Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Time to cut the cable

As you may have heard, there's a baby coming this way. Soon. In approximately 10 weeks, to be precise. Which is awesome and blessed and amazing and exciting. But really freaking expensive. Which makes it also scary as hell when we're just about getting by financially in our current family state.

But scary makes us think, right? Scary makes us evaluate what's important, consider what we can live without, brainstorm creative ways to make it work. So over the last couple months, Big Daddy and I have been contemplating all the many ways we can cut our expenses in order to afford another child in daycare (and all the diapers and clothing and food that comes with another person) but without causing too much personal hardship or lifestyle change.

There are the obvious things, of course -- no more eating out, suspending the gym membership that we so rarely use, putting vacation savings on hiatus, paying off small debts to free up monthly cash -- but we live pretty lean anyway so it's been somewhat challenging to come up with easy bills to chop.

One night about two months ago, we realized that we can download movies through Netflix to the Playstation 3 that's hooked up to our super-TV in the family room. Which led to another realization, one that's a tiny bit embarrassing to admit we hadn't realized before because it's so simple: We can watch movies and TV shows online on a laptop in our bedroom. A-ha! (We don't have a cable outlet [or space] in our bedroom for a TV.) This is only fantastic because I usually fall asleep on the couch mid-DVD; watching a movie in my bed cuts out that horrible wake-up-and-drag-my-butt-upstairs step.

Anyway, this startling, life-changing epiphany led us to realize that although we have like 800 cable channels on three different TV sets in this house, we rarely watch anything worth watching -- and only really use one TV. Hmph. That's silly. What's worse, we can't really come up with a list of even five shows we watch regularly. Big Daddy is a sports fan, so he likes ESPN -- but much of what you see on ESPN you can watch (or read about) online. Otherwise we do a lot of channel flipping because there's not a whole lot that's truly satisfying on the Boob Tube. We watch some Food Network and some Travel Network, but would we suffer without either? And now with the fancy new HD conversion of regular channels, we could probably have some decent TV watching for, like, free. Whoa.

And then the December cable bill came: $165 for our cable/phone/internet package. What?! Wait a second -- I can feed this family for two weeks on just about $165. I could fill up my car's gas tank 4 times for $165. We could go to the movies like 8 times for $165. We could go to DisneyWorld in a year if we socked away $165/month. I could hire a freaking housekeeper for $165/month!

When I called the cable/phone/internet company to find out why the bill went up, I learned they had "bundled" some premium channels together (even though we hadn't requested this) and tacked on $15 to our bill. How nice. Why is this legal? Why is it ok for a company to just force something on us and charge us extra? (By the way, these two premium channels offer us about 20 channels of absolute crap 24 hours a day.) No thanks -- cancel premium channels now, please.

So then I asked what it would cost just for the internet. I had to speak very slowly and repeat myself three times because the guy on the other end of the line just couldn't fathom why someone would discontinue their cable or phone services. In fact, when I told him I wanted to save some money, he actually tried to upsell me a higher priced package that offered even more crappy channels because that was, um, a "better value." Huh? How does that math work? Anyway, turns out we can save over $100/month by switching to internet-only service. Not bad, methinks.

Here's what we've come up with: Buy a TV antennae and converter box for roughly $50. A one-time charge. Get rid of the cable and watch the networks we can get over the airwaves. Get rid of the land-line phone and use our cellies. Find new favorite shows to watch on Hulu. Rent our favorite series on Netflix (and watch them in our comfy bed!) Read more books. Play more board games. Listen to the radio or podcasts. Go for more walks. Write more short stories. Learn how to sew, play the guitar, draw...

Sounds lovely, doesn't it? Save lots of money and make time for things that are more enriching? So why, then, has it been so hard for me to make the call and just say "turn it off, man"?

1 comment:

Ed said...

This is what many people are doing already. No use really for landlines anymore. You could cut down to a very very minimal cable pkg with just a few channels. They do offer it but you have to ask. I couldn't do it but your plan has merit and I watch a lot online. If I could get cable net where I live I would consider it too. Hulu could go to pay subscription at some point but it has to be cheap to work and Apple may add subscriptions by shows or networks to iTunes which could work too for just a couple of shows.

Good luck. I want to hear how it goes.