Get Rid of Your Money-Attachment


It is in your own interest not to become the owner of this hand.

Every human strives to life a live as happy as possible. Much, if not most, of what we do, is geared to make our lives better and to increase happiness.
However, most people do not really seem to progress in their pursuit of happiness.
Why is this the case?

I think it has a lot to do with the means that people want to use to increase the quality of their life.
In our outward looking and materialistic western cultures, and in our religion-stripped consumption focussed times, the view – more than ever in history – is focussed on material things, on possessing, on body improvement and on other features of the physical world.

Most people constantly think about what they need. What they want. What they would like to add.

Interestingly, instead of looking for more to add, it is equally important to look for letting go to become happy.

There are several concepts out there describing the benefit of letting go, but the one phrase that describes it best is the word “Attachment” (German: Anhaftung) that is used in buddhist philosophy.

Attachment means the negative way that humans getting dependent on certain things, on feelings, on their position, on regard by others etc.

Attachment clearly produces suffering and has to be overcome.

To make things more clear I will revert to my own case that you can even reconstruct when scrolling back in this blog.

Five years ago, when I started the mission of downshifting, I was very much impressed by the ideas of massive saving, accumulating passive income, retire early etc. I introduced a strict savings plan (that worked out quite successful), and started to find ways how to consume less and to save more.

All fine and good so far. But after a few years I recognized (with the help of some hints from Mrs Woodpecker) that things somehow went wrong.
Instead of feeling more and more happy when looking at the growing savings account, I got more and more unhappy and impatient whenever small blow-back occurred (e.g. when a tax or the rent was raised, when a costly and non-sheduled repair came up, when I had to push my calculated retirement age back etc).
I was spending massive time with my stocks and personal book-keeping, in the order of, well, I’d say 15 hours a week. Hell! 15 hours! Yeah, yes, yes, it was all for the good thing, all for increasing returns etc. blabla, but still…15 hours of prima age life spend every week only to have more time later at a age where time is not so scarce anyway?!
At that time thinking about money was a second nature to me, it was always there, with every small spending the internal calculator was active, and that was finally the moment when I realized:

I am attached to something very pathetic. I was attached to accumulating money.

It was not more about doing a wise thing (saving still is wise, and stupid consumption still stays stupid), but money became the measure of most things, and thus an “obsession”. A mild sort of obsession only, but still this is what attachment is all about:

You are no more controlling the object (in this case money), but it controls you.

To cut a long story short, I think I was able to overcome that particular attachment until now. Woodpeckers still save, we still look for efficient deals, we still do not consume excessively but with care. But all of this is more natural now, with less force and with much less bookkeeping. With more acceptance of the tides of life and fate and with the knowledge that long-term plans are nice, but in the long run reality does tend to ignore them.

In parallel I looked around and found that so many people around me were attached to money! And they all fueled that negative trait in me.

Only a few of my friends, but a lot of acquaintances, some colleagues and many people in business life or in finance internet forums are clearly attached to their money, to their returns, to making the good deals etc.
Some of them to an extend that is ridiculous and sad at the same moment. I could add countless anecdotes here, but leave it to your observation skills to find cases in your life.
You identify a money-attached easily if you dig a bit deeper in any serious discussion. Let it be politics, refugees, the future, ecology, economy, the society etc. All of this topics are very very complicated I know, and very very often we are far from an optimal solution, but with the money-attached, in the end, all of their arguing always end up in their fear that they have to pay something or something could be taken from them.
There is a lot of hiding this behind moral, wanting the good, protecting others, but if you drill down it will boil down to:
“OMG! I might have to pay! This world is so unfair, this politicians are so bad, everybody around me is evil, corrupted or stupid. It would be much better if I was in charge! Because then, finally, I would take care that my two birth-rights will be respected: Not to pay more than now. Not to get less than now”

The effect often is the stronger the richer the person is. Maybe because the more you have to more you are obsessed with protecting it.

It is pathetic and stands so much in their way of leading a fear-less and happy live. And yet it is so difficult to overcome, because so many forces around us secretly whisper: “YESSSS. YOU NEED TO HAVE MOREE. YOU ARE ONLY WORTH SOMETHING IFF YOU HAVE A,B,C. YOU EARNED IT. YOU DESEERVE IT. YOU HAVE TO COMPEEETE TO STAY UPPP.”

But all of this is crap of course.

So I am asking you:

Do you see that pattern in your environment?
Do you even have a self critical moment and see it at work in yourself?
Nothing un-normal, as this is the disease of our time, most people are infected to some degree.
But once you recognize this mechanism at work within yourself, do me a favour:

Cling to it, observe it, scrutinize it, see how it beats you down, because, damn, the more you have the more you can loose. And damn, there are always forces out there beyond your control, no matter what you do!
Drill your thought and fears down to its source: The fear of loss.
And finally: Kill that fear!

Accept the world for what it is. Accept the risk it brings. Start to understand that you can never fully protect yourself against the world. You are part of it. Start to trust in your own power to handle future problems should they come up.

And your fear will vanish…your attachment to money will yield back. The fog of worries and threats around you will lift.

YOU will be the first to benefit if you are able to get rid of money-attachment.

And for the time being, avoid others that are money-attached.
They will try to comfort you in your attachment. And they will attack you as a naiv good-do-er, or a “Gutmensch” (stupid german derogative word for people thinking beyond their own benefit) if you do not follow their path anymore.

Later on, when you ended your struggle and erased your own money-attachment you can come back to these people.
On the other side: Chances are that you will not. Because they will no longer be interesting to you. They have nothing to say other than “I want to get as much as possible and I do not want to pay”. And you heard that often enough, right?!





Downshifters! Avoid to get a Rich but Boringly Selfish Person!

Ammersee 096_bearbeitet-1

Sunset over lake Ammersee, near Munich, while having a beer with a friend.

The “Rich Guys Trap”

Collecting money, securing your material well-being and planning Financial Independence are important building blocks for any downshifter around. Financial Freedom is a great asset to have.

But we must not forget that the ultimate goal is not downshifting or FI per se, but leading a happy and fulfilled life and develop ourselves to the fullest extend possible.

In other words:
Climb up Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs up to the top and it is very likely that you can truly say yes, when asked if you are a happy person and have a fulfilled life – no matter if you are FI or have a job, are young or old, have a huge villa or a small flat, have kids or not.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

And as we have learned, in Maslows pyramid only the first two steps are dealing with “material” needs.

The three advanced steps are about your mental/spiritual/psychological (call it whatever you like) development.

I think this is important to remember:

All the financial thinking, all your investments, all the blogs about frugal living, or financial independence can only help you to climb two out of five steps. These two are of course very important, as they set the base for the following steps. Also, downshifting and a maximum of independence and freedom are in most cases very helpful to have sufficient time and “muse” available for working on the subsequent steps.

But the true story and the real greatness of being a human being starts only beyond materialism!
It is the upper three steps where we distinguish ourselves from an animal!

Thus if you get stuck in the financial thinking, in the accumulation race, in pushing your financial independence further and further beyond real need, then you creat you own new rat-race, and in fact you more are not much more than an intelligent animal. In that case all your striving becomes simple boring greed, camouflaged as “I want to be independent”.

I think it is important to ponder on this, as the danger to end up in this greed trap seems very real to me when I look around.

After years and years thinking about material things (during climbing the lower steps), it is not easy to recognize once you actually got where you wanted to get, and to subsequently let go and turn to other goals. Instead, most people who get wealthy get gridlocked in fear of loosing their wealth, many lose sight of the needs of others, many simply got so used to judge everything in monetary terms that they lost the ability to see things in the world otherwise than in economic terms. This is why there is a strong measurable correlation between richness and selfish behaviour (Article here).

Some however escaped that trap.
So there are encouraging positive examples out there. But honestly, they are rare. Sad, but not surprising, as the highest parts of Maslows pyramid are certainly thinly populated, and climbing them needs character, humbleness, inner strength and social values – money is by no means sufficient, or even more: The abilities needed to climb the top are very different from those needed to make money (we come to that later).

But if you look, you can identify the positive examples easily:
They will not talk about themselves or about their needs anymore (because they realize their own needs are fulfilled anyway), but they talk about the needs of others and how they can contribute to make the world a better place.
E.g. Bill Gates would come to my mind. Not the so much praised Steve Jobs, who seemed to circulate around himself only in my perception. But I am no expert in studying wealthy guys’ biographies, because in my view you cannot learn much from them. You are neither Bill Gated nor Steve Jobs, and you should not pretend to be them. You are simply yourself.

So what are the ingredients you need to hover yourself beyond the material steps?

I think this can easily be answered, as since the dawn of men the most intelligent people of the human race pondered this question and, driven by their inner need to help the human success story, they luckily shared a lot, spoke about it, wrote it down.

Thus you can go through the great works of philosophy and religion worldwide, and you will find a striking set of common values. As they repeat themselves so often I tend to declare them as:

The Critical Values of a Good Life.

In this post I will start by looking at one of those:

1) Compassion and Giving

What is compassion? Why should you give in this cruel, though and competitive world?

I read something very clever about this that I’d like to share:

“You should always act in a way that is not led by enforcing your rights, but so that our all common life on this planet is made as pleasant as possible”.

You see the different focus?

In contrast to economic thinking, the focus is not on maximizing your own wellbeing (e.g. by enforcing your rights) but on maximizing the common wellbeing. A very noble thing, as everybody will benefit: The others obviously as you give in, and yourself because this will lift you in a way that is actually difficult to understand for a more science and rational driven  person like Woodpecker 🙂 . But you know what I am speaking about, and if not, try out.

What is the downside of this?

There is a chance that you get exploited from time to time by other, more selfish, persons.

Persons that mis-use your “softness(as this behaviour is called among economic thinking people) against you. In fact, this happens from time to time. Interestingly that happens less often over time, because no-one said you have to let others exploit you permanently. So what you do when you recognize somebody is playing the selfish game, is reducing contact. And you increase contact to other non-selfish persons.
And there are plenty of non-selfish persons around! (If you don’t see any, you should check if you shied them away by playing selfish too often yourself!)

That way, something magical will happen:

The circle of non-selfish and helpful people around you will grow (you will attract them and be attracted yourself), and your life will get richer, deeper, more and more harmonic and with fewer and fewer fights. You draw increasingly self-esteem from this selfless interactions, and you will get more and more immune against the “hit” to your self-esteem when you are “losing” in a “battle” (thats what they think life is) with selfish persons.
This is what I call the social dividend and your social capital. You invest time and gentleness into others and you will get back manifold in the long run.

What if I cannot avoid the selfish guys?

Good point, as sometimes it is not possible to go out of their way. E.g. in the job you cannot always choose whom to work with. (sidenote: This seems to be the true reason of many looking for FI. To simply get rid of a job they hate)

For that annoying cases, I’d come back to economics at last, in that case game-theory:
Play “tit-for-tat”.
Always start the nice way, but if the other person does responds in a selfish/negative way, then you will switch to selfish behaviour too, to avoid getting exploited permanently. However, you should be always open to forgive and switch back to cooperation if you see the other person came to his/her senses. But don’t be too naive either. If somebody mistreated you two or three times, it is unlikely that he/she will ever become a true friend.

Anyway, let’s be frank:

To some extend, your more “soft” attitude will be exploited from time to time.

This is the price you pay.

But after thinking a bit about it, I came to the conclusion that a bit of getting exploited is still much better than becoming a hard and selfish person, mistrusting every move of others.

The rewards you gain by building up an environment of caring and helpful people around you, plus your own personal growth is much greater than what you lose by sometimes being pulled over the table. Especially if you learn not to take this personal.

Any thoughts from your side? Let us know!



Saving by Efficient Second Hand Buying

You can use money you saved on your cloths shopping to finance a healthy lunch at your next outdoor activity e.g. (Here: Siebenhütten,  Kreuth, Bavaria)

You can use money you saved on your cloths shopping to finance a healthy lunch at your next outdoor activity e.g. (Here: Siebenhütten, Kreuth, Bavaria)

Frequent readers noticed that I got away from focusing too much on aggressive money accumulation because it became clear to me that obsession about money leads as well to unhappiness as having no money at all.

Having said that I still 100% subscribe to the need of efficient spending.

The concept is easy:

Money can buy you nice things and possibilities but money typically is in short supply, plus we downshifters are not into working long hours to maximize income.

Thus spending money on the right things, as well as spending as little as possible on a give thing we want to buy, are important.

One way to do this is to buy second-hand stuff:

In todays consumption and throw away world, actually the second-hand market is one of the most inefficient markets I know – to the benefit of the buyer!
A book not even read but unpacked typically sells for only 60% of original price. Once read but in perfect condition it drops to 30%.
Electronic articles are incredibly cheap to get once they are half a year old and thus no more “fashionable”.
Toys, bicycles etc. are available at very low prices even if they are still in very good condition.
In general the second-hand market is always in oversupply as most people buy new stuff far too often with a need to get rid of their old gear.

The same holds to a very large degree for second-hand cloths.

Problem here is that second-hand stores are typically stuffed with all kind of crap, quality is extremely diverse and it is difficult and no fun to find good cloths in those shops.

Now Woodpecker by accident came across a very good internet service (Germany only?) to buy used cloths.

I typically do not promote internet shops and like to assure you that I am not connected nor paid by these guys.

The site is called

It offers an amazing choice of cloths that you can sort by quality, size and brand. They still might want to work on their search function a bit, but in general this is much better and more comfortable than eBay etc.

I (and Mrs. Woodpecker) did some test buys and went only for high-end brands (brands that we typically would seldom buy because they are too expensive in the shop) and for the very high quality section (i.e. barely used or unused).

And, voila, we were very positively surprised. Prices even in the barely used section come in around 25%-30% of the shop price, and the things we got were in fantastic condition, no shipping costs plus you can resend for free.

Please feel absolutely free to ignore this post but if you want to try the shop anyway and would like to support this blog a bit without a cost to you, you can use Woodpeckers promotion code.

That way you will get a 10 EUR deduction from your first purchase, and Woodpecker gets a voucher of 10 EUR as well.

The code works anonymously for both parties (tried it already with Mrs. Woodpecker) and would be:


Simply enter it at the check out page.



Exchange Freedom for Money?

The lovely city of Freiburg im Breisgau. A worthy short trip from Munich two weeks ago, and only 30 EUR return by the new "Deutsche Bahn Bus".

The lovely city of Freiburg im Breisgau. A worthy short trip from Munich two weeks ago, and only 30 EUR return by the new “Deutsche Bahn Bus”.

Hi Guys, it’s been quite a time since the last post, but what can I say:

Spring hit Germany very early this year and with this is coming the wonderful season of outdoor activities, travels, short trips and general idling in the sun. And this is what Woodpecker & family are quite busy with these days.

Today I’d like to share a few more thoughts on the work world, a topic where you can never spend too much thinking on how to (down)optimize this unfortunate time-consuming necessity.

Because besides enjoying the sun I was somewhat busy with an issue at my workplace:

A potential move within my company

… a move to an even more bright spot from a monetary and “power” point of view, but of likely negative effect on freedom and work load.

The thing is that the new position would increase salary quite substantial (+12% or so and a better outlook for future growth) and it would come along with one of these stupidly important titles in the company and thus more “prestige” and “power”. But it would most likely mean that I’d have to sacrifice my holy days in home office, have much fewer relaxed coffee breaks with colleagues, work under a quite work-focused and demanding boss and have a slightly increased commuting time. And it would be a much more challenging job than today, meaning that any 80/20 effort scheme would not work anymore but quite likely frequent stressful times would be part of the package.

As often I seem to think in quite different ways about these things than most of my co-workers or other rat-racy people, most of whom would lick their fingers for this “opportunity to get ahead” or to gain that “warm feeling of power”.

But getting ahead where to? To having the most lengthy title on your business card at the end of the career?

And what warm glow of power? For some reason the fun of having power is a feeling that my cerebral system is missing entirely. I know all sorts of warm glow, but they come from having a good authentic and relaxed time with friends, see a foreign city, collect new impressions and experiences, wrestle with my kids on the sofa on a rainy evening, sailing through a thunderstorm at the edge of your abilities to steer a sailing vessel.

But getting warm feelings because you are able to command others?

Sorry, but this always struck me as quite pathetic and to be honest as a very pitiable way of having a good time.

So no, power drops out as a motivator for Woodpecker.

And same holds for prestige.
If people want to talk to me and spend time with me I enjoy this as every other human does. But the reason should be that this very people like me, find talking to me or spending time with me interesting, and not because they fear me or somehow are attracted by my potential prestige, title, money or whatever.

Good, that’s done then, so we are left with the last motivator:

More Money

Yes, the warm glow of more money pouring in is more understandable to me. Or, to be more precise, the warm glow of the things, experience and freedoms I can buy with this money. Because getting warm feelings from the money per se is as poor as the power thing. Money itself is only numbers in your bank account, not more. Nothing against enjoying these numbers, but if your life is reduced to feeling proud or happy more or less only about the size of this number, then you certainly life a failed life. And many, many people with money do exactly that. They are called Scrooge or niggard.
Not my goal obviously.But buying more freedom, working even less, yes, this are worthy goals.

So, slowly we come closer to the solution:

Sacrifice freedom for more money?

Hm, after the bullets above you might have figured out where this is leading.

Should I sacrifice a fairly large degree of freedom I have in order to earn more money which I primarily are planning to spent to buy myself more freedom?

Sounds like a stupid trade, doesn’t it?

And in my case, indeed it is.
Because +12% is nice but not a world of more money. This 12% can be tucked away for saving, yes, and earn interest, yes, but it is not likely to make a tremendous change in Woodpeckers wealth position, while the costs of freedom outlined above are substantial plus they are difficult to predict. Could be that in the end the new position is less stressful than anticipated, but could also be (and my inofficial research indicates this) that the potential new boss would give me a really hard-working time (something that is priority one to be avoided! 😉 )for a mere 12% more of solatium.

So chances are that I will decide to not go for this position and leave it to someone else eager for career.
And probably I will just wait until fate washes a better chance to my shores – more money without giving up freedom… 😉

All my life experience so far shows that typically all sorts of great chances simply appear sooner or later if you only wait and stay open and prepared. As a undestroyable optimist I do not see any reason why this should not be the case in future again.

OK, this was my special situation.

What is my general advise?

Obviously it is not to decline any opportunity that shows up, but the following:

  • Strip the benefit of the new opportunity from all valueless benefits, which are: Power, pride, prestige etc.
  • Remaining benefits are: More money, shorter hours to work, more freedom, a nice and relaxed boss (very important! maybe the most important of all), a nicer office, less stress, more satisfying work, shorter commuting, nicer colleagues, better lunch meals etc.
  • Check honestly for all disadvantages, which are basically the opposites of the items listed under the bullet above.
  • Do a lot of informal research to find out about all these “soft” factors. Use your informal network of co-workers that you hopefully have to find out the “truth” about the position in question.
  • Actively test readiness of the potential boss for your needs. E.g. I openly (but diplomatically) raised the home-office question and got a quite clear (negative) answer. Better for both sides to know before than later what they are up to.
  • Deduct for uncertainty. In case you can not get accurate information, assume a more negative scenario.
  • At the beginning of your career you will most likely be able to improve on many of the items above. So change a lot while you are young, eager and flexible.
  • The longer you are in a current position (especially if the boss is nice) the more difficult it will be to improve. You will already have a satisfying salary, you will have found your niches and made it comfortable, you will have a set of informal rules and tacit agreements with co-workers and bosses at hand that avoid stress and conflict. Thus later in the career, a step only makes sense if it offers a lot.
  • If in doubt, decline, stay open and prepared and wait. Your day will come.

And, most importantly if in doubt of sacrificing freedom:

  • Check for opportunity costs!

As with spending the question freedom vs. money boils down to the concept of opportunity cost, i.e. “what else could I do with the time / freedom I have to sacrifice for the job?”

It might be different if you have no family, less hobbies and inclination towards outdoor activities, but in the Woodpecker case the opportunity costs are simply huge.
I have just too many ideas how to spend my time outside of work in a very satisfying way, and the Woodpecker family not only needs a lot of vacations, days off, parental leaves etc to do so, but also a very relaxed working week to get household things done Monday to Friday evenings, such that the weekends are completely free from Friday early afternoon on.
Social life at Woodpecker’s is booming, the network of downshifting and outdoor focussed people is ever-growing and requests / ideas for frugal weekends and weekday evening activities are piling up higher than ever before! 🙂

So, sorry, dear employer, but no way that I am sitting in the office until 6 o’clock each day or on Fridays after 3!



ps. There was a second project related to the work place that I chased the last weeks but this post is too long already. More of this later.

Woodpeckers Family and Financial Balance 2013

Winter time - time to do the budget!

Winter time – time to do the budget!

Cheers guys, and welcome once more in 2014!

I have been bloody busy at the job the last weeks, working every day until 5 or later, thus a bit of delay for the 2013 family balance.

This kind of several weeks hard office work is not really Woodpecker’s cup of tea (I’d prefer some weeks of hard frugal travelling instead), but then, better work hard in winter time and then have a good piece of time off in the summer on all the accumulated over-hours.

So…here is the family and financial balance 2013:

Work time was ok

2013 was a good year, though a bit less good than 2012, due to much too less time off (no 5 months of parental leave as last year, but only 56 days of ordinary holidays).

Time worked was up for Mrs. Woodpecker (40% job now, instead of 0% 2012) and up for Mr. Woodpecker (about 10 weeks off instead of 22 weeks in 2012).

This trend has to stop! And plans to do so are in the press aleady…keep you posted.

Work stress level was quite ok, around summer I made the mistake to think about promotion , which immediately brought the typical rat-race unrest into my mental state, but this fortunately slowed down when I managed to reduce work again to what it is:
Work. A means to bring in money. Quite often it can be fun too, but typically it is the more fun the less dependent you feel from it.

From a financial point of view, 2013 was excellent:

As you may have noticed, stock markets entered quite a run in 2013, obviously affecting Woodpeckers stock-biased portfolio in a healthy way.
In fact, the Woodpecker clan’s investment stash increased by almost 25%. Good!

Income from salaries obviously was up too, by about 20%. Income per week of work thus went down considerably – this is the problem with earning more in a progressive tax environment…

Savings rate from work income was a very satisfying 35%, again adding to the family stash. This figure now is more than high enough to walk the middle-way so we can well relax a bit on spending control and saving going forward.

Total family spending was a surprise

We upped our budget levels quite a bit beginning of last year, to compensate for more work with a few more meals out, an occasional baby-sitter, nice holidays (like the costly sailing trip in summer). And we took it very relaxed with budget control, thus checking the figures much less frequently than in 2012.

In total we expected spending to go up by around 5% in 2013.

Result: Family spending exactly flat in 2013! +0%, which is in fact a reduction of real spending given 2% inflation.

And this in a year that did feel much more spendy than the year before.

How can this be?

I think the reason is just adaption. Once you practised frugal living for a time, it becomes natural, and even if you relax on the accounting, you still spend much less than before without regarding this as difficult or painful. Saving and spending efficiently just become a habit! Gain without pain – very welcome!

Saving Drivers

The year before (2011) we implemented quite a list of efficiency measures to cut spending while maintaining quality of life, resulting in annual reduction of spending of 5097 EUR. Obviously all this measures continued, and we added a couple of things more. However, I think now this is it, I don’t see much areas where we can now improve our efficiency in spending further. New measures were:

  • Dropping car loss damage waiver. In fact you shall only insure against events that can wreck or seriously harm you financially. A damage to our car obviously can’t – and if it could we would drive a far to expensive model.
    Saving 250 EUR once per year.
  • Cancel some memberships that we never took advantage off.
    140 EUR p. year.
  • Switching utility provider
    220 EUR p.a.
  • Cutting unnecessary (and medical unimportant) parts on Mrs. Woodpeckers health insurance
    380 EUR p.a.
  • Skipping scheduled car service at contracted dealer. This is a rip-off and you don’t need it if you want to run down your car and not sell it soon. Better only change oil, check vital parts and be done with it.450 EUR.
  • Chance cell phone plan. Who needs the newest iPhone, when the old one is still working perfectly fine?!?!
    2oo EUR p.a.

That leaves us with additional savings in 2013 of 1.640 EUR on top of all the other measures worth 5.097 EUR continued from last year. And all with basically no drop in quality of life! This is the way I like it.

Going forward we will allow budget to move up 1-2% in 2014.

I’d have no problem to increase it further, but Mrs.Woodpecker and me really did not find a lot where we’d want to spend more than we do already.

As most Westerns we already life a live of luxury and abundance. Car, Shower, Food, Friends, Savety, Travel, Warmth and Shelter, all is already in place!

Working time and thus salaries will be down 10% or so, but I’ll tell you about that later…



Winter Time is Saving Energy Time

A nice fire in the oven. A good add on to your home heating system.

A nice fire in the oven. A good add on to your home heating system.

After housing, car and food, utilities are quite likely to be one of the biggest budget positions in an average household.

Actually, it is amazing how much some people spend on heating, electricity and water, and how they even think this is normal and inevitable. From my surrounding I know people who spend as much as 130 EUR on electricity and 105 EUR for gas per month for ONE person. And in Money Mustaches Blog, there was once a guy that spent more than 300 USD (=200 EUR) per month on electricity for a family of three, which corresponds to even higher figures in Germany, where the price of electricity is at least twice as high as in the US.

So what do these people to with all that electrical and heating power? Are they trying to add to global warming by heating with the windows open, because they perceive their area of living as too cold? Are they running 3 mega-huge flat-screen TVs 24/7? Is there an extended demand of ice cubes to produce christmas ice sculptures? Are they running a secret laundry service in their basements?

Or, god forbid, are they just wasting energy, because they never put a single thought into efficient energy usage?

Let’s start with understand efficient heating first.

(Electricity use will follow in a separate post.)

To do this it is helpful to learn a bit about the physics of heating to understand saving potentials:

Warmth actually can transmit in three ways:

  • Conduction
    Warmth is transferred by direct contact of two objects. E.g. if you touch a hot plate or if air in your room is cooled by touching the cold glass of the window
  • Convection
    Warmth is carried away by a fluid element. E.g. wind is carrying away the protecting warm air around your body. Or the cool air next to the window sinks to the floor as it is heavier than the warm air inside the room.
  • Radiation
    Warmth is transmitted from a hot object via radiation. E.g. the sun feels warm in the face even in winter, or the fire in a hot stove warms you if you stand in front of it.

Another important thing to know is the energy storage capacity of different materials:

  • Air has a low storage capacity (it is not dense nor heavy). This is why you can easily stand 90 degree Celsius hot air, e.g. in a Sauna.
  • Water has a much higher storage capacity (ca. 800 times air, given same volume). This is why you cannot stand 90 degree hot water.
  • Brick, Metal etc. has an even higher storage capacity.

Knowing this, it’s easy to understand how heat is carried away from where it should be, e.g. in your house.
Now you can think about reducing the loss of energy by curbing or improving each of the energy transmission effect as necessary.

Some ideas are:

  • Conduction has to be minimized.
  • This can be done by insulating your house (very important!), by closing the blinds in the night, by wearing an extra pullover, by having a carpet under your feet, using a blanket.
  • Convection has to be minimized if it concerns cold air.
  • If there is a lot of convection in the room, cold air will spread and there will be an uncomfortable draft.
  • A draft will require 3-4 degrees C higher temperature to still feel comfortable! And if some air stays where it is, it is acting as insulation (this is why styofoam works).
  • Stopping convection is thus important and can be done by putting a barrier between cold and warm parts of a fluid (mostly the air), e.g. by having a curtain in front of the window.
  • Closing doors in the house is important!. And of course insulating any gaps in windows, under doors etc.
  • Even growing plants like ivy on your outer walls will help stopping convection of cold air towards your outer wall. This can save up to 10% of energy. Or you use a rough outer surface of the house as it is done in modern homes. The little creeks there will keep air from convection on a microscopic level.
  • Convection of warm air is desired.
  • Thus your radiators should be free, no furniture in front of the etc. The warmth shall circulate into the room, otherwise it will just vanish into the wall behind the radiator and to the outside. Same holds for an oven.
  • An open fireplace is very inefficient. Convection will blow hot air right through the chimney. A metal wood burner (“Schwedenofen”) or a “Kachelofen” is much better, the hot air is slowed down there and will pass its energy to the metal and thus to your room, before leaving to the chimney.
  • Radiation is often underestimated or not understood. Radiation in a room means that apart from warm air around you, you will pick up energy coming directly from radiating warm objects (like an oven, the sun, or even from a wall). If an object is cold it will radiate less and people perceive this as cold radiation (whereas it actually is only a lack in radiation, as there is no such thing as cold radiation). An extreme case is e.g. after sun settles on a crisp winter evening in the mountains – drop in radiation from the surrounding can give you an extreme feeling of coldness there. However, for heating purpose, radiation is very important:
  • If radiation is high, you will feel quite warm even at lower air temperatures. High radiation can be reached by:
    • Sun falling in through a window. The radiation from the sun (not only the light but all of its spectrum) will be reflected around the room and will make you feel comfortable. Thus choosing a house with big (and well insulated) windows towards south-west is VERY helpful to curb heating costs. The sun will heat your home PLUS make you feel more comfortable by the radiation it provides.
    • A metal wood burner or a “Kachelofen”. The very high temperature of this type of oven provides radiation (infra-red radiation in that case) that is reflected throughout the room. Apart from the direct heating effect, this radiation will increase you level of comfort even at low air temperatures. Thus an oven is a good investment. Another plus is that you can make it comfortable in short time, thus you don’t have to heat this room when you are not there.
    • Floor heating. Floor heating provides a lot of positive radiation , but I am no expert here.
  • Low radiation (“cold” radiation) is not desired. Unfortunately it will come from any badly insulated and thus cold object, like a single-glas window (replace this immediately!) or from a badly insulated outer wall. The effect there is opposite to sun or oven: The bad insulation not only wastes energy to the outside, but it also makes you feel more uncomfortable, even at high air temperatures.
  • High energy storage capacity of walls means: If you are ventilating fresh air into your home, do it by opening all windows and doors of your home at once for 5-10 minutes once a day or so (turn heater off). This way, all the air inside will be replaced. But as 95% of the energy in your house is stored in the wall, not much energy will be lost. It will feel quite cold for another 10 minutes inside the room, but then the air gets warmed up by the walls. This way you get a lot of fresh air in by loosing little energy.
  • Venting by tilting the windows is much worse, as it constantly drains energy from the room without a full exchange of used air. And you virtually heat energy out of the window.
  • In the night lower heating by using a heating computer.
  • Use modern burners in your house. As insulation of walls, roof and new windows, this is in most cases an excellent investment that will give you easily 5-10% return p.a. Consequently don’t look on this as one off costs, but as an investment.
  • If you rent, you should negotiate with your landlord and offer him to pay a slightly higher rent if he does the investment. This is a clear win-win situation, especially if energy-saving investments are tax-deductible as in Germany.
  • Definitly change to a cheap supplier of gas. This can easily safe 200-400 EUR p.a. in Germany. But be care-full not to pre-pay nor bind into too long contracts.
  • Ask around at your neighbors to get some wood from their garden works for your burner if you have one.
  • Arrange with local forest owners for pick up of dead wood allowance.

Following this basic steps, most households will have significant saving potential to their heating costs.
You can easily save a couple of hundred bucks each year here and save the environment as a plus!

At Woodpeckers, our current heating energy consumption is as follows:

  • 10.500 kWh of gas per year (last five years avarage) plus around two cubic meter of wood for the metal wood burner. This is for a 150 sqm home, built early 90s, 4 persons, heating done with gas, two days homeoffice of Mr. Woodpecker as well as Mrs. Woodpecker.
  • Gas provided by Maingau Energy. Switch to them saved around 200 EUR p.a. in Woodpeckers case.




Efficient Investing: Key to Financial Independence

This is the magic of compounding returns. You might want to be on one of the upper lines, wouldn't you?

This is the magic of compounding returns. You might want to be on one of the upper lines, wouldn’t you?

The downshifting equation and your way to financial freedom is as follows:

Passive returns + Income from Job = Spending + Savings

Thus your way to increasing independence from the grind in the job-tread-mill has two main components:

  • Efficient Spending
  • and efficient investing.

Spending control in the form of frugal living decreases your actual need for money (right side of the equation) and gives you more room for high savings in the beginning of your downshifting journey.

Later on, passive returns will increase steadily and the need for savings will reduce once you have a meaningful stash accumulated. As frugal living will obviously continue, poof!, the need for income from a job will reduce accordingly!

And this is what we want.

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