In our never-ending quest to frugalize our lives, Mr. Frugalwoods and I have slashed spending on groceries, insourced just about everything humanly possible, and stuck to our $0 entertainment budget, among other measures. But the one luxurious, gaping, profligate outlier has always been decent coffee beans. Nay, dare I say superb coffee beans. We’d rather drive a 19-year-old car than give up our organic, fair trade, small batch, roasted-to-perfection $10.68/pound coffee beans. Folks, we have our priorities straight.
For us, coffee is a lifeblood of civilization, a symbol of decadence, and a daily ritual. We each drink exactly one cup a day–together during our morning routine–and it’s a mainstay in our diet and our lives. Going out for coffee on the weekends used to be a regular treat for us and, since we’ve given up all meals out, we instead brew fine beans at home. But just how good is our coffee? Could we be victims of–gasp–marketing? Consumerism?!? UNCONSCIOUS SPENDING?!?! The horror. And so, for the sake of science, humanity, and frugal weirdos everywhere, we decided to take the plunge and try… Costco coffee.
It Started Out Innocently Enough…
This past week we were on our traditional once-a-month Friday evening sojourn to Costco, merrily cruising through the near-empty store (gotta love Friday nights at the Costco!). We don’t impulse buy even at the grocery store because, frankly, it’s dangerous. Downright risky, I tell you.
Consider this a PSA for frugal weirdos: One minute you’re judiciously stocking your cart with the cheapest fruit on earth (bananas) and the next, there’s a bag of Cheetos in your hand. Stay strong! Follow your list! Don’t succumb to the temptation of “maybe we need this” or “this might be a good price” or “this looks yummy, I will eat it now!”
Back to our fateful Costco trip last week… I was selecting cartons (yes, cartons plural) of organic milk (Babywoods likes milk, or more accurately, pregnant me likes milk) when I suddenly turned around and couldn’t find Mr. FW… suspicious at best. I peered down the aisle and was agog to see him pawing over an item that was most certainly not on our list (and never had been): coffee beans. Concerned for his mental health, I scurried to his side to investigate. To my utter shock, he suggested we buy a bag of this stuff (specifically Costco’s Kirkland Brand Columbian Supremo Whole Bean Medium Roast Coffee) and try it out.
The Great Frugalwoods Coffee Taste Test of 2015
My sweet, scheming husband reasoned that we’ve been buying our expensive coffee on autopilot for the past year or so and that we don’t have a baseline comparison for knowing just how much better it is than, say, the Costco brand. I was skeptical, to put it mildly, but the difference in price ($5.19 per pound vs. our highfalutin $10.68 per pound) was enough to pique my curiosity. Always up for a frugal challenge, I accepted his posit and allowed the interloping coffee into our cart (with reservations, might I add).
Loathe as I am to admit it, coffee has long been the lone hold-out in our otherwise maximally frugalized budget. We like it, we consider it a priority purchase, and it’s something that brings joy into our lives. But can we quantify just how much joy? And can we attain an analogous level of joy for vastly less? Only an experiment of rigorous intensity can answer these pressing inquiries.
Woe betides the day when our world is without coffee, but, will we feel that same despondency with cheaper, Costco coffee? Being a ruthlessly efficient and precise person, Mr. FW cleverly devised a blind taste test for us yesterday morning. He brewed one cup of our traditional expensive coffee and one of our new Costco coffee. I was taking Frugal Hound on her morning constitutional while he did this, so I had no way of knowing which was which. Upon my return, he accosted me (charmingly, of course) with both steaming mugs and forced me to imbibe (I live a tough life I tell ya).
Sidenote for all you coffee-prep aficionados out there: we use this Melitta cone for our pour-over method, which we find delivers a fresh, full-bodied flavor since there are few barriers between you and your coffee. We also like the fact that we can make our exact desired number of cups. We grind our beans using this grinder, which isn’t top of the line but does the job pretty well. To heat our water, we use this electric kettle, which brings the water to the desired 200 degrees (optimal for coffee brewing). For all you non coffee-prep aficionados, don’t laugh at us! We take our brewing seriously ;)!
I first sniffed each and was able to identify them correctly by scent. Then, I took a sip from my great trash find pirate mug, which yielded my initial proclamation that this was the expensive coffee. To keep the experiment in accordance with the highest standards of scrupulous excellence, I drank some seltzer in between coffee samples.
Then, I went for our great trash find blue bird mug and revised my initial proclamation. Upon first swallow, I knew without a doubt that the blue bird mug contained the first-rate substance.
However, the difference between the two, while apparent, wasn’t as pronounced as I thought it would be. The Costco brew is clearly a slightly less flavorful, less full-bodied roast, but, is the expensive roast actually twice as scrumptious, as the price would indicate? Methinks not.
I’m quite surprised by our findings and quite glad we conducted this experiment. Since Costco only sells in one quantity–gigantic–we now have 3 pounds worth of beans to help us make our final determination. Although the taste difference isn’t astronomical, it is present. And, we’re not interested in frugalizing to the point of hardship. Rather, we’re on the lookout for opportunities to extract the same, or similar, benefits from cheaper options.
Question Every $ You Spend (no, really)
One of the reasons we’ve been so successful in living the uber frugal life is that we’re willing to challenge every single aspect of our spending (sidenote: I’m continually inspired by Budgets Are Sexy’s “Challenge Everything” philosophy). No spending is off-limits for us, except for health and dental care–sorry folks, not going to DIY a tooth extraction anytime soon.
I heretofore surmised that the final frontier of frugality for us was having Mr. FW cut my hair–which he’s done twice now to stellar result and I highly doubt I’ll ever go back to a salon. But oh, how wrong I was. I now see the error of my ways and I know, in my frugal heart, that the final frontier of frugality for the Frugalwoods family is coffee.
Calling into question all of our expenditures enabled us to rocket our savings up to over 70% (which doesn’t even include maxing out our 401ks or our mortgage principal). This approach has also caused us to prioritize everything in our lives. We buy so little that each thing we do buy gets used, eaten, and enjoyed. Without waste, we’re happier. Without excessive shopping, spending, or debt, we’re at peace. Without the pressure to keep up and impress, we’re liberated. And most importantly, we have options.
Our freedom from the consumer carousel means we’re able to chart a future that’s unimaginable to most people. We don’t spend a lot of money or buy a lot of stuff, but that’s because we don’t need it or want it.
How Much Do We Stand To Save?
Frugality is not about a drive for perfection, it’s about a drive for savoring life to the fullest while spending the leastest. We’re not cheap and we don’t live an uncomfortable, curmudgeonly existence. But, we also don’t waste money in areas that aren’t important to us. So just how much money are we talking about in this coffee venture?
The total we’d save over the course of a year by switching to the Costco brand is: $214.11. In a year, we’d spend $416.52 on the expensive beans (1.5 pounds purchased every two weeks at $10.68/lb) vs. $202.41 on the Costco version (1.5 pounds purchased every two weeks at $5.19/lb).
While this isn’t an earth-shattering amount, it also ain’t nothing. The key is that these savings are coupled with all of our other extreme frugality savings mechanisms. When I take into account the amounts we save by not buying clothes, by eating $0.10 breakfasts, by not paying to board Frugal Hound, by doing our own house work/repairs/renovations, and so much more, the total savings climb to tens of thousands of dollars.
This coffee undertaking represents a mere $214.11 of that total, but it all adds up. We all have our sacred cows of spending that we can’t fathom not paying for. But what happens if we put those cows on the proverbial chopping block? Doing this has been an amazing experience and we’ve been shocked to discover how painless, and liberating, it is to give up these tertiary things in our lives. Everybody needs to find peace in their lives through one vehicle or another, and for us, it’s frugality.
It’s very easy to ignore seemingly insignificant line items, like coffee, which is what we’ve been doing for over a year. Not sure why it has taken us so long to question this expense, but it’s a great example of why constant vigilance with regard to spending will always yield greater savings. Every single time.
I’ll let you know our final decision after we’ve gone through our month’s worth of Costco coffee, but I have a feeling we won’t migrate back to the pricey beans.
Update: find out what coffee bean decision we made in Updates On The Lives Of Some Frugal Weirdos.