Thursday, September 11, 2014

Tech Expenses - Are Yours Out of Control?

I just looked at my cable TV and cellular phone bills.  Have I gone mad?   Have we ALL gone mad?  Whatever happened to having a home phone hanging from the wall with a 20-foot spiraling cord and being satisfied with three network channels?   Do I (we) really need all these apps, cable channels, turbo internets, and streaming? I’m still not sure what streaming is, only that it requires another box and monthly fees.
It’s just my wife and me at home, but we each have a smart phone.  We also have two homes with internet and cable TV at each.  Before you get the wrong idea, it’s not like we retired and bought a second home in the Hamptons.  We each brought a modest home into a mid-life marriage, both with a mortgage that we spent a lifetime paying.  Mine is in the mountains where it’s cooler, hers in the city where there’s civilization, so we kept them least for now. 
Anyway, if not for what we pay for cellular phones, cable TV, and internet services, we might actually be able to afford a home in the Hamptons.  The total amount of these bills is rapidly approaching our largest monthly expense.  I’d provide the actual number, but it’s embarrassing.
The crazy thing is our fees would be much higher if I didn’t engage my cable providers in a regular dialogue.   You see, they will continue to increase your fees unless you occasionally call and question the undecipherable list of offerings on your monthly invoice.   They claim that “packaged offerings,” or promos, expire, which causes your bill to periodically spiral upward.  One of our monthly cable bills recently rose 80%, excessive even by cable company standards, so I called.  After an eternity on the phone analyzing each line item on the invoice, the customer services agent (a misnomer) magically found more packaged offerings.  Our bill still increased 20%, which is probably what the cable company had planned anyway, so I’m not sure who won.  It’s such a game.  I wonder what the customers who don’t call are paying. 
I’ve thought about getting rid of all of it.  You know, going out for dinner and actually talking with my wife without each of us thumbing our way through our smart phone apps as we wait for our food.   I’d like to try going back to a “dumb” cell phone, one that only makes calls (okay, also texts) and a digital TV antenna to access local broadcast channels.  I’ve checked.  In our area, there are over 20 channels broadcast over the airwaves.  That’s right, floating for free, right outside my window are digital HD channels.  Do I really need more than 20?  Have I (we) become so “wired” to social media and cable TV that suggesting I would give it all up sounds like I should be committed?  I think not.
As a first step, I decided to give up cable TV and just get internet (a service I need more than want) from my cable provider. I bought a digital TV antenna for $30 and found the picture quality as good as cable and the channels were acceptable.  I figured getting rid of cable TV should cut my cable bill at least by half.   Wrong!   It turns out it would only reduce my bill by 30%.  You see, “bundles” are not really bundles; they are “handcuffs.”  Since my cable provider is my only source for internet, I am captive.  I can’t escape, unless I want to take up residence at a nearby coffee house with free Wi-Fi.
It’s my view that I (we) will get to the point where we’ve had enough. I’m old enough to remember having just one house phone and watching a TV with only three network channels.  I survived.  I’m sure I would survive with a “dumb” cell phone and a digital TV antenna with 20 local channels.  Our homes are filled with books that we haven’t read, or haven’t read in years, and there’s a library down the street.
Maybe it’s time we all go back to the future.            

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