Am I Too Cheap for AC?

I don’t have an air conditioner. Am I smug about it? A little. But that’s because it’s all I’ve got to hold on to when I’m lethargic, smelly and faintly dehydrated all summer.

I tell myself that I can’t afford an air conditioner, but I think I might just be cheap. Plus, I always begin each summer optimistically: I tell myself that summer’s not all that bad! That I can do this! But that’s in May, when it’s always in the 70s.

In July, the heat is relentless, my apartment never gets below 90 degrees, and I’m cranky. By then, I’ve got it in my mind that it’s too late in the summer, that I don’t have enough money for an AC unit, and I’ll just have to wait it out. Plus, I think heat is a little bit like pain: You remember it’s bad, but you quickly forget just how bad.

But am I really saving money by not having an AC? What about the discomfort, or the lack of sleep, or the terrible sweatiness? By my logic, I deserve lots of treats for saving myself from high electricity bills. Do those treats add up to more than the cost of a window unit? Let’s find out! 

I’ll go with this unit recommended by The Wirecutter since they already did the research, saving me from sweating over my laptop. Total cost: $219

Let’s go ahead and say I keep it for five years, because that’s how long the first reviewer on Amazon said the AC compressor is good for (and again, I’m cheap).

I used this website which shows how much electricity household appliances use, and plugged in the type of AC I’d use, and estimated I would use it 20 days per month, 10 hours per day. Total cost per month: $54 (adjusting for inflation)

Total cost per summer: $209
Total cost for five years: $1,045

Thinking back on the last few years, here are all the ways I’ve tried to beat each summer the heat, sans-AC:

• Ice cream cones: $20/month 
• Lemonade and other refreshing beverages: $30/month
• Movie tickets: $25 (I’m not a big movie person, but they do have some good AC)
• Doing laundry nearly twice as often because I’m sweaty: $6.50/month
• Lunches bought at work because it was too hot to cook the night before: $32/month
• Dinner out because it’s too hot in my apartment: $30/month
• 75% more showers: let’s just say $20 for extra soap and shampoo
• Electricity bill from running a fan all night: $0.18/night according to this website, $6/month
• And finally, there’s the inevitable day each summer when I crack because I’m so uncomfortable that I march to the nearest clothing store and buy myself some new summer dresses, and immediately feel guilty: $100 per summer

Total cost per summer: $518
Total cost for five years: $2,592

Verdict: Wow. The numbers do not lie, and although I am a thrifty lady, it seems as though AC would be the way to go. I just need to first get over my internalized notion that AC is a luxury I can do without, or that having one means I will be cooped up in my apartment all summer. I need to finally admit to myself that I am a person who cannot deal with the heat. And then I will go buy an air conditioner. Immediately.


Emily Stephenson lives in New York. She recently made the budget-friendly switch from fancy ice cream trucks to Mister Softee.


10 Comments / Post A Comment

sox (#246)

Oh sigh. I do have an air conditioner but I have to break it to you that I still indulge in many of the things you list to beat the heat…I think that’s just part of it being summer.

…and you will magically stop buying ice cream or refreshing beverages or eating out if you have air conditioning? This logic seems flawed, somehow.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@Holden Cauliflower It’s pretty clear she’s only talking about the times she goes out for dinner because of the heat, not all the times, ever. And lunches out because you can’t cook in your house is legit. So even without ice cream and beverages she’s still way in the black if she gets AC.

@aetataureate You’re right, I think she makes it clear that those particular meals are due to the heat, but I think @Holden Cauliflower’s point still holds up pretty well. Even with air conditioning, dealing with extreme heat and humidity all day can just be exhausting, which often leads to less cooking, more buying meals. Same with, for example, showering–even if I have AC in my apartment, I get sweaty enough from the walk on my commute that I need an extra shower anyway.

Not that I’m trying to knock the article at all–these kinds of calculations are really good to do. I’m just agreeing that she should take into consideration the fact that a good amount of them will probably remain with or without AC. As another commenter posted, it’s just part of summer.

I still do most of those because I have a railroad apartment. Bedroom’s nice and cool. The rest of the place is 100 degrees. One day I’ll live in a new building with central air. One day…

cmcm (#267)

In London it has been rainy and a high of 65 for the past two months. I only wish I had this air conditioning dilemma, because right now I feel like I don’t even remember what summer is supposed to be like.

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

Having grown up in Florida with central a/c, it just boggles my mind that some people don’t have air conditioning. Truly, boggles my mind.

jetztinberlin (#1,286)

Yeeahhh, not to be the humorless grumpasaurous over here, and certainly I thank the Bejeesus every summer that I don’t live in NYC anymore; but if it’s remotely possible for you to do without air conditioning, it is also infinitely better for the environment / your immune system / global warming / etc. I know when it’s hot there is nothing like it, and the math is certainly eye-opening. Just a reminder that, y’know, the only costs aren’t the ones that come out of your wallet. The idea that now most of Asia that doesn’t have AC is getting it is enough to make me give up whatever hope I had left that we weren’t going to completely destroy the planet in my lifetime.

We gave in and bought a fan this summer because the heat was unbearable (I have no idea what an AC unit costs, I shudder). That said, summer heat here is probably around low 20s (celsius).

One thing we don’t have and that I intend to continue holding out on, is a dryer. Expensive to buy, expensive to run, expensive for the earth. Or whatever.

Comments are closed!