Saving Pennies or Dollars? Grinding Your Own Coffee

saving pennies or dollarsSaving Pennies or Dollars is a new semi-regular series on The Simple Dollar, inspired by a great discussion on The Simple Dollar’s Facebook page concerning frugal tactics that might not really save that much money. I’m going to take some of the scenarios described by the readers there and try to break down the numbers to see if the savings is really worth the time invested.

Erica said, I’ve been grinding my own coffee for years. I usually grind enough for a few days at once, then just use that and grind again. Recently, my mother-in-law got one of those Senseo pots with the small coffee packs that make it really easy to make a cup. The coffee was pretty good (good enough for me!) so I’m wondering how it compares price-wise with grinding your own coffee.

This is almost exactly the same question that Sarah (my wife) was thinking about recently after visiting some of our extended family. My cousin had a Senseo (or some similar brand) and Sarah liked the coffee it made and the convenience of it. Sarah also grinds her own coffee.

So, to run the numbers, I asked Sarah for help. I had her choose the usual kind of whole-bean coffee that she buys (Eight O’Clock Coffee in bulk at Sam’s Club) and grind it up. She calculated that 0.25 ounces of ground coffee is enough for her to fill up her coffee cup. She can get forty ounces of coffee for $18, so this gives her a cost per cup of about $0.11 for just the coffee.

Obviously, if you were starting from scratch, you would have to pro-rate the cost of the coffee grinder (she uses this one, which costs $19) and the cost of the coffee pot (she uses a small inexpensive one that cost her about $10) and the filters (about $0.01 per cup if you buy in bulk). I would estimate that her final cost per cup using her current setup is about $0.13.

Now, what about Senseo?

For the maker itself, the best bargain I could find on Amazon was this one for $65. I’m sure they can be found a little cheaper by shopping around, perhaps as low as $50.

What about the coffee pods? Again, from Amazon, you can get 96 Senseo pods for $24.73. That’s almost exactly $0.25 per pod.

If you used the Senseo machine 5,000 times, you’d prorate the cost of the pot down to $0.01 per use, giving you a cost of $0.26 per cup with the Senseo.

To put it simply, grinding your own coffee is almost exactly half the price of using pods. If you’re much of a coffee drinker, this is a matter of saving dollars, not cents.

Of course, there is the question of convenience when you’re looking at things like this. Senseo pods are more convenient than grinding and using your own coffee.

I had Sarah time herself with coffee pot setup and grinding that she would do in a week and it worked out to seven minutes. Assuming she’s saving $0.13 per cup over Senseo and she’s drinking two cups a day, she’s saving $1.82 for seven minutes of effort, or an hourly savings of $15.60.

Sarah is going to stick with her usual plan of grinding coffee for her morning caffeine fix. Unless those seven minutes a week are vital to you, I recommend the same.

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  1. Des says:

    This is actually a fairly compelling argument in favor of those Senseo machines. Firstly, you have to count clean up time in your calculations. Secondly, while it is certainly cheaper to brew your own if you drink a lot of coffee, what if you only drink one cup a day? It would be wasteful to brew a full or even half pot if you didn’t want to drink it all – and it would likely encourage you to more than you other wise would have. This would be both more expensive, and would have a “crippling” effect on your health. Finally, if the convenience factor was what it took to turn a Starbucks-every-day drinker into a home brewer it would pay for itself very quickly. I just assumed those machines were super un-frugal, but they actually turned out to be cheaper than I thought.

  2. Tracy says:

    Not particularly helpfully, but I think that self-ground beans taste far better than from those machines.

    But sometimes inexpensive grinders don’t work very well (they can ‘burn’ the beans which destroys the flavor or they can grind unevenly which can also affect the quality of the actual brew) – if Sarah is actually preferring the taste of one of the pod coffees, and not just the convenience, she may actually be having some issues with her grinder.

  3. Baley says:

    Or buy the whole beans and grind them in a batch at the store where you buy them for free! Saves the time and hassle of using a grinder every morning and makes each pot of coffee virtually painless. The Senseo machine wouldn’t be worth it for me.

  4. Greg says:

    why not simply buy ground coffee? it’s about the same price as coffee beans, and keeps its flavour very well if stored in the freezer in an airtight bag.

  5. Tracy says:

    @Baley and Greg

    Well, it actually has the same issue with the pods, but coffee starts to stale the second it’s ground and a lot of people can really taste the difference in the finished product. I can – depending on the quality of the beans, the difference can be small, but it’s still there.

  6. Stephen says:

    @Baley & @Tracy
    There’s definitely a difference in taste, but it really only starts to be noticeable (for me at least) after a few days. I grind just enough (approximately) coffee at the local grocery store once a week and transfer the ground coffee to a cheap, air-tight sealing container. Since I’m going to the store once a week anyway, this saves time without sacrificing much quality — but I admit that’s a pretty subjective opinion :)

    For me though, the real problem with PODs and the various coffee machines that the PODs are easy (and fun) enough that many people use them just because they can. If you’re brewing a pot of coffee for guests, only a few will want coffee — but if everyone can make their own individual cup, almost everyone will (at least, that’s my mother-in-law’s experience), which means that those PODs go quite quickly if you people over often. It may be worth it to you, but it seems a lot more expensive at that point.

  7. Riki says:

    Also, the PODs and similar products (like K-cups, for example) produce a lot of garbage that just ends up in the landfill.

    We have a Keurig machine at work but we use a re-usable K-cup with our own grounds. It’s almost as convenient but nothing to throw away. All that plastic really bothered me.

  8. Stephanie says:

    Came to say what Riki said – the amount of waste in those pods is overwhelming. One cup of coffee, and the little pod is in a landfill for 1000 years. I think you can recycle them if you clean them out, but the reality is that most people will just toss them. I would pay double to avoid that.

  9. Anna says:

    I bought a senseo coffee maker at Walmart for $9, thats cheaper than any coffee maker, pod or not that I could find. The senseo pods are basically no waste because the filter is the same type of material a paper filter would be but only encases the individual amount of coffee used for a 12 oz. cup.
    I could easily justify one because it’s perfect for just myself, it saves me time and money from either making my own coffee or buying $1 cup at McDonalds. I am okay with an $0.26 cup of coffee versus a $0.13 cup of coffee. I only drink 1 cup a day and not daily. The 3-4 cups a week I drink are costing me an extra $27 a year? I look at it as saving me $128 a year versus buying it at McDonalds or even more at some place like Starbucks.
    I could drink free coffee from work and really save myself a lot of money but to me the disgusting taste of cheap, over brewered burnt coffee isn’t worth it.
    Saving dollars isn’t always worth the cost of happiness.

  10. Dave says:

    Who grinds their own coffee for the price savings? I think that whole bean is often more expensive than ground where I live since the cheaper stuff is usually only sold pre-ground, while high end beans are only sold whole.

  11. Michele says:

    I use the Keurig K-cup insert and grind my own beans…then I have the best of both worlds. One cup when I want it, and freshly ground beans. I like the dark roast, my husband likes the light roast, so we both get what we want, within 1 minute of rising in the morning…or a nice cuppa tea in the afternoon, or hot water instantly for a cup of miso soup on a cold evening as a drink…the convenience is awesome.

  12. Telephus44 says:

    Another fan of the re-usable K-cup here. I like the K-cups, but they are very expensive (best deal I can find is to buy them at Bed Bath and Beyond using the 20% coupon). I also don’t like the waste factor of all that plastic! I’m the only one in my house that drinks coffee on a regular basis, so I don’t like making a whole pot for just me.

    I have to add that my Keurig brewer was a gift, so I don’t have to factor that in (thanks Mom!).

  13. Gretchen says:

    Why isn’t preground considered? We buy the Aldi store brand- not that I consider myself a
    Connoisseur.

    I’ve never understood the single cup makers (so much waste!) since a Cup of coffee is, I belive, only 6 oz.

  14. Gretchen says:

    I also have a friend who roasts her own beans.

  15. Rosanne says:

    For most coffee drinkers, taste is paramount. I would suggest that your wife buy a better quality coffee maker. A cheap $10 version does not have a heating element that takes it to the proper temperature. Either that or use a stove top perc version (the convenience factor is out the window with that choice though). If you are grinding your own beans, take a quick glance at them before you grind. If you see any that are lighter than the others, throw them away. Americas test kitchen did a comparison of coffee brands and even cheaper brands can be better than the high quality expensive brands if those few beans are thrown away. If you made a pot of coffee using only the lighter beans that did not get fully roasted, it is like drinking the sourest, worst coffee imaginable.

  16. CB says:

    The pod beans might just be a type of coffee your wife prefers. Costco sells some excellent South American and African brands that I buy as whole beans. These are often equivalent to beans that I can buy at a fine coffee retailer (Peets).

    The pods add more packaging and waste disposal to the equation.

  17. Jules says:

    Maybe I’m a coffee snob, but here’s my take: a Senseo/Nespresso/similar device is a “special” coffee machine. If we were to buy one, it’d be because we want cafe-quality espressos and lattes and stuff like that at home. Grinding your own beans for your morning cuppa joe should be compared with the cost of driving to Starbucks and picking up a cup of coffee. I would agree that, no matter how you look at it, grinding your own saves big bucks, but to me it’s not quite and oranges-oranges comparison.

    Nespresso pods, by the way, are fully recyclable.

  18. Stephanie says:

    I can’t believe I posted earlier and didn’t mention Tim Hortons coffee. They finally deliver to the US!! I cross the border quite often so I stock up, but now you can order online in an emergency. :) Much more expensive than buying locally (buying in Canada $0.22 USD; with shipping to US $0.30 per serving) – but worth every penny for me. I have never found a coffee that I like even close to as much.

  19. Kate says:

    Any post about coffee should include the words “fair-trade” and “shade grown”. Which ups the cost, but paying living wages and conserving natural resources should be included in the equation.

  20. deRuiter says:

    If you want to conserve natural resources don’t buy anything with hoardes of little plastic cups! Coffee grounds and the paper filters can go right into the compost heap, ditto loose tea, teabags and the paper tags. Plastic cups damage the environment, fill the landfills and don’t rot.

  21. MP3 says:

    Argh!!! All that plastic (made with petroleum), ending up in landfills. Using up oil resources to produce it and ship it. For what – convenience?
    What a mess we’re leaving our kids.

    Rant over. I have a nice, 1970s stove top Corning coffee pot I got for $2 at a garage sale, grind my own coffee beans, and in 10 minutes on the stove get the best cup of coffee.

  22. lynda grant says:

    Trent: thanks for the series, as deruiter mentions at #20 there is also a “green” cost. it would be great if every time you do this type of article if you could include a paragraph on the various green/conservation options etc and their costs and savings. I’m sure it would generate a lot of comments and opinions and would help those of us who would like to be more ‘green” but have to battle the expense/convience etc of that option.

  23. Geoff Hart says:

    I’m not a true coffee snob (more of a wannabe), but the first time I tasted really good coffee, I learned that life is too short to drink bad coffee. My wife and I buy organic fair trade Sumatran beans (more expensive than the regular Columbian, but we can afford it and it’s for a good cause), and we grind them fresh every morning.

    We brew them in a French press. It takes about 6 minutes in total, and a lot of the work can be done while I’m doing something else; for example, I gather my morning vitamins while the beans are grinding, and put away last night’s dishes from teh drying rack and prepare my bagel during the 4 minutes it takes the coffee to steep.

    It’s well worth the effort: the only downside is that the improvement in taste is so dramatic we now have a hard time drinking standard percolator coffee.

    A friend who is a real coffee snob makes the best coffee I’ve ever tasted, but he spent more than $1000 on his setup. Far more than I’d pay, but he gets his money’s worth in enjoyment. Different strokes!

  24. Mark Gavagan says:

    I agree with Geoff Hart (comment #23, but still #1 in your hearts) that a French press is inexpensive can make delicious full-flavored coffee (and tea).

  25. Emma says:

    Senseo coffee? How fresh it is? Not much, no smell when brewing. Not a choice for me. Trader Joe and Costco have a great selaction of real beans, organic, frash. Many stores would grind them for you for free. Get good quality of something that use drink a lot. For your own health.

  26. Matt says:

    I was going to post, but Post #11 beat me to it! Best of both worlds, indeed! I drink one cup of coffee a day, at most. I love my Keurig.

  27. HonestB says:

    We got an Aeropress a little while ago, I find it’s pretty convenient (cleanup is super easy, make one cup at a time) with the ability to put any coffee I want in it. I find I can get consistently good coffee more easily than I could with a French Press.

  28. Denise says:

    I had crunched and considered almost the exact same numbers with our Keurig. However, something I have not seen anyone talk about (did not read all the comments) is the waste factor. My husband works nights, sleeps during the day. We are not HUGE coffee drinkers. I like a few cups in the morning. DESPISE the taste of ‘burned’ coffee or coffee left in pot too long or warmed over/microwaved coffee(don’t know many who do). SO, after the first cup or two, I would end up throwing out a pot I had ‘good intentions’ of drinking. Only to make another one mid afternoon, to throw part of THAT away. To make another pot for hubby when HE wakes up and another later for his thermos. Have TRIED making only 2 cups, have bought smaller 4 cup pot…only to need a larger one on weekends, with company, etc. My question to you is: can you effectively factor in WASTE? If not, why not? Restaurants do it all the time. I just don’t know how to do this. Thanks.

  29. Tracy says:

    Grrrr, I hate moderation

    @Denise

    I brew my coffee a single cup at a time and that works out perfectly for me.

    Google “Melitta U S A Inc 640007 Perfect Brew Filter Cone” it’s a basically a little plastic cone you set on top of your coffee cup to brew a single cup at a time. It’s very inexpensive (I’ve seen them as low as 2-3 dollars, although usually around 5-7 and they basically last forever. You can also get it in porcelain if you’re concerned about plastics, although it’s slightly more) and you just put in a filter, add the coffee grounds and pour boiling water over it. With freshly ground beans, it makes a really delicious cup of coffee.

    You do need to use boiling water for it, but it doesn’t really take much more time than a coffee machine. (It takes less time if you have an electric kettle to boil the water)

  30. DJ says:

    Each pod represents a piece of trash. We should also consider the over packaging of the product. Agreed with #20 and #22, there is more of a price to pay than just the cost of the machine and pods.

  31. Denise says:

    @ Tracy, THANKS for this tip. I’ve seen those things but didn’t know if they really worked or not. With your recommendation, I will give one a try. Thanks!!!

  32. kristine says:

    Denise,
    You can also try a good coffee-maker that brews into a thermal carafe. Our coffee stays piping hot for 5 hours, but does not continue to “cook” on the bottom. It stays fresh for about 18 hours, but you’d have to heat it up. Not for a purist, but not bad, either!

  33. Mark says:

    These “saving pennies or dollars” articles are so mind-numbingly boring that I think I am finally out of here.

  34. valleycat1 says:

    I only occasionally drink a cup of coffee, but want that one to be a good one! We have one of the cones (Tracy), but have switched to the coffee bags (similar to tea bags) – coffee is just as good and stays fresher because they’re all sealed up until used. I use Folgers, but there are other brands out there too. Handy to have for friends/family who want the random cup.

  35. Georgia says:

    I dislike the Keurig. I used each cup 2 times. I do not like very strong coffee. In fact, my coffee shop buddies say they will never drink it at my house. Folger’s calls for 1/2 cup coffee grounds for a 10 cup pot. I use less than 1/4 cup and it is more than strong enough for me. I’m not a great lover of coffee, just a person who enjoys it.

  36. PK says:

    I use the Keurig My K-cup which still lets me grind my own grinds. Perfect compromise.

  37. Ed says:

    I’m sorry has anyone mentioned the health factor of paper filters verses the “gold” baskets? Certainly something to factor in if you value your health.

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