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What Keeping Our House Cold Has Taught Us

Hiya friends! Last week, a super special thing happened here: we had our first 100 comment post. To say that we were floored by it would be a tremendous understatement. We just want to let you guys know how thankful we are that you’re reading. And commenting. Every single comment is a big deal to us, and we love how much we learn from things you share. Big hugs all around.

// Sidebar: That blue in the header photo has absolutely zero color correction or filter applied. Not that our sky is that blue every day, but that is what you get in the cold, dry mountain air, way up high. Amazing, right? We’ll never get sick of that! //

I’ve been having weird feelings about the word “frugal” lately, especially after reading great posts by Pretend to Be Poor and Creating My Kaleidoscope about what frugality really means (hint: remember the Great Depression?). Or, as I wrote to Penny last week in response to her brilliant post, the Privilege of Pretending, it feels like when we talk frugality, we’re really just being frugality tourists. (“We” meaning the two of us — Mr. ONL and I — not this blogging community.)

Because we really aren’t frugal by any reasonable definition of the word. We never consider forgoing things we need, we only occasionally forgo things we want and our fill-the-bucket list is very full. Okay, sure, we spend less than other people in plenty of cases, but in lots of other cases we spend more. Yes, we have a high savings percent, but we also earn more than about 99.9 percent of the planet. (See where you rank on the Global Rich List. I bet it’s higher than you think. You only have to earn $33,000 annually in the U.S. to be in the top 1% globally.)

Related post: Thinking About Frugality More Broadly // A Call to Action

Our One Frugal Habit

I know a post is coming on this whole frugality tourist notion, but while that one keeps cooking in my brain, I decided to look at our lives and see if there was any area in which we truly are frugal, and ask what that means for us. And there is one example: the thermostat. So here goes confession time:

We keep our house at 56 degrees.

(That’s 13 degrees Celcius.) If that’s all you knew about us, you’d have a very skewed picture of our lives. You’d think we are for-real-frugal, when in fact that’s our only real and true frugal habit. And that’s actually a habit we picked up well before we started blogging, before we had our retirement timeline set, before we ever thought we’d admit to the internet that we keep our house so cold.

To us, it’s simple: energy is extra expensive in rural areas, we live in a cold place, ergo the natural gas bill in the winter would be unacceptably high if we heated our house to a more normal temperature. How high? Like north of $450, which was the first gas bill we received after moving in, using the setting the previous owners had left on the thermostat, which was an entirely reasonable 66 degrees (19º C). As it is, we pay about $200 a month in the winter to maintain 56, with occasional bumps up to 60 (15º C) when we’re in a treat yoself mood.

What Keeping Our House Cold Has Taught Us // Our Next Life -- personal finance, frugality, environmentalism, zero waste

And we don’t have air conditioning, but I’m sure that if we did, we’d probably never turn it on in the summer, although we don’t really have any humidity in the mountains — see that bright blue sky for proof — so would only need it once in a while anyway.

What’s super interesting to me about the thermostat to me is how it has this strange power that nothing else in our lives has. If we’re out of coffee, I will say: “Let’s go buy more coffee” (at an unfrugal $16 a pound for our organic, shade-grown, locally-roasted beans). If we need [name some other grocery item or household necessity here], it will be the same answer: “If we really need it, then it’s okay to buy it.”

But for some reason we don’t apply this same logic to the thermostat. If we’re feeling cold, we should say, “Let’s turn the thermostat up.” But we rarely do. Even though turning it up for a day would only cost a few extra dollars. We’ll put on our fleece socks and fleece robes and have our hoods up in the house before we’ll turn up the temperature. I’ll shiver at my desk, blowing on my fingers to keep them nimble enough to type, before I turn up the thermostat. I wonder what the neighbors would think, if they saw us bundled up and huddled under blankets, like paupers, while watching Netflix on our decidedly unfrugal home theater? They wouldn’t be unreasonable to question our priorities.

What Keeping Our House Cold Has Taught Us

First, we’ve learned that even smart people can behave irrationally, which is the only way to describe applying one set of logic to certain things and a completely contradictory set to other things. Especially when the bizarro-logic attached to the thermostat sometimes means sacrificing our comfort and maybe even our safety. But that’s just an academic finding, not anything meaningful for our lives. After all, we’ve already established that we’re quickly prepaying our mortgage despite the math that says we should be investing all that money instead. We already know we aren’t perfectly rational beings.

Second, and more meaningfully, we’ve learned that we in fact can be frugal when we decide to be, which shocks no one more than it shocks me. If you’d asked me, before we received that first gas bill, if we’d be willing to keep our house at such a low temp for five winters running, I would have responded with some variation on “Hell no!” I probably would have even said that it was worth a few hundred extra dollars a month not to be cold. Well, I would have been wrong. It isn’t worth it (to us), and our ability to stick to our guns on this for five straight winters tells me that we can stick to our guns on other frugal habits in retirement, especially if our investments do poorly some years and we have to tighten our belts.

Third, we’ve learned that we’re more adaptable than we think. I always used to be cold, and what’s fantastic about living in a cold house is your internal thermostat is forced to adapt. Now, I’m usually cold at home, but I’m rarely cold elsewhere. It’s like magic.

But The Question Still Remains…

Why does this one thing in our life have such power over us? Why does it warrant its own set of logic? Is it because of anchoring, because we think that more than $200 a month is too much to pay for heat in the winter? Is it because we like the challenge of having to adapt to something different? Is it because the cost of all the other things we’re comfortable buying is relatively low (even for a pound of coffee), compared to the extra $200 or more we’d be looking at for more heat? In truth, it’s probably a little bit from each one.

What’s an even more interesting question to us is: What will this habit lead to? We’ve now learned in an irrefutable way in our own lives that something society claims with near certainty (the temperate range in which humans are comfortable) is relative, not absolute. We’ve learned that we can live perfectly well without a lot of heat, so of course I wonder what we’ll eventually give up, realizing that our perceived need of it was an illusion all along.

Have you given up anything crazy, like reasonable indoor heating, in the interest of frugality? Think we’re ridiculous for keeping our house so cold when we don’t scrimp in more frivolous areas? We’d love to hear it all!

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120 replies »

  1. I don’t think you guys are crazy at all. We scrimp on certain things, like eating out or trips to the bar, because we don’t enjoy them and we’d rather use the money to invest in our future or travel. If you guys are comfortable and would rather use the money elsewhere….more power to you!

    I call that intentional living….and think it’s a virtue :)

    • Great way to say it: intentional living. I dig it. Does that mean that our messy house and undone laundry are intentional living too? ;-) Haha — no, that’s just what happens when we travel all the time for work and don’t have a maid, another thing we can’t stomach paying for!

  2. It makes sense to embrace your climate. A lot of our so-called frugal choices boil down to efficiency. Where can we save a lot without really sacrificing? For example, it’s not that big of a deal for us to cook most nights, so it makes sense to save money this way since the margins, compared to eating out or takeout, are pretty good. If you don’t mind bundling up and adapting to that temp, it probably doesn’t seem worth paying $200 extra per month.

    Oh, and thanks for the mention! We’ve definitely been pondering the same question about “frugality.” When we started our blog we hesitated to use the word much, but it became cumbersome to avoid it since much of what we do is viewed as frugal. We still feel a bit uncomfortable with its contemporary definition, though.

    • That’s a great way to put it — embracing our climate. We live in a cold place, so it’s not crazy to be cold sometimes. Same as we’d all expect to be hot in the desert.

      We’ve had issues with “frugal” for a while, a lot along the lines of what you wrote, and are still struggling to put together some big “theory of frugality.” But suffice to say, we are not planning to use the word too much! :-)

  3. I’d have to say no because my grandparents lived through the depression and talked about it and, as is so often the case, were affected by the trauma of that era differently. One grandfather was beyond frugal and was in fact out and out cheap. He never recovered so that he continued to live as if he were in the depression refusing to spend money on things he should have like decent glasses for his wife and then having her take a bad fall. I saw how he and his wife suffered over stupid things. Then there was my other grandmother who remained sensible but never did without that which she really wanted. Of course her idea of extravagance was buying a fresh peach out of season or paying extra to get a really good mattress so her back didn’t hurt. During the depression she had to use lard on her chapped hands. She always had the very best skin and hand creams when I knew her. Sensible.

    BTW if you haven’t already tried this, electric blankets are wonderful energy savers. I have found I can leave my thermostat much lower and save a lot and yet still feel toasty warm and comfy with an electric blanket on the bed and an electric throw for sitting in. Yes, they do cost a little bit but their wattage is so low that it is pennies compared to heating a whole room and you can sit and type without blue fingers.

    • Oh, I really dislike hearing stories like that, of people who are so cheap they make things unnecessarily unpleasant for themselves or, worse, loved ones! But as you noted, there are lots of examples of people coming out of the depression with a great sense of what’s truly important, and spending accordingly. And yes, we have an electric blanket, and an electric mattress heater. We don’t use either one super often, but they are lifesavers sometimes!

    • When you have been sick with ear infections, bronchitis, pleurisy and pneumonia and can’t afford to heat your house over 62°, it isnt being frugal, it’s being miserable, and its not a choice. My dog suffers right along with me. Be thankful if you are healthy and being frugal is an amusing “choice”.

  4. I love this post. It’s so great to reflect on frugal practices – not just why we do them, but what we gain from them as well. People think we’re a bit strange to keep a $200 grocery budget. But if it affords us a lot of organic produce and toilet paper (and other things…ha!), what difference does it make? Sometimes, I think people get really bent of our shape about things like this because it makes them realize how much they could actually cut out if they chose to. I did just tell Mr. P your heat setting and he started fervently shaking his head. He already thinks 67 is too cold!

    • I still can’t believe that you buy organic on $200 a month… do you eat like Gwyneth Paltrow?? ;-P So that’s where we can trade stories… I think your grocery budget is crazy low, and Mr. P thinks our thermostat setting is crazy low. Everybody wins! :-)

  5. I’m really glad my landlord pays for gas here because I hate being cold! lol! And yes, I live in LA and yes it still gets “cold” here in the morning and evenings. But I suppose if I did pay a whopping amount and that decreasing the temp would helps save a lot of money I’d figure out a way to make it happen. I miss going to see more movies in the theater since I’ve become frugal. But with the price of a movie ticket around here $15+ and Redbox being $1.60, there is just no way I can see going often anymore. I only go if I’m really, really dying to see a film when it first comes out.

    • Running the heat in SoCal?! Well, I never! Haha. But hey, if you’re not paying, then it’s one less thing to worry about or calculate, and that’s a big positive. Our best advice for feeling less sadness about not going to the movies is to move to a small town with no movie theatre. ;-) Redbox is literally the only show in town!

  6. I don’t think you’re crazy in the least. We don’t use heat at all, we have our thermostat turned completely off. One over five hundred dollar energy bill did that for us, the first month after we moved in. We now buy a cord of firewood and religiously build a fire first thing every morning. A cord costs $250, and we bought a splitter from Harbor Freight (my nominee for best frugal purchase of 2015) that beautifully splits the wood into wood stove ready sized logs quickly and effortlessly. One cord lasts two months (we don’t heat the downstairs at all, unless we have company), and the house stays deliciously, toasty warm. We love it! Even cleaning the stove every morning doesn’t bother us, and since I’m the early riser it’s nearly always done by me (who knew I’d be the keeper of the fire around here?). We bought a second cord, but haven’t used even half of it and unless we have a cold snap, I suspect we’ll be using it next year, so our heating fuel costs will probably be $400 for the season including a box or two of starter biscuits. The coldest I’ve ever seen this house, according to the upstairs thermostat, is 57 degrees, and 56 downstairs, so no one is going to freeze to death! We’re frugal in so many areas these days that this isn’t even a big deal to us anymore, but I do have a theory on why energy savings are so important to us (and maybe to you as well), beyond the obvious (and significant) fossil fuel, earth related issues: we hate the unknown aspect of the bill. If we buy a pound of organic, grass fed pork chops for $9.99 when the local discount grocer has regular pork ribs for $1.99 per pound, we’re making a conscious decision to spend our dollars on the quality of our food (and hopefully, reduce the dollars spent on medical care as a result), and we immediately know the cost of that decision is $8.00 per pound. The same with our whole coffee beans or non-GMO yogurt or whatever. If I make our laundry soap, dishwasher soap, hand soap, fabric softener or hair conditioner I know the exact cost of those ingredients and how that compares to the watered down, wasteful, over-packaged store bought alternatives. But if we have company and they opt to run the heat, and that company takes thirty minute showers, leaves the water running while brushing their teeth and shaving, leaves the thermostat at 72 degrees when they’re not even in the house, etc., we have no idea what to expect when the energy and water bills arrive! Even staring at the meter and trying to estimate based upon pricing tiers has proven to be a futile endeavor. For that reason alone, I completely understand the unwillingness to turn up your heat! It’s one thing to voluntarily spend your money on the things that you’ve decided add value to your life and are worth the additional expenditure; it’s quite another to feel the greedy hands of a giant utility reach into your wallet every month to extract some exorbitant, unknown sum simply for the benefit of not wearing layers for a few hours in the house. I happily wear my hoody (and sometimes even mittens) and take those savings every day of the year. Now if I could just convince Mr. AR to give up the AC…

    • That was pretty much our first experience exactly. One “WTF?!” natural gas bill did that for us, and was the wake-up call we needed to suck it up and get used to the cold. :-) We can’t rely on fire alone (and we also don’t like how having full-time fire hurts our indoor air quality — or our outdoor air quality!), so have to use the furnace some, but we definitely plan to find our own firewood once we’re retired, so we can get it for less than the extortion rates we have to pay in our area. And you make such a great point about the unknown nature of the expense — I bet that’s a big part of our aversion to turning up the temperature. It’s certainly not that we don’t like to be warm and toasty. :-)

  7. I don’t think that being frugal is not crazy at all and is more reality. It is impossible to spend money on everything we want. Many people (even with a 6-figure salary) cannot draw a clear line between necessity and luxury and end up with a huge amount of debt. It is all about emotion. How they feel and how people look at them is more important. That is why they cannot stop such a habit.

    I personally think that setting a budget is the first thing to come. Some people just don’t step out their boundary. This type of personal finance 101 must be taught in high school. That is why many adults don’t know how to manage their finance and debt.

    • We can say from experience that there are a LOT of reasons why people on a six-figure salary spend all their money, not all having to do (or even mostly having to do) with caring about how others see them (us). But certainly it’s a fact that plenty of people spend too much and save too little. :-)

  8. Unfortunately due to health issues, we can’t keep our thermostat that low, but we do keep it lower than we prefer. We have an interesting strategy to make the most of the heat we do allow though. I did a post about it on my blog, but it’s a combination of curtains, fans, and inside window insulation.

    • We have been meaning to do the window insulation for a while, but it seems a tad pointless when we know we have such a drafty house overall. Top of the list after retirement is to attack that problem and load up on better insulation!

  9. We actually did something like this in our house. We have a 2 story house with 2 separate heating and air units (plus a basement). We made the challenge to not turn the heat on at all in the upstairs portion of our house, which contains all of the bedrooms. Instead we use low wattage radiator heaters in both kids rooms to keep them toasty and have an electric blanket for our bed. It has actually been fun and has turned into a game for us, we put a digital thermostat in our room to see how low the temp got. Our coldest night in our room was 41 degrees…there has been a few days were you could see your breathe in our room…haha! Our overall utility bills have dropped significantly over last year. I actually like weird off the wall challenges like this, I guess it stems from my military days.

    • Aren’t you kind of cheating if you have all that electric heat? ;-) Just kidding! We ever-so-occasionally use an electric radiator, and we less-infrequently use our electric mattress pad heater to make it so we can at least fall asleep. And I don’t think we’ve ever gotten cold enough indoors to see our breath… though maybe we have, and I’m just blocking out that memory. :-)

      • Yea the heaters are for the kids…I don’t think they want or care about playing our little game. haha Plus, I don’t want child services coming after us! Our room gets so cold because it sits over the garage and all of the walls are outside walls and covered in windows. But, we do live in the south where its not that cold for very long.
        Have a great week and I enjoyed the post.

  10. I might have to be the oddball commenter. :-)

    I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a freeze baby (pretty strange for a guy, I think). Not sure why that is, but it’s to the point I actually wear long johns under my clothes to work every day in the winter! And that’s with a space heater in my office as well! But on the flip side, if it’s warm at night, I’ll have a horrible night’s sleep. Yes, I have problems – let the replies roll! ;-)

    So, yes, I have our heat in the winter turned up to *wait for the cringing*.. 70 degrees. I do use a programmable thermostat to drop it down considerably during the day when we’re not there and only turn it up from around 5-10pm during the week and the daytime on the weekends. Then it drops back down at night.

    I really wish I could be the 56 degree house, but I just can’t do it… I literally shiver! That’s awesome for you guys though – that is a HUGE cost savings!

    — Jim

    • Ha — I would definitely make fun of you once if you were my coworker, but then I’d leave you alone to your quirky space heater ways. :-) But geez — if that’s how you’re wired, then go with it. No need to suffer just because some random blogger said she keeps her house cold. Ha!

  11. I love how the url for this post is “cold” – you guys are hilarious! I also can’t fathom this. I wear my wool socks and fleece bathrobe even in my 70 degree house! (I do let it go down to 60 in the afternoons during Lui’s nap and at nighttime.) And I take really hot showers or I’m cold all day long. So, no I’m not frugal with heat. Now I feel so “un-frugal.” But so cozy and warm. Also, I now know to throw in some extra socks if I ever come visit. :)

    • Haha — yeah, I just started tweaking the URLs. There could be some funny ones coming up, now that I know about that! And please, don’t feel unfrugal just because we have one quirky, stubborn habit. :-) We’re hugely unfrugal in a ton of other ways, which more than offset our one virtuous thing. But yes, when you come visit, pack your slippers! We have robes, but we tell everyone to bring slippers. :-) Though we can get a roaring fire going to help heat things up — we just don’t buy enough wood to do that full-time!

      • Ah, a fire. I’m kind of anti-fireplace because when I was little, my bedroom was at the top of the stairs and when the fire was going, it sucked all the heat out of my room and it was FREEZING! :)

      • Thank goodness we have a wood stove, not a fireplace — SO much more efficient, and doesn’t have that vacuum effect. (Plus reburns the smoke so it doesn’t pollute so much!)

  12. We’re in similar but opposite situations in that we run the AC warmer than most around here. Mrs. SSC keeps it around 80 F if she has her say about it and I crank it way down to 78… On the occasion I turn it to 77 or 76 F, then she starts complaining about it “being cold”…. It’s one of the bigger disagreements we get into. When we visit people and their houses are set closer to 70 or even 68, you can tell and it does feel pretty frigid.
    I once lived in a house in KY that was so poorly insulated that even with most all of the rooms closed off, it cost $400/month to keep the place at 60F. The sole shower was upstairs (not heated) and you could get out of the shower, towel off, and see your breath in the bathroom. I only lived there that one winter…

    I think frugality is good, and each person/family has their price points on what they spend on and what they save on. We still have maids that show up every other week, because it’s worth it to us to not have another chore looming over us on our evenings when we’re not working or dealing with kids. Similar to your driveway plowing expenditure is worth it to you guys from a time perspective, it’s same with the maids for us.

    • So if you come over to our house, you will freeze, and if we come over to your house, we will roast. :-) And whoa — I don’t know how you could even stand to shower at that place in KY if you could see your breath. Oh my! I wish we could get there on maids — it would give us SO MUCH peace of mind, because we certainly don’t have time for real cleaning. But I just can’t pull the trigger on that. Got any tips for getting over the hump and calling the maids? :-)

      • Step 1: pull up google on an internet browser
        Step 2: google “cleaning service in my area”
        Step 3: Call or email one of them to set up a consultation
        Step 4: hang up satisfied knowing you won’t feel guilty about cleaning again

        By following our “exclusive” steps – provided to you free of charge – you too can come home to a clean house and have peace of mind. :)
        Even if it’s like us and just bi-weekly, it’s WAY worth it to us to not have to do as much cleaning. You have no idea the amount of everyday cleaning and stuff that is just kid related.

      • “…And we still need TONS of help with cleaning.” There you go, no other excuse needed. Look at it as a cry for help, if you will. Hahahahaha
        Although, I would say that in your guys’ specific case, the amount of work travel that you do, probably lends itself to even longer work schedules. After traveling all week, or part of a week, do you want to come home to find the house dusty, un-vacuumed, floor not mopped, and bathrooms a disaster? Nope. There’s a possible excuse #2.
        One of my “guilty pleasures” is getting home the day the maids have been there. Everything looks nice, smells nice, and has that “almost hotel” feel about it. Don’t get me wrong, we still clean between maid visits, but it’s nice knowing we don’t have to use our down-time to do lots of deep cleaning. :)

  13. Yeah…the thermostat is not something I’m going to budge on. Haha. Cutting out alcohol and soda? No problem! But the temperature? I do not like the cold. I’m not an overly large person, so I get cold pretty easily. If anything, I have more arguments with roommates over the years about keeping it too warm in the summer. :) So I save $$ in the summer, but not so much the winter. But Gas is dirt cheap. I don’t think I’ve ever had a larger gas bill than $40 and even that was on the high side and rather uncommon. I think this is why smaller living spaces appeal to me- it’s less expensive to control the indoor climate.

    • Haha — that’s why PF is personal! And judging by today’s comments, you’re not alone. :-) Our gas bill was always super cheap when we lived in the city, so in all honesty, we didn’t think it would jump so much when we bought our house in the mountains. It was an unpleasant surprise, to say the least, and made it an easy choice for us: pay through the nose or learn to deal with the cold. We chose the latter!

  14. I’m so glad that you enjoyed my post about the Great Depression. I was just tired of people assuming that we’re “suffering” because we don’t spend like them. We don’t want pity from anyone.

    I don’t think that there are many people who are frugal in all aspects of their life. Even Mr. Money Mustache has written about spending money on fancy cheeses (right?). The important thing is realizing that you have a choice. The majority probably sets their thermostat based on average temperatures, or what they’re used to, or what the neighbors do. You’ve made a decision for yourself, choosing to trade some warmth for the ability to save more of your money. We may not all be uber frugal, but we’re being conscientous about our money, with the realization that you don’t have to live a mainstream, consumerist, work-till-you’re-old life.

    • Haha, yes, you’re right about MMM’s fancy cheese! And we have plenty of equivalent things to that. But certain things just aren’t worth it to us, and apparently heat is among them. :-)

  15. Wow. I gotta admit that I was floored when I heard how much it costs to keep your place at 56 in the winter time. That’s pretty incredible. But then again, you are more than making up for that in the summer when you probably aren’t spending much on utilities. So in the end, it probably works out to be fairly respectable when all averaged together.

    I am a bit of a wuss when it comes to the cold. In the wintertime here in Arizona, we keep the temperature at 64 inside (yes, it gets COLD here at night in the winter – even below freezing at times!). To me, that’s cold enough. But for us, it gets warm enough during the day that it usually minimizes the heat that we need to use. So, we have it pretty good down here in the southwest.

    In the summertime, though, that’s where I get to flex my frugality muscles a bit. We will general keep the temperature at around 80, which is much, much higher than most people. You could easily spend $400 a month with A/C here in the summer time if you kept it closer to 73 or 74.

    But with us, we consider it a luxury to let the temperature dip down to 78 rather than keeping it at 80 (and the difference feels huge).

    In the end, I think we both have our extremes of what our tolerances can handle. Yours happens to be on the cold side while mine is very much on the warm side. I am definitely a warmer weather kind of person. Though I love the mountains, I could never live there full-time.

    • So true that we do make up for it in the summer with no A/C. And I know A/C can be a fortune for people in hot and/or humid places, so no complaints overall — just don’t want to pay more than we have to. And yeah, the crazy thing about adapting more to the cold (not my natural inclination!) had made me a lot wussier about heat! So it’ll be interesting to see how that all goes when we start traveling more to hot places. Speaking of A/C, I don’t know if you follow Gone with the Wynns, but they recently did an experiment on running A/C in the desert off of off-grid solar that made me think of you guys and your Airstream plans. Worth checking out!

  16. Geesh that’s a lot of money on energy for keeping your place at 56F! I’d do the same if I were you. Have you looked into maybe better insulate the house? We generally keep our house at 19C but from 9:30 PM to 9 AM the thermostat is kept at 16C. Still not as low as you guys though.

    • We for sure need to insulate better, but have had other projects pop up that were more urgent. It’s definitely something we plan to address after we quit and can do the work ourselves!

  17. Impressively frugal temperature! I don’t know if I could stand that, but I’d consider it with those energy prices. One of the many things I enjoy about condo/apartment living is that I’ve often been able to make it through the mild Pacific Northwest winters without turning on the heat much at all. I’ll often go weeks without turning on the heater once. Does that make me a moocher for taking advantage of the radiant heat of surrounding units?

    • Oh, we’ve fully been those moochers! We never ever used the heat when we lived in apartments and our condo, and I’m positive we benefited from others’ heat. It’s not like you asked them to turn on their heat, so you’re just benefiting from thermodynamics… no harm in that! ;-)

  18. Sometime as a child (with painfully frugal parents), I had a Scarlett O’Hara moment, “I will never be too hot or too cold again!” So I make lots of money so I can have heating when it’s cold and a/c when it’s warm. We do keep winter temps cooler than most people and summer temps warmer (and dress and layer appropriately even indoors), but certainly not 56 degrees cool.

    • Haha — I can picture that kind of moment. That was me, as Scarlett, with the lima beans. :-) And hey, if temperature is important to you, then YES, pay for it! Good for you for spending on what’s important to you!

  19. If personal finance can exist, so can personal frugality! It sounds at first a bit weird to me. Not the principle but the more extreme approach. I also advocate here to not overheat the house and put on an extra layer of cloths. If it works for the two of you, then keep doing it.

    I have maybe the same with light… Or so i think based on some remarks from the wife. The strange thing: i have no idea how much it would save us…

    • I like that — personal frugality! And haha, yeah, I’m the same way with lights. Every once in a while, I turn off the light on someone who is in the room. :-)

  20. I am impressed by your numbers. I keep our house colder than my hubby likes, but I am the frugal one. We have our house around 60 at night and I would keep it at 62 when we are there during the day/evenings, but he wants it warmer, so we typically have to bump it up to 65 after he complains (but not before.) He’s been known to walk around the house in his parka too…which makes me laugh…

    • Haha — thankfully we have never resorted to full-on outerwear in the house! :-) But we’re amply equipped with fleece everything, which makes a world of difference. Same goes for fleece sheets and a flannel duvet cover, and the occasional use of an electric mattress pad heater. But we’d probably lose on every single other frugal comparison, so if we can have an impressive number on ONE THING, we’ll take it. And your numbers are still pretty great!

  21. If I try to turn the thermostat down any lower, I think there will be a cat mutiny; they’ve never shed so little fur before this winter that we’ve had the small house at 60F. LOL We’re all fleece blankets, all winter now. Thank goodness spring is on its way!

  22. Here’s my theory: maybe this is (subconsciously?) tied up in the triple bottom line concept. You know that your fancy coffee is probably better for people and for the planet than super cheap coffee that involves questionable cost-cutting measures, so you shell out. When you need to go buy more organic grocery items, it’s a health/environment issue, so you shell out. Whereas turning up the heat is kinda not-great for the environment, so you don’t do it. In other words, if you want something but you know it isn’t good for the world, you forgo it, but if you want it and you know it’s ok for the world, you purchase it.


    The only part that doesn’t fit with this theory is the home theater…hmmm…more data points are needed. :)

    PS: I highly recommend getting a hot water bottle to sit with under a blanket. This changed my life. I am not joking.

  23. If you guys can survive living in the cold, more power to you! There’s blankets and sweaters you could use to keep warm.

    I think the craziest weirdest thing I do to conserve $ is to do military showers where you wet yourself, soap up, and then rinse off. It’s not comfortable at all! But it saves me a few pennies each month :). I think more so it gets me out quicker than when I used to take long warm showers.

    • Wish we could do military showers… but it’s too cold! :-) Plus our water is priced flat fee, so we wouldn’t save money going your way. But if we could save, we’d probably consider military showers!

  24. Love this post, it just confirms it is all personal and we all need to look at what is important to us. I know when we travel to colder parts of the world, it seems really cold to us, but when people visit us (in Australia) they think it is really hot and we are wearing our warmest jackets and might even dig out a scarf if we can find it in the back of the wardrobe!
    I like the idea of moving the dial (temperature, budget, running distance etc ) up or down by 10% and seeing what it feels like, and whether you can ‘handle’ it (or even like it), and if you do, then try another 10% and then you eventually get to your ‘optimal’ equilibrium, which is unique for everyone.

    • So true that it’s all relative! Though I can’t imagine wearing a jacket if it’s remotely warm at all! :-) And yes, we’d recommend that everyone try going up or down a few degrees on the thermostat to see if you could adapt to a temp that requires less energy. Most people are more adaptable than they think!

  25. First off, another great pic. Just got back from skiing in Utah last week and forgot just how blue that sky is and what skiing on real snow is!

    This post, and particularly your conclusion, is really in line with a topic that I’ve recently heard Tim Ferris discussing on his podcast that he has drawn from stoic philosophy. He talks about going a week every 3-6 months with the barest of essentials, no showers, change of clothes, minimal and cheapest of food, heat down, etc. and constantly repeats the mantra “Is this the condition I so feared?”. It is to serve as a reminder of how good we have it, but also that even our worst case financial scenario really isn’t a very big deal.

    • So glad you guys got to UT! Hope it was awesome. I don’t know that we’d go full-on stoic, but it’s good not to get too soft from luxury. Living in the cold has definitely toughened us up! And yeah, if we *had* to live without heat, we know we’d survive. :-)

  26. I think this is great. My husband and I have settled on keeping the house at 18C if there isn’t a fire (a fire in the winter can make it warmer). I would drop it a few degrees, except the dozen days or so it is below -40C where we live. In the summer we don’t have a/c so it is warmer (I will use a fan for sleeping). Thanks for sharing this.

    • A fire for sure helps! We have a woodstove and do that sometime, but don’t want to buy enough expensive firewood to keep our house toasty. Though after we retire, we’ll go find our own firewood, and then we can get things up to maybe 60 or 61 degrees F. :-)

  27. My SIL was visiting and (severely) complained how cold our 68 degrees house was! Sorry, I cannot imagine 56 on a regular basis – a shiver just ran through my body thinking about it. My fav line on your post was “smart people can behave irrationally”!

    But I agree, it is about personal frugality and understanding that savings comes before spending on the “luxury” wants. I’m not sure if the term is still used, but we used to always say we were “living well below our means”. Essentially, in our earning years we saved 25% of our salary. That caused us to be very intentional on what we did spend our money on, especially because we never went into debt expect for the house mortgage. Credit cards are paid off monthly, big ticket items (cars, furniture, trips, etc.) saved up for. And we continue to have the same habits in retirement.

    So our intentional comfort (temperature) level is 68 during the day (wintertime), with polar tech and blankets and gloves in the house no big deal. Except when SIL visits.

    • Sounds like your SIL needs to toughen up a bit! ;-) But yeah, totally agree that we should all live below our means. We could for sure afford to crank our heat up, but (to us) that seems like a dumb use of money. But then we’d be fine spending on things that would bother other people — it’s all so personal.

  28. If my utility bill were that high, I’d have to consider those kind of measures, or more likely, I’d have to move! As I’ve gotten older and my circulation has deteriorated, I find 67 to be reasonable during the day, but anything less makes me terribly uncomfortable. I’m glad you’ve found a temperature that works for you, and I think it’s great that you’re looking for where else you can make changes. I’m not particularly extreme in my frugality. I prefer to look for smaller changes that add up to a nice savings rather than one big habit to tackle. But I think the important part is to keep evaluating what changes you can comfortably make.

    • It’s a good point about comfort temps and age — we’re in our 30s, and I would be shocked if we’re still living with 56 degrees in, say, our 60s or 70s. More likely we’ll move to the beach! :-) And yeah, on most things, we’re about shaving off small increments, but for some reason we just went for the drastic change on this one, realized we could live with it, and are going with it for the time being.

  29. Haha..wow..56 is pretty cold!

    My SO refused to do another 60 degree winter, so now we’re at 65. It’s pretty pleasant. However, we also live in a very small, upper apartment and I swear that the heat that’s being cranked downstairs by the older lady is seeping upstairs. Our gas bill has been between $20-40/mo…or less. I think one month was less than $10. And we live in Buffalo, NY!

    I suppose just bundling up is a viable solution!

    • We miss those low utility bills at apartments. Everything goes up so much with a standalone house, especially because you get no benefit from neighbors’ heat. :-)

  30. I and my brothers can’t handle the cold well as we grew up in a tropical country. I gasped when I read 13 degrees celsius because we keep our house at about 25 degrees celsius in winter. We got a lot better when my boyfriend moved in briefly with us and he pointed out how we keep our house really warm just so we can wear our summer clothes inside. He was right, but we wouldn’t have known that if he didn’t tell us because for us, it felt normal. After that, we adjusted the thermostat and started putting on more layers instead. The cost wasn’t ridiculous, it cost us about $150 a month during winter. (These days though, I stay with my boyfriend and there is no central heating here and the insulation is pretty bad…I survive thanks to my hot water bottle.)

    And to answer your question…no, I don’t think I’ve given anything up major at this point, in the name of frugality. I refuse to call myself frugal because I feel that I’m not worthy of that adjective (I will perhaps be considered a disgrace to the community haha!). I spend my money wisely and set my priorities but aside from cutting unnecessary shopping, I haven’t really committed to doing anything extreme like what you guys are doing.

    Amazing photo, I love it!

    • I think I would be sweating if we kept our house at 25C! :-) (But, like no, for real. That’s way too warm for me now!) But I’m glad to hear that you’re wearing more layers now, if for no better reason than not to waste energy. And we’re the same way about “frugal” — we don’t feel at all worthy of the title (and truthfully think many who claim it are also not worthy of the title!). But, fortunately, it’s not a competition to out-frugal each other. If you’re meeting your own goals, then you win. :-)

  31. Wow! First off, I have to ask…where are you guys to get skies looking like that?!?!?

    Secondly, I give you serious congrats on being able to acclimate to your thermostat being that low. Even if it were just me and my wife, I don’t think we would attempt that here in South Dakota. We especially can’t (choose not to?) due to our 18 month old. SD is constantly windy and winters get well below freezing – the lowest we’ve seen in our two years here was -20 with wind chill pushing it to around -30 to -35. We’ve been fortunate enough, though, that our utility bill only runs between $150-250.

    Lastly, I believe that frugality comes with many definitions from each individual or family’s point of view. Like you guys, we would probably not truly be considered frugal in a lot of areas of our finances. However, I still consider us to be relatively frugal because of the fact that, right now, we are shelling out well over 50+% of our income, paying off debt and eventually increasing our investment options once we reach debt freedom. We don’t scrimp and rarely tell ourselves no. Like Income Surfer mentioned, it’s all about intentional living, thereby utilizing your finances to best further your own agenda and goals.

    • We’ll share where we live in two years when we quit our jobs. :-) And WOW, your utility bills seem super affordable for that level of cold you deal with! Fortunately it’s not that cold consistently, mostly owing to all the sunshine during the day! That’s the joy of mountains. :-) And it sounds like you’re doing pretty well on the finance front — congrats!

      • lol…I can respect that! :)

        Yeah we don’t complain about the utilities too much – our house has geothermal heating and, as long as it’s working properly, it does a pretty nice job. Sometimes it’s just too cold to keep up and we have to kick on the “emergency” heat and regular heater coils kick on.

        Thanks for the congrats, by the way. You guys are doing awesome, as well. I’m shooting for full retirement by 45 (29 now) and hoping to cut back to PRN (aka picking up a few shifts per month) by around 40. This may be a bit ambitious and obviously a lot can change between now and then so I’ll just have to roll with the punches. The beauty of it, though, is that I legitimately love what I do so, even if I end up working a little longer, it won’t be the end of the world.

        January 1, 2018…I’ll be looking forward to hearing where I can get a view of that sky! Until then, got any camera equipment/photography tips? :)

      • Virtually everyone we know in the FIRE space has moved up their timeline at least once, and I bet you’ll end up doing the same. By the time we pull the plug, we will have been saving for 6 years, and while we earn quite a bit more than average which makes things easier, I have a pretty good feeling you won’t end up needing 16 years to save enough. :-) As for camera tips, most of our photos here are just iPhone photos, because we rarely want to lug around the “real” camera. :-) But I’d say: Take your time, take several shots in each place to give yourself options, and start to get attuned to the light. Taking pictures when the light is good is what elevates a snapshot to a quality picture. :-)

      • Thanks for the advice; I can’t believe you captured that with an iPhone!

        That’s really awesome to hear about others you know. We’re in this with an open mind and, while working longer wouldn’t be the end of the world by any means, retiring earlier would always be a welcome problem to have! lol

        Everything is going to vary based on a million different variables over the coming decade. Ideally, and depending on how long we travel, we will have the opportunity to continue investing and simultaneously save up enough funds to essentially pay cash for our forever home, wherever we ultimately decide that may be. Traveling on the agency’s dime with next-to-zero expenses should allow for an insane savings rate if we play our cards right. :)

      • Haha — and my company just upgraded me to the iPhone 6S, so I think the photos will get better! :-) I look forward to following your journey, though it sounds like you have a pretty sweet gig. I am totally confident that you’ll speed up your timeline as you go along. :-)

  32. During our short winter, I gradually kept reducing the temperature and started getting complaints in the mid 60s… 56 is impressive!

    In the summer, I try not to use the a/c in the car (at least when I’m by myself). It’s amazing how quickly our bodies can adapt to different temperatures. By the end of the summer, low 70s indoors will feel freezing!

    • We would say it’s best if you work up to the temp you’re aiming for (or work down to it, as the case may be). :-) I bet if you did like a degree every week or every other week, you could get colder than you’d expect. But yeah, we fully recognize that 56 is borderline crazy. ;-) And I would die riding in a car in the summer with no AC — so you have my admiration there! But I’m such a wuss about heat!

  33. It’s funny because I’m the exact opposite of the two of you! I take frugality to an extreme most of the time, but I can’t really imagine keeping my future house at 56 degrees! I think it’s awesome that you do, but I’m not sure if I could do it. (It’s probably worth noting that I live in Minnesota, which doesn’t exactly help).

    • So funny. :-) And know thyself, right? If the cold is a deal breaker for you, then it’s worth paying for heat. Not quite sure why we have such a hangup about our gas bill, but we are just not willing to pay that!

    • Jen, we’re in Minnesota also. Out near Crookston. We can’t keep the house that cold either. Every pipe in our place would freeze. Fall just barely started and the snow and freezing weather hit. Come January- February (-50° with those massive wind chills) and our pipes usually freeze no matter the temperature inside, but it isn’t our pipes that freeze, it’s the mobile parks that do. Thankfully it is normally for only two weeks. We know it’s the parks pipes because once the water starts flowing, there’s sand that comes out the faucets and our metered bill is always approximately $35. Unfortunately nothing will be done. Can’t wait until hubby is able to get off of workman’s comp so we can move.

  34. This discussion reminds me of an Op Ed piece from the writer Ken Ilgunas from last year. He was house sitting in a ranch house in I think Nebraska, and he set it to 45 degrees all winter:
    “I’m not going to say that I liked living in a 45-degree house, but eventually I didn’t mind it, and it taught me that one’s sense of comfort can be redefined with a bit of grit and resourcefulness. Sitting in my sleeping bag, I began to wonder: If we all set our thermostats to our own “comfortable low,” how many West Virginia mountains could we save? ”

    I don’t know if you are familiar with this guy but his outlook on life has many things in common with the FIRE community, even though I doubt he had any interest in retiring early, since he’s already making his own path. He was the guy who got press several years ago for secretly living in a van in the school parking lots the entire time he went to grad school at Duke, in order to avoid taking on debt.

  35. Hey, guys, welcome to the club! I don’t think you are crazy at all, saving money does make sense and it is good to embrace the climate you are living in. I mean if someone doesn’T like the cold, why would he chose to live in the mountains? I keep my house at 55 degrees, actually because I feel comfortableand I like it cold, that’s pure biology. I live in an area with cool climate and it’s winter now and for years I haven’t turned on the heat even once. Apart from comfort I think that is is very important to save energy and the environment. Be goo to the earth since is the only place we can live.

    • Wow — we haven’t met anyone else in the 55 degree club! Even our friends here mostly do low 60s, which is still plenty cold by most people’s standards. But as you said, why move to a cold place if you don’t like the cold?! ;-)

  36. It’s now, as I write, 9/25/18; any updates? I’m exploring keeping my apt at 55º-60ºF. Currently, 60ºF is fine but it’s been a short experiment so far.

  37. Really liked your blog, I will have to look at more
    I have just introduced this way of living to my family and had just started to live in colder temps. I grew up in an old timber framed farm house, so heat ducks could only be placed on half of the lower level, and the up stairs was only heated by what heat drifted up through the staircase. I remember waking up some mornings with my night time water half frozen and frost on the inside of my sigle pane windows. What this taught me as a young boy was to plan ahead. The night before I would pick out my clothes and have them on my dresser. So i would get up, grab them on the way through to the bathroom in the heated area of the down stairs. Though it was still cold down there as Dad would let the fire in the wood burning furnace die down through the night. He would also be up at 5 am to fire it back up and then do darm chores. I would help add to the heat and humidity with my morning shower. (Fast shower or to much water, saturated the drain field.) But it warmed up the little bathroom, to finish the rest of the daily routine and dress for the day. Then we would all convene in the kitchen which was the warmest room in the house as Mom always would have something cooking in the oven for later that day, (Come to think of it that would explain a lot of my waist line as a kid.) Then dad would close the damper on the fire or let it go out during the day. Mom hated working in a “hot house” I was off at school and Dad was working out side of the house.
    Now I am trying it with my family, we use gas to fire up the house in the morning to 69 degrees to help get the kids out of bed. The we turn it down to 60 degrees, with the thermal mass of the brick home it helpa us cost till the sun is up then our large windows let in the heat. I have come home to a 67 degree home yesterday after 6 hours of sun Then we cost to morning. I’m hoping my kids catch on like I did, and it saves us some green. Even now living in the city times are tight.

  38. We keep it cold at our house unless it is a certain temperature outside. In general we do not run the heat at all it stays off.My husband, daughter and 1 roommate never complain about being cold. I recently have had a Millennial family member move in and she is constantly complaining about being cold. She has not been raised this way and had never paid an electric bill before until now. I will show her some mercy and run the heat if it is below 50 outside or if she is taking a shower.She will get use to it and lose some weight in the process. Allowing your body to be cold is great for your metabolism.

  39. I don’t think you’re crazy at all. In fact, I don’t find it hard to believe that you can do 55 in the house because I do the same, only I’m on the East Coast, where the cold is humid, so it’s much worse. I’ve experienced dry cold and dry heat and wet cold and wet heat, and there’s no comparison. 55 in dry cold sounds almost like heaven!

    I, too, balk at spending so much on energy (we don’t have air conditioning in this house either, only a window unit in the bedroom for when things get really bad — Baltimore summers are hot). I’d rather spend my money on other things. The house is long since paid off — I did that all on my own before I got married — and I enjoy beautiful clothes and great restaurants. We can all be frugal in the ways that are important to us and spend likewise.

    Great blog!

  40. I keep my house at 57°F. I have no problem with it. Sometimes in the morning I get that shiver, that brrr it’s cold. But if I just give it the right mind set, it’s cold, yes, and refreshing! Within a few minutes I’m totally acclimated. However, if I want to add a few degrees of heat, without turning on the ga$ furnace, I have a collection of about 10 vintage LE Smith glass courting lamps, which take votive candles. Light up those babies, and it’s amazing how much warmth you get from small flames. Also, I have a candelabra which holds 11 tapers, and they will warm up the dining room. And that is really cheap heat without a lot of fuss.