In pursuit of financial independence and personal fulfillment

What is, and what should be

Some years ago, a coworker was lamenting the high cost of heating her small apartment in the winter.

She couldn’t understand how the neighbors in the next unit could afford to have the heat blasting with the windows open while she kept her thermostat in the 50s and wore several layers to keep costs in check.

She turned off the electric baseboard heaters in the living room and kitchen and huddled in her lone small bedroom with the door closed to contain the heat. Even with all that, she said, every month her bill came in around $250 for the past couple of years. It didn’t seem right. I agreed, and told her she should talk to her landlord about it.

Two months later, after insisting her landlord look into the reason for the excessive bill, she had her answer. Her power meter and her neighbors had been reversed, and each had been billed for the other’s usage. While she could seem to do nothing to lower her bill and kept electricity consumption to an uncomfortable minimum, her neighbors saw no increased cost from opening the windows and heating the neighborhood.

Instead of immediately following her intuition that something wasn’t right, she resigned herself to the high cost of home heating and looked for ways to cope by using less.

Lesson No. 2

When I moved into my house, the previous owner told me the master bedroom was always the warmest and coldest room. He wasn’t sure why, but to keep it comfortable he closed all the other vents in the house and ran the heat and air conditioning through just the master, allowing the temperate air to circulate to the rest of the home from there.

As the first cold fall mornings came, I saw what he was talking about. There was a 10- to 15-degree difference in temperature as soon as I opened the door from the hallway into the bedroom. Something’s wrong, I thought.

I suspected a problem with the attic insulation. But I couldn’t find an attic access for that part of the house. So I made one, and I found the problem: There was no insulation in the attic.

For 10 years, the homeowner (whom I know to be a very smart guy who knows his way around construction) resigned himself to working around the problem of maintaining the master bedroom temperature rather than following his instinct that something was amiss.

Listen to your inner voice

Like the frog sitting lazily in the slowly warming water, we grow accustomed to a bad situation and fail to react appropriately. Instead of pausing to consider the totality of the circumstances, we find a way to cope. We find a solution that works with the problem rather than solves it.

Intuition is powerful. Our initial reactions, while not always reliable, are an important diagnostic tool in many ways.

My two examples are surface-level instances, but they show how easy it is for us to rationalize daily inconvenience. Imagine how many far more complex things we rationalize and set about “fixing” without addressing the real issue.

Next time you notice something doesn’t seem right, don’t ask yourself, “What can I do about that?” Instead, ask, “Is that the way it should be?”

You may find a much better solution.


  1. CashflowKat

    Ah, apathy. It strikes us all sometimes. I recently paid an inflated electric bill for almost 5 months, making only the slightest effort to determine a problem, even though I knew something was off. When I finally called the electric company, they were able to immediately tell me – over the phone – the exact date and hour that my “baseload” of energy usage increased, and judging by the amount it increased, it was probably due to a continuously running well pump. It was, and I felt like a total idiot. Live and learn!

  2. the Budget Epicurean

    Apathy and inertia are killers I am so guilty of! I’ve never been upset about looking into little things like calling a credit card to remove a late fee if I’ve never paid late before, but somehow even small tasks can seem insurmountable sometimes… That poor lady! I hope she got some back-payments! OMG those neighbors are in for a rough surprise once it’s all set right…

  3. Whymances

    I can’t count how many times I’ve been tripped up by ignoring my intuition or letting something slide after a momentary ‘that’s odd’. It’s so easy to happen to even if you know better. All it takes is a busy weak or being distracted by too many things.

    Glad you figured out why the master bedroom was so much colder in a short time!

    • I Dream of FIRE

      I’m always trying to pay attention to that “off” feeling, but it’s a tough muscle to flex when you’re just trying to get stuff done!

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