4 Sneaky Starbucks Tricks That Can Save You Big Money

two starbucks iced coffee drinks on a table
Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder

The rise of the $3.50 coffee has earned a special place in hell in the minds of many personal finance professionals.

“Just cut out this one daily splurge, dump your savings into an index fund, and you’ll be a millionaire in no time!” they shout from the rooftops. Starbucks, as the most prominent brand in this arena, takes the brunt of their ire.

My wife and I probably spend an above average amount there, though it’s definitely an above-average amount for people in the “personal finance” realm. We visit once or twice a week on average, and may spend $500 a year. It’s not an insignificant amount.

However, it’s often one of the highlights of the week because we walk the 3-mile round-trip together. It’s great exercise, fresh air and conversation. For that kind of quality time together without distractions or interruptions, it’s a small price to pay. Because of that, we consider it a healthy habit rather than a financially destructive one.

Still, we’ve become savvier Starbucks consumers over the years. If you have a similar relationship with “The Buck,” as I like to call it, try implementing these tactics to save money without canceling your coffee breaks.

1. Get the Starbucks App

starbucks hacks
Samantha Dunscombe – The Penny Hoarder

Get the Starbucks app and sign up for the My Starbucks Rewards program.

Upon signing up, you’re immediately eligible for a free drink or food item on your birthday, plus free iced or drip coffee refills while you’re in the store. This perk is perfect for freelancers or others who occasionally like to work from a coffee shop!

For each dollar you spend, you earn two stars toward your rewards account. If you earn 300 stars in a 12-month period, you’ll earn “Gold” status, which entitles you to a free drink or food item after every 125 stars earned — in other words, every $62.50 you spend.

Considering some frappuccinos run $5 or more a pop, you would only have to buy about 11 of them in 12 months for them to start paying for themselves.

2. Get Gift Cards

starbucks hacks
Samantha Dunscombe – The Penny Hoarder

Our latest hack is finding discounted Starbucks gift cards through places like Gift Card Granny. These marketplaces match gift card buyers and sellers, with discounts up to 35%.

For Starbucks, at the time of this writing, the average discount is 7.9%, and some discounts are as high as 10.8% off face value. If you know it’s money you’ll eventually spend, it makes sense to prepay for your coffee and save a bit.

Then, you just load the gift card balance into your Starbucks app and use it like a normal credit card balance at the register.

3. Rethink Your Drink

starbucks hacks
Image from Morgan Dunscombe

I was never much of a coffee drinker, so I used to get the froufrou drinks like the blended frappuccinos, white chocolate mochas and caramel macchiatos. Aside from being packed with sugar and calories, these drinks are among the most expensive options on the menu.

Instead, I’ve switched to simple iced or drip coffee with syrup (usually vanilla), adding my own milk to taste. This generally saves a dollar or more per trip and is a healthier option as well.

4. Other Starbucks “Hacks”

starbucks hacks
Samantha Dunscombe – The Penny Hoarder

These are a few additional strategies I’ve used or heard about from others. They might not always work, but they’re worth a shot.

Upsize Your Cup

When ordering drip coffee, ask for a “tall drip in a grande cup,” which will give you extra room to add milk while still only paying for the tall size. A little extra space also helps keep you from spilling your coffee as you walk or drive.

Light Ice

I always ask for light ice with my iced coffee because often, the cup is so full of ice you don’t get as much coffee as you’d like. It’s not necessarily a cash saver, but this request will get you more caffeine and less water for your money.

The Do It Yourself Hack

My wife finds this one a little sneaky, but some people will order four shots over ice in a venti cup then fill it the rest of the way with the complimentary milk. It’s essentially the same drink as a venti iced latte, but it will be $1 to $1.50 less.

And of course there’s the easiest hack of all: bring your own cup. You’ll only save 10 cents on each order, but combine it with any of these other strategies, and those savings will add up.

Nick Loper is the Chief Side Hustler at SideHustleNation.com, a growing resource and community for part-time entrepreneurs. On the top-rated Side Hustle Show podcast, Nick and his guests explore a different business idea each week.