Spending

How you can save money on coffee, gas, airfare, and other expenses in the new year

Illustration by Euralis Weekes

As the 2010s draw to a close, it's a good time to look back at how consumer spending habits have changed over the course of the past decade. Shoppers are spending more in some areas and less in others: They're shelling out extra at the airport and at their local coffee shops, for example, and often forgoing what used to be grocery staples like cow's milk in favor of nut and plant-based alternative milks.

Here are a few items and services that have changed in price over the last decade, and how you can save on them going forward.

Gas

Though gas prices vary by location and have fluctuated, the real price of gas is slightly lower than it was at the start of the decade. In 2018, the national average price for all grades of conventional gasoline was $2.70 per gallon, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That's compared to an average of $2.37 per gallon in 2009, or $2.84, adjusted for inflation.

Though there are more hybrid cars on the market, Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group, says that any shift to eco-friendly vehicles is still in its early stages and gas will continue to be a global commodity.

"I don't think those [gas] prices are getting affected by any notable changes in demand," says Boockvar. "That's something that evolves over time."

One way to cut down how much you spend on gas is to download gas saving applications like GasBuddy or Gas Guru, which can help you find the cheapest gas prices in your area. Also try to plan in advance so that you aren't searching for a gas station while your tank is on empty. Fuel up when your tank is at a quarter or even half full so that you have time to get to a station that offers lower prices.

Milk

The cost of cow's milk has also been declining. The average cost of a gallon of milk was $3.50 in January 2009, or $4.26 adjusted for inflation. That's compared to $2.91 per gallon in January 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Meanwhile, nondairy milks have become more popular, with sales rising by 51% in the last four years, according to Nielsen data. Oat milk, almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, and soy milk are all favorites among dairy-free consumers, not only for their health benefits but also because they tend to be environmentally friendly.

To save on whatever type of milk you prefer, make sure to evaluate the unit price, or cost per ounce, before you buy. All milks, whether they're dairy or plant-based, have an expiration date. Though larger sizes tend to cost less per ounce, if you purchase milk that will expire in just a few days, opt to purchase a quart instead of a gallon. That way you won't waste any milk.

If you prefer plant-based milks, it might be in your best interest to purchase your almond or cashew milk in bulk, as these products have a longer shelf life.

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Coffee

Over the past decade, the average cost of a pound of ground coffee has decreased by almost 30 cents. In 2009, you would've paid $3.66, or $4.46 adjusted for inflation. Today, you'll pay about $4.20 per pound.

While it costs less today to brew coffee at home than it did a decade ago, the price of buying a cup of coffee has increased. In 2018, Starbucks raised its prices at nearly 8,000 U.S. locations by anywhere from 10 cents to 20 cents. That's the third increase in a three year period.

On the high end, if you pick up a grande caramel macchiato from Starbucks every morning in New York City, you'll be spending close to $2,000 per year on coffee. Consider investing in a quality coffee maker or espresso machine, which costs more upfront but can help you save in the long run.

A DeLonghi Espresso Maker retails for $171.98 on Amazon and will help you make a fancy coffee drink at home. A 12-ounce bag of espresso costs just $5.38 at Walmart and brews up about 6 to 8 cups. And a gallon of milk, which comes out to 16 cups, costs an average of just $2.91.

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Cable and streaming services

Households that subscribe to pay TV report spending an average of about $107 a month, according to a 2018 Leichtman Research Group survey of 1,152 households around the United States. In 2010, the average digital cable customer paid almost $75 a month, according the research firm Centris.

Over the last decade, the rise of streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu and Disney +, which cost between $5.99 to $15.99 per month, have also changed the way Americans watch TV.

"Now you have people pulling the cord and being able to get their bundles online through the streamers," says Boockvar. "Those cable companies really have less pricing power on cable, but they do have pricing power on broadband, because it's not like you have too many options on your internet connection."

One way to keep your broadband costs low is to call your cable company and simply ask them for a better deal. Start by telling the representative that you'd like to cancel your plan, and more often than not, they'll try to work with you to get you more favorable terms.

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Airfare

In 2009, the average cost of domestic round-trip airfare was about $368, adjusted for inflation. A decade later, the cost of a round-trip ticket has decreased by less than $10, to an average of $359, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics' annual survey. 

Boockvar says that, though more low-budget airlines have popped up, the mergers and consolidation of bigger airlines have mostly kept prices up.

Travelers may be spending more, too, because of the prevalence of add-on fees: Odds are you have to pay extra for checked baggage or to sit next to your traveling companion. Air travelers paid an estimated $57 billion in such add-ons last year, nearly triple the sum airlines collected five years earlier, according to airline research firm IdeaWorksCompany.

One way to save on airfare is by booking at the right time, a move that could easily save you 10% off ticket prices. In a 2019 study, Expedia found that for U.S. travelers looking to travel during summer months, the best time to book your airfare is about three weeks to a month ahead of time.

To be precise, try to book 21 to 30 days in advance of your ideal departure, Alexis Tiacoh, a spokeswoman for Expedia, told CNBC earlier this year.

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