Money-saving secrets at Starbucks

Money-saving secrets at Starbucks

The coffee chain is hiking prices on its fancy drinks, but these insider tricks can save you cash.

Starbucks announced Wednesday that they’d be raising prices soon, apparently due to higher bean costs. “Over the last six months a highly speculative green coffee market and dramatically increased commodity costs have completely altered the economic and financial picture of many players in the coffee industry,” said Howard Schultz, the chairman, president and CEO of Starbucks.

“And while many, if not most, coffee roasters and retailers began raising prices months ago, we have thus far chosen to absorb the price increases ourselves and not pass them on to our customers. But the extreme nature of the cost increases has made it untenable for us to continue to do so and we have been forced to take the steps we announced today,” Schultz added.

Not everything’s going up: Starbucks expects to maintain its popular $1.50 tall brewed coffee, but will probably raise the price of more labor-intensive and larger-sized beverages.

But if you want to save some bucks at Starbucks, there’s no shortage of official advice everyone already knows …

• Get a free Starbucks card that earns you free drink customization, free coffee and tea refills, and a free drink on your birthday.

• Keep your Starbucks cup and bring it back at any time for 50-cent coffee refills.

• Bring your own reusable cup and Starbucks will nick 10 cents off the price in recognition of your eco-consciousness. And as regulars learned long ago: If you order a tall drink and bring a very big reusable cup, you get some extra beverage for free.

• Use their free (for two hours) Wi-Fi to answer email, surf and connect online.

But then there are the secrets Starbucks doesn’t want its baristas to reveal. Here’s what one barista in the southeastern U.S. — who wishes to remain anonymous — told us…

‘Poor man’s latte’

If you want an iced latte but don’t have latte cash on hand, “You can order the espresso over ice in a big cup,” suggests our barista. “Then you can walk right over to our condiment bar and use our carafes of whole milk, half and half, and nonfat.”

While the prices vary according to Starbucks and state — and they’re going up yet again — our barista says, “It’s way, way cheaper. You’ll save a lot of money.” In general, she says, only about “one customer every couple hours” has figured out how to buy straight coffee and espresso and use the free condiments to mix their own beverages — and they never get called on it. “We can’t do anything about,” she says. “What are we going to say? Don’t use our milk and syrups that we put out for everyone?”

Drink what you want, be careful what you eat

Customers know the drinks are brewed right in front of them, but what about those muffins and cookies in the glass display? “The food gets delivered to us every morning, frozen from the factory,” says the barista. “Our seasonal pastries are really good — pumpkin cream cheese muffins at Halloween and peppermint brownies at Christmas.”

But, she says, “There’s no point buying bananas or bagels from us, because they’re cheaper elsewhere and taste better.” In fact, in many big cities, cunning street vendors set up their fruit stands as close to a busy Starbucks as they can. Look for them.

Working at Starbucks but not for Starbucks

In the past, some self-employed coffee addicts spent hours at Starbucks, which became their home office away from home. Now with the free unlimited Wi-Fi, that’s likely to happen even more. Starbucks frowns on this but doesn’t do much to stop it — especially if you follow these four simple rules:

• Go to the same store each time, tip the baristas well so they ignore your extended stay.

• Refresh your coffee every couple of hours (for either 50 cents or free, but still leave a modest tip).

• Don’t take business calls inside the store.

• Don’t sit in the comfiest chair or seize the best table.

Also realize that with free Wi-Fi is an invitation to high-tech scammers who now see easy pickings. At least, that’s what some experts are warning. So be careful out there.

One thing that Starbucks does want you to know

Starbucks will soon launch an in-house Digital Network, being billed as a place for customers to share information, download the occasional free song and get free premium content. The company is teaming up with Yahoo! to allow Wi-Fi users access to sites they’d otherwise have to pay for — such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. It will also feature content from USA Today, Zagat and others, as well as films from SnagFilms, which has an online library of more than 1,600 documentaries.

Something to occupy your time while you drink your self-serve, discount iced latte.

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