Tag Archives: Starbucks

The Cost of a Coffeehouse Office

You would think that someone who lived alone wouldn’t need to get away to get things done. But when it comes to creative writing, grading class assignments, or even prepping my courses, there’s nothing worst for me than being home alone.

Several years ago when I worked from home, it was a little easier. My house was one level, but I had a bonus room. I knew the day I decided to start my own company that I would have to put mechanisms in place to help me be disciplined enough to work from home (can I get an Amen for other entrepreneurs out there?). So for me, going upstairs into the bonus room was treated like going uptown to an office building. Each day, while taking the four steps up, I pretended to be getting into my car; the top opening of the room I imagined as the door into my company; and the entire upstairs was the various areas of my office.

Now, my Saturday morning or early afternoon office for what’s now become my “side” job (having taken my career in another different direction) is at the same table in the corner at the Panera just two miles from my house. If it’s in the evenings, I usually opt for the Starbucks two blocks further. Panera is brighter during the day, with lots of windows where the sunshine streams in. Starbucks is a little darker, which is perfect for late evenings. Don’t get me wrong, those places certainly come with their own distractions. Panera is usually teeming with families with young children in the morning and youth sports teams in the afternoon. And Starbucks tends to play host to groups of college students, wanna-be authors, and awkwardly paired couples, perhaps meeting up for the first time. But those distractions seem different in one of these places than what surrounds me at home these days.

After choosing to move closer to my full-time job in a suburban town just outside the city I used to live in, I thought distractions would be the least of my worries. But with a rental house that’s just the second one off the busy main street through the neighborhood; coupled with homes that are way too close together for my comfort (something I won’t be looking for when the time comes to buy again), and dealing with what often sounds like the loud echoing sounds of everything from garage door openings to lawn mowers going, and dogs barking at anything that moves; even the sound of birds chirping outside my window can become an irritant at certain times; especially when I’m trying to concentrate.

And then there’s the television. When it’s off, it taunts me to turn it on “just for a little while.” It lies to me, and tells me I have the power to turn it back off just as easily as I turned it on. But when it’s on, it drains my energy and sucks any semblance of time from the air, with each passing 30-minute show, especially the weekend marathon of home & garden shows, and 24-hour news channels.

So that brings me back to getting out of the house and hanging out at Panera.

With all of those embedded cameras in the ceiling, that most visitors to a place like this would probably never take note of, it becomes impossible; and quite honestly, probably rude, to take up real estate for hours at a time, without contributing financially to the business…if for no other reason than the fact that I frequently take advantage of the convenience of using their wifi to update all my phone apps!

So how do I maintain a reasonable budget during my frequent visits? Well, first of all, I became a member of their Rewards program many years ago — the same day I realized I had taken several meetings at the same Panera one month when I first launched my company. I knew that was just the beginning. There’s always a reward at the end of a certain number of visits. Saving even just two dollars for a free cup of coffee or bagel is worth it! Second, fortunately my sisters are wise to me, and often give me Panera (or Starbucks) gift cards for my birthday and Christmas. One of the biggest challenges of hanging out at Panera is the fact that they are NOT the cheapest food option in town. I have to be mindful of what I order and have learned how to make the most of it.

Here are a few of the things I do.

If you’re a coffee drinker, then Panera is a better option than Starbucks because you get free refills; and can even switch to decaf when you’ve energized enough for one day. Starbucks charges, even if it’s at a discounted price. The same goes with their tea and soft drinks. There’s nothing wrong with drinking water and forgo the additional cost of adding a drink to your order. If you love their bagels, don’t ask for the cream cheese. The butter is free, and the cost of that small cream cheese container is almost as much as buying an entire tub of it at your local grocery store. With the side items, I always ask for the bag of chips. They’re perfect to throw into your purse or leave in the car for times when you’re running around doing errands, and your stomach starts growling. Keeps you from taking that trip through a drive-thru and spending more money.

When I do order a meal, I ask for the free additions; things that help to fill you up. Most people aren’t aware that you can ask for extra lettuce on your sandwich at no additional cost. The same goes for your salad. I never order a whole salad. Instead, I choose the much cheaper half salad, and then I ask for extra lettuce. They don’t mind giving you (most) extra veggies, but the protein (meat, cheese, egg) will cost you a little more. When I started using the kiosk, I discovered there are several other items you can add — kale, apple chips, cabbage, corn — that don’t cost you any more. The end result is a fuller salad that is more in line with the high price you pay. And equally important, you won’t be hungry an hour later while you’re still working on your latest novel!

Three Reasons Why You Should Join Rewards Programs

I’m sitting in a Starbucks, back in my SC hometown where I like to visit during the first weeks of summer. I just enjoyed lunch on Starbucks, including a Turkey Rustico Panini and sweet tea. Yes, I said lunch ON Starbucks, not just “in” Starbucks.

It’s been almost a year since I signed up for their Rewards program. And while I’m still trying to figure out exactly how their Bonus Stars program works, one thing that works for me is the birthday gift they load onto the card each year! So today, I had a FREE sandwich and a discounted drink to accompany my hang time at the restaurant, catching up on email and social media stuff.

I have often talked about the “rewards” that come with signing up for Loyalty and Rewards Programs; especially with places that you already support. But even with places you don’t normally shop, receiving a freebie just for having a birthday is a great excuse to try something new, or just enjoy a treat at a place you perhaps would otherwise never have visited.

Monday was my birthday. But my celebration started a week earlier. Though I’m a huge supporter of certain rewards programs, it was one of my sisters who turned me on to a number of restaurant programs I’d been missing out on. Two years ago I signed up for Red Robin’s birthday club and started enjoying a FREE burger (which comes with fries) for my birthday each year. I love their program because I don’t have to eat-in to take advantage of it. Not so with Applebees, whose free dessert I have missed two years in a row. But I did take advantage of a FREE Honeybaked Ham sandwich I grabbed on my way to the movies (aren’t large purses the best?), and went to Buffalo Wings after church last weekend, enjoying a FREE Shareable, their fancy word for Appetizer. An yeah, they did make money on us for lunch, but you don’t have to give in to that. Just go with some friends after work and enjoy an appetizer for FREE! Plus, shortly after that visit, they sent me another email offering me free wings to complete a survey about my previous visit. Who wouldn’t want to take advantage of that??

I had a meeting at Panera a week ago, and took advantage of the FREE birthday pastry that day. But I missed signing up for Jersey Mike’s Subs in time (they require two weeks in advance of your birthday), so my FREE sub sandwich treat will have to wait until next year. Again, you don’t have to make the same mistake. Sign up today! What still awaits me in my email is a FREE breakfast at IHOP, a FREE scoop of ice cream at Marble Slab Creamery, and an email from another organization listing other deals I didn’t even know about, including a FREE burger at Ruby Tuesdays and a complimentary steak dinner at Ponderosa Steakhouse.

Lest you think it’s all about the food (though I make no apologies for having various lunches and dinners taken care of during this vacation time period), there are also numerous other stores where you can take advantage of their birthday club program. My favorite place to get gas near where I live is Thornton’s, where I regularly enjoy a three cent savings on gas each time I fill up (ditto with Kroger). But for my birthday, Thornton’s sent to my card a 10 cents off per gallon special discount. Perfect timing to use for my long my drive back to TN. And earlier today, I picked up a tea kettle from World Market that was similar to a more expensive one I’d wanted on an online site; only today I not only paid less for it, but was able to use my 15% birthday discount for the purchase. Now to be honest, I didn’t really consider this to be that great of a deal, since up until this year, World Market gave a TEN DOLLAR birthday coupon, which made going by there worth the trip. But now they’ve changed it, which will likely negatively impact the number of people they drive to their stores, since it’s hardly worth the special trip given compared to what they offered before. I only stopped because I was in the area.

I also discovered several websites that list a number of the places offering free or discounted items, meals, and services for your birthday. this time next year, my list will at least double with all that I’ve uncovered during this birthday celebration!

So why bother with loyalty and reward programs just for your birthday week?

First, most of them offer discounts on their products, meals and services year-round. If it’s something you would use, eat, or buy for a friend, why not save money on it?

Second, the majority of them have worthwhile Freebies to take advantage of during your birthday week; some up to a month to redeem.

Third, if you’re saving money on that overpriced, but still hugely popular Mocha Frappucino, you can spend that money on something else instead  — like, say an extra gallon of gas or half of next month’s water bill!

I’m just saying!

Sunday, June 8th…

Today is my birthday. Every day is someone’s birthday, so mine is no more special than the next person — except maybe to me, of course. But what I’ve learned over the past few years is that you’re not the only person who thinks they’re special on their birthday; and neither are your friends and family. Restaurants, retail spots, and even some companies are so interested in getting more of your business, that THEY think you’re special too! And for that, you can use it to your advantage in catching these raindrops in your water buckets.

I’ve shared how I feel about Rewards programs before. But in case you’re not sure — I LOVE THEM and encourage people to sign up for the most helpful, useful, and practical ones for you (not all programs are best options for everyone) — whether that’s saving money on your gas bill because of your food purchases; getting make-up products for free; or earning a free bagel at your favorite breakfast spot. But what I’m talking about today are all of those special meals and treats awarded to you just because it’s your birthday! There’s nothing you have to do (once you’ve signed up), except just wait every 365 days to cash in.

And while I haven’t even begun to take advantage of everything that’s out there for birthday anniversaries, the week leading up to my actual birth date has been filled with plenty of money-saving free stuff just there for my taking. You see, most companies give you anywhere from a week to a full month to cash in on your birthday surprises. And if you time them right, you could spend an entire day eating breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even snacks, out on the town, and never spend a dime.

Let me tell you a little of my adventure. Last year my sister, whose birth date is one week before mine, turned me on to Red Robin’s Birthday burger. Sign up for their program and they’ll send you an email every year with a coupon for one of their FREE burgers. And least you think it’s a trap to get you into the restaurant (which of course, that’s where they’d love for you to be) to get you to spend more money, this year we actually phoned our order in from the gym where we’d just worked out, and then went by to pick our sandwiches up on the way home. I had the Turkey burger and it was fabulous! One FREE dinner down; several other freebies to go.

A day before my Red Robin experience, I bought $10.31 worth of merchandise at the World Market, using my $10.00 birthday coupon. To get my money’s worth, I went straight to the Clearance table and picked up some items that were marked down 55%. So for just 31 centsI picked up some chips, popcorn, and Italian soda for the movie night we had planned. 

The next morning, on my way to go spend some time visiting my parents’ gravesite, I stopped by Starbucks and used my birthday rewards points for a Frappucino which came in handy sitting out in the hot sun. What was really cool about the Starbucks surprise is that they gave two rewards — one for in-store and another (which I haven’t claimed yet) for online! Later that afternoon, I stopped in on Honeybaked Ham to redeem my FREE birthday sandwich, which I saved until the next day, and ate for breakfast during my almost 500 miles travel back to TN. That saved me money and the time making an extra stop.

When I got back from SC, I had an email from Applebee’s waiting for me for a FREE birthday dessert — no purchase necessary (the best kind of “freebie!”). And if that wasn’t enough, one of my new favorite local places to get gas is Thorntons, who also loaded something on my car. I originally joined their rewards program for the free coffee. But since then, they’ve revamped things, and now, I get freebies dropped on my card a couple of times a year. This is my first “birthday year” with them, and what awaits me is 10 cents off per gallon of gas! It’s almost time for a fill up, because I of course made sure to run my tank down as low as possible before utilizing the birthday discount.

And that brings me to today; my actual birthday. Circumstances were such that I did not do anything with the friends who I would normally go out to eat with. So I treated myself to a FREE meal at iHop. Though the coupon called for a Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity pancake special, the fine print gave option to order anything up to the cash amount of the same. Always read the fine print. So I enjoyed a very filling plate of chicken and waffles for lunch. I could have ordered an omelette or even a salad too! The only money I spent was on the tip for the waitress who was a pleasure. But what sweetened the deal even more is that the receipt had a survey on the bottom that once I complete, I’ll get yet another coupon to return for one FREE short stack of pancakes. How great is that?!

So what’s the moral of this story? SIGN UP! Create a separate email account, if you will, so that you don’t have to be bothered with any extra emails throughout the year. But take advantage of these freebies — and sign up your significant others so they can take advantage of it too. Because when your birthday comes around, and you realize that if planned according, you could eat free for an entire day, or spread your fortune around for an entire week, it will start making sense and be more than worthwhile for you to do it. And if you don’t personally want to “eat,” all of this, treat a friend!

And to think, I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of all that’s out there. Next year, I’m going in search of more retailing opportunities! My philosophy is, “money saved is money earned for something else!”