The Pricey Song of the Siren

As dedicated readers know, I have recently implemented an Austerity Now! package of discretionary spending constraints. In this amplified state of diligence, the analysis of monetary value for items once commonly purchased becomes a new consideration. My business takes me onto the roads of the Charleston Tri-County area on a daily basis, and if the road trip becomes extended, I find myself yearning for a hot cup of Java the Hutt, a nickname a former manager of mine had for coffee which has stuck with me for years. He wasn’t much of a manager, but he could coin a nifty phrase.

I’ve long been a fan of Starbucks, going so far as to buy shares in the company. I proudly told everyone who ever mentioned a cup of coffee in conversation that I owned the famous Seattle-based coffee emporium, albeit a tiny speck of it. While no longer a shareholder, and less enamored of the place than I once was, I still find myself drawn to the Green Siren when I see her calling to me from the side of a busy road or intersection.main-qimg-abd21b60f728d344e6d4474b1b2c48a0-c

While Starbucks’ prices have been the butt of many a joke for years, I always justified my purchase because I stuck with the brewed coffee rather than the more elaborate handmade concoctions they offer, and my indulgence was only $2.32. A tad more than a comparable cup at Dunkin Donuts admittedly, but not so much so that it drove a change in my preferred vendor. However, under the increased scrutiny of Austerity Now! not knowing the markup on a bit of bean soaked in hot water caused me to drive right by the Siren’s beckoning melody and straight to a spreadsheet for a bit of calculation.

My preferred at home brew is a Cuban espresso under the brand name of Cafe Bustelo. I don’t drink it as espresso; I just brew it normally and it provides a rich and flavorful cup, as well as more of the health benefits for which coffee is known, than a more lightly roasted bean. I purchase a 10-oz brick at the local Wal*Mart for $2.98. No spreadsheet is required to know that brewing our own coffee at home is significantly less expensive than buying one out, from Starbucks or anyone else. But it wasn’t until I did the actual math that the shocking truth of the extravagant markup was revealed.

Each cup of my home brew, equivalent to the Grande-sized Starbucks coffee I purchase for $2.32, costs me $0.10 to make. Add $0.08 for the Stevia sweetener I have to purchase separately which Starbucks “gives” away at their mission control station for coffee perfection, and you get a comparable price of $0.18 for a cup of Joe’s Joe. The Starbucks Grande brewed coffee is packing a staggering 1187% markup. Granted, I am not including the costs of electricity used by my coffee maker, or the prorated costs of the coffee maker itself, nor the intangible value of not having to actually do the work, but I think the point is made. Allowing oneself to be seduced by the sultry tones of the mythical sea creature perched atop the ubiquitous Starbucks establishment is exposing oneself to flagrant retail inflation on an astonishingly affordable product.

Perhaps once the heavy veil of austerity has been lifted from my eyes, I will again indulge in overpriced coffee, but as Thomas Paine famously wrote in his letter to the Abbe Raynal; “The mind once enlightened cannot again become dark.” 

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