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A Short Lesson over a Cup Of Coffee

How much would you pay for a cup of coffee? The cost of habits and indulgences has been discussed before, and the “Latte Factor” is practically legendary in personal finance circles, but even when being cost conscious, there are traps to avoid. Bottomless pits filled with quicksand… I mean coffee. ACCC’s credit counseling advice is to think twice about prices.

Our credit counseling advice is to carefully evaluate good deals.

Our credit counseling advice is to carefully evaluate good deals.

One of my indulgences is to jump in my car and drive a short ways and get myself a hot cup of coffee. I know, I can save the gas- and brew it cheaper at home, but I really need a break once in a while. I work at home, and need to stave off cabin fever every now and then.

Lately I’ve been heading over to McD’s for a coffee, since they have been running a $1 special on any size coffee, up to 20 oz. It’s good coffee, Newman’s organic, and fair traded, so I feel pretty good about this small purchase. I wondered if I could get my little indulgence ever cheaper….

Well, next door to McD’s is a 7 – 11, and for February, they had a 99 cents coffee special – for any size, up to 32oz!. So great for my budget! Well, that’s more caffeine than I should drink, but I could pour my own, just the way I like it, half decaf, or use any of their many flavors. Bingo! Cheaper coffee, and zero chance of the  counter person screwing up my order. (Believe me, it happens more often than you imagine….)

Here comes the “learnin’ part” of the story…

One bright Tuesday morning, I sauntered into the 7-11, and made my coffee just the way I like it. I got to the counter, with my $1.06 – tax you know…  and was told coffee in that size was now $1.59.  Yikes… I did not notice the poster was down. My bad –  I , and you need to keep close tabs on sale dates, and such. Since I already poured the coffee, I felt obligated to pay. And did. On the way out, I saw their other special – which was buying a travel mug, for $1.99, getting a free fill, and subsequent refills were .99.
I pondered over this major purchase and decided that the next day, I’d go for it – ensuring my coffee would stay .99 at least for the foreseeable future.
The following morning on my “break” I bought the travel mug, and got my coffee. I thought the coffee looked a little smaller than my usual cup.

Imagine my surprise that when measuring it, not only was it a 16oz mug, but that in retrospect, my McD’s coffee was 20 oz!  To quote my buddy Steve, “THAT’S HOW THEY GAFF YOU!” just like a fish. Hook me into cheaper coffee, sell me on the idea of a travel mug to keep the .99 price, and then sell me a smaller mug. I had essentially agreed to buy the same coffee at a higher price, and had paid for the privilege! D’OH!

Curses! Foiled again! Granted the difference isn’t going to hurt much, but darn, I was thinking frugally, and wham- surprise! Retail strategic marketing strikes again!

Be on the lookout for strategies deployed to separate you from your money. Of course, you don’t HAVE to shop there, or buy anything, but it’s little sneaky things like these that really get my kettle boiling….

Next… Franchisees and different prices, oh my!

If you’re struggling to pay off debt, ACCC can help. Schedule a free credit counseling session with us today. 


Andi is a Marketing Assistant at ACCC. He is passionate about supporting financial literacy efforts and helping to educate people on the Talking Cents blog!

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