Saving Money, Cutting Back: How We’re Faring

First, I have to say, no amount of financial loss and continued tightening in my family can compare with the losses that this week’s Sendai earthquake and tsunami have brought to the families of the people who have lost their homes, livelihoods, and lives. I have been watching BBC news nearly non-stop since. Even though I’m physically here in the US, my mind has been in Japan.  Thoughts and prayers for the Japanese people.

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Old-style rabbit ear antenna, Best Buy, $10

This has been our first week without cable tv.  I don’t think I’ve been without access to cable since the mid-80’s when I was in NEED of having MTV. Since then I’ve grown past MTV and into using TV as a tool for learning and for enjoying particular shows with my family members. Only lately did I start getting into some of the prime-time shows, having the tv playing more than cartoons on Boomerang or Cartoon Network. or gardening shows, or Westerns.

Psycological Aspects

This week, even though we have Netflix, I started craving certain aspects of tv. We’d watch a couple of things on Netflix then turn off the tv. I started missing the non-stop entertainment playing in the background while I used my computer or did household chores. Then I realized another thing I was missing – commercials. :O Who’d ever say such a crazy thing! I’d always fast-forward past the commercials, but now I was missing them? I must have gotten used to the mix of shows+commercials, and now I was going through withdrawal.

In the meantime, I missed several shows that played this week, namely The Event, Hot in Cleveland, The Big Bang Theory, and my regular Saturday night Britcoms. I am not happy about missing my britcoms and I can’t find them streaming online anywhere. Grr.

Solutions

I’ve been able to find most everything of favorite series online, minus the britcoms online. At first I thought I’d have to go to all the network sites, and watch the episodes of each show I missed. I’d done that to catch up on the first few episodes of The Event, which my sister recommended I watch.

Here’s a list of some of the things I’m working on and testing to replace nearly all my cable tv, a lot of which is just free shows that the cable companies charge you to view. Cable companies very much need to rethink their cable fees. I don’t hate them, I just can’t pay their prices any longer.

* Rabbit Ears – I bought a pair of $10 rabbit ears from Best Buy yesterday. I was SO curious what stations I could get without cable. It was extremely easy to hook up – nothing to it. I had an immediate flashback to the 60’s as I pulled up on the antenna, trying to get reception. A really weird thing but I was amazed at the high definition reception of my 6 channels. Unless I turn the rabbit ears in another direction and then I get 11 channels.  Most of the channels are stuff I don’t watch, but I will get network stations (minus ABC which I can’t seem to pick up) plus PBS, and 24/7 news plus local news. For $10 it’s great. I may look into better antennas later (better reception, more channels) and will post again on that if I do.

* Boxee – absolutely great application. Download to your desktop and view shows. Reminders for new shows. Superior interface.  This app is a must. Problems: won’t play Hulu stuff (or does but there’s no sound). Hulu won’t allow Boxee to play stuff you can find on Hulu.

* Hulu – I haven’t checked out Hulu Plus yet and don’t know what it entails, but I’ve been able to play the missed episode of Hot in Cleveland. I’m sure I can find more on there but I’m a little overwhelmed by all the other options right now; will sift through Hulu more this week.

* Web page of links – Can’t find everything on Boxee or Hulu?  There are a bunch of sites that have things to watch that will keep one entertained for a long time. I’ll be making a webpage for myself with the links to what I like. All organized, and I won’t have to search and dig through Google to find a series I want to watch. 30 Sites to Watch Free TV and Movies Online – a very helpful start. Add to it your own favorites  (I like Martha Stewart and Veria.com videos), list on a webpage, and you’ll have an easily accessible list of what you watch regularly. Save our links on PBWorks, Pen.io, any free site, or to your own paid-for website. I think I’m going to do mine on Pen.io – you can create any page name you want, and don’t have to login to it to access the information – just type the url and you’re there.

All this may not be as easy as having cable, but it’s fun to see how much you can do yet still cut back.

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How I’m Saving $197/month on Hi-Tech Services

In an effort to reduce money being spent unwisely in our household, I’ve found quite a few ways to reduce drastically on the money spent on everyday services without losing much quality, if any. I’m a big fan of personalization, and tinkering with and tweaking software and services has always been fun for me. So why not tweak the services in my life so that we can keep more of the money we make?

Cable TV + Phone through Verizon

The initiative was our cable bill. We had the triple-play package with Verizon: internet+phone+tv. I honestly didn’t see paying for the phone after some time – we all have cellphones. I tried multiple times to get rid of it to save money. They said there’d be no savings if I got rid of it. We did take on the Starz movie package to get Encore Westerns. Our entertainment from tv consisted only of: Encore Westerns, soccer (my husband and me), and cartoons (Nick, Boomerang, etc. for my son and I.)  Everything else I watch can be caught online, or we can do without.

So when our contract ended and our cable bill jumped to $180 it was time to do something different. They could (would?) barely do anything to reduce our bill. So Verizon lost our money. I called to cut everything out of our service but internet. The guy I spoke with last week said our net service would be $59.95. I even thought that was a lot. Then when I cut the tv and phone, the woman I was with got us a 1-year $39.95 year internet service – AND increased our speed to 25/25 from 20/5. I’m very happy with that deal.

I love Verizon. We also love soccer, Westerns, and cartoons. But I love my money savings more. Cutting Cable + phone: SAVINGS:  $140 a month

Replacement for cable:
* Netflix @ $10 a month – streaming+1 DVD rental at a time. We’re enjoying a free trial this month. We can see some cartoons and some Westerns. Downside: My husband LOVES “The Virginian”. We won’t be able to get that anymore.
* Network stations online to view recent episodes of things I do watch on ABC/CBS/NBC – free. Downside: must pay attention to see them when they’re posted online, since the episodes usually won’t stay up there for free for long.
* Future: possible Google TV box or Hulu — still reviewing these options
* To replace soccer, we may look into online subscriptions, which still won’t be nearly as much as what we were paying

Replacement for home phone:
* Our personal cell phones

I don’t want everyone having my cellphone number (creditors, doctor’s offices who will give your number out to creditors if you don’t pay on time, online forms). Getting a free Google Voice number helps. I’ve been using my Google Voice number to call out from my cellphone (so they won’t see my personal cell number in their caller id) and using it for incoming calls. I can allow Google voice to ring my cell, or just let all calls through it go to voice mail. Alternatives to Google Voice: Ringcentral.com – I also have a free number through them. My Google voice is not in my area code, but my Ring Central number is. So I use that number around the area I’m currently living in, giving it out to those who I do not want having my personal cell.
XM Radio

On to XM Radio, a luxury no matter which way you look at it. We got XM when we purchased our truck, and it was really so little a quarter (about $43) that we just kept it. $43 every 3 months for radio!! I’d love to have that money in my pocket now that we spent on it.

I’m pretty much the only one who has been enjoying XM radio recently, and I only use it to listen to Spa radio (new age), classical stations and NPR. Sometimes on the road our family will listen to 80’s music together. All of the music genres I like can be cached to my BlackBerry through Slacker radio for free, then played in the vehicle. I’ll put a charger in there so I don’t drain my BlackBerry’s battery. For NPR I can listen to it when I’m at home, via my computer, or download the podcasts and put them onto my MP3 player when I go out for exercise (usually walking/light jogging). Savings: $14 a month.

Website through a Hosting Company

My website was costing me $5 a month through ASmallOrange. Not a lot of month per month, but wow – $60 a year! When we’re struggling for ways to buy color ink for our printer so our son can print off something for school, that $60 sure is a lot of money.

I looked at the space my website was using. The entire site was about 700mb – less than a gig of data. WordPress and Blogger offer at least that much for free. And I wasn’t really doing much with my website. So I moved what I could to WordPress, and let the rest go. There were a lot of old pages I didn’t maintain any longer (nor intended to!) and I was paying $5 a month for that? Nope not any more. Savings in moving small website to WordPress/Blogger: $5/month or $60/year

Cellphone Service
This is one where I believe we’re still paying too much. My husband can’t get out of the habit of calling his home country constantly and they never stop SMS‘ing him, incurring international SMS charges whether he wants that message or not. We have an unlimited SMS plan, plus he’s paying for an international SMS plan so he can save money.

I say get rid of the SMS all together, but he won’t tell his family to stop messaging him. 😀 It’s an Asian thing; he doesn’t want to ask them to stop. It’s not like they don’t all have Facebook – they can chat with him there or even email him for free. We have to work on this. I’ve recently installed IM+ on my BlackBerry and can chat for free there. So I have to see if I can convert him to something like this.

Additionally, my husband’s cell is on the fritz. You can’t go get a smartphone these days without buying a data plan. Can’t happen anymore. I’m lucky to have a BlackBerry Bold with WiFi capability, so I can have some phone fun while I’ve got access to WiFi via my home router or through hotspots when I’m out.

A data plan is $30 a month. Why do we want to pay $30 more a month when we’re cutting things like tv trying to save money? No. No. No. Freaking no. I won’t let him do it. So we have two options that I see.

I asked him “What capabilities do you need on your phone?” His answer: phone, sms and camera. So we have two options. Buy him a nice unlocked smartphone with/without wifi capability, or buy a decent cellphone (non-smartphone) and get him a small digital camera to carry around. He liked both of these ideas. We may pay $200-$300 up front now, but savings will be $30 a month/$360 year over the life of the contract for that phone.

Garbage Pickup through the County
Not a high tech thing, but if you recycle regularly you may be able to reduce your garbage bill through your county. Our county put out a newsletter with this info: we can reduce our yearly bill by over half – from $231 to $91 – if we go on their bag program. We still have unlimited recycling, but need to reduce our garbage by half. We’re nearly there right now without hardly trying. We get 26 large bags (holds 2-3 kitchen garbage bags) for $91 for the year. If we go over that amount, we can buy more bags for $3.50 each. Even if we buy a bag a week, it’s still under that $231. It’s a no-brainer way to save, and you also help take care of our earth by reducing the amount of garbage and increasing the amount you recycle. Savings: $11 a month

That’s about the length of the reductions I’ve done this past week. TOTAL MONTHLY SAVINGS: $197 a month! I can write more (like how our electric bill came down to ZERO one month this winter!) but I will probably save that for a less techie blog.

 

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Cable Cutters: Cheap Alternatives to TV, DSL, and Cell Services