Keeping Cool Frugally... Take Two

 photo ac_zpsc7c07624.jpgThe problem with frugality is that it can easily turn from a smart move, living within your means, to becoming a game of "lets see how little I can do without" even when you can afford to have that, even when doing without that is hurting you and your family. But its hard sometimes to spend money on yourself, especially in ways that you've previously talked about doing without, because as much as you know it's a good idea, you still feel like a failure, like you're letting people down. Because if even you, the "frugal queen" decide not to skimp in this way, why should anyone else?

That's one of the things tough about this blog.

I feel like some of you put me on such a pedestal  as the "ultimate frugalista", that even when it makes sense to do something less frugal, even when I can afford it, and being extra frugal ends up making me and my family suffer and not have as good of a life as we could have, I feel pressure to still not do it, because I have to be an inspiration to my readers, that I can't "cave in", that I have to be a good role model and not let y'all down.

But summer is one of those times when I just suffer. And my husband does even more than I do.

Mike is a very light sleeper, and has a really hard time sleeping in the summer in the heat. Our house gets no breeze in the summer, even with the windows open, and there's only so much that a fan helps. During the summer, it sometimes gets so hot that all the typical cooling methods don't work- a fan blowing on you feels like you're standing in front of a blow heater. And when you turn on the cold water in the shower, hot water comes out.
And when that happens, everyone suffers. I suffer tremendously, dehydrate, can't function, just lay around in a daze, unable to do anything. And my kids are cranky. And my husband also is cranky, can't function, and can't sleep.

He's wanted to get an air conditioner for years already. I said no, we needed to save the money for needs, not extras like an AC unit.

We tried making a swamp cooler, but I'll be honest- it barely works.

And my husband really, really, really wanted an AC.

But I really, really, really didn't.

Because I was afraid our electric bills would be sky high, even after paying a fortune for an AC unit and then more money to get it installed, etc...

Then I spoke to some frugal minded friends locally who did have an AC unit that they used as needed, but not all the time. And fortunately, her electric bill didn't get so high in the heat of the summer, even using the AC. So I became convinced that smartly using an AC unit won't triple or quadruple our electric bill. But still- laying out the money for the unit, paying to install it, then paying to move it and install it in a new apartment, and then fixing up the hole in the wall from the old apartment... (The standard "window units" people have in the US don't work with the types of windows we have here- I'm not even sure they are sold here.)

Mike really wanted an AC, and I was starting to get convinced that I really wanted one as well, after we started having heat waves in the 90s and 100s already in April... But I STILL didn't want to lay out so much for the unit and installation.

My husband did some research and discovered that there was this portable AC unit, that you could roll from room to room as needed, and just put the pipe out the window, 2 screws and 2 minutes to install. (Slightly more complicated than that, but no, the cold air doesn't escape, just the hot.) And it cools off just as nicely as a regular AC unit, and is very energy efficient (has a top energy efficiency rating). It actually uses less electricity than an installed unit, but cools just as much.

But even once we found what we wanted, I didn't want to pay full price. So we found one that was gently used on our local version of Craigslist (he got rid of it after a short time, because he installed central AC) for half price.
And have been enjoying the AC since then!

We're not using it much. We're using the fan mostly, and the AC part of it only when it's really, really, really hot.

We're not doing what most people do and making the house so cold with the AC so they need to wear a sweater in the middle of the summer. We're only using it when we feel like we're melting, and only after we try the fan and it isn't doing the trick.

I was bummed out when I saw that the AC didn't come with a timer to be able to turn on and off whenever you'd want it to, which meant it either was on the whole night or off the whole night, but couldn't be on sporadically...
But then we had a blackout the other day and I saw that the AC came back on even after the blackout. Which made me realize that I could use the AC on a timer, that it would turn itself back on... That's exciting, because it means I don't have to have it on constantly but still can keep the place pleasantly cool...

So there's the story.

We have AC.
For the first time in 7 years of being married.
After some very, very unpleasantly hot summers.
Yes, our electric bill will be higher. (Still waiting for the first one to come.)
But it's worth it if it means not suffering the entire season.
And of course, even with unfrugal AC, we're trying to do this as frugally as possible.

Do you have AC? What type? Do you find your electric bill is much higher in the summer, or is it pretty reasonable? What are your tricks to keeping down your electric bill despite having AC?
If you don't have AC, do you think this is something sustainable, or do you think you'll eventually cave, like we did?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. I don't have a/c because I live in a place that gets hot maybe one month per year, and I have a basement that never (so far) gets too hot for sleeping.

    We do have a dehumidifier because our summers are very, very humid/damp with lots of rain, and otherwise the basement would be dangerously damp.

    I liken a/c to heating your whole house. Sure, people used to live in my climate with just a fireplace or stove or two to heat the house. And they'd have to break the ice on the bucket of water in the mornings. We don't do that anymore because it's really uncomfortable. People used to live in really hot climates without a/c, but why do that if you can afford to do otherwise, because frankly, it's really, really uncomfortable.

  2. We have the same sort of AC. Here we have thin walls and windowsills with only single layer glass so window AC units won't work for us. Our apartment is in the corner so we get sun all day long and even if we have our blackout shades pulled so the apartment is pitch dark the wall still heats up and makes it unbearable in here.

    I like how it moves around, when it's really hot we keep the bedroom doors closed and everyone sleeps in the living room with the AC so the only rooms that need to be cooled are the kitchen, living room and bathroom door stays shut since it's always cool in there.

    Our electric bill only goes up about $20 every 2 months for the 4 hot months.

  3. Hi Penny
    Just reading your post on A/C. I have central A/C in my home but only use it when needed and then its not turned on high, just enough to make a difference and for short periods of time. The way I see it is for health reasons. If I am cranky, tired etc because of the heat what good am I to those around me. Lets face it, its not fun feeling overheated and having to deal with someone cranky etc also and all to save a few dollars. Not worth it. Sometimes putting your health and the health of others always comes first.

  4. I have an AC and would not live without it, to me it is as necessary as heat. There is no sense in being frugal and making the whole family suffer. We also use the AC to control our environment due to allergies, where I live spring allergies are horrible and opening windows for and hour, can cause a weeks worth of misery. I keep it set at a normal temp and let it run as the thermostat will control how hard it is working by the temp I set. I hope the summer is more enjoyable for you with it.

  5. In my previous marriage we had TWO a/c units: one borrowed with the apartment, and tne huge one we bought.

    In my new frugal life, we are in an apartment where the bedroom windows don't open. It was ROUGH at first. We bought an evaporative cooling unit. It pumps air through water to slightly cool the air, butit increases the humidity. Uses about as much energy as a large fan. If you use mostly ice (we keep bags of it in our freezer at the ready) it can lower the temp 5-10 degrees.

  6. In my previous marriage we had TWO a/c units: one borrowed with the apartment, and tne huge one we bought.

    In my new frugal life, we are in an apartment where the bedroom windows don't open. It was ROUGH at first. We bought an evaporative cooling unit. It pumps air through water to slightly cool the air, butit increases the humidity. Uses about as much energy as a large fan. If you use mostly ice (we keep bags of it in our freezer at the ready) it can lower the temp 5-10 degrees.

  7. I live in an arid place. Almost every house on my block has what is known as a "swamp cooler". For people who live in humid areas, this makes no sense. A swamp cooler has a heavy duty fan and a water pump that keeps a trickle of water running down pads. The air that is pulled through the pads keeps the house cool.

    Does it work? Yes, I have seen people put on sweaters in homes where there is a swamp cooler, much as you see some who do the same when there is air conditioning that is set to cool too much. The cost of running a swamp cooler is pretty much the same as running a fan, plus the couple gallons of water you use a day.

  8. I'm glad you're making your family comfortable! Remember what you said in the "home birth is frugal" post? You save money where you can so you can spend it on what's important to you - and a happy husband and happy kids (not to mention a healthier, happier you) is important! If anyone says otherwise about your AC, send 'em my way! :)

  9. Penny - I find keeping the house dark helps. And just the usual turning it off when you leave, only using it at the maximum temperature you can handle, etc. This summer we are hoping to get fans, as well - this is to deal with our fly problem, because if I get screens I will feel like I am in a cage, but I'm hoping it will also help cut down on the electric bills.
    Don't feel like you caved in. You live in an extremely hot place, and quality of life is important, especially when it comes to sleep!!!!!

  10. We have a reverse cycle split system, heats in winter, a/c in summer, it's built in and has a fairly large compressor outside.
    It's the first one we've had for years and I was leery of using it at first, for money reasons, but we tend to run it in 1/2 hour bursts every couple of hours on hot days (over 35C and we only have 10 or so that hot a year) and it's awesome to just cool the house down enough for comfort.
    We haven't used it yet for heating this autumn, are holding off till winter actually officially starts - it's been surprisingly easy although the above average temps helped!

    There's a noticeable jump in the bill, but not enough to outweigh the comfort factor. We have offpeak pricing on weekends so I do most of my washing and vacuuming then, baking too if it works out, though in colder weather I substitute the oven for extra heating and am happy to cook during the day in miserable weather.

  11. I think you have a great point about frugality vs. misery. I am the kind of person who hates feeling cold much more than feeling hot, and I live in a climate that is only Really Hot by my standards for a few days at a stretch several times each summer, so I have no AC in my home now. I grew up in a hotter climate in a house with central AC, which my parents used very rarely, and I think that was mostly reasonable.

    Last summer I explained how to live without air conditioning, and my brother, who is now a home energy auditor, added a lengthy comment detailing the situations in which AC is actually the better choice. It's good info for warmer climates and/or newer houses, but I'm still happy doing without AC in my own home.

    I have to work in AC all day, and my office is often colder than I'd like--I have no control over it--so I dress warmly in the office and then take off layers just before leaving so that the warm air outdoors feels good instead of bad. Up to a point, temperature is subjective and your experience is influenced by what you're used to.

  12. First off, I want you to know that I am sure many of us look to you for your frugal advise. I don't want you to think that means we want you or your family to suffer. We all do what we can to make our lives easier if we can afford it. No one is going to point their finger and shame on you. If they do, that's their problem for not being compassionate. I just turned on our A/C last week, First time since in our new house. The unit is 23 years old, and on its last legs. It's doing the best it can, but we are going to have to replace it. I just hope we can make it through this summer. I have a fan going downstairs to push the cold air upstairs, and it works as well as it can. I'm not trying to get it to ice berg conditions in here though. I try to keep it around 65 degrees in the winter and around 75 in the summer. It keeps our heating and cooling bill down nicely. Which is hard to do since my son doesn't seem to understand what an off switch is for anything right now, no matter how many times we talk about it.

  13. A reader in BeitarMay 29, 2013 at 6:03 AM

    One idea that I try to live by is that my husband's opinion of me and my relationship with him takes precedence over other people's opinions of me and my relationships with them. It's clear that the right thing for your family is get an AC. Everyone else's opinions are irrelevant.

    Furthermore, you getting an AC emphasizes your claim that a lifestyle of overall frugality won't make one miserable, because one saves money in ways that work for them, and spends money for things that are important to them.

    We also just invested in things to make our apartment cooler. I didn't feel like suffering for the whole summer, even though I could have dealt with it. And I didn't want to use up my coping energies on dealing with the heat. I'd rather save my coping energies for my husband and children. If laying out some money will make me a better wife and mother, I'll do it.

  14. Being frugal shouldn't mean you have to suffer. We live in the tropics and always have had an A/C but only used it when really necessary, don't leave it running all of the time, just use common sense. There is nothing wrong with having A/C, it does not mean you are not frugal, use it frugally so you and your family are not suffering just for the sake of a principal that was never meant that you have to suffer, that is not frugal.

  15. Being frugal doesn't mean you have to suffer, it was never meant for that.

    Use your A/C frugally and you will like having it, yes you will have to pay for the electricity it uses but your family will benefit.

    Frugal does not mean stingy, does not mean having your health suffer for a principal, does not mean feeling bad because you have "caved in" and bought something you need.

    Use your A/C as you need and don't feel bad about it.

  16. We had one of those portable AC units when we lived in a rented apartment above the units garages. During the summers the apartment would get to be 110 degrees with no available breeze. We had an 18 month old who needed to nap. We couldn't leave during nap and we just started to feel it was dangerous. We got ours used as well and it was a worthwhile investment.

    We live in a unit now where we no longer need the portable AC and we were able to recoup our investment easy by reselling it.

  17. We live in hot and HUMID NC! The summer is pretty brutal due to humidity. I can handle dry heat but with asthma, moist heat is definitely the enemy! Having said that, my hubby is much more hot-natured than I am! As I type, he is in shorts and a tank in the living room and I am in out home office in a pair of knit pants, t-shirt and sweatshirt! lol We do use the AC during is humming away now. I have no large trees around my house to act as shade so we choose to save money in other places and opt for comfort.

  18. When I first read the title of the post, I thought it said "Keeping Cool Frugally...Takes Two" and in marriage, it does! Please put your family's needs first :) I live in Mexico with just fans and while I have the same fears about A/Cs, I would buy one if we could, just to see my hubby happy. Especially if it can be used in a small space where everyone hangs out for the hottest part of the day, I can see how it would still be frugal. And the smile on that man's face: priceless!

  19. I have grave's disease which causes my body to run very hot, my body isn't able to regulate my temperature very well. I get very sick in hot weather. My asthma also makes the overheating issue worse. We use our AC to an astonishing degree (I've had it at 55 degrees when I was at my sickest) infact, for me personally, AC is higher on my priority list than my own food. Its a health issue, and it is on the same priority level as my medications. HOWEVER, I simply budget for it, I make personal sacrifices in order to run the AC. My husband runs hot too, though not from any disease, so we happily go withour heat in winter. We keep our heater around 45-50 degrees in winter and we just wear layers & gloves and I cook and bake all winter (the oven warming the house while I cook) and stockpile it in the freezer for the rest of the year. We've had the heater lower than that during hard times as well. We happily sacrifice our heat for the health and happiness we have in summer.
    Most people think we're wasting money in summer, and some think we're being irresponsible or crazy in winter, but what do they know? We're comfortable with the ac/heat trade off. Oneday when we have kids, we won't be able to sacrifice heat anymore. But for now we're happy with the chill, its working for us. It even brings us closer together as we tend to cuddle up under 5 quilts with all 3 of our cats and watch old movies. Its fun, and its whats healthy for us.

  20. we have an a/c unit in the kitchen/dining room & for around 2 weeks of the year when it's at it's hottest we sleep in there, i have trouble sleeping when the temperature is over 30c/86f. & we have it on when the day time temperature is over 40c/104f, my house is badly designed & the walls at the front get so hot. Heather

  21. I don't use an Ac i use a dehumidifier on those extra scorching days, I just am so afraid our hydro will sky rocekt if i have an ac...maybe I can look at putting it on a timer and use it only in extreme cases

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