Americans Back to Spending More Money on Takeout Coffee

Last Updated May 29, 2010 10:23 AM EDT

The recession is over, if you're judging by latte metrics. Consumers stopped being frugal and increased their purchases of fancy coffee by 21 percent in the first quarter of 2010 versus the same period last year, according to Mint.com. "Americans are fed up with... having to give up the little things in life, like their daily gourmet java fix," said the Mint report, which was based on transactions recorded by the personal finance web site.

During that same period, coffee prices actually fell, so that means people are back to buying more cups every month. In Seattle, which is to coffee as Milwaukee is to beer and brats, the average Mint user is spending $674 a year in coffee shops. Sigh. Guess it's time for another one of those latte lectures. Here are some thoughts:

  • Coffee now or cruise later? You know you've heard it before, but those small everyday purchases can subtract big bucks from your retirement kitty. You can find out exactly how much by consulting the Dollar Times Coffee Calculator. Here's some math: It costs roughly 25 cents a cup to brew fancy-pants (i.e.,organic, fair trade, special roast) coffee at home, versus paying roughly $3 at a coffee shop (not counting biscotti). If you invested that $2.75 difference every day and averaged an 8 percent return on your money, you'd have $5,647 in 5 years, and $14,000 in 10 years (and don't forget that those travel cups are more stable, more insulating, and so much better for the environment).
  • Own stock in Starbucks? A finer point of the survey was the lackluster showing by Starbucks, which may have started the fab coffee trend but doesn't seem to be keeping up with it. Spending there fell while consumers were instead throwing more money at other coffee shops. Starbucks stores "cut prices more heavily than other shops, but are not winning back customers as quickly," said Mint. Is that an early warning sign for SBUX shareholders? Could be. [Note: Starbucks disputes Mint's findings, saying that its customers typically pay with cash or proprietary cards not tracked by Mint. "In the last two quarters, Starbucks has seen a significant year-over-year increase in the number of customers visiting our stores, resulting in some of the strongest financial results in our history," a company spokesman said.}
  • Calories count, too. By the way, if your idea of "coffee" includes whipped cream, flavored syrups, and sprinkles, get over it. Men's Health's entertaining (and horrifying) slide show on the worst drinks ever makes the point that instead of one large peppermint white chocolate mocha drink at you-know-where, you could have 8 1/2 scoops of ice cream for all the sugar you're ingesting. (Of course, that would probably cost you even more, so remember to buy the ice cream on sale and scoop it yourself).
Photo by FutureShape on Flickr.
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