Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Turning Amish

My flanks are collapsing, my center is beaten in -- I am attacking!

These words, sent in a dispatch by a French Marshall to his commander during a battle, demonstrate great indomitability, a trait that I hold in the highest esteem.

It may sound somewhat incongruous to how some of my friends perceive me, but I am at heart a creature of defense. It is not generally in my character to go on the offense, to attack, to seek out and conquer the new. To the contrary, I find it difficult to motivate myself toward offensive maneuvers. By my very nature, my goal is not to beat you; rather, it is to firmly establish myself so that I may not be beaten. Indomitability.

This holds especially true in the battles of money.

In my last blog, I discussed the retrenchment that we have been going through at Upham Manor. We're falling back, digging in, and fortifying our position to hold fast against the current economic tempests as well as to prepare for the impending additions to our family. In the not too distant future, my family will experience a dramatic 67% increase in size. In our early days, Janet and I were able to effectively demonstrate that two could live as cheaply as seven. However, I am now determined to show that five can live as cheaply as, well, as something that is very cheap.

With the second car now gone; new purchases being curtailed; efforts underway to sell anything that's not actively being used; and that which is in use having its life extended by repair and refurbishment, Janet and I have begun to identify sources of financial drain upon the manor. We've come up with a short list of services that we believe can be curtailed or eliminated.

Cable TV

I recall as kid my first exposure to cable television. A friend took me to his grandparent's house where we were going to watch some cartoons. We watched shows I had never heard of before. Awesome shows. I was fascinated by the fact that there were no commercials. "It's cable," he said. "There are no commercials because you pay to watch."

"Pay? Pay to watch TV?? That will never catch on."

Remember those days? That was the whole point of cable television, you paid to watch it and in return you didn't have to watch commercials. But look at how that has changed. Now, you pay even more money, and still you're treated to a constant succession of commercials. What is worse still, is that the networks have the gall to take up the bottom third of your screen with advertising WHILE you're watching the damn program! I've written letters repeatedly to the networks voicing my aggravation over this. I've never heard one syllable in response.

I've had enough. Overpriced cable TV must go.


Currently, our telephone is packaged in with our cable television bill through Comcast. I can't complain about the service other than to say that it's difficult to determine its value vis a vis our usage. One positive aspect of our phone service package is that we receive unlimited calling for all local and long distance calls as part of the bundle.

A few months ago, my cell phone contract expired. I didn't bother to renew it. Frankly, I haven't missed it at all. Janet still has a cell phone which she is reticent to give up. Though she isn't out of the house as often as she'd like, we still think it's good for her to have one. (I suppose having one cell phone in the family in the 21st century isn't entirely a bad thing.)


Also coupled into our Comcast bundle is our Internet access. This is largely my Achilles heal. I can't live without it. Given my continued addiction to World of Warcraft not to mention StumbleUpon, I'd likely go insane without access to the Tubes.

Janet is plugged in as well. I frequently get updates throughout the day of how the kids are behaving, who's pinched or poked whom, and what new thing they've learned during the day. Janet needs an outlet while at home with the brood, and besides, she often uses the Web for educational activities like watching animal videos and such.

The Plan

A couple days ago, I was telling my boss and his boss about my master Plan to save money and cut expenses. I asked them if they had any opinions about various alternatives that I was considering. My boss, who drives a very similar Nissan Maxima to the one I just sold, sat there incredulous. He's still astonished that I, another Maxima aficionado like himself, could ever have parted with my Maxima.

"Are you turning Amish?" he asked me.

To be honest, I had to think about it for a moment. He was asking in jest, but the notion struck me as rather appealing. I began to envision myself pulling up to the office in a horse and buggy.

"If you come in here sporting a beard without a mustache, I'll kill you," he continued.

The Comcast bundle we have provides Cable TV with some HBO and other movie stations, our telephone service, and a 12Mbps pipe to the Internet. The monthly cost is $139 before taxes and the $7 monthly fee for the DDR. (I'll miss being able to record shows and rewinding live TV at the press of a button.)

I called Comcast to find out how much it would cost me each month to have only Internet access, with no TV or Phone service. I was told $59 a month. Oddly enough, however, if I go with Internet access and basic cable (ABC, CBS, NBC, etc), the price goes down to $52. No brainer there. So we're going to change our Comcast subscription to include only high speed Internet and basic cable.

We don't watch much TV, but we do want to have some additional options for visual entertainment. The solution? and Netflix.

Hulu is a website that provides a great deal of television programming online. I've used it in the past from time to time to find an occasional movie or episode of a TV show. You can't always find exactly what you want, but there is quite a bit there to choose from.

In addition to that, we're going to open a trial account with Netflix. The first month is free. Thereafter, for $9 a month, you are given one DVD at a time and a host of other instant access, online programming. I've been told that their children's selection is large. If they have Thomas the Tank Engine we'll have everything we need.

Telephone was a more interesting question. I didn't want to rely on the cell phone, primarily because, well, I hate cell phones. Also, they're expensive at all tiers of service. I checked into Vonage. Vonage uses the Internet to connect your telephone calls. Vonage offers several service levels, including $10 a month for 200 minutes of local and long distance. We could probably live with that. However, it's the unlimited local & long distance for $26 a month plan that would make the most sense. But $26 a month (plus taxes)? That's still over $312 a year in phone bills I think I can do better.

And I did.

MajicJack. Yeah, I know, it sounds a snake oil solution, but according to every reputable source I've read, it works. MajicJack is another technology that uses the Internet to connect your phone to the telephone network. You get unlimited local and long distance calling for, get this, $20 per year. Not per month, per year. It costs $40 to buy the jack and that includes the first year of service. There is currently a one month free trial offer. I'm going to give it a try. If it works, works well, and works reliably, we may have a very inexpensive long term solution. The one drawback to this solution is that you cannot keep your current phone number. That bothers me. But, it may prove worth it.

The Numbers

Current Monthly Costs
$165 (Comcast bundle: TV, phone, Internet)

New Monthly Costs
+ $52 + tax Comcast Internet & Basic TV
+ $3.33 MajicJack per month (includes jack purchase
+ $9 NetFlicks (1 DVD & online content)
+ $0 Hulu and other online TV providers
~$64 Total Monthly Costs

This plan provides an estimated savings of $100 per month. Is that enough for all this effort? Well, all told it's around $1,200 a year. If I got an extra $1,200 a year in my bonus, I'd certainly notice. Besides, if we're careful of accounting for that freed-up $100 a month, we can do some nice things with it. The key is to not let the new found money slip away into the void of the checking account.

But don't forget, the point of this exercise is that I believe I can get the same services to which I am now accustomed at a much lower cost. If this test works, we really won't have given up much of anything.

So, at the risk of being labeled a weirdo (or at least even more a weirdo), the plan is to take my family down the road to Amish Country. Or at least to an even more tight fisted Yankee Land.


Anonymous said...

We were scoffed at too, but then suddenly others realized that their cable bill was insane, for what they got out of it. I just hope not all the wackos catch on, because I need someone to pay for the HBO shows that I enjoy. lol

Gleno said...


You use a critical phrase in your comment, "for what they got out of it."

If I was really enjoying the shows on cable, sure, it'd be worth the money. Maybe. But I find myself ranting far too often about the crap that pops up at the bottom of the screen and the number and length of commercials.

It's not three or four commercials. It's not six. I regularly count ten and twelve commercials on the channels that I want to watch most. WTH?

At at least 30 seconds each, I've just spent 5 to 6 minutes watching commercials on a show that I PAID to watch. Screw that. I'm not going to be their cash cow anymore. There are too many other options.

Donzo said...

I don't buy cable for the extra programs, I buy it for the reception. I like HD. I pay $53 per month, for DVR cable. Less than $2 per day. I have no land line, just a cell phone. On the family plan, my part is $25 per month. Long Distance, which I use 2 - 3 hours PER DAY, is free after 9 pm and all weekend. Now I just need to find cheaper food.

Anonymous said...

And there was nothing about abortion in this at all. I was duped.

Its kind of amazing what we forget we can live without. We have been so conditioned to need the 'next big thing'. Even my husband tells me he wants to get me a new computer.. and I say "Why?" There is nothing at all wrong with this one. Its' not even slow. Just gotta have another. It's a sickness.

tess said...

It sounds great and if it works I am in too....I have to wait for my contract to be over so you have 18 months to show me the money....

Mo said...

If it works I will do it me the money...