Last January, when our financial turnaround was just getting underway, we decided as a family to scale back our cable service to the basic package. We cut out some sixty channels of programming and were reduced to local programming only. But we did save about $35 a month in the process (the difference between expanded and basic cable).
We survived that year without expanded cable service, and only missed the channels a few times. In fact, as the year wore on we hardly missed those channels at all. We all made sacrifices. My wife gave up TLC and some of her favorite shows (Jon and Kate Plus 8, Little People, Big World, etc.). My kids gave up the Disney Channel, the Cartoon Network, etc. I survived (barely) an entire college football season without ESPN, and a highly-charged presidential election without cable news.
Before long we were enjoying more quality family time, and all of us were more appreciative of the programming we did have available. I began to watch PBS for the first time since I was a kid, discovering shows on things that interest me like gardening, travel and money management.
The original deal was to go without expanded cable for one year, which we completed in January of 2009. After giving it some thought, we decided to sign back up for expanded cable service through our cable company. It would increase our television entertainment bill from $12 a month to $46 a month – certainly not a trivial increase, but one we could make some room for in the budget by scaling back on our Netflix membership, and cutting a couple other categories.
Before I made the move I polled my Twitter followers (who continue to be a great source for this type of information), and found that $46/month was relatively cheap, but far from the most economical packages like the basic plan we were currently on.
Here’s a summary of the Twitter poll statistics:
- $57.50. Average cost reported by Twitter followers who currently pay for television programming.
- $90.00. The most expensive package reported (satellite).
- $14.00. The cheapest cable package reported, probably for basic cable channels.
- $0.00. Two individuals reported that they pay nothing for television. They have no cable or satellite service. They both mentioned watching programs via Hulu or network websites, and one mentioned he was considering watching only the shows he liked via iTunes.com. I liked this a-la-cart option, myself!
In the end, we decided to turn the expanded programming back on. After a couple days of catching up with older shows, and watching a few new ones, it occurred to all of us that we were not missing much. Funny how you learn to live without something that you used to think you never could, especially when you have to.
I do not believe television is necessarily bad. I do think the vast majority of programming is a giant time-suck, in that there are more productive things you could be doing with your limited waking hours.
But there are a few quality programs out there, and we use our cherished TiVo to record the few shows we watch regularly. This helps us watch TV shows faster while skipping past most of the commercials. Now I just wonder how long we’ll keep the cable connected this time. With us watching fewer and fewer shows, it will be hard to justify this new, higher bill.