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I Gave Up AC This Summer To Live Within My Means. America Should Try That


The heat wave is here. Do I regret not putting in my air conditioning window units? It is 80 outside and 81 in my little house come sunset as I arrive back home from my camping excursion. A thunderstorm is going to miss my town. The humidity makes my shirt stick to my back after the daytime high was near 100, but it doesn’t matter. I am sticking to my resolve this summer: I don’t need AC in my house.

I would love to have AC, but it isn’t in the budget. There are other things I need and value that come before AC. To be able to afford nice things of greater value, I am foregoing air conditioning for a season.

I just spent a week outside in temperatures fluctuating low in the 40s all the way up to hiking in high 80s and low 90s. I feel great! I wound up finding a rhythm to waking at 4:45 a.m. when the sun was wanting to peek over the horizon, and winding down at 8 p.m. when the sky started turning yellow and pink, then conking out at about 9 p.m. when the vibrant lilac and magenta colors with streaks of red and orange drifted beyond the other horizon.

I feel good, and I spent a couple of days outside in the so-called heat wave. I can indeed survive as a young healthy 20-something in muggy humidity and the scorching sun without AC.

Don’t get me wrong. AC is really, really nice. I have it in my car, where the sun through the windows and the painted metal make driving without it unbearable. The farmers in my area use it to make do with the late planting season as they race to finish.

In hospitals, people who are ill are kept comfortable and stable as they heal, and businesses keep employees happy and productive in the clean, cool, and comfortable work environment. The little kid in me wants the ice cream, too, but I first have to eat my broccoli.

Owning a home is difficult. I take home $1,300 or so per month after taxes and pre-tax employment benefits, so I am making it work. I have an emergency fund, a growing home improvement fund, a fake car payment to save up for my next car, various insurance payments, a small retirement contribution, and a mortgage with a few big projects coming up. I need to eat and pay my bills, and I still have more than enough despite living at an income level some people would scoff at. It isn’t a lot, but it is plenty.

I need to work at being generous. It cannot be out of a guilt trip or some elitist holier than thou attitude that makes me support the wrong kind of things. When I am stingy, I cannot stand myself. If I want the world to be a better place, I need to start with myself. I don’t mean to delve into my dark side, but I need to give back to my community cheerfully, freely, and sacrificially. Philanthropy isn’t what I am after, but making the world a better place needs to start with me and my own unruly attitudes.

If you were to offer me $300 to not put in my window units in my house on a dare or a bet, would I do it? You bet! That’s basically the deal I’m taking by not turning on the AC this summer. Bring it on, Mother Nature! I have blinds to block out the sun, 18 inches of blown insulation in my attic, and newer vinyl windows in my postwar cracker box. It got to nearly 100 today, but it was 20 degrees cooler in my house.

Opening the windows at night, after the sunset, I can shed five degrees in an hour of opening the windows to let in the light, cool breeze of a summer night. The low will be in the low 70s perhaps in the mid to low 60s. With my buttoned-up, tight, modern-insulated house to block out the daytime sun and the wide-open windows running my central fan to vent hot, stale air, my house will be in the 70s, tops, during the hottest part of the day if I don’t act as if I were born in a barn.

I put up a clothesline to avoid running the hot dryer. I have a grill to cook outside to avoid lighting a fire on the stove and in my oven inside, where the heat will linger. Thinking about how to go without AC is causing me to think about how else to avoid jacking up my utility bill. I could end up saving $500 to $1,000 over the whole summer, which is a lot of money for my income level.

With the money I’ve saved this summer, I can fix my sidewalk, plant my garden, redo the roof on my garage, and have enough set aside to replace my aging water heater that could go any day without warning. I also want to update my bathroom to add equity to my house, perhaps starting by beefing up my central bathroom fan. To reach goals like these requires tradeoffs.

Sure, I want AC, but continuing education to pick up skills and trades from my affordable community college is another thing that I might want. I have plenty to fill my needs and get by, but my wants—including AC—get ranked against each other to maximize impact on my thriving at life and joy.

We have a finite world with limited resources, and isn’t political science the study of how people negotiate to use those limited resources? Yet as we all can tell from the size of our national debt, deficits, and spending, this is a concept that neither of America’s major parties practice, let alone understand.

As a country, we need to make hard decisions, but until we are willing to make hard decisions for ourselves, only then will we be able to stomach hard decisions nationally. My budget gives me peace of mind, freedom, and the power to be who I want to be. If doing without the luxury of AC enables me to achieve things that are more important to me, it is totally worth it.