How a $20 Investment Saved Me $2,000

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On the morning of the Fourth of July, an incident occurred in my kitchen that first caused me great aggravation—and that later, after I’d had a cup of coffee and could view the situation with some perspective, gave me reason to smile and give myself a little pat on the back. So what happened?

My coffee maker broke. A few moments after I’d filled it up with beans and water and clicked the On button, water pooled out all over the counter and a mini-waterfall dripped down the cabinets trickling to the kitchen floor.

Once cleanup was complete, I looked the coffee maker over and decided a fix-it job was out of my league. It wasn’t a matter of some snap needing to be reattached, or a cup not sitting the right way. Water leaked from somewhere deep within the coffee maker’s plastic body. I couldn’t see what was wrong, let alone determine whether it was fixable. So I junked it, and allowed myself to indulge in a period of irritability—both because I hate when things break (and I have to replaced them) and because I was without coffee—that was mixed with something close to mourning. Later, after I’d actually had a cup of coffee and could think more clearly, the aggravation subsided completely, and it was replaced with something closer to pride.

The thought occurred to me that we’d gotten this coffee maker about the time my wife and I were married, eight years ago. I’m not the biggest coffee drinker. I almost never drink the stuff after noon. For me, coffee wasn’t even a daily habit until I became a father, and, sleep-deprived parents that we were (and still are, pretty much), my wife and I both succumbed to the crutch of caffeine—Diet Coke for her, coffee for me.

Years ago, when I was heading off to college, my uncle—a doctor—told me to stay away from coffee. It’s funny: You’d think he would have been warning me against overdoing beer or worse. But, having picked up a nasty coffee habit himself in med school, he was trying to save me from relying on substance he wished he could go without. (He was probably also shooting for some advice I actually might follow—because drinking beer in college was inevitable.) For years after college, I shocked colleagues and friends when I mentioned I didn’t drink coffee. The absence of this habit is almost unheard of in a field like journalism.

Eventually, I gave in, but soon realized that the costs of buying single cups at coffee shops add up quickly. So I typically made mine at home—an extremely simple, no-brainer of a money saver every cheapskate knows about. Like I said, I’m not the biggest coffee drinker, but over the last eight years, factoring in the times I had my coffee at a diner or somewhere away from home, I estimate that I made coffee with my coffee maker about 250 times a year. How much less did it cost to make my coffee at home? Even after factoring in the costs of beans, filters, and electricity, a very safe estimate would be $1 a cup. Meaning: I easily saved $250 a year, which over eight years adds up to $2,000. That’s two grand that otherwise would have disappeared for the sake of convenience and habit. And that’s two grand I’m certainly glad to have right now.

After doing this bit of mental math, my irritation over the broken coffee maker disappeared. Sure, it would have been nice had I been able to get a few more—or a few more thousand—brews out of the old Black & Decker coffee maker. But, all things said, I’d gotten my money’s worth out of the $20 machine—which, come to think of it, was a gift. Bonus!

It’s amazing how your point of view can change, once you’ve taken the time to step back and think about things. For those accustomed to their morning caffeine, coffee can help this process.

Speaking of which, where did I get my coffee on the morning of this mild money-saving epiphany? I called my wife, who was out for a morning walk, and told her about the Great Fourth of July Coffee Maker Meltdown. On her way home, dear that she is, my wife bought me a new coffee maker. New investment cost: $16. No fancy gadgets or anything, but it makes pretty darn good coffee.

Here’s hoping for another 8 (or 80) good years.