The other day I was enjoying my one mile bike commute home from work. Despite the fact that it is August, I noticed the weather was not especially hot or humid, with a nice cool breeze blowing. So, naturally, I got to our apartment and immediately opened up 6 windows–four in the living room and two in my bedroom. That nice cool breeze started flowing through the apartment, and the mild heat and stuffiness that had developed while we were out1Because, obviously, we don’t leave the AC on when nobody is home!!! went away almost instantly.
Seems like a pretty normal story, right? WRONG! Did you know that some people in this very same situation actually leave their windows closed, denying themselves the pleasure of nature’s cooling, and instead just run the AC?! It seems strange, but it actually happens all the time. In fact, your own neighbors, family members, or friends might themselves participate in this type of silly behavior!
While these actions are difficult to explain, I have a hypothesis about why they might occur. Located in an unidentified area of the prefrontal cortex is the frugality center of your brain. Unlike the rest of your brain2if you’re alive, anyway, this region can actually be completely shut off, costing the patient hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars over their lifetime. Luckily, this region can be turned back on! And the best way to do that is to feed it3OK, maybe this analogy is going a little too far. some low-hanging fruit.
There are certain areas of life where spending no money or significantly less money will result in absolutely zero loss in quality of life. For example, opening your windows when it’s nice outside rather than paying for a machine to bring the inside to the same niceness level of the outside. I would estimate–and I’m being conservative here–that even an individual with roommates who splits the price of utilities could easily save $20/month in electric bills by simply using some common sense. That extra $20/month turns into a cool $23 thousand when invested in the stock market over 30 years. That would be a lot of money to waste on absolutely nothing.
It’s important to remember that the opening of windows is one of many, many things that might prevent you from squandering tens of thousands of dollars over your lifetime. Need some more examples? Go take a look at your Amazon purchase history. Or just walk around your home and observe all the junk that you paid for but never use. Every time you buy a name brand product when a generic is available, or eat out or order takeout by yourself, or drive your car instead of biking or taking public transportation, you’re leaking freedom. Have you ever bought something from a store that you could’ve gotten on Craigslist? Do you demand the latest technology over the basically-just-as-good technology from two years ago?
If you can start to even just nudge your brain’s frugality center back on, you’ll start to find expenses all around you that are completely unnecessary. And if one basic change like opening your windows can save you $23 thousand, just imagine what 10 or 20 or more of these simple life modifications that don’t cost you any discomfort or inconvenience will do to your lifetime wealth.
Preview of coming attractions
There are some exciting things happening in the world of Money + Megabytes. Inspired by Frugal Professor and a good friend of mine4who will be coerced into writing a joint blog post with me 😉, I’m in the process of switching phones and phone providers. The results of my extensive research and new phone service will be published in a few weeks!
I’ve also begun clearly documenting every single expense and source of income5before I had been relying solely on my brain’s frugality center to guide my financial decisions, and will share the results of this with you in a couple months.
In the more immediate future, we’ll dive more deeply into different types of tax-advantaged accounts and the circumstances in which we can use them to maximize their benefits. And we’re always happy to take suggestions for future posts!