Calculating the cost of k-cups

K-Cups Might KO Your Budget

by Rich Finzer


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Good luck has stung you. Generous Aunt Silvia sent you one of those countertop coffee makers that use those itsy-bitsy, pre-measured plastic containers to brew single cups of coffee known as k-cups. The box even included five sample k-cups added to the packaging back in 2011 when the machine rolled off some assembly line in China. Well, you've used up the samples and now it's time to purchase some "k-cups" for yourself. While you're driving to the store, be sure to stop by the bank and pick up some serious folding money because a single box of those little plastic coffee pellets is going to cost you the equivalent of $50 per pound. So, how's that good luck sting feeling right about now?

Let's assume you use two to three k-cups per day, meaning a box of 18 (typical package size) will nick you for about $17 per week. Over 52 weeks, that's a whopping $885 per year. And assuming the machine outlasts the warranty period typically associated with anything manufactured in China, next year it's going to cost you at least that much again. On second thought, skip the bank visit altogether. It might be cheaper in the long run to buy a coffee plantation in Colombia or build a heated greenhouse and raise coffee at home! But, take heart because it's going to get worse.

Let's break it down and do some math. Even at $10 per pound, your $885 in k-cup coffee could buy 88 pounds of coffee. Do you usually buy that much coffee over the course of a year? Yeah, me neither.

You're a hardcore frugalmeister and decide to circumvent the k-cup tyranny by purchasing a reusable/refillable stainless steel pellet at the upscale bathroom and bedroom boutique (you know the one). It's touted as a one-size-fits-all alternative, and it is. Problem is the newest single k-cup models weren't yet manufactured when it was designed, so it won't work in your machine. The one I purchased didn't work in mine either, but I was only out another $14.99, which was less than the price of another box of k-cups.

Those little plastic k-cups allow you to brew one cup at a time, but only one cup. So what happens if you have guests for dinner? Do you expect everyone to queue up and wait their turn to brew some coffee? Regular coffee grounds may safely be added to any compost pile, but those little plastic pellets cannot be recycled, meaning each will end up in the waste stream.

In the spirit of full disclosure, last Christmas I received a k-cup machine from my Aunt Dorothy. It was fun to use for about three weeks, but then I smartened up. I gave the machine and my remaining k-cups to someone I don't like very much. Maybe Aunt Dorothy isn't as fond of me as I thought.

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