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.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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