Amazing Coffee – On The Cheap

Coffee. Coffee and I are friends. Best friends since I was a teenager, in fact.


I drink my coffee black – no cream and no sugar. The stronger the better. Drinking coffee black means that you really taste it, and that you really, really hate bad coffee. Bad coffee tastes bitter – like dirty water.

So we’ve established that I love good coffee. Does this mean that I go to Starbucks every day, or that I own a fancy coffee machine? Nope. I have three pieces of equipment that I use every single day to have amazing coffee at a low price.

More Expensive Doesn’t Mean Better

Just for fun, I decided to peruse Google shopping Coffee Machine offerings. What did I find there but a lovely assortment of expensive machinery, including:

The k-cup machine is particularly annoying to me. You see, I received one of these as a gift from my mother-in-law a few Christmases ago. Not only is the coffee pretty low quality, but the cups are expensive (even at BJ’s!) and they create a lot of plastic waste. I checked out the price again today, and it looks like the best bargain on Green Mountain coffee cups would come out to about 44 cents per cup. Ouch.

k cups

The Nespresso and fancy coffee machines have one advantage over my setup – they can make those fancy coffee drinks that you can get a Starbucks and the like. Now, if you get those drinks every single day, those machines might be worthwhile. But if you’re like me and get them two times per year, they’re really not worth it. Let’s say the fancy drink costs $4 at Starbucks.

You would have to forgo 38 visits to Starbucks before the Nespresso machine pays for itself, and 1,375 visits for the fancy machine to be worth the money. Even if you visited Starbucks every single day a year, it would take almost four years for the machine to pay for itself! And that’s ignoring the cost of the coffee, milk, sugar, and other ingrediants. If you included those, the payback period is even longer. Ouch.

Cheaper Doesn’t Mean Better

You might think that I’m going to recommend the kind of coffee machines that are the Amazon bestsellers – your regular, standard drip machines. After all, they’re pretty inexpensive, seeing as you can get a five cup coffee maker for only fifteen bucks. But I’ve made that mistake in the past, and I’ve come to regret it.

When I first moved out on my own, I was already a coffee drinker. I was also pretty broke, so I got the coffee maker and the Maxwell House/Folgers canned coffee just like my parents had. And then I proceeded to get frustrated as that stupid coffee maker broke time and time again.

I don’t know if it was just bad luck, or if coffee machines are really just that poorly made nowadays, but it seemed like every time I turned around I had to replace the coffee maker. It was the machine itself that would stop working every time. I felt it was really wasteful, having to put this big hunk of plastic and glass into the trash every year or so. Plus the coffee was pretty “OK” – for the most part it tasted like dirty water, but it got caffeine in my system so it did the job.

But I still wanted something more. I wanted fancy coffee at a bargain price. How could I do that? Eventually I stumbled on my “just right” method.

The Not Expensive, Not Cheap, Just Right Coffee Method

There are three pieces of equipment that I deploy now to make fantastic coffee:

  1. A coffee grinder for ten bucks
  2. A french press for twenty five bucks
  3. An electric kettle for twenty bucks

Total cost for the entire setup is $55. The electric kettle is optional, but makes for easier coffee when I’m stumbling around half awake in the morning trying to get coffee into my system. It can also be used to rapidly heat water for tea, for boiling things on the stove, and heating water for warming baby bottles. I’ve had this setup for 5-10 years by now, and I’ve had to replace the grinder once and the kettle twice. The french press, since it’s manual and not electric, hasn’t needed replacement.

The real key here is the coffee grinder. It lets me grind fresh coffee from beans every morning in just seconds. I can get a bag of coffee beans from BJ’s – 40 ounces worth – for $13. When I feel like a splurge I can get 2.5 pounds of Starbucks beans for $20, or I can go to Costco and get three pounds of amazing coffee beans for $20. I did some research and it looks like you can get around 82 cups of coffee from a pound of beans. If that’s accurate, then spending $20 for 3 pounds comes out to a little over eight cents per cup. You could buy five and a half for the cost of a single k-cup!

The other amazing thing about this is that it can easily be extracted to a non-electricity setup. You see, my family loves camping. We go every year to a Boy Scout camp at the beach in the fall, and every summer we go camping in Rhode Island. For coffee lovers, one of the challenges is how to make good fresh coffee in the mornings without electricity.

What we do? I grind a bunch of coffee before we leave and put it into an old Fluff container. The nice thing about those containers is that they snap shut tightly – the lid won’t come off the middle of your camping trip. You really can use any container with a lid that shuts tight. Then it’s simple – we boil the water on the camping stove, and scoop the coffee into the french press. Five minutes later we have great fresh coffee to start our morning.

This also comes in handy when the electricity goes out. I’ve lived in my house for eleven years now, and during that time we’ve experienced a few major power outages. I’ve been able to grind coffee in my mortar and pestle, and heat water on the grill/camp stove when that happens. Self-sufficient coffee for the win!

Better Quality – Moderate Cost

I know my setup is not the absolute least expensive way to have my morning coffee. I could easily heat water on my stove each morning, saving the cost of the electric kettle. I could pick up tins of Maxwell House on sale, saving me more money on coffee. But I get a lot of joy out of a cup of freshly brewed, fresh ground, amazing coffee at a reasonable cost. Having such good coffee easily accessible means that I’m not tempted to stop at Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, and the like (except as a very occasional treat or when I’m traveling).

The french press doesn’t break, so it doesn’t create additional trash like those cheap coffee makers I used to get. Next time the coffee grinder breaks, I’m thinking of picking up a manual grinder so it lasts a long time as well. And bonus, I could use that while camping to have freshly ground coffee outdoors! Since the electric kettle has so many uses outside of coffee, I think I’ll always have one in my house. For some reason they’re more common in Europe and Australia than here in the US, but I think we’re missing out.

My coffee approach is a lesson in wise, prioritized spending. Coffee is important to me, so I needed to find a way to have good coffee at a reasonable cost. It needed to be easy, tasty, and not expensive. I experimented with different setups until I found one that worked for me. Find creative ways to get what you want for less – and don’t be afraid to experiment. You never know what you’ll find.

I Want To Hear From You!

Do you also love coffee? If so, what setup do you have? Or is there something else where you’ve gone a different, creative path to get something you want at a lower cost? let me know in the comments!

Help me not need to install one of those annoying pop-up messages – be sure to follow my blog for more great posts via e-mail or WordPress! Connect with me on Facebook or Twitter and say hello! You can also check out what I’m buying or baking on Instagram,  what I’m pinning on Pinterest, or the latest books I’m reading (or want to read) over on Goodreads

29 thoughts on “Amazing Coffee – On The Cheap”

  1. MyStrategicDollar

    French press is the way to go! You can completely change the elements to make more or less, stronger or weaker, it requires no electricity to use and no plastic waste.

    I too do not like the k-cups…they’re expensive and the coffee is crap. #sorrynotsorry

  2. AdventureRich

    Ooooh, coffee, my favorite 😉

    We have an end to end coffee routine! Mr. Adventure Rich buys “green” coffee beans from a company named “Sweet Maria’s” based in Oakland, CA. He then roasts the beans in batches that last a few weeks (our house smells of delicious coffee for hours!) and jars them up.

    Each morning, we grind the coffee with a hand grinder (Hairo “Burr grinder” I think?) and make our coffee with either a French Press or a pour over Hario V60.

    Our coffee is delicious, but it does take a bit of work! When I was on maternity leave, I caved and demanded pre-ground coffee so that I could get my caffeine fix more quickly after the sleepless nights feeding AR Junior! But other than that, it is worth every bit of work 😉

  3. Yes! French press all the way. I did, however, splurge on a Cuisinart Conical Burr Grinder. Around $80. It holds the beans and gives me the perfect grind, the perfect amount, for a perfect French Press (or whatever your preference), every time.

    Coffee beans for me range all the way from Trader Joe’s Cup O’ Joe to Intelligentsia premium beans. Often I’ll get coffee beans as a gift, because it’s all I really want. A solid mug and a good brew.

      1. I have the same (similar?) burr grinder and I have to say that splurging on a grinder made a HUGE difference in our morning coffee taste. One nice thing as noted is that you pour a bunch of beans in, set the number of cups and press a button and it grinds the right amount, so no need to scoop first thing in the morning. Second, the quality of coffee is way better – my parents an in laws all swear that our coffee is the best, but it’s really a function of the grinder- we use a drip coffeemaker. Next time you have to replace your grinder, I definitely recommend looking into the splurge, especially if you drink it black!

  4. thefinancialjourneyman

    I love coffee. It is truly my only vice. The French press is the best. Many years ago, a friend turned me on to Lavazza Espresso brewed in a French press. It was seriously strong, but good.

  5. I have to say that I am guilty of using the K-cups. I grew up with parents that ground their own coffee beans, however, and you are right that there is nothing like it. You have inspired me to save money and drink better coffee. Bravo!

  6. Sigh. Mr. ETT wanted a coffee machine. Mrs. ETT said no. Back and forth, back and forth with the argument that he wouldn’t need to buy his daily coffee if we had a good machine at home. In the end, I agreed to get it at Christmas. It was $1,100 in 2013. Of course, what happened? I have a cup of coffee every morning (and have done so since we bought it.) Mr. ETT continues to buy coffee. I actually don’t regret the purchase, but now I’ve entered the world of FIRE, I wouldn’t replace it. Also, I’d like my kitchen bench space back.

    On another note, I don’t know a single person who doesn’t own a kettle. It’s one of those ubiquitous pieces of kitchen equipment that you don’t even think about – you just go and buy one (other Aussies are free to jump in and disagree!) I find it surprising that isn’t the case in the USA, I wouldn’t know how to operate without a kettle!

    1. Yes interestingly here in the US electric kettles are very uncommon. In fact the one I have looks to have been designed for Europeans-it measures the water in liters. Usually we would measure in cups. I actually don’t know anyone else who has an electric kettle, just me. The only reason I have one is that I saw someone using one on TV (Food Network, I think) and thought it looked useful

      1. I had one. It broke recently; I am going to replace it. It is so much quicker than on my stove teakettle. They are rare here. I only learned about them during a vacation to Sweden.

  7. We are doing cold brew now! I should video Mr. MSD setting it up (it looks like a bit of a chemistry experiment the way he does it!) But it is cheap, easy and incredibly smooth! We mostly drink it hot (just microwave it) but it is awesome cold too and it doesn’t take a ton of ice cubes to cool it down 🙂 Hubby struggles with GERD and this seems to have really addressed the acid issue too!

  8. Our everyday coffee ritual is a 10-cup pot of Dunkin Donuts in a Cuisinart Extreme Brew drip coffee maker. I can occasionally do black coffee, but I prefer sugar (actually Splenda) and cream.

    We also have a French Press and burr grinder that I sometimes use on the weekend when I have more time. It’s a small French Press and just doesn’t make enough for the both of us on a weekday morning.

  9. We use a French Press and a stove top Moka pot for espresso. Both are cheap methods for making coffee and often times Dunkin’ is our choice for brewed coffee which we make at home 99.9% of the time.

  10. Reblogged this on The Small Investor and commented:
    Definitely saving money on coffee by setting yourself up to brew a good cup at home is the way to go. I can’t believe people buy a $6 cup each day from Starbucks. No wonder most people aren’t ready when retirement time comes. Thanks for the tips.

  11. Coffee is just delicious. I use an Aeropress and grind my own beans in a small, hand powered ceramic grinder. Beans in Australia are a little more expensive than the US, but I do buy them freshly roasted from a local cafe, it works out at < $1 per cup. 8cents per cup in astounding! I wouldn't mind having french press, which makes brewing a batch of coffee when friends come around a little easier, but I'll probably holdout a little longer 🙂

  12. I bought my electric kettle at Costco on sale for $14.99. It’s stainless steel inside and out. I use a French press too and totally agree with you. What I don’t know are what coffee beans from Costco you buy. Would you mind sharing the brand name? We have the coffee grinder but I’ve been buying ground coffee. Thanks for a great post!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.