Saving Money on Cable TV and Internet

We pay $163 for cable TV and high speed internet service.  That bothers me, because, for every month we pay $163 now, it means one month we won’t have $163 after we retire.  When my wife and I get too old to work and only have a fixed income, we will probably wish for all those frivolous dollars we once spent.

I know quite a number of young people earning little and older people, either retired, or near retirement age, earning little, that have given up cable and/or Internet access.  I’ve also read it’s one of the first bills to cut when families are downsizing because of the economy.  A lot of young people I know never seemed to develop the cable addition that folks my age have acquired.  So they will spend big dollars on cell phones and Internet, but scrimp on TV.  I also know a number of people now that have no cable TV at all.  Others have given up house phones and Internet too.

If you combine the house phone bill, cell phones bills, Internet access and the cable/satellite TV bill, telecommunication becomes a huge piece of the monthly budget pie.  In our household, it’s bigger than the utility bill or car notes we had in the past, second only to the mortgage.  Last night I watch ABC World News, three episodes of Weeds from a Netflix disc, and recorded an old black and white movie off of TCM.   We pay $4 a day for our cable.  Much of what I watch could be had from over-the-air TV or Netflix.

Free TV

I have helped a number of women in their fifties set up digital TV boxes so they could watch free TV.  This is the absolute cheapest way to have TV, but you only get a handful of channels.  Depending on signal, indoor antennas can be easy to use or annoying.  So far I haven’t met anyone wanting to spend the money on an outdoor antenna.  If you’re lucky, you can get ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, FOX and several other digital stations in HD.  This free option does make life much simpler.  And when the antenna works well, I’m very impressed with the quality of the picture.

Free TV + Netflix

Upping the budget to $8.99 a month, you can get a Netflix subscription and see nearly all movies and a good selection of premium cable shows like Big Love, Mad Men and True Blood, but just delayed by several months.  Most cable TV shows now come out on DVD, so if can wait for your favorite shows, you can watch them in order and without commercials.  This offers the best selection for the least money.

Free TV + Netflix + Internet

If you’re willing to budget another $25-50 for DSL or cable Internet, you can expand your options even more.  If you must have the Internet, then this option is a no-brainer.  Trying to find low-cost Internet access is hard.  There are $10 monthly modem services, but they require a house phone, and many people have ditched landlines to save dough.  I have heard it’s possible to get low-cost DSL without local phone service but it’s a difficult option to arrange since AT&T and Baby Bells push bundled services.  And if you crave the Internet, then you usually crave fast Internet, and that’s about $50 a month.

Now, if you have fast Internet, and you’re willing to be a Do-It-Yourselfer, you can buy or build a Home Theater PC.  This gives you a DVR plus access to streaming TV and downloadable video, including high definition videos.  Think of this as free, on-demand, Internet TV.  Hundreds of thousands of people are experimenting with this now, and cable companies are getting worried.  Internet video quality is constantly improving, with HD becoming common.

With free services like Boxee, Miro and Vuze and a HDMI or DVI cable from your laptop or computer to your HD TV, you can develop your own free on-demand TV library or select from a large lineup of streaming network shows. 

Video is quickly becoming the new medium for communicating over the web.  People have been watching video on their computer screens for years, but now people are finding ways to make their computers into set-top boxes connected to their TVs and controlled by remotes, so they can watch TV as God intended, from the comforts of their La-Z-Boy.  

Cable and satellite TV providers are worried that the Internet will soon provide people with all the TV they want and they will be out of business.  You’d think they’d want to offer a better service for less money to compete.  Follow this link to a Google search for many articles about living without cable TV.  A lot of people are doing it.  I like the concept of cable TV, so I won’t be abandoning it just yet, at least not until season 2 of True Blood is finished.  I just want to find ways to bring down the cost of cable, but if I can’t, I’ll consider abandoning it completely.

Cable/Satellite TV “a la carte”

People often wonder why they can’t lower their cable bill by just buying the channels they love to watch.  Most people watch a handful of favorite channels but have to wade through hundreds of TV and other cable services they just don’t want.  I get 200+ channels but probably watch less than 12.

There’s two obstacles to this problem.  One, if people bought only what they wanted, many cable networks would go out of business, so cable providers fight this option.  Second, as long as cable companies must provide analog channels, those stations you get when you plug your cable wire directly into your cable-ready TV and scan the channels, then they can’t sell channels separately.   When cable companies go to 100% digital, a la carte buying will be technically possible.

Right now, a la carte channel buying is not possible, so it’s only a dream option to save money.

My Dream TV and Cable Internet Service

I don’t mind paying for what I want.  I think my current $163 cable/internet bill is too high!  It should be closer to $75.  What I would love is a perfect convergence of TV and Internet.  I want to buy a la carte just the exact TV networks I want, and I want to own my own equipment so I can customize it.  I’d like a Home Theater PC that played and burned DVDs/Blu-Ray discs, was a DVR recorder for 2 terabytes of shows, played all my own digital media, including MP3 songs, JPG photographs and any collected videos I made or bought, plus streamed music and videos from the Internet.  That means my entertainment system would consist of a TV, home theater PC and speakers, all controlled by one remote.  That would simplify my setup greatly, and save electricity.  Right now I have:

  • HDTV, with remote
  • DVR/cable box with remote
  • Receiver with remote
  • Media player with remote
  • Blu-ray player with remote
  • CD/SACD player with remote

My wife bought me a very nice Logitech programmable universal remote, but I never liked it.  Life was so much easier back when I was growing up.  We had one TV, three channels and no remotes.  Life has gotten too complicated.  I dream of living with one remote and no more than 12 fantastic high-definition TV channels with no damn commercials.  Infinite variety could come from Internet TV.  With fewer TV networks, the quality of TV production should go up.  I would get better shows for my time and money.

JWH – 8/14/9

Too Many Paper Towels

I’ve become a semi-bachelor this year when my wife had to take a job out of town.  Because of this new status I have to do my own shopping, and I’ve always hated shopping.  When we first got married over thirty years ago, I volunteered to do the laundry if Susie would do all the shopping.  Learning to shop properly is hard to do, as I’ve discovered late in life.  And with the current climate of shopping to save money while also being green, I feel like I need to buy subscription to Money Magazine, Consumer Reports and The Economist to effectively make a foray to the grocery story.

Susie always bought large bundles of paper towels that we had to squirrel away in all our closets that would take years to use.  Well, the last batch ran out this past week, and since we have a couple of cats that love to groom and puke, paper towels are a necessity.  Of course this could be a green issue.  I could wipe up my feline family member’s hairball regurgitation with a rag that I could wash out, but that’s time consuming and messy, so I take the easy paper route of buying towels.

When I got to the store and the isle with the paper towels I made a troubling discovering – there are dozens of choices.  I didn’t remember which brand Susie bought.  I stood staring at the selection for several minutes not knowing what to do.  I considered asking one of the many women passing by but worried they might have considered my genuine ignorance as feigned male stupidity for a pick up line.  There were so many brands, so many styles, so many patterns, so many bundle choices, and I figured I’d needed a laptop and a spreadsheet to calculate which was the cheapest if I figured for length of roll, number of sheets, number of plies, and number of rolls in a bundle.

And even more confusing was trying to figure out quality.  Some looked pretty cheap and were cheap, and others looked cheap and were not.  And none of them claimed to be good for barf removal from rugs.  I stood there totally befuddled, not knowing what to do when I saw the name “Brawny.”  Hey, I remembered that from the TV, and it sounded manly, and I’m a man, so I figured that was a sign from God.  I bought one roll, thinking I’d give ole Brawny the vomit patrol test.  When my wife got home this weekend, all she said was, “I like the kind that have the half-sheet tears.”  Well, they do clean up after Nick and Nora just fine.

The question now is did I get a good buy?  I have no idea.  I don’t know how much I paid for that Brawny roll.  In my panic to select I didn’t look.   Just now, I jumped on Google and started studying the problem.  First off, I found that there are paper towels promoted as being green because they are made from recycled paper and less chemical processing.  And there’s toilet tissue also made from recycled paper.  This sounds like a no-brainer, so the next time I buy I’m going to look for recycled paper products, but I don’t remember seeing that at my store.  GreenDealsDaily also recommended 100% biodegradable sponges, but that sounded nasty when I imagined how all those cat crunchies expanded with digestive juices would clog up its pores.

There’s lots of confusing information on Google, but after looking at several links, I found Paper Towels and Napkins vs. Cloth.  Melissa Breyer rates various types of cleanup solutions by their friendliness to the Earth.  I’m sold on recycled paper products, but she also makes a good case for cloth napkins and towels

If I go with cloth I’ll have to wash them, but I won’t have to shop for paper towels anymore – a relief that saves money.  I wonder if I can live without them?  Since I hate shopping, this decides the issue for me, and it gets me out of the math of figuring out which paper towels are the best buy.  However, if I spot some of those green recycled paper towels I might buy them to keep for fast cleanups like when I hear the lovely call of a retching cat when I’m trying to run out the door to work.


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