Monthly Archives: March 2009

Eat at Joe’s

Savings:  $50/week, 1 hour/week, and health benefits.

You can think of food markets as competing on three basic features:  healthiness, price and selection.  Each tends to sacrifice one to maximize the other two.  Supermarkets sacrifice healthiness.  Whole Foods sacrifices price.  Trader Joe’s sacrifices selection.
Few Americans are willing to sacrifice selection.  They want it all, and assume they will get it.  For example, one might pull out a cookbook, choose a recipe, and then buy ingredients, implicitly assuming the market will have everything required for the recipe.  If you follow that route, you absolutely must have a wide selection, forcing you to sacrifice either healthiness (supermarket) or price (Whole Foods).
The solution, as Carl Jacobi or Charlie Munger would say, is to “invert, always invert.”  Shop only Trader Joe’s (now well represented in major US metro areas).  Design your meals around what they have, rather than painting on a blank canvas.
You will save a ton of money versus other natural food stores, yet sacrifice nothing in the quality of organic foods.  You won’t waste time hopping among multiple stores.  You’ll save time in the store (Joe’s is more compact).  And you’ll get more variety in your diet as they rotate their offerings.
This is a classic Pareto (80/20 principle) optimization with huge benefits.  Give up just a little control over your dietary selection, and win huge benefits elsewhere.

Aesthetics of Macchiato

Savings in this post:  $50 / month, 150 high-carb calories / day.

The inaugural post of Fewer Nicer sings the joys of fine barrista-prepared espresso.

WHAT?  the generalized frugalista blog may shout.  Nothing is a bigger waste of money than that four-dollar cappuccino.  And that’s completely true from a pure cost perspective.  Yuban is cheaper.  But Yuban, dear readers, blows.  I chose this subject precisely to differentiate Fewer Nicer from a pure money-saving site.
Fewer Nicer, unlike pure cost-cutting sites, seeks affordable aesthetics — situations where you can save money while simultaneously increasing quality of life.  Nearly every time, the solution is to simplify.  Fewer.  Nicer.  Get it?  Now let’s talk specifics.
Two mysteries about cafes.  First, milk is oddly priced.  Second, cafe aesthetics are free, or better than free.  Crack these two mysteries, and you are well on your way to Fewer Nicer.
Milk is oddly priced
Hiding on the menu next to that four-dollar cappuccino is an item you may never have tried: the espresso macchiato.  Oversimplifying a bit, it’s like a cappuccino without the milk, but with the milk foam.  Tastes like a really strong cappuccino.
Here is the milk mystery.  Macchiato costs two dollars, or half as much as the cap, for the same amount of espresso.  The only difference is the milk.  In buying a cap, you’re paying two dollars for milk.  Yet right behind you, at the napkin counter, there is a big jug of milk available free. Connect the dots, man!  Buy the macchiato, turn around, pour in the free milk, and you have a cap for half price.
Alternately, you can do what I do:  enjoy unadulterated macchiatos.  Espresso is delicious, and even if you disagree with that, it requires almost no milk to blunt the edge.  Put in just a teaspoon of milk (or none, as I do).  You get improved taste, save two dollars, and cut 150 calories of pure high-glycemic-index carbs (lactose) out of your diet, all at the same time.  The savings vs caffe latte are even bigger.
Cafe aesthetics are free
Cafes vary in their aesthetic quality.  I’m not going to bash the chains here, but instead describe Kean Coffee, near my office.  
Kean is operated by Martin Diedrich, the founder of California regional chain Diedrich Coffee.  
He made money in the Diedrich IPO, then went back to his first love:  making great coffee.  The place is spectacular.  Ever seen those photos of decorative espresso drinks, where the barrista uses foam and espresso to create a signature design on the top of your personal drink?  This is one of the places that does that.
What do you pay for that, and the occasional chat with Mr. Diedrich, a third-generation lifelong coffee expert?  Nothing.  It’s the same two-dollar macchiato as everywhere else.  Better, actually, because they mix it somehow with half-and-half.
You see this paradigm repeatedly.  The quiet cafe with outdoor seating and landscaping costs no more than the one setting next to a roaring six-lane meat grinder.  Silence, nature, art — these things have value, but are priced at a marginal cost of zero in this context.
Action items
If you routinely go to cafes, switch from cappuccino or latte to espresso macchiato.  Add free milk if you wish.  And troll your neighborhood for an aesthetically charged cafe.