Why Filipinos spend so much to get the Starbucks planner

Fitz Gerard Villafuerte

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Why Filipinos spend so much to get the Starbucks planner
People are lining up once again collecting stickers to get the most coveted planner of this generation. A financial planner takes a look at what makes the promotion so popular.

MANILA, Philippines – How much does it cost to get the 2016 Starbucks Planner? According to my math, the cheapest way to get it would cost you P2,295 ($48.67), and this assumes that you bought only the smallest sizes of the cheapest acceptable beverages.

But of course, most people will actually spend more than P2,295.

As soon as the start of the Starbucks planner promo is announced, social media will begin to churn out financial advice against it.

“Why spend thousands of pesos for a planner, when you can get one for less than a hundred in a bookstore. You might even receive one as a gift from your company.” A post might say or “Instead of buying expensive coffee, just invest the money. It’s the smarter thing to do. Starbucks is overpriced and not even that good.” (READ: 40 amazing planners, journals, and datebooks for 2016)

The advice may have good intentions, but unfortunately, its not effective.

I’ve seen, read and heard these words of advice from financial experts and frugal-minded individuals ever since the Starbucks planner promo started years back.

And yet, each year, more and more Filipinos end up going to Starbucks during Christmas to avail of the planner, which they’ll never even use.

How do I know this? Because I’m one of them.

Confessions of a Starbucks drinker

Have you heard of the Latte Factor?

It’s a personal finance concept that points out how small purchases can add up to a significant amount over time, and how you’re missing an opportunity to grow your money because of it.

My usual Grande Iced Caffè Latte costs P140 ($2.969). I go to Starbucks at least 4 times a week, which gives me a total spend of P29,120 ($617.5) every year on “overpriced coffee”.

If I instead, just invested that amount in the stock market, every year for 10 years, at 10% annual compounded growth, then I’d have almost half a million pesos by the end of the decade.

So why don’t I do that? Because I don’t actually just buy coffee at Starbucks.

Starbucks is not just about coffee

Like most cafes, Starbucks is more than just a coffee shop, it is primarily an “experience-provider” according to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz himself.

Most people don’t go to coffee shops like Starbucks to drink coffee.

The socially-conscious, go there “to be seen”, to experience being important. Online workers and freelancers go there to work, to experience a change from their home office environment.

Friends go there to meet and hang out, to experience the joy of conversation in a cozy venue. Introverts go there to read and watch people, to experience being alone without actually being alone.

Different people go to Starbucks (and other coffee shops) for many reasons, and most of the time, it’s not because of the coffee.

For me, Starbucks has been my venue for blogging, reading and meeting friends – and the reason why I’m there at least 4 times a week.

A strong brand because of social science

Starbucks is a strong global brand because they took the time to understand the psychology of their target market through thousands of customer surveys.

And their application is consistent – from the beverages, to the ordering process; from the customer service, to the store ambiance.

I’ve been to a lot of their branches in the Philippines and in other countries, and the experience is almost always the same everywhere.

A friend of mine provides proof that this concept works.

He put up his own coffee shop and made it look and feel like Starbuck and it was a success.

It was very profitable for 3 years, until a Starbucks branch opened nearby, stole all his customers and he had to close shop.

Why spend?

So why do Filipinos spend so much to get the Starbucks planner that they’ll never even use?

The answer lies in the psychology behind the promo, which most financial advice fails to see and address.

They don’t care about the money they’ll spend.

Telling people how expensive it is doesn’t work because it’s irrelevant to their intentions. People who want the planner are not thinking of saving money.

They don’t care about the quality of the coffee.

Telling people that there are better places to have coffee than Starbucks doesn’t work because it’s not coffee that they’re buying. People are paying for the “Starbucks experience”.

They don’t care about the planner at all.

Telling people how other coffee shops have better planners doesn’t work because most people don’t actually have plans of using it. People want the planner because it’s a prize.

Understanding the psychology


Getting the Starbucks planner is a Christmas tradition for young urban professionals. Completing the midnight mass novena or Simbang Gabi used to be the must-do Christmas tradition for Filipinos. Now, it’s getting the planner.

Going to Starbucks and collecting the stickers makes people feel that they are part of a public tradition by their own generation, and not one that they “adopted” from their parents.

Among friends – sharing how many stickers they’ve already collected, discussing which Christmas beverage they like the most, asking which planner color they want – these are all part of this modern tradition that Starbucks has brilliantly started.


A Starbucks “virgin” becomes curious and goes to a branch to see what all the fuss is about the Starbucks planner is about.

As he enters the store, the friendly barista greets him cheerfully and asks him how his day is going before taking his order.

Sensing a first-timer, the barista recommends a drink with the reassuring tone similar of a trusted friend.

He gets his drink, settles down to a seat at the corner of the store, and starts to observe the people around. He sees men in suits having a business meeting, a student typing a report on his laptop, a group of friends having a mini-reunion and a pretty girl quietly reading a book.

“Why do these people hang out here? Am I missing something?” he asks himself. Then he looks at his promo card with its single, lonely sticker.

“Well, I can always come back and learn more about it,” he justifies.


Have you ever reached a goal you worked hard for? Do you remember how good it felt the moment you achieved it? I’m sure you do.

The Starbucks planner is a short-term, not-so-easy, but definitely achievable goal that today’s generation of Filipinos find worth pursuing.

I bet you that Starbucks did their research and found that eighteen stickers is the magic number – not 24, not 12, but 18 – a goal that’s challenging enough to give the rush of victory upon completion.

When you’re an employee working for that uncertain promotion, paying debts that seems to never go away, and saving for retirement that’s still years ahead – achieving a short-term goal such as getting the Starbucks planner is always a huge boost to your self-esteem.

The sense of belongingness to a young generation, the experiential sanctuary away from home, and the personal triumph of overcoming a challenge.

Combine all 3 and you have a potent marketing strategy and one that Starbucks has effectively applied for many years now.

My financial advice

If you can afford it, then you’re okay in my book. But if you’re on a tight budget, trying to save money, here’s my advice:


It’s now bazaar season. This is a yearly ritual not just for bargain hunters, but also among friends and family looking to do something together during the Christmas season.

Make your list, plan your gifts, then go to the numerous Christmas bazaars around the city and be part of this fun and frugal Filipino tradition.


The “Starbucks experience” is not entirely unique. There are a lot of coffee shops now that offer similar, and sometimes, better experiences.

If you’re a coffee lover, check out the emerging artisanal coffee culture in the city. Or if you just want to hang out with your friends, then have a “coffee appreciation party” at home. I’ve done this and it’s fun!


Name something you’ve always wanted that costs around the same as what it it takes to get the planner.

Instead of spending to get the planner that will just gather dust next year, save up for something that will actually be useful to you. It can be anything as long as it’s within your set budget. Make this your Christmas gift to yourself.

Thirteen planners and counting …

The Starbucks planner promotion started in 2003, and by the end of next week, I’ll be getting my 13th planner from them. Give me a few more weeks and I’m bound to get another one.

I usually stop collecting stickers after I get my second planner because I only need two – each for my two brothers who like receiving them as Christmas gifts.

What about you? How many Starbucks planners have you had? – Rappler.com

$1 =  P 47.15

A version of this article originally appeared in Ready To Be Rich.


Fitz Gerard Villafuerte is a civil engineer who decided to quit the corporate world back in 2003 to pursue entrepreneurship. His blog, Ready To Be Rich has won several awards including the Best Business and Finance Blog at the Philippine Blog Awards.

He has also been recognized by Moneysense Magazine as among the Top 12 Most Influential People in Personal Finance in the Philippines. He is a Registered Financial Planner and a resource speaker for corporate and socio-civic organizations in the country where he actively promotes entrepreneurship and financial literacy.

 Contact him through his website at www.fitzvillafuerte.com or Twitter @brodfitz.

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