Life Unplugged

About two months ago, my husband and I started looking at some ways to shave some money off of our expenses.  Some unexpected repairs and expenses over the summer prevented us from putting as much back in savings as we had intended.  One of our goals is to have all of our credit card debt paid off by the end of 2010 and keep it off, so we were just looking to build a little cushion in our budget to avoid using our credit card if possible.

I started by suggesting that we cut back on our cable package.  My husband wasn’t keen on that idea.  He suggested getting rid of our land-line and switching to a cell phone, but I wasn’t keen on that idea.  And once he realized it would mean giving up our alarm system, he wasn’t either.  Once he started looking at the cable bill and realized how much we were paying for cable television and how few channels we as a family were actually watching, he suggested that we completely dump our cable, land-line, and alarm system.

I had secretly been wanting to ditch the cable for awhile.  And we were both having concerns about some of the attitudes the girls were picking up from Disney and Nickelodeon shows.  We started looking into how much an antenna would cost and what to expect from it.  After a experimenting with three antennas, we found success with this Clearstream 2 Long-Range HDTV Antenna by Antennas Direct.  It’s an indoor/outdoor antenna, and after a few different scans found a good place for it near a living room window.  We get all of the major networks (although CBS and NBC are more finnicky), WGN, Fox, all four PBS stations, a few other local channels, and three channels out of Chicago that feature old television shows and movies with awesome picture quality.

How are we all adjusting to life without cable television?  Much better than I would have expected even six months ago.  Rick realized he mainly used the television as background noise while he worked on other things, and he now fills that void with DVDs, podcasts,  and music.  The girls have been rediscovering PBS Kids, but they have also been learning about “new” shows like Star Trek and The Munsters.  The first week Bailey and I watched Ed Sullivan music highlights on PBS.  They have also been getting more use out of their DVD collection and enjoying a big box of VHS movies my parents passed on to them.  We also have the entire library system to tap as we catch up on our VeggieTales viewing.

As for me, the biggest thing I missed at first was the DVR.  It was a bit of an adjustment for the girls to not be able to pause in the middle of a show for dinner time or a bathroom break.  However, I almost never watched any of my shows when they aired.  And my biggest concern about getting rid of the cable was losing the DVR and making myself a slave to the television schedule.  Let’s just say that Hulu has become my new best friend.  It offers me the same flexibility to keep up with Bones and Hell’s Kitchen as the DVR did.  Come January/February Lost may be a whole other story, though.

Overall we’ve been watching less television, which can only be a good thing.  The first few weeks we spent a lot of time outside enjoying the last of the warm weather.  A recent visit from my parents kept us busy and introduced some new toys.   Internet use has been on the rise, but it can be more easily regulated.  And being able to access Disney.com has eased Bailey’s withdrawal from the Disney Channel.  For me and Rick it was worth it just to avoid watching five hours of Hannah Montana, Zack & Cody, and Wizards of Waverly Place every day.

We are still in the process of getting our phone situation straightened out.  We get a great cell phone deal through a good friend who works at Sprint, but we’re being held up by the process of switching our land-line phone number to the new cell phone.  I know it will be a bit of an adjustment using a cell phone in the house.  My biggest concerns have been keeping the cell phone charged, keeping the cell phone on, and keeping the cell phone where it can be found easily at all times (with three small children this last one really concerns me).  I will probably need to get something to keep it on my body most of the day as I work on different floors of the house.

We were less sure about getting rid of the alarm system, and we had heard that systems with a cell phone back up were available.  So I called our security company and asked about cell phone-only systems.  They said the technology was available but would cost $230 for installation and raise our bill about $25 a month.  There were no discounts for loyal customers.  Rick and I talked about it and agreed that was too expensive and counter-productive to our goals.  So I called them back in order to cancel our service.  However, this time I got a different representative who offered us free installation and only a $1 increase on our monthly bill if we signed a five-year contract.  Since our chances of being here and wanting an alarm for the next five years were high we took the deal.  It just goes to show how much these things can depend on catching the right customer service representative.

So these days we’re feeling kind of smart.  We’re getting high quality television for free.  We’re off the grid a bit and saving some money.  Next thing you know we’ll be hooking up gas-powered generators to supply our electrical needs, growing our own food, and trading in our car for a horse and buggy.  NOT!!  And as you can tell, giving up our high-speed internet was non-negotiable for both of us.

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