It seems like freelancers and creative types are all about working from coffee shops. I get it: when you work alone, and you’re at home all day, you might not talk to anyone other than your cat for hours on end. Maybe you’re too distracted at home by the dishes in the kitchen (guilty), the laundry in the dryer (guilty), or the aforementioned cat who is dying to be played with (guilty). The coffee shop seems like the ultimate compromise: the opportunity for human interaction, a distinct lack of household chores to be done, and delicious joe to boot.

Working at a coffee shop isn't free.

There’s another option for committed work-from-home-ers that’s dramatically increased in popularity over the past few years: the co-working space. But co-working spaces are expensive, right? And working at a coffee shop is free.

News flash: working at a coffee shop isn’t free.

Unless you’re a total jerk, you’re going to buy something before you sit down. If you’re like me, that something is going to be a vanilla latte, and it will set you back around $5. Cha-ching.

You’ll grab your spot and nurse the drink for awhile, maybe grabbing a free cup of water or re-filling your bottle. A few hours pass and your stomach starts grumbling. Uh oh…lunch time! Maybe your coffee shop serves sandwiches, or maybe you opt for a muffin or bagel as a lunch stand-in. Or maybe you’re with some friends and you decide to walk across the street and grab Mexican for lunch. Cha-ching, cha-ching. Ten more dollars.

Back to the coffee shop. You gave up your spot, so you grab an after-lunch drink instead of slinking back to your table empty-handed. Tea this time, or a bottle of Perrier. $3. Cha-ching.

It’s 5 o’clock and you’re done with work. You deserve a beer, which, conveniently, your hip coffee shop has on tap. You buy one and close your laptop. $6. Cha-ching.

It’s been a great day. You got a lot of words written, spent time with your friends, relaxed with a brew…but when you add up those receipts, you realize it wasn’t free.

Now, co-working spots aren’t free either. But when you compare it to the money you might spend hanging out at a coffee shop all day, it starts not to look so bad. A day pass to Atlanta-based Strongbox West is $15. They have coffee there, too. And the beauty of a co-working space for a frugalista like me is that I can pack my lunch! I’d feel weird opening up a container of leftovers at a coffee shop, seeing as how they’re in the food service business. And if you want somewhere to go every single day, as opposed to just casually, it may make sense to join a co-working community. They’re paying the utilities, maintaining infrastructure, and creating opportunities to network.

I’m not bashing working at a coffee shop. I love letting someone else caffeinate me (especially as I’ve been too lazy at home of late and have solely been drinking tea). For me personally, the cafe atmosphere is not the most conducive to productivity, but I know some people thrive in it. That’s great! I’m just suggesting that you do the math. When I work somewhere other than home, I find I regularly spend about $20 on just food and drinks. And if I’m doing that with any frequency, my $20 might be able to work harder for me at a co-working space.

Find a co-working location near you!

P.S. Sometimes it takes getting out of your typical routine to get things done. Wherever you work, make sure you pack your bag well so you don’t leave any essentials at home!

Laura Lindeman

Laura Lindeman