One of the things that I think holds a lot of people back financially is this total aversion to even a moment of discomfort. Sure, being successful with money requires an ability to handle money well – that’s probably a prerequisite. But I think there’s more to it than that. When it comes to success with money, you’ve got to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
The price of comfort is pretty high. Living in a luxury apartment, getting food delivered to you, or running that air conditioner throughout the summer is going to cost you. If you opt for 24/7 comfort, you’re basically doing two things that are bad for you financially:
- You’re increasing your cost of living, making it so that you have to earn more money if you want to live.
- You’re making it so that you can never live without that comfortable thing ever again.
That’s why I always cringe when I see a young lawyer or a medical professional snagging a luxury apartment right out of school (or even during school, as many of my wife’s resident friends appear to be doing). Unless you’re somehow getting a really good deal, there’s just not much reason to live in a place like that. And once you opt for that type of lifestyle, you’re basically setting a baseline that will impact how you live for the rest of your life.
A lot of it has to do with what’s normal. Lawyers and doctors aren’t supposed to live in crappy apartments with regular chumps. They’re supposed to live in luxury. That’s why all of my work colleagues and my wife’s dental friends live in these fancy places.
But the other part of why people choose to live this way has to do with comfort. When I ask some people why they don’t live in less expensive places, the typical answer is that they want a nice, comfortable place to go to after a long day at work.
It’s a fair point. And you can definitely choose total comfort. But if you can’t accept anything less than optimal, top of the line comfort, it’ll be much harder to get ahead financially. You’re basically picking comfort over financial security.
A Case Study In Comfort – Climate Control
In my time as an Airbnb host (and really just from interacting with people in general), the thing I’ve discovered is that a lot of people just can’t even spend a little bit of time in natural temperatures.
I live in an old house – nearly 100 years old. When you live in an old, crappy house like I do, you don’t get the luxury of central cooling. For most of the summer, my wife and I are fine. We both work during the day, so we get to bask in the free a/c of our jobs. At night, it can be uncomfortable sometimes, but we can usually just crack open the windows, hit the fan, and pull in some of that free, cool night air. If it’s really ridiculous, we’ll turn on the window a/c unit we have in our room that someone gave to us for free.
For some people, temperatures in the high 70s or low 80s are apparently unacceptable. That’s crazy to me, but it’s true. I’ve learned it first hand from my Airbnb guests, many of whom get into my house and then complain that temperatures are too hot. I recently had one guest who asked about how to turn on my a/c (which I don’t have) when the daytime high was only 80 degrees.
I get that these Airbnb guests are paying customers, but I just have to imagine that they live a perfect climate-controlled life in their home lives as well. When I went to Puerto Rico back in April, even with temperatures in the 80s, it never even occurred to me to worry about something like a/c.
If you think about it, in some places, it’s basically possible to never face the elements. You can spend your entire day in unnatural cooling or heating – going from home to car, car to work, work back to car, and car back to home. When you live like this, you can’t help but expect total comfort all the time, wherever you go.
Why Should You Accept Anything Less Than Total Comfort?
Why should you accept anything less than total comfort? Consider these three things:
1. There’s Money To Be Made In Being Uncomfortable
Not willing to be uncomfortable is expensive. Your typical air conditioner will jack up your electricity bill by many percentages – probably 100% or more depending on how much a/c you consume in a typical month. This is especially true for anyone who turns on the a/c at the first sign of heat or that sets their a/c at ridiculously low temperatures. It always seemed interesting to me that folks would set their a/c super low in the summer, then set their heat super high in the winter. Why is it that a comfortable temperature during the winter isn’t the same comfortable temperature in the summer?
Even more expensive for the wallet are the folks who refuse to break a sweat by biking or walking anywhere, and instead, will only drive places. Sure, I’m probably a little luckier than most people because I don’t really sweat all that much. But at the same time, a calm 10 to 15-minute bike ride to the train or bus in the early morning, even in work clothes, probably isn’t going to have you sweating buckets. Imagine how much you can save if you’re willing to consider taking a non-car based mode of transport.
2. You’ll Learn To Be Humble
There’s so much value in developing a humble mindset. I think humbleness is the absolute key to avoiding the dreaded financial killer of lifestyle inflation. When you’re humble, you learn to realize that you don’t NEED everything. Instead, you develop an appreciation for the things you already have.
It’s hard to be humble when you refuse to break a sweat. Someone living a perfect, climate-controlled life can’t appreciate that so many people out there don’t have that luxury, yet live perfectly fine.
When you’re humble, my goodness does saving become easier.
3. You’ll Appreciate The Comforts More
When I was working in biglaw, people were always amused at how happy I was to get free food or be at fancy events. For a lot of people at the firm, this type of stuff was just totally normal. It was nice that it was free, but it wasn’t something they hadn’t had before. For me though, this free stuff wasn’t just amazing – it was stuff I’d never get myself. Since I didn’t have it, I appreciated it a ton.
You really learn to appreciate the stuff you have once you accept a little bit of discomfort in your life. I share my home with strangers, something that 99% of people refuse to do in any form. That’s fine – I totally understand it. Sharing your space isn’t for everyone.
But let me tell you, I appreciate my home a lot more now that I’ve started letting other people into it.
Ways To Be Uncomfortable
Use Your Bike
I hear probably two excuses everytime I find someone who objects to biking as a form of commuting: (1) they don’t want to be sweaty, or (2) they’re uncomfortable with biking. I don’t think either one is a great excuse.
If sweat is a concern, then reserve your bike ride for the end of the day when you’re heading home. It’s easy enough to just change at the office and then bike your way home.
If you’re uncomfortable with biking, then, I don’t know what to say. Learn how to bike? If you live in a crappy bike city, I’m positive you can figure out a bike friendly way home. You can’t get good at something if you’re not willing to put the work in.
Stop Turning On The A/C All The Time
Air conditioning is something that I really despise. I like being in a cool, comfort-controlled place as much as anyone, but in the US, we are ridiculous about it. It makes no sense that people wear sweaters indoors during the summer because they’re cold.
In my opinion, for most people, there’s just no reason to run the a/c throughout the summer. Learn to live with a little heat like a normal person. You’ll grow tougher.
Be Willing To Share Your Space With Others
A lot of people refuse to live with other people because they want their privacy. It’s comfortable to have privacy, but there’s value in being willing to share your space. You can dramatically reduce your living expenses or make some extra money if you’re willing to share your space with others on a platform like Airbnb.
If you’re the type of person who simply cannot share any space with anyone, well, that’s fine. Just remember that it’s a choice you’re making. You’re opting to accept no discomfort in your life in this area.
Use Your Feet
If you’re driving somewhere, you can park somewhere for free and walk to where you need to go! Yeah, you have to use your feet like a chump, but you’ll actually be out in the world and maybe you’ll even get to see things, such as hiring signs that can earn you money.
In the end, comfort costs money. Worse yet, it puts you at a baseline that you’ll never be able to turn back from. Once you’ve grown accustomed to never breaking a sweat, you’ll never want to break a sweat again.
So my advice? Toughen up. It’s good for you. Plus, we can all use a little discomfort in our lives.
Awesome points – I’m the same way. For me, I defend doing the same as you as following a Stoic Philosophy. MMM has mentioned the same on his blog, if I remember right.
In addition, there is the environmental benefit of not wasting electricity (produced by burning coal or whatever). Most people bemoan global warming but aren’t willing to do something about it, but you can actually do your own part through actions such as this.
Financial Panther says
Good point about the environmental aspect. There’s a definite cost to comfort.
That’s all well and good in Minneapolis, but I live in Southwest Florida, and we have temps that compare to your “summer” about 11 months a year. A/C and cars are what made this area habitable year-round.
But I save in other ways, so my electric bill never exceeds $80 in a month, and I save more than 50% of my income off the top.
Financial Panther says
As long as you’re hitting your goals, then you’re doing okay. I pick on the a/c users a lot, but it’s just because I’m not a heavy a/c user myself. I’d probably sing a different tune if I lived in one of those ridiculously hot places.
The Luxe Strategist says
I’m totally with you. A/C is for pansies and so are dishwashers! But I also grew up very simply, so when you don’t have much it’s easier to do without. But I can also understand how others prioritize comforts. If a life of comfort is all you know, and it’s constantly being drilled into your head with media, etc., then yeah, I get why people want the fancy apartment post-graduation. It’s simply the only way you know to BE. You’re not aware that there are other possibilities. But I guess that’s why we bloggers do what we do–try to raise awareness that there are other ways to do things.
Financial Panther says
Ooh, I’m definitely a hypocrite because I work that dishwasher out of sheer laziness. Although I sometimes wonder whether the dishwasher is somehow using less water. I feel like I read that somewhere once, but it could be some dishwasher propaganda.
I understand what you are saying but am not as hard core as many in the FIRE community. Consider this: you cannot save your way to a net worth of $1 M unless you (conservatively) gross $2 M in wages. $2 M (over some time period) x 50% savings rate = $1 M. On the other hand, investing allows you to achieve a $1 M net worth by making less than $1 M. $500,000 x 6% APY = $1 M after 12 years.
For those reason, I have always focused more on the revenue side than the expense side of my personal finances. When I feel hot, I want to turn the a/c on. Interestingly, when it is cold, I prefer to wear long sleeve shirts and light sweaters before turning on the heat. Similarly, I could walk to more places but at this point in my life, time is more valuable than the dollars saved by night driving.
As you get older, your priorities change. Plus at some point, you wonder what are you saving for? If you have enough to retire, you begin to feel like “I’m sacrificing for something I have already achieved.”
Financial Panther says
I totally understand your point. I’m definitely not necessarily saying that a/c and refusing to walk is what’s stopping people from making it. I think my overall point is just about the mindset of being uncomfortable. You put yourself in a much more powerful position when you’re okay with some discomfort. It’s a lifestyle inflation thing I guess. Once you get used to a higher level of living, you basically set yourself a much more expensive baseline.
Christine Schwalm Design says
Interesting article in the NYTimes today about air conditioners that’s somewhat related:
Having lived in South Florida, I agree that they do feel like a necessity on those 95 degree/95% humidity days. But that doesn’t mean setting it to 70 degrees, set it a bit higher, like 77 and invest in some UV blocking window treatments to keep things cooler.
But I completely agree about embracing the uncomfortable to have better long term prospects. That’s how I wound up in South Florida (from NYC) in the first place. I sacrificed the comfort of a life I knew in NY to try something different.
Financial Panther says
Thanks for the article! Interesting to see that only 10% of homes in India have a/c. Makes you wonder how the other 90% live without that necessity.
Financial Samurai says
It’s funny, because we have the opposite problem in San Francisco. We set the temperature to 72 to 73° because it’s cold. In the past, I would wear a lot more layers of clothing. Now, I just want to be more comfortable because anything under 70° is a little too uncomfortable.
I think once you hit 40 years old, you get lazy and you just want to spend money on things you don’t mind improving your life.
Financial Panther says
The big thing I think is that you’re already at the level where you can afford to be comfortable. And you’ve worked hard over the years being uncomfortable too – I’ve heard about you living with roommates, taking the bus to work like a regular chump, and I’m sure plenty of other stuff too. You’ve definitely earned the right to be a bit comfortable now.
I really love this article! I am from SC and I try to never run my AC. It makes me feel sick to go from 95 degree day outside to a 70 degree apartment. I think their is a big value in living “uncomfortable” . I think when you are young that is what you should do. I spent some time in Indonesia and A/C just was not a thing. Everyone just understood that it was summer and so that meant that it was hotter.
Financial Panther says
I went to Indonesia when I was a kid and there was no a/c anywhere. I remember thinking to myself that if I could live in that, I could basically live anywhere.
We live in the upper midwest. We would freeze to death without central air. But cost of living is cheap. I dont try to save on everything, I just try to hit a certain level of minimalism based on my humility setpoint and whatever comforts I get, I take with pleasure.
A yes, young docs do buy luxury homes too early. I am, I did and I got burned, lesson learned! The lesson we learned was, if you live up to societal expectations you will never be happy. Just be yourself first and your profession second.
I’d also like to mention that regarding AC, you probably dont live in a humid climate as one reader commented from Florida. The air is not just heated or cooled with AC, its conditioned. When AC was invented, it cooled the air only. It was not very popular. Only after the de-humidifier was coupled to air-cooling did the invention take off. It’s the humidity that makes people uncomforatble, within limits of temperature of course.
Im from South Louisiana, sweat doesnt evaporate and cool (as sweat gland are evolved to do) you after about 70% humidity. It just stays on skin, wams to air temp which is hotter than body temp and causes more sweat which causes more heat. It also forms an insulating layer preventing airflow from cooling the body…. It’s a vicious cycle and it happens in the shade, in a house, all day and night, period. Also, the humidity is highest when the dew point and temp are closest, which is usually early morning and late evening, just when you think it might not be that hot, wrong….
Sarah De Diego says
My husband and I spent three years living with others when we rented out two of our three bedrooms. Twelve years on, I can’t remember one time that it was an inconvenience. We’ve been busy raising our kids but I imagine that we will do it again (Note that we do it in Mexico and not Canada).
When the temperature inside our house becomes uncomfortable (usually around 80), I turn on the furnace fan so it brings cold air up from the basement and turn on the living room fan (where we spend most of our time). On the odd occasion it gets to 82 or 84 degrees, I turn on the A/C. I try and turn it on a few times every year as someone told me it was good for the system. Not sure if that’s an old wives tale or not.
I’ve heard that the dishwasher uses less water but I tried it out for a month and my electricity bill went up $20 and I couldn’t attribute it to anything else. Right now, I use the dishwasher as extra storage (our kitchen is 8×10′) but I would like to use it every once in a while. But, I’m too lazy to empty it out. And so it sits. I’ve also heard that you should use it a few times a year or the seals will dry out. Maybe there’s a blog post in there somewhere #oldwivestales
ZJ Thorne says
We definitely took advantage of our most AC-loving roommate being out of the country for over a week by opening all the windows and saving money. There was one night it was a little uncomfortable falling asleep, but it was our last night without her and we just wanted to save as much as we could.
Financial Panther says
Nice! This year, my wife and I only had to crank on our bedroom A/C a handful of times – I think less than 5 times all summer. Now that we’re in September, we’re safely out of A/C territory here in the midwest.
Kyle @ NYPFGuy says
I’ve been living an apartment without A/C now for almost 2.5 years, and it has definitely been one of the best experiences. Constant access to fresh, unfiltered air and hearing the sounds of the outdoors really helps you feel more connected to the outside world. Yes, some nights are hot and sticky, but most of the time time a good fan and open windows will do the trick
Omg amen to the Louisiana humidity reply post. I live in Memphis and it’s no joke here either. Elderly people have been known to get overheated and die here when their AC goes out because they couldn’t leave their house for whatever reason.
FP your message is still good though.
Financial Panther says
Yeah, I mean, I just talk about AC as one thing, but I know its different everywhere. It’s really just the general point about accepting some discomfort – there’s value in sweating a little.
A lot of comments about your AC example. I personally turn on the AC at Airbnb and hotels precisely for the sake of being comfortable. The same reason I ask for extra towels or not make my bed after I wake up or take a bubble bath instead of shower. Those are luxury I expect from purchasing a hotel room or Airbnb lodging.