Cut costs by cutting cable and phone cords

Note from Kim: This guest post was written by my husband.  Thanks Matt!

A recent rate hike brought the cost of our cable service (without premium channels), digital landline, and Internet access to more than $200 per month. This was the magic threshold that made me stop and think. How many of the 500 channels do we actually watch? How many phones does a family need?

Being tech-savvy and working in the software industry for the last 20 years, I decided to open up the “Google machine” and see what I could learn about containing the cost of entertainment and communication. I quickly discovered that I was not the only one thinking this way. It seems the revolt against the high costs of cable, Internet, and phone services has been going on for a while and there are a lot of solutions to choose from if you want to save some money. Since my wife and I need to have reliable Internet service for our jobs, I set my sights on eliminating our cable service and land telephone lines.

I can say my household experiment is still ongoing, but so far, so good. If you want to keep reading, I’ll share my trials and tribulations in making the change. If you make it to the end, I’ll tell you how much money I’ve been able to save so far!

Things to keep in mind

  1. First and foremost, if you are doing this for a household, make sure everyone is on-board from the start.
  2. Have a plan, but be flexible. As you start out, you’ll find that some things that work for you and others that don’t. 
  3. Phase in your changes. Start small and work out the kinks as soon as they happen.
  4. Give it time. Old habits die hard so commit to living with your changes for at least 30 days.
  5. Leave your existing services in place until you know the change is right for you. (It’s probably cheaper to pay for an extra month than it is to have to re-start all of your accounts!) 
  6. Cut the cord and start saving!

Cutting out cable

In my house, it was important that the wife and kids bought into my crazy new plan or we would have been doomed from the start. I had to be realistic because not only was the amount of content changing, but how we accessed it was going to change as well. Everyone needs to be involved in the process and have their concerns heard. We decided to start our experiment with the understanding that we can always go back in a month or two if Dad couldn't make it easy enough for everyone to watch some of their favorite shows.

Once everyone agreed to try life without cable, it was time to figure out what we do watch and if it was possible to get rid of 490 of the 500 channels. Looking through our TiVo seasons’ passes revealed an interesting fact. A lot of the shows my wife and I watched were on network TV. Yep, the same network TV that I can get free over the air. I also think the picture is even better than cable! The kids were a little more difficult, but between Netflix, PBS, and YouTube, I think they are now covered. My biggest concern was going to be sports. Right now, I’m pretty well covered between local programming OTA and watching ESPN3 on my PC.

Since we were used to watching TV with TiVo, I wanted to keep this as part of the new solution. One HD antenna in the attic connected to my now defunct cable line and we had signal running to the two TiVo connected TV’s. Teaching the family on how to find shows and watch them on Netflix streaming through the TiVo was pretty easy.

We have also started to enhance our content by borrowing older movies from the library for free and renting newer titles from Redbox and Blockbuster kiosks for $1. We have been doing this for the last four months and the masses haven’t revolted. In fact, I think our habits are changing for the better. We are making conscious decisions on the content we watch instead of just flipping through the channels and tuning out. More movies have been watched and reading has returned as a form of entertainment.

Losing the land line

Our phone experiment has really just started (remember bullet three from above?) but seems to be working well and the change was actually even easier. Trust me, I did my best to over-think it, but in the end, I came to my senses. In our situation, every member of the family now has cell phones to handle our busy lives. Why pay for the redundant land line? There are many services out there like Google Voice that can give you a single number that rings all your cell phones if you feel the need for a family number.

Since I work out of the house, I picked up a Skype account as well. For $60 per year, I have a number that people can call from any land line as well as unlimited calls out to North America and Canada. I could probably do with out this, but it is nice for conference calls and so far the quality has been great.

When deciding to get rid of your home number, keep in mind that there are a lot of places that have that number as a contact point for you. Make sure you notify places like your kids’ schools, utilities, and friends on the best way to get in contact with you now.

The results

So the big question is was this really worth all the effort? I really like the changes that are happening in our daily choices. I’m even more excited that my monthly bill has now dropped to around $50 for Internet service. That’s a difference of $150 per month and $1,800 per year! Not to bad and well worth the effort!

You might also enjoy reading:

To buy or not to buy: Kitchen gadgets
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Is it worth it to trade down your dog's food?

Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.

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