Updated on 03.15.12

Minimize Television Time (76/365)

Trent Hamm

Whenever I tell people about the family activities I’ve talked about over the last week – art projects, lots of reading, making your own crayons, and so on – they usually end up asking “where do you find the time for all of this stuff?”

Our secret is a simple one: we drastically minimize television time.

In our house, there is a simple “no television” rule from Monday to Friday between the time the children get up and the time they go to bed. The television does not turn on during that time.

On the weekends, we watch roughly one hour of television as a family per day (unless our oldest son gets up really early, goes downstairs, and sneaks in a superhero show).

In the evenings, after the kids are in bed and the chores are done, Sarah and I might watch a movie or a television show without commercials, but quite often we just skip that as well and go to bed, or we might play a board game or work on our individual hobbies.

That’s it. That’s all the time spent in our house watching television as a family. We own exactly one television, and it’s not on the main floor of our home where most of our family time is spent.

Minimize Television Time (76/365)

Don’t get me wrong – we’re not necessarily opposed to television. We just realize that there are a lot of costs involved in watching.

First of all, there’s the electricity. CNet estimates that a television in use uses about 100 watts, and my Kill-A-Watt meter says that our television uses about 4 watts when on standby mode. I couldn’t find statistics when it comes to cable or satellite boxes, but my Kill-A-Watt meter estimates that our cable box uses about 100 watts, too. If you have other components – stereo sound, video game consoles, etc. – the cost only goes up. The nationwide average is about $0.12 per kilowatt hour, so if you watch television an average of three hours a day and own a satellite or cable box, $10 a month is vanishing right before your eyes.

There’s also the programming bill. Cable packages vary, but they’re at least $40 a month and can range well over $100 per month. Netflix is another $9 per month. Hulu Plus is another $9 per month.

Those costs really add up. You’re talking well over a thousand dollars a year just to keep the television on and with cable programming. Add on top of that the eventual replacement costs for televisions and batteries for the remote control…. you’re starting to get the idea. Television is an expensive proposition.

There’s also the cost in terms of time spent watching television. Every hour you spend watching television is an hour not engaged in something else. If you’re watching three hours of television a day yet feel guilty about the things you’re not getting done, trim away some of that television viewing. If you’re watching something awful on television and wonder why you’re watching it, turn it off and do something else.

On top of that, television programming is laden with product promotion. I’m not just talking about commercials, I’m talking about product placement within the programming. Normal programs include zoom-ins on product labels and decals all the time, subtly sliding buying preferences to you right inside the shows.

Turn the television off. Consider disconnecting your cable box and stopping that subscription. You’ll be amazed at the money you save and the extra time you have.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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  1. We disconnected our cable a month ago. I wanted to cut our bills and I wanted to be more productive. We haven’t been watching TV much recently so it was just a waste of money. We don’t miss it at all. I have found more productive things to do with my time.

  2. We cut off the cable in January and have been very pleased with the results. Our kids are reading more and we are spending more time doing other activities, like the games you pictured above!

  3. jim says:

    Lol Wut? Thousands a year? Netflix is $7.99 a month. Amazon Prime is $80 (sometimes $40) a year. Some Hulu is free. Broadcast is free. Broadcast and a lot of cable is free at the network sites. Pick and choose what you want to subscribe to, and what you want to pay for. Where do you rip this stuff off from? Weak arguments.
    It don’t matter what your kids spend their time doing, retards don’t know if they’re at the park or sitting on a couch.

  4. kc says:

    “Trent Hamm” has checked out, and Cut Media must be quite the operation. On a positive note, they’re deeply passionate about coupons.

  5. The time spent watching mindless TV can definitely be used somewhere else. However… I wouldn’t suggest getting rid of it all together.

  6. Dave M says:

    Johanna, you’re usually right on, but I think you mean “deeply” passionate about coupons.

  7. Johanna says:

    I actually do find this whole coupon thing pretty incredible.

  8. kc says:

    Agree. They are really tarting up the site. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to the subscriber base over the next 6 months or so.

  9. Adam P says:

    Coupons…and a little bit of personal finance. But mostly coupons…and meet ups on Craigslist.

    Although it was humorous that the guy who mentioned his meet ups on Craigslist still owned Trent regarding the cost of television. *sigh*

  10. Jules says:

    So much for family-friendly content.

  11. Chris says:

    IMO, it is a little over the top to ban all television for the kids 5 days a week. If a person is in a financial situation where they have to cut cable fees, Netflix, etc to make ends meet, that is understandable. But what is wrong with enjoying it if you can easily afford it while still saving for the future? What is the point of working hard in your career if you can’t enjoy some of the fruits of your labor? What next? Living all your waking hours by candlelight because you can save money on your utility bill that way??

  12. deRuiter says:

    The “trolls” are cleverly pointing out that no one in charge of this site cares about it. It was sold to raise a large lump of money (not a bad thing, I’m pro capitalism). The bad part is that no one cares about the regurgitated content, the comments, the ways the column could be brought back to life at all. The author is milking his old poor quality work one more time, he’s happy because he gets paid to serve up the same old tired things a second or a third time without having to create any new content, saving his “passion for writing” for some fantasy novel. The new owners are happy because they get to charge for inserting coupons, ads, junk for which they charge the advertisers so much per click without reading the material or comments. It’s win/win, and the hapless readers are now learning to drop this once amusing column, or to poke fun by posting rude comments which no one who owns or writes the column reads. Best reaction is to 1. ignore ads and coupons, and 2. give up reading the column. Vote with your money (clicks and readership.)

  13. Chris says:

    It is horrible to a financial web site and have to read vulgar comments.

  14. Steven says:

    Chris: It could just be that Trent and his family don’t place the same value on watching TV as you might. I don’t see anything wrong with that. Actually, I’d prefer to watch less TV myself, but it’s become such a habit that it’s not easy to leave it off. I like the noise.

    As for the comments being vulgar. I think it’s amusing and says a lot about Trent and his lack of concern for this site. It was obvious months ago that he’d check out. Now it’s even more clear that he doesn’t care at all about this site.

  15. Misha says:

    It’s funny, because a few weeks ago Trent came into the comments and was all “I read the comments!” Sure, when the overlords at Cut Media tell him that people are complaining that he doesn’t read the comments. But, clearly, not on anything like a regular basis.

  16. Misha says:

    And this is what it’s come to – scroll all the way down, click “View Complete Coupon Directory”, click “P”, scroll down to “Prank Place.Com” (not the one above it without the .com), and click it. And read the description on the page. Does Trent, with his former dedication to family-friendliness, even know the specifics of what his website’s being filled with?

  17. kc says:

    Misha: I doubt it.

  18. We were always a TV-friendly family. We watched comedies, nature and travel shows, great old movies, and the better drama series. It was a relaxing communal experience and in no way damaged my son’s intellectual curiousity: just the opposite – he became aware of the larger world outside of his own limited one. (Well, not THAT limited, since we lived in Manhattan!) The only thing we insisted on was that he read books. This served him well, and he ended up working in publishing.

  19. Shannon says:

    @ Steven,

    If you wanted to, you could experiment. If you really just like TV for the noise, turn it off for a week. Turn the radio on or find free podcasts to listen to in the background, instead.

    I’m a little bit on the “no-TV” side, myself, but, there are times when I miss it (when you’re sick, it’s so nice to lay on the couch, turn the TV on and just check out).

  20. Evangeline says:

    Another sad commentary is the fact that this isn’t the only finance blog to be sold in recent history. A well known and very popular one went through the same transition. The difference? The other blog has maintained it’s integrity, focus, quality and readership. The transition can be accomplished effectively. It is by choice that this particular blog has not done it.

  21. Krista says:

    Found this years ago about tv and its insidious influences:

    A few months before I was born, my dad met a stranger who was new to our small Tennessee town. From the beginning, Dad was fascinated with this enchanting newcomer, and soon invited him to live with our family. The stranger was quickly accepted and was around to welcome me into the world a few months later. As I grew up I never questioned his place in our family. Mom taught me to love the Word of God. Dad taught me to obey it. But the stranger was our storyteller. He could weave the most fascinating tales. Adventures, mysteries and comedies were daily conversations. He could hold our whole family spellbound for hours each evening. He was like a friend to the whole family. He took Dad, Bill and me to our first major league baseball game. He was always encouraging us to see the movies and he even made arrangements to introduce us to several movie stars. The stranger was an incessant talker. Dad didn’t seem to mind, but sometimes Mom would quietly get up – while the rest of us were enthralled with one of his stories of faraway places – and go to her room read her Bible and pray. I wonder now if she ever prayed that the stranger would leave. You see, my dad ruled our household with certain moral convictions. But this stranger never felt an obligation to honor them. Profanity, for example, was not allowed in our house – not from us, from our friends, or adults. Our longtime visitor, however, used occasional four-letter words that burned my ears and made Dad squirm. To my knowledge the stranger was never confronted. My dad was a teetotaler who didn’t permit alcohol in his home – not even for cooking. But the stranger felt he needed exposure and enlightened us to other ways of life. He offered us beer and other alcoholic beverages often. He made cigarettes look tasty, cigars manly, and pipes distinguished. He talked freely (too much too freely) about sex. His comments were sometimes blatant, sometimes suggestive, and generally embarrassing. I know now that my early concepts of the man/woman relationship were influenced by the stranger. As I look back, I believe it was the grace of God that the stranger did not influence us more. Time after time he opposed the values of my parents. Yet he was seldom rebuked and never asked to leave. More than thirty years have passed since the stranger moved in with the young family on Morningside Drive. But if I were to walk into my parents’ den today, you would still see him sitting over in a corner, waiting for someone to listen to him talk and watch him draw his pictures. His name? We always called him TV. TV grew up and got married. Her name is Internet.

  22. Kaz says:

    We only have one television too. It gets turned on, maybe once a month at the most, to watch a movie or documentary. That’s it. There are so many more useful, fun things to do with your time than watching rubbish on television. Kids are not deprived at all by not watching television. How about spending time as a family making music, getting outdoors, reading, poetry, cooking, baking??? The list goes on.

  23. Joan says:

    Good post. We rarely watch TV. In fact, November 2012 I should be able to get rid of the tcable without any penalty. It seems like we come home from work, cook supper and then play with the dogs and if we sit in front of the tv, we usually fall asleep because we are wiped from the day! On the weekends, it is clean house, grocery store and errands so we don’t even watch much tv on the weekends. I’d rather be writing posts for my website or surfing the computer than watching tv anyway.

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