Over the last 20 or 30 years, most Americans have come to accept three new service bills into their life. Each one is expensive, with two of them often climbing over $100 a month. Together, they can easily gobble up $300 to $400 a month out of a family’s budget.
Yet, many Americans simply won’t even consider life without these plans.
Those three problematic plans? Television, Internet, and cell phones.
I’m willing to bet that you cringed when reading at least one of those things, if not all three of them. Dropping your cable or satellite service? Getting rid of your home Internet service? What about your cell phone plan? It probably sounds painful.
For many people, the mere thought of dropping one of those services is met with immediate rejection, without any real consideration of the alternatives.
Here’s the thing, though: There are pretty good free and low-cost alternatives to each of those things. If I were in even a slightly different financial, professional, or personal state, I would dump all three of these services (the television subscription is my wife’s vice, while I need Internet service of some kind for professional needs).
Here are some strategies to consider if you’d like to take a scythe to your monthly bills.
The average American household pays $47.30 per month for Internet service. (source)
That amount adds up to about $600 per year, which can be a rent payment or a few car payments for most people. $600 a year can make a real difference in many household budgets.
But how do you drop home Internet service? Don’t you need Internet service? Here’s how I would easily get by without Internet service at home.
I’d hit the abundance of open Wi-Fi points in my town. The library has one. So does the coffee shop. So do at least half of the restaurants. You just go there, fire up your connected device of choice (I take my laptop), and log on. I prefer to use the library, myself, as there’s no pressure to buy anything there and it’s quiet with plenty of open table space.
I’d disconnect from using the Internet for entertainment. Honestly, most of what I use the Internet for (outside of strictly professional purposes) is pretty unnecessary entertainment. I read websites that aren’t particularly useful. I sometimes play computer games. Sure, it’s useful for looking up stuff sometimes, but I can just make a list of things to research in my pocket notebook and go through those things when I’m at the library the next time. Instead, I’d just find something else as a source for that entertainment – books, for starters, but I have a ton of other hobbies to engage in.
I’d just not work at home. Right now, I work in a home office. It means that I don’t have to commute for work in any way, which is pretty nice. However, in order to really focus, I often have to shut that office door and pretend I’m not at home. Without home Internet, I would simply turn that “pretending” into a real thing and work at the library or somewhere similar, a place nearby with Internet access so I could submit my work.
The average American household pays $76.08 per month for television programming. (source)
That number adds up to just shy of $1,000 per year. (Another estimate puts the figure as high as $99 a month, or close to $1,200 a year.) That’s several car payments. That’s a month of rent in an expensive area and multiple months in a less expensive area. That’s an amount that can really make a difference in many people’s lives.
But how do you drop this source of entertainment and information? The average American watches five hours of TV per day. That’s a lot of time devoted to television programming. How can we fix that? Here’s how I would do it.
I’d get free television programming over the air. With a digital antenna, you can receive as many as twenty channels in digital quality for free over the air. The antenna that Consumer Reports recommends, the RCA ANT 1650, amounts to a one-time $50 purchase on Amazon. With that antenna, you can get tons of network programming – live news, dramas, comedies, and sports – without paying a dime for it once the antenna is installed.
I’d spend time on other hobbies and forms of entertainment. In the end, television is mostly a tool for entertainment, so why not find entertainment elsewhere? Engage in other hobbies instead. Check out some books from the library. Dig into whatever passion you might have and actually use those hobby supplies you have stowed away in the closet (most of us have them).
I’d check out DVDs from the library. Our local library has tons of DVDs and Blurays available for borrowing, including many full seasons of television series. Their service would make it easily possible to watch an awful lot of movies and TV shows – even things that only appear on cable – without any significant additional expense.
The average American household spends $102 per month on cell phone services. (source)
Again, that adds up to about $1,200 per year, a large chunk of money that could make a huge difference in the lives of many people. That’s several car payments or a few rent payments or a few months of food, all devoured by a hungry cell phone and the plan to support it.
But life without a cell phone today? Really? You can actually do this – or you can cut that cost down to just a sliver of what it once was. Here’s the strategy I’d use to nuke our cell phone bill.
I’d get a cheap pay-as-you-go plan with a great provider like Ting. Pay-as-you-go providers usually offer the best bang for the buck in mobile service, and Ting repeatedly is one of the highest recommended providers in that market. The average monthly bill with Ting is $23 a month and they’re really flexible with helping you build the exact plan you need based on your real usage.
I’d keep an old cell phone charged in my glove compartment for emergency calls. One of the biggest reasons people like having cell phones is for emergency situations. The thing is, you can make a call on a cell phone to contact emergency services without any cell service plan. Just keep an old one charged up but turned off in your glove compartment.
I’d talk to my employer. Many employers that require employee cell use will provide one for their employees upon request. Simply tell your employer that you don’t own (or no longer own) a cell phone and that if they need to constantly contact you outside of normal work hours, you need a cell phone from them for work purposes.
Many people won’t even consider the options I’ve listed here for entertainment and communication, but there are certainly lots of alternatives available to the expensive Internet, cell phone, and television plans that many people pay for each and every month.
The key there is consideration. Once you recognize that many of the services and other things that you pay for every month are actually not a requirement and are actually just things that you want and don’t really need, it becomes easier to consider dropping those services or moving to a lower-cost version of those services.
If you’re truly the average American, making the moves described in this article will leave about $250 a month more in your checking account. That’s a car payment on a really good late-model used car. That’s a healthy chunk of a month’s rent. That’s a single person’s entire monthly food budget. And all of that money often vanishes just to have entertainment services that everyone lived without just 20 years ago.
It’s time to spend some time opening the door a little. Consider, just a bit, what your life would be like without these services, and what it would be like with another $250 a month in your pocket. What would you actually miss without these services? What would you actually gain with a huge increase in available funds for you?
You might just find yourself on a better path for life, one that results in a lot less stress and a lot more time for getting in touch with the things you find most important in your life.