$3 Goes A Long Way When You Hack The Starbucks Menu
Here’s your insider guide to saving money at everyone’s favorite coffee shop.
Hi there! I’m Mathew Jedeikin, and like a lot of people, I’m a dedicated Starbucks lover.
But the company recently raised prices, causing many of us to worry about the potential impact on our pocketbooks.
I’m always reading articles about secret menu items and insider hacks to save money at Starbucks, but have been hesitant to try any of them. For some reason the thought of a barista (or strangers standing behind me in line) knowing that I was trying to save a few cents on my daily coffee made me uneasy. But you know what: I needed to get over it.
My challenge: To endure the awkwardness of exploring drink hacks and tricks to save money at Starbucks for a week, so that I could report back to y’all with my findings.
One of the most common tips I found online was that you could save some serious moolah with an easy DIY iced latte hack. Iced lattes are by far the most common drink I order at Starbucks, so this was the first trick I decided to test.
Here’s what you do: Order espresso shots over ice, then add your own milk.
It’s as easy as that, my friends.
I need a lot of caffeine on Mondays, so I went with three shots over ice, which only cost me $2.45. As opposed to the $4.55 a regular iced triple latte would have set me back. Oh, and as luck would have it, Starbucks implemented their price hike during the same week as my challenge, so today the triple iced latte would have cost $4.75.
Ordering the beverage was significantly less awkward than I had imagined.
When I asked for my three shots of espresso over ice, the barista replied, “And what size cup do you want that in?” There was no side-eye, no judgment for my obvious attempt to stick it to the man by making my own latte—nothing.
There’s no denying it…this trick is legit!
Honestly, I cringe thinking about how many times I’ve ordered, and paid nearly five bucks for, an iced latte that I could have gotten for half the price.
On Tuesday I wanted to start looking into ways to save money on hot beverages. Why? Because winter is coming, and soon I won’t be able to survive on iced lattes alone.
Apparently, Starbucks has a secret “short” size that isn’t listed on the menu.
I’d heard that you could get almost any hot beverage in a short, which would save you money and still provide the same amount of caffeine (AKA espresso shots). The only real difference is the amount of milk you receive, and honestly, I didn’t mind shaving a few dairy-related calories off my day. So, I ordered myself a short, non-fat latte.
And it was pretty good.
But it only saved me a dime.
Yeah, the latte was reliably delicious, obvi. There’s a reason we’re all Starbucks lovers, but only ten cents? Really? I was hoping for at least a quarter.
So the short size wasn’t a big win. OK, I could deal. The other latte alternative I had read about was the café misto. Which is a beverage that consists of half regular coffee and half steamed milk.
When I got my misto it looked promising, but I quickly became disappointed.
First of all, I burnt the shit out of my tongue.
The combination of hot coffee and hot-ass steamed milk was bad. Without the addition of cold milk, the temperature of a regular Starbucks coffee is too hot for my sensitive tongue. So yeah, the hot coffee and steamed milk drink was not enjoyable for me.
But the misto also didn’t caffeinate me the way either a latte or a full cup of coffee would have.
I totally had to bust out a Nespresso pod a couple of hours later.
And most importantly, I didn’t really save any money.
Sure, my $3.05 total was less than the cost of a latte, but the drinks didn’t compare. The miso was essentially half of a cup of coffee served with searing hot milk. A grande cup of coffee at Starbucks goes for $2.45, so technically I lost money with this one.
In case you didn’t already know, Starbucks will give you ten cents off your beverage total if you bring in a reusable cup. The discount also applies if you bring in a competitor’s cup—and they’ll replace the old cup with a new one.
It’s basically a discount for bringing in some of your garbage.
This one didn’t go over as well.
I don’t know if it was because I’d gone to a Starbucks inside Target or what, but the guy taking my order had no idea what to do with my used cup. When I handed it to him, he seemed confused and asked me, “How much do they usually take off for you?” I momentarily thought about lying and saying it was 50 cents, but I didn’t. I was honest and told him it was a dime.
But that wasn’t the end of the confusion. The barista initially started brewing espresso into my old cup, and I had to explain to him that “They usually give me a new cup in exchange for the old one.” It was awkward. He tossed out the coffee, and I felt a little wasteful.
Maybe it was my own experience, but IMO, the awkwardness didn’t outweigh then ten-cent savings.
Switching back to iced drinks, on Friday I tried a discount Frappuccino hack I’d also read about online.
The trick was to get an iced Americano with caramel, and to ask for it blended.
The best part was that there was no awkwardness during ordering. In fact, the barista who took my order told me that my drink “probably wouldn’t fit into a grande cup,” and gave it to me in a venti cup instead.
This hack was another big winner.
A grande Frappuccino would have cost me $4.75, but my iced caramel Americano was only $3.45. I saved almost a dollar and a half. Now I’ll admit, the drink did start to separate after a couple of minutes, but even so, totally worth it.
I’m only listing my total savings at $1.30, but consider this: Technically I walked away with a caramel-flavored, blended, caffeinated beverage that filled a venti cup. If I’d instead ordered a venti Frappucino, my cost would have been $5.25…just sayin’.
On Saturday mornings my husband and I regularly go out for soy lattes. Normally, we each get a grande, but on the last day of my challenge I decided to get us a quad-shot, venti soy latte to split, which I’d heard could save us some serious bank.
I asked for an extra grande sized cup, and the barista gave it to me without question or (apparent) judgment.
With the help of a spoon, separating our lattes was a breeze!
The grande cup wasn’t exactly filled to the brim, but it contained two or so shots of espresso and some steamed soy milk. Sign me up!
The new price of a latte is $3.95, plus $0.60 for soy milk, which would’ve been $9.10 for both drinks. Instead I spent $6.35 on the quad, venti latte, which saved us 30%.
I was in need of more caffeine come Saturday afternoon, so I enlisted the help of my little dog.
According to Reddit, if you bring your dog to a Starbucks, the baristas will make you a complimentary “Puppuccino.”
Come to find out it’s just whipped cream in a short size cup. But hey, it’s free!
So I loaded Olly up in his carrier, buckled him into the passenger seat, and drove to my closest drive-through Starbucks. The line was down the street, but I was determined.
I ordered myself another blended caramel Americano, and a Puppuccino that I said was for Olly.
I’d thought I was going to be pulling a fast one on the Starbucks staff, but before giving me my blended beverage the barista asked me if I wanted some whipped cream on it. So, yeah, I could have whipped cream on my beverage, for free, without dragging my dog along. Whomp, whomp.
Paying full price for iced drinks is a waste of money. Seriously, it doesn’t make sense to pay for an iced latte when you can get espresso shots over ice, then add milk. It’s almost half the price of a latte, and if you want to feel fancy you can always customize with syrups or additional shots.
There aren’t many good hacks when it comes to hot drinks, except for splitting a beverage with someone. A trick that’s especially true if you’re getting a milk alternative, which is a flat 60 cents per beverage, no matter if you’re getting a tall for yourself or a venti to split between you and bae.
For the most part, ordering these beverage hacks wasn’t nearly as awkward as I’d initially imagined. None of the baristas I encountered appeared to be judging me for my money savings. Instead, they were friendly and accommodating.