Bean counting

Within the scope of Memento, one blog-worthy topic I’d like to explore is Sustainability through frugality and creativity. In a nutshell, this comprises the tips, tricks and miscues related to our financial survival over the course of our three year stay at Notre Dame. Our survival, or sustainability will indeed require creativity, just as jumping out of a perfectly good airplane with an under-sized parachute might require some brainstorming prior to impact.

Creative solutions for self-funding and spending reduction can range in size and reach. Ambitious cost reductions may involve the exploration and utilization of Obamacare or the down-sizing to one vehicle. Smaller improvement examples might deal with our diaper, grocery or coffee consumption habits.

For us, the coffee example is low-hanging fruit (beans). When we lived on W. 9th St. in the Historic District of Holland, Michigan, we enjoyed a walkable proximity to a true artisan coffee shop called Lemonjello’s (lemonjellos.com).

LJ’s is by far the most earnest, genuine and high quality shop I know. They sell hundreds of cups of coffee daily, and for good reason. Matt, the shop’s quarterback, coach, GM and co-owner has effectively educated his team of baristas and the entire community on the art and science of coffee and coffee retail over the last decade. They don’t serve “Cinnamon Roll” or “Michigan Blueberry” flavored coffee, nor do they stop at “Light”, “Medium” and “Dark” roasts like the majority of little shops in the area. Instead, they started their run at the top by serving Equal Exchange blends carefully sourced from specific regions and plantations. At the time in West Michigan, this may well have been a first. Over the years, the growing Equal Exchange faithful were slowly and subtly coerced into a strict dependence on the product. It was cleaner and cheaper while also containing broad spectra of taste profiles and caffeine content beyond the competition’s scope of practice. About a year ago, Lemonjello’s switched to Madcap (Grand Rapids) and Halfwit (Chicago) coffees. It took me about six months to let go of Equal Exchange, but I’ve embraced these roasters as well. For the hardcore cuppers out there, these updated outfits provide an incremental notch towards an ideally complex, albeit esoteric cup.

LJ’s has also always had a knack for the little things, It’s as if someone had been classically trained in some kind of finishing school for artisan merchants. Their disposable cups are well-tuned for the coffee they hold, while other shops give very little thought to cup selection, and often clumsily offer Styrofoam or other decorated waxy paper options you’d encounter at a gas station coffee bar. For years, they stayed open from 6:30 AM to midnight, so you could putter around with a house yellow mug and your lapper, and tackle serious homework if you were a Hope College student, or an indulgent gaming session if not (they’ve recently reduced these hours claiming the need to “take better care of themselves and the shop”, which is noble but hopefully temporary). Their baked goods are the best in town, and until the Park Theater was recently resurrected, they were one of the few spots around for decent music and open mics. Ten years ago, LJ’s was perceived as a screamo bastion but has now shed it’s grungy old sofa and matured into a respected venue for punk, alternative, hip-hop, indie, folk, spoken word, and other eclectic music and expression.

Mary refers to LJ’s as my “House of Worship”. But while we were on W. 9th St., my spending on coffee was extreme. I’d roll out for a morning cup ($2), usually with cash for the trust-based pay jar to avoid the line at the register. At lunch, I’d leave work and refill ($0.50 if I brought back my cup, $2 if not). The lunch refill was intended to partially remedy afternoon drowsiness, and partially provide an emotional boost allowing me to finish the work day strong. In the evening, it was common for me to stroll Downtown for a nightcap- typically a small espresso-based foam concoction or a hand-poured coffee ($4). This caffeine consumption akin to chain-smoking would therefore cost upwards of $8 per day. Since Mary would also start her day with an LJ’s stop, we were spending as much as $10 per day or $2,800 to $3,600 per year.

You actually look like one of these characters if you drink enough of their coffee.
You actually look like one of these characters if you drink enough of their coffee. Original artwork by Anna Lisa Schneider (@whiskey_titties on Twitter).

Over the course of our three year adventure at Notre Dame, I’d love to continue to sip good coffee all day, but it’s probably a blessing in disguise that Lemonjello’s is out of reach for now. If we were to continue our consumption rate for the next three years, we’d spend nearly $10,000.

Obviously, a little frugality is warranted here. While 80% of this task is mine, Lord knows I’ll not be going cold turkey. After a little brainstorm and consultation with a few trusted baristas, I decided on a Startgarden and Kickstarter alum called Regular Coffee (regularcoffee.com). Regular Coffee is an offshoot of Rowster Coffee (www.rowstercoffee.com), a high-end hipster shop on Wealthy St. in Grand Rapids. Like a dapper yet tattooed cousin of LJ’s, Rowster has game when it comes to the Caffeine Lady. Regular Coffee is simply their subscription service. This service provides decent coffee, perhaps failing to make the cut at the shop’s high-tech bar, in cardboard tubes that can be mailed to your home. With a tube of Regular Coffee coming about once a month and my home brewing methods including hand-milling, Chemexing and French pressing, we should meet most of our consumption needs for around $30 per month. I will likely spend an additional $10 per month stocking the fridge with cans of Starbucks espresso for when I’m short on time. At $40 per month, and perhaps a little less consumption, we’ll be in much better shape; $480 per year, or $1,440 between now and graduation for an estimated reduction in spending of around 85%.

Regular Coffee is very well promoted and incubated. Here they are on Start Garden and Kickstarter.

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Author: Nick Rolinski

Engineer studying Architecture.

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