Right now, as I type this to you, I have to stop every few minutes to blow some warm air on my fingers. It’s not quite full winter here in Tahoe yet, but it’s definitely cold enough that we’re having to run the heat to keep our house at a bracing 55 degrees.
It’s cold enough that the dish soap won’t flow, but not so cold that we start shivering. (Most of the time.) And my icicle hands and feet will keep me up all night if I don’t take a hot water bottle to bed.
The money we save keeping our house this cold — $250ish/month x 6 cold months = $1500ish a year — is no small sum, but has saving that money actually made a material difference in how quickly we’ve been able to reach financial independence or save for early retirement? No. (Though might equivalent savings in the future, when we have less margin for error in early retirement, make a difference in whether we stay within our yearly budget? Absolutely.)
The early motivation to experiment with how cold we could stand to keep it indoors stemmed from the shock of receiving that first ridiculous natural gas bill after we moved to Tahoe, and our environmental leanings for sure helped bolster our resolve in those early days of keeping it cold. (Saving money and fossil fuels = obviously good.) A commentary piece by the thoughtful writer Ken Ilgunas made us feel a little righteous for keeping the habit going, and then blogging about it here made it a thing. (And then MONEY doubled down on that.)
That’s even though I’m over here twice a week shouting to everyone who will listen about the value of radical moderation rather than doing things in the extreme. Posting pictures from Hamilton and of bringing home expensive pizza as my carryon luggage to prove the point.
But chances are good that when I write all that stuff about not making yourself miserable through your frugality (or cheapness), I’m writing it bundled up, from a room only a little too warm to see my breath.
Because I think it’s important to do one thing consistently that tests you.
A few weeks ago, I chatted with Brad and Jonathan on the ChooseFI podcast, and in their follow-up show, Jonathan described our cold house quirk and other equivalent choices as “selectively hardcore.”
I love that way of describing it. Because we are for sure not hardcore all around. We still sometimes make purchasing decisions based on convenience. We pay $4 for Vudu movies rather than the $.85 we could pay for Redbox (but which would probably turn into $4 anyway when we forgot to return it the next day). We do some of our shopping at Whole Foods when we could certainly do all of it at cheaper stores. And those are not the big ticket expenses. Let’s talk about the three trips we just booked…
But as always, how we approach money — how we approach life — isn’t black or white. It isn’t all or nothing, or at least it shouldn’t be. Whether we have more money than time or more time than money, it’s still up to each of us to decide what feels worth our limited resources, and what doesn’t. That’s all Moderation 101.
But I want to make the case for having one thing that you do more or less all the time that feels just a little bit crazy, and that’s significantly outside of your comfort zone (even though the rest of the time I’m arguing that you don’t always need to get out of it). Maybe it’s literally outside your comfort zone like our cold house (we’d both be a lot more comfortable at 65 degrees), or maybe it’s figurative. But either way, having something that consistently tests you and your principles has a bunch of benefits that go way beyond the financial ones.
The Benefits of Doing One Strict, Selectively Hardcore Thing
Could we afford to turn the heat up? Sure. And will I be sad in retirement if we have time to cut down firewood ourselves and burn the fire enough to get the house above 60 consistently? Nope. But I also wouldn’t trade the lessons that have come from sticking with this questionable idea.
Here are just a few of the things that keeping our house cold has taught us:
We’re stronger than we think. I used to shiver below 70, and felt physical pain from the cold below 60. But I adjusted, and learned that I can adjust to a lot of things.
Pain is temporary. The hardest part is each autumn when we transition our bodies from being used to the warm to being used to the cold. By the time real winter arrives, we’re acclimated and it’s surprisingly easy. (Except when getting out of the shower. That stays rough. But that, too, is temporary.)
It’s always possible to learn new things or embrace new experiences. We moved from LA and were pretty sure we were only ever going to be comfortable between 75 and 82 degrees, under sunny skies. We were wrong.
Comfort is a privilege. Being cold reminds us that many people are too cold or too hot for much of their lives. Climate control is a massive privilege, but it’s so easy for forget that. Keeping our house cold keeps us grounded in that reality.
Gratitude is something you can feel. When we go somewhere warmer than our house, the heat feels like a big, enveloping hug. It’s a glorious feeling, one we relish, and almost every time, I feel a big wave of gratitude for the warmth. And given that it’s grateful people who are happy, not the other way around, that visceral reminder to appreciate all the ways we’re so fortunate is always a good thing.
What began as a knee-jerk financial reaction has turned into this wise teacher, teaching us about life, ourselves and not really about money at all. But we wouldn’t have learned these lessons — and certainly not felt them in our bones — if we hadn’t stuck with this stubborn idea consistently every single winter.
Our choice of being selectively hardcore about our heat has taught us one set of lessons — and will certainly keep teaching us more and more — but any selectively hardcore choice you make comes with its own set of reminders and life lessons.
Don’t miss out on the chance to learn whatever lessons are waiting out there for you.
What’s Your “Selectively Hardcore”?
If anyone’s jumping up and down shouting “Cold house over here too!” you know I’d love to hear from you. Proclaim it in the comments! And for all of you more reasonable folks out there, what’s your selectively hardcore… or your idea of what you might make into your selectively hardcore? Any trial and error on selectively hardcore choices that didn’t stick, especially if there’s comedy value? Let’s discuss in the comments!
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Categories: we've learned