’t be afraid to show the “human” side of your business.

2. Understand Your Target Audience

One of the biggest misfires of big businesses -- and sometimes even small ones -- is that they position themselves above the customer.

Take Abercrombie & Fitch, whose former CEO, Mike Jeffries, very famously alienated a large contingent of its target audience by publicly shaming people who are overweight, admitting that his company’s clothes are made for “cool, good-looking people” only, and allowing thong underwear for pre-teen girls to hit the shelves. People didn’t exactly respond well to these statements and company choices, and sales for the once on-top-of-its-game clothier have steadily declined, eventually resulting in Jeffries’ recent ousting.

If only he were more like TSwift.

“Taylor Swift knows that most of her young audience can be found on social media and that they also cling to celebrities that are relatable and real, who ‘get it’” says Emily Elliott, content marketing manager at TheSquareFoot, a commercial real estate tech company.

“For example, with the ‘no its becky’ T-shirt, she showed her audience that not only does she know and listen to them, she's also in on their quirky inside jokes. Businesses can and should use this tactic of finding out what's important to their target audience and contribut[ing] to that conversation in whatever means possible,” Elliott explains. Get to know your audience and what they like or dislike. Interact with your followers and join in on discussions to make your brand seem more relatable.

3. Be Full of Surprises

Just when you think Swift has outdone herself, she goes and does it again. It’s an important piece of the staying-relevant puzzle, and a tactic that other PR-hungry businesses should promptly adopt.

Thoughtfully crafted surprises can create lasting memories for your audience and customers, and can build word-of-mouth that surpasses your wildest expectations,” reminds Dallisa Hocking, founder of relationship-based company Love FrogKisser. “This can be seen with Taylor's recent holiday gift deliveries to some of her fans. Her highlight video went viral and those fans that were lucky enough to receive her customized packages will never be the same -- in fact, they'll be fans for life.”

Here’s your takeaway: “Businesses can do the same thing with their customers. Be creative, thoughtful and ensure that your surprise aligns with your company's mission and vision. Along the way you'll build loyal customers, and they'll tell those around them about ‘the really cool thing that happened’ at your company,” Hocking advises.

Examples of surprises for customers (on a much, much smaller but still impactful level) include an extra-albeit-inexpensive mystery item in a retail package, a package of fun candy that accompanies a takeout order, or an impromptu discount at checkout. Get creative to come up with a surprise that fits your business.

4. Embrace Authenticity

You know what’s not authentic? Digitally removing all the women from photos that appear in your catalog, like IKEA Saudi Arabia once did. It’s the antithesis of authentic, and (thankfully) that shady business came back to bite the brand in the butt. With Swift, what you see is what you get.

“It's easy for business leaders and companies to try and fit a mold or do what society expects of them,” Hocking explains. “What does Taylor do? She shows everyone that it’s perfectly fine to be yourself and dance to your own beat. If you've tuned in to an awards show lately, you've likely seen Taylor dancing in the audience like no one is watching. She's singing along, and she's busting out her best dance moves. She’s being herself, and she’s setting an example for people to do the same. [Company] leaders should make decisions based on what aligns with their company's mission and vision -- not because it's the popular choice.

Anna Horn, online PR specialist at Web Talent Marketing, has observed these habits as well.

Swift keeps it real, whether that is through photos of her cats, a video of her dancing around at Target, or her feelings about fan videos,” she says. “[She] doesn’t hold back. She comments back to her fans on photos and regularly gives out positive advice through the same medium.”

To follow Swift’s lead in keeping your brand authentic, always trust your gut. If your marketing or advertising campaign doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t -- and the last thing you want to do is offend the very people who pay your bills. If you don’t stay true to yourself, the cracks will start to show and eventually you’ll start losing customers.

5. Become a Social Media Superstar

Almost everyone I interviewed mentioned Swift’s social media prowess. She’s a boss on all the popular channels -- expertly exploiting their individual strengths -- and her fans pay close attention.

“Swift keeps everyone in the loop, and she knows what platform is good for what information,” Horn says. “Facebook and Google+ are excellent platforms for ticket sales, store information and tour updates, while on Twitter and Instagram she can share snippets of her life and interact with fans. Tumblr is the place to see Swift as she would be if you were hanging out on a Friday night.”

Ricky Garvey, a PR/marketing professional and musician, also finds Swift’s command of social media particularly fascinating.

“It's extremely interesting to see how she acts on her platforms, especially Twitter,” he says. “She's built a community that revolves around the connection between her and her fans. It may seem small scale to reach out to fans one-on-one, but she's investing in long-term commitment and creating a viral sharing that's definitely contributed to her latest release, 1989. I've seen firsthand that brands can create this same community by investing in social media, even on a small scale.”

Not every social media platform is right for every business. Do your research to not only decide which ones are best for your type of good or service, but also the ones your target audience uses the most. For instance, if you’re a visual business, like a bakery, Instagram is ideal. Facebook and Twitter are also a great way to engage your audience with updates and exclusive discounts.

It’s critical to stay on top of your social media marketing; letting it lag will make you look out of touch and uninterested in connecting with your customer base.

6. Invite Your Fans into the Inner Circle

As a consumer, great branding makes you feel like you’re an important part of the brand and have insider access (even if it’s extremely limited). Some of the more in-tune brands in this regard include Apple, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Google -- and, of course, the brand of Taylor Swift.

“Swift is not only great about showing what is happening in her life off the stage, but also behind the scenes,” Horn elaborates. “She recently partnered with American Express to create an app with content giving a behind-the-scenes look at her newest music video. While recording 1989 she Instagramed photos from inside the studio and gave out copies of Polaroids she took during its creation with physical CD copies.”

“Much like being real, giving a glimpse into the behind the scenes action at your company can increase your brand equity,” she adds. “Customers will view you as more trustworthy if they knew what went into your company. This also gives you a chance to showcase the core principles of your brand. If you say you care about the environment, then make sure you post a picture of the park cleanup that your employees participated in last weekend. If you’re a restaurant, show what goes into making your famous dish without giving away the secret.”

It’s well worth investing time into creating this kind of strategy, Horn says. “Providing customers with more information about products and the spirit of a company only increases their likelihood to repeat purchase.”

7. Reward Your Loyal Fans

If you’re Taylor Swift’s #1 fan, it’s not unreasonable to expect something special from her -- and she delivers. This practice is almost non-existent among other artists, which places Swift in a league of her own.

“Rewarding loyalty is probably something that Swift has stepped up the most with the promotion of this last album, and continues to do it as she reaches out to [more] fans,” Horn recognizes. “Loyal fans were able to enter a contest to win a spot at a secret listening session before the album was released. She invited those who love her into her parents’ home, her NYC apartment and various other places to show them what she created. She took silly photos and spent time with them, discussing tracks and sharing stories.”

As if that wasn’t enough, Swift made sure her biggest fans received a holiday surprise. “In November of 2014, she sent secret Christmas gifts to some of her most loyal fans from social media [who she refers to as her friends]. Each box was filled with special things she had found during recent travels that reminded her of her different friends. Personalized notes described her love for each person and why they were special to her,” explains Horn.

And the response was incredible, according to Horn. “Her fan community responded with love and excitement that she cared so much about them. Months later, Swift released a video of her wrapping the presents for ‘Swiftmas,’ giving fans the idea that this was definitely not a PR stunt as she waited so long to divulge her secrets. She even showed up to a fan’s [bridal] shower when invited.”

Most celebrities would never do this. Like, ever. But they should.

One of the best ways to reward your most loyal customers is by giving them perks. Maybe that’s by establishing a membership or loyalty program that rewards frequents visits or purchases, or creating exclusive discounts for engaging with your social media pages, or hosting private events to which only the top customers are invited. Make your biggest fans feel special, and they’ll stick with you forever.

8. Offer Amazing Customer Service

Excellent customer service is a critical component of any successful company. While Swift isn’t fielding calls from ‘customers,’ she’s still recognizes the people who helped make her brand a success.

Radio personality and professional Snapchatter Mark Kaye remembers his brush with Taylor Swift’s customer service.

“There is one thing she did that still amazes me -- not just because it was smart business, but because she has made me and my wife apostles for life,” he recalls. “She sent me a thank-you note. She actually handwrote a card with my name in it, and sent it to me to say "thank you" for coming back stage to meet her. Like I had anything else better to do that night. The card is now framed and hangs in my wife's office. She confiscated it even though it is clearly addressed to me.”

This simple step might only take you a few minutes, but it can have a big impact. “The thank-you note is an incredible tool, and with each passing year it becomes less and less common, which makes each thank-you note you receive more and more special. Especially when it is as unexpected as the one I received from Taylor Swift,” says Kaye.

You might not be Taylor Swift, but writing a thank you note to your best customers will help your business stand out in their minds -- and that’s great for your business.

9. Break the Rules

People are always telling you to “think outside the box.” But if you really want to make an impression, you have to act outside the box, too. Take a few cues from your now-favorite musician.

“Taylor Swift is not only a marketing maven, but also a business bellwether,” says Al Ruggie, public relations director for 911Restoration.com. “Not only has she crafted herself into a talented, youthful icon of the industry, but she has taken her connection with her audience to the next level by abandoning the business model forced upon her by the power brokers within the industry and created her own avenue for providing her music to fans. By bucking the system, she has shown that the tide has turned for those who would force slave wages upon artists by paying them fractions of pennies on the dollar.”

This is an important tactic to keep in mind when laying the foundation for your burgeoning business. Following the status quo is easy, but you’ll never turn heads by playing it safe and emulating all those other boring brands.

Instead, throw convention out the window and make your own distinguishable mark in your market or industry. That’s how you’ll get customers to start paying attention, and it’s what they’ll come to appreciate about you -- as everyone else watches in envy.

Your Turn: Did you ever think you’d take business lessons from Taylor Swift? What other awesome skills or strategies can entrepreneurs and brands learn from her?

Mikey Rox is a personal finance expert whose work has been published by more than 100 outlets across the world, including CNN.com, The Huffington Post, Wise Bread, MSN Money, Money Crashers, Avant Credit and Business Insider, among many others. He splits his time between homes in New York City and the Jersey Shore with his dog Jaxon. Connect with Mikey on Twitter @mikeyrox.