Frugal Fatigue 2021

Wow, it was super hot in Portland last weekend. It reached 108 degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday and 112 on Sunday. Holy moly, it was sizzling. Usually, our summers are mild and we rarely go above 100 degrees. I guess global warming is here. The problem is our home (and most older homes) doesn’t have AC. We didn’t need it in the past because we could cool our house down at night and lock it down during the day. However, this doesn’t work when it is this hot for several days. Is it time to splurge for AC?

Also, AC would be very helpful in another situation – when the wildfire smoke covers the city. We can’t open up at night when the air is full of smoke and ashes. Unfortunately, the Pacific Northwest has more wildfires in recent years. It is a part of the summer now. AC would be very useful then. We’re doing very well financially so money isn’t an obstacle at this point. We really should get a portable AC unit, at least. Being frugal is a hard habit to break, though.

Frugal fatigue

2020 was a weird year. We spent most of our time at home due to the pandemic. This resulted in our lowest spending year in a long time.  The most noticeable reduction was our entertainment budget. We didn’t travel much and ate out very infrequently. Also, my active and passive income both decreased. That contributed to my reluctance to spend as well. In a normal year, we live modestly but we splurge occasionally. However, 2020 was different. We didn’t splurge much at all because life was so uncertain. It felt like we’ve been frugal for a long time.

It’s common sense to be more conservative during a crisis. The 2020 Covid recession was different, though. The stock market crashed, but it recovered very quickly. Most investors became wealthier over the last 18 months. We did too. Our net worth increased 36% since April 2020. That’s pretty amazing.

It was good to tighten our belts at first because we didn’t know how the pandemic would hit our portfolio. Now, we know that investors did much better than normal workers. It’s time to splurge a bit after a long frugal year.

Spend $$$

This month, the purse-string loosens up. Hahaha! My brother visited and we got take out every day. We also went to the beach and splurged on a $350/day beach house. That’s the most I ever spent on a rental. It wasn’t even on the beach, but that was the best place I could find. It wouldn’t have been comfortable if the rental was too small. RB40Jr had a lot of fun with his cousins so it was worth it. They only get to spend a few days per year together. Hopefully, this kind of family gathering will help them build a tighter bond.

We also splurged on a pergola for our deck. I wanted to build one for a long time, but it’s just too much work for two people. This year, we decided to hire it out. A local company will build one for us for about $4,500. I’ll put the cover on myself and save $2,200. The material (poly should cost less than $500 and the installation shouldn’t be too difficult. That’s a good compromise, right?

Summer 2021

We’ll also travel a bit more this summer. We’re going to Yellowstone! Our son just finished 4th grade and he still can use the Every Kid Outdoors pass. This pass lets the family visit any national park for free. That’s a great program. I love it. I booked a campsite for 5 nights. That’s pretty cheap so I splurged for a nice hotel in Boise, ID for our midway stops. This should be a great trip. Hopefully, the weather won’t be too hot when we visit in July.

Also, I’m taking it easy with the blog this summer. Normally, I post twice per week. This summer, I’ll post just once per week. It’s too nice to blog. RB40Jr needs to spend more time outdoors so we’re going to practice sports every morning. Currently, we’re alternating between tennis and baseball. We’ll probably add basketball and some other sports to the mix. He gained a lot of weight last year because he spent all his time inside. Hopefully, the weather will go back to normal soon so we can play outside more. It was way too hot last weekend.

Air condition?

As for the AC, I think it’s too late this year. All the portable AC units are sold out locally. I’ll research online and see if I can order something. Otherwise, I’ll wait until the weather cools down and the demand slows. It should be easy to get a portable AC then. If you have any tips about AC, let me know. I’ll need to check if a window unit would work. It might not fit our old-style windows.

What about you? Were you more frugal than usual in 2020? Are you spending more this year to make life better?

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

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44 thoughts on “Frugal Fatigue 2021”

  1. Hi,
    For summers I generally use portable ACs. Personally, I’ve bought from Amazon the Honeywells for both my own space and for Airbnbs I used to rent out.

    They’re a bit loud, but cools down a room very quickly. I like the portables more than the window units because they’re a bit easier to move room-to-room if need be.

    Being originally from California, we normally use a bunch of Costco’s air purifiers (about $130 a pop) for fire season.

    • I looked into portable ACs. They are not as efficient as a window AC. But maybe that’s good enough for our climate. We only get 5-10 really hot days per year. We also have a couple of air purifiers. Those helped with the smoke last year.

  2. Guys I live in a cold northern country that isn’t as cold as it used to be but I am worried by the temperature rises we are all seeing and that it is pushing people towards Air Conditioning driving more fossil fuel use and therefore increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. Would ground source heat pumps be a compromise? I fear for the planet we are leaving our children.

  3. It’s only the very beginning of July; the sooner you put in some sort of A/C, the more benefit you will get from it. A huge part of frugality is anticipating needs and this one’s an absolute no-brainer.

    Also, there’s an MMM forumite who is working in Yellowstone this summer. Lots of great pictures with great hiking and points of interest tips from a frugal person. Ping me if you can’t find the link.

  4. Glad you saw your brother!!! Please say hi for us. We bought a farm in Oregon near Umpqua National Forest! We are going to be neighbors. One day Mr. Plastic Picker and I want to meet you. That is one of my blogging dreams. Maybe when we do our cross country litter picking trip as part of our sabattical if I can ever finish writing my book “how 1000 bags of trash changed me.” Hope you are well and love your blogpost! Yeah. Really hot. maybe get a hepa filter too. There is tons of articles that wildfire smoke particulate matter is especially dangerous for respiratory health.

  5. Friends in Belize don’t use AC, even though they have it, because they don’t want their kids to grow up soft. But they admit some nights they question their decision. But I don’t have kids, so I splurge on AC. I recommend a nice rum punch. It’s very cooling.

  6. I think extreme frugality is unhealthy. I read somewhere that it’s a type of money addiction/obsession where you use money to give you a sense of security. This life is extremely short to constantly worry about saving and accumulating. There’s gonna come a time when you’re no longer healthy enough to enjoy your money and you’ll wish you spent it on those experiences and comfort.

  7. Wow! It’s hot there! It’s hot here too, but we’re used to this sweltering summer heat and humidity. Have you tried the wall mount AC units? I forget what they’re called, but my brother installed one in his renovated attic. I see them a lot in older homes here. I don’t think they’re cheap to install though.

    I hear ya on tiring of being frugal. I loosened my purse strings too lately and it feels good! I’m nearly at my FI number and have no plans to retire any time soon, so I’m good with spending a little more.

    Enjoy Yellowstone!

  8. I enjoyed this post! I like your combination of the practical and the personal. Re: Frugality: We got an unexpected check in the mail and splurged on some yummy fried chicken and sides, curbside pick-up. I tipped big, given that people in the food service industry probably had a hard time during the pandemic… We formed strong bonds with cousins in another state by visiting every few years. One year we drove from Seattle, WA to near Columbus, OH and camped out at Yellowstone along the way. I think we took another trip to Yellowstone, too. So many great memories! Regarding AC, has AC products from one of the better companies: Friedrich. We just got a unit that has a slide-out chassis that you can clean. Have a great summer!

  9. That heat is horrible. It’s common for summers in El Paso, Texas, but I thought summers in the northwest topped out around 90 degrees!

    Is that common? I had been thinking about moving to the Portland/Vancouver area when I retire as I’m not a big fan of 100 degree summers we get in Texas. This weekend has me reconsidering.

    • Normally, the summer here is moderate. We usually get a few days close to 100 degrees every year. But this heatwave was epic. It sets many new highs. Hopefully, we’re back to normal now.

  10. We mostly DIY’ed a mini split system. We did have a friend who’s an HVAC contractor help with the refrigerant line connections. A 12k BTU unit with a single indoor air handler was about $1000 for a more efficient model and perhaps another $300 in accessories and labor (e.g. bracket for mounting outdoor portion). Its fantastic. We also have a second setup that’s more complex, a single 36k BTU outdoor unit driving 4 indoor units. DIYed again, mostly, and about $4k in hardware and around $1.5k in labor/accessories to do it all right.

    The smaller system was super simple. The larger one required a lot more planning on our part. Overall though, it’s a great system. It’s also vastly oversized for our needs (a bad design viewed that way) but we also heat a 100yo home substantially off it as well and we need a lot more BTUs for heating than cooling.

    Window and portable units are pretty turnkey but don’t discount a small mini split system.

  11. Hurray for releasing all of that pent up demand! I also saved the most amount of money I ever saved since the start of my working days. And can’t wait to release all of that in the coming months when things finally start to open up.

    I had no idea it can get to 112 degrees in Portland. Is that typical of summers there? I had thought that northern part of the United States typically doesn’t get that hot even during summer. Looks like I was wrong.

  12. I agree with others that window AC units are better. more efficient and they just work better. I’ve had both window unit and a portable 1 hose unit and the window AC is better.

    If your place is small enough I’d also look into a mini-split heat pump. They are not all that expensive and give you efficient heat in the winter too.

  13. Remember the old series Married With Children? I think they went to the grocery store, brought lawn chairs , hung there and used the store AC during hot summers. Try that.


    • We went to hang out at Target for an hour, but it didn’t really work out. We picked up a bunch of impulse purchases!
      – water guns
      – kiddie pool
      – a pickle ball set

      • LOL…

        Of course over here in AZ, an AC is a need, not a want. We hit 118 ~ 2 weeks back. We will hit 110’s several times in the next few months.

        A young friend/co-worker of my daughter, relocated here for a Hi Tech job. He brought is car from somewhere in the East. Since the car had no AC, he rigged his own AC with dry ice, hoses, fans. Well, an engineer, what’d you expect?

  14. We just got back from a 9 day trip to Yellowstone/Grand Teton. Its breathtaking. Worth every penny splurged. Air tickets from FL for 4 plus staying at Jackson lake lodge – all last minute planning. You will love it. So thankful to the forward thinking people who chose to preserve these amazing places.

  15. Hi Joe,

    If you’re looking for one of those “in-room with a hose out of the window” portable AC units, I’d personally recommend a window unit. We had one of those portable AC units in the last house for one of our rooms and it wasn’t great: having the hot side of the AC unit outside, like with a window unit, is a better design. Just my $0.02.

    If you’re splurging, maybe a whole house HVAC system would be the ticket. I think higher temps and bad summer wildfires might be here to stay.

    We’re splurging a bit more these days, too (just bought a mattress that was way more that we’d spend in our more frugal days). It’s a good thing, IMO. Too much frugality gets old after a while, right?

    • I looked into it more and I like the window unit better too. They’re simpler and more efficient. I’ll see if I can figure out if we can put one in.
      What mattress did you buy? I got a latex mattress and I like it a lot. However, Mrs. RB40 doesn’t like it that much. I think we need our own bed. 🙂

  16. Yellowstone is absolutely amazing, you’ll enjoy it. Boise has a lot of great restaurants in the downtown core so definitely check them out.

    It has been brutal here in Vancouver without an AC. We have ceiling fans and have considered getting more portable fans. AC seems like a really good idea but yea, it’s a big expense.

  17. Never been to Yellowstone but that sounds like a fun camping trip! I’ll look forward to you writing a little about it – maybe that’s something my own family can do as part of our road trip we want to do next year.

    I say splurge and get the air conditioner. I don’t know how people are able to sleep when it’s warm at night. I end up tossing and turning all night. 🙂

    Our frugality in 2020 was a mixed bag but that’s probably because of our unique situation of living in Panama. Like most people, we spent a lot less on eating out and things like that. However, we bought a 2012 Honda Pilot (love that car!) and then took it on a 40-day road trip that was a lot more costly than I anticipated. Overall, I’d say our spending was probably flat for a typical year but a ton of fun!

  18. Can’t have frugal fatigue if you never over-frugaled! 😉 A little bit joking.

    We were still frugal on the points that weren’t as important but we spent regularly through the pandemic on food, education, and maintenance for the house that we’d been putting off for a few years. Go figure, I had planned to deal with them during the recession in hopes that the prices would be lower. Joke was on me, though, with the pandemic, the prices around here were much higher than before so it took us ages to find a reasonably priced contractor to do the work we needed and couldn’t do ourselves before the baby arrived. -__-

    My job is just to make sure that we average out to a reasonable spending level.

  19. We went to Yellowstone last year. It was amazing. We pulled over frequently and had picnics near the water and hiked on short trails with the kids. Yeah the Bay Area is similar to Portland I imagine, in that no houses have AC. We do the same in airing out our home at night and locking down during the day. At one point a few years ago I bought a room AC from home depot for like $300 bucks. Well worth the money. The exhaust just dumps out the window and its only needed for a few days out of the year.

  20. I am also planning a trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons this summer. Similarly, I was fairly frugal in 2020 and feel like I deserve to “splurge” more this year.

    I tell myself I’ll never regret traveling when I’m old.

    But like many financially-minded folks, sometimes, I feel guilty for splurges including something as simple as traveling to 2 of our most beautiful National Parks.

    Does anyone else have to fend off the guilt in spending money?

  21. our old house had water radiators and no ducts so central air is not an option. we have a window unit where we sleep and really need it as the stone house sucks up and holds so much heat all day long in summer. on the 4-5 really hot days per year i’ll just throw in the towel and lie in bed to read in the a/c in the afternoon. have fun.

  22. We were “frugal” last year when we bought portable AC units for 3 bedrooms when our daughter’s family quarantined with us last year. We splurged and put a split ductless system in our bedroom. My husband said since we rarely have a houseful of people, it wasn’t worth the expense of split ductless in all rooms. (We have casement windows which make everything more difficult.)
    After living in this house for 40 years without air conditioning (we have no ducts that run upstairs from our furnace) , the split ductless is a godsend during these many hot nights. After installing, uninstalling, moving furniture to make room for the units, and talking over the noise, my husband and I agree…we should have put split ductless in all the bedrooms. We are a lot older than you, don’t plan to take a year off to travel, and know that our kids will sell our house once we die. Split ductless would make our house much more “sale-able”.

    • Thank you for your input. A split ductless system sounds like the best way to go for us too, but I’m still frugal.
      We’ll try a window unit first and upgrade later. Our upstairs is a rental unit so I need to figure out how a ductless system would work with that too.
      Good point about being more sale-able.

  23. We spent about 15K to get ductless A/C when my wife was pregnant with our second kid. It was money well-spent ;-). Before that we had about 5 window units, but they didn’t do much and it was a pain changing them out with the season.

    Sometimes I try to save money on electricity by not using the A/C, but my mood and productivity suffer a lot, so I go back to using it.

    Enjoy baseball time with RB40jr. I’m trying to fit that in this year, but I’m hoping the kids can work on their sports together. Unfortunately, it seems like wrestling and boxing is unintentionally getting the most practice.

    • Wow, 15k is expensive. We’ll try a window unit first to see if it’ll work for us. Our place is pretty small so it might be good enough.
      Baseball is a pretty good way to get a little exercise. I think your kids might be a bit too young. You need to get a really light bat.

  24. Go for the air conditioner.

    We are also affected in both Alberta and British Columbia by that same heat wave with similar record-breaking temperatures. Even so, I don’t need an air conditioner because I can cool off the main floor of the half-duplex that I live in adequately with fans before I go to bed. I also have a lower level that remains comfortably cool and to which I can retreat if the main level gets too warm.

    Yes, I am already spending a lot more in 2021 than in 2020. I went to Vancouver for a week to celebrate my birthday where I went out to dinner at restaurants six nights out of seven. Since I have been back in Edmonton for almost a week, I have gone to restaurants every night. In most of the cases, I have not only treating myself but also treating my friends. So most bills with tips were over $100.

    Last night I went to a restaurant by myself and spent around $50. But I worked on my new book “The Book of Swagger – For Men Only!” while dining on the patio. That $50 and two hours of work on the book may translate into several hundreds of dollars in return once the book is published and becomes an international bestseller like three of my books have become.

    • Usually, cooling off at night works very well. But it was so hot last weekend. It didn’t cool down much overnight.
      Tonight should be much better.
      Enjoy 2021! Life is much better than last year. We’re spending a bit more too. Kudos for being generous with tips.

  25. Enjoy Yellowstone Joe – if you’ve never been it’s spectacular! But do yourself a favor and get out of the car whenever possible to really enjoy it – most folks just drive around and point at wildlife from their cars.

  26. Amazon and Home Depot will ship you a portable AC. I like the LGs, the Honeywells are louder.

    It’s the beginning of a long, hot summer.


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