Canceling Cable

2013 was an expensive year for us, with hospital bills, unexpected costs of raising a child (newsflash: they’re expensive!), and just generally boring adult stuff that added up. Over the last few years we have cut back significantly on holiday spending, we rarely eat out anymore, I haven’t bought many new clothes for myself at all in the past year, and neither of us has a habit like smoking or Starbucks that adds up over time — but we were were still feeling stretched.

I have always justified the cost of cable by saying that it was our main source of entertainment, given that we rarely go to restaurants anymore and I can’t even remember the last time Nick and I saw a movie together. It was how we treated ourselves! We deserved something, right?

…Then I got a Verizon bill in December that was our first since our initial two year promotion ended, and I thought that maybe justifications like that were why we were feeling so stretched financially. I decided to really look at how much money we’d be spending on cable over the course of a year — and it wasn’t just cable, but also DVR and a landline that were part of our bundle — and see if we could cut back.

Here’s where it gets sticky and the cable companies suck you in: at first I asked about only canceling our landline that we really never use, but doing so would actually not change our bill at all AND it would take away our “free multi-room DVR for life” promotion. (The “free” part of that is of course not REALLY free, because we were still paying each month to rent the DVR boxes, but I digress.) So we’d be paying the same amount with less to show for it.

Grumble grumble grumble.

I thought about it for a few days and called again to discuss a few other scenarios — what if we drop the landline and change our cable to a package with less channels? What if we drop the landline and (gasp) get rid of the DVR that I love and adore? What if we only have one DVR because in reality we hardly ever use the one in the bedroom? The person on the other end of the line patiently ran through several scenarios with me, but the end result was always pretty much the same: we would cut out quite a bit but barely make a dent in our bill. (And that’s how they convince us all to get all of those things in the first place.)

It was then that we decided to take a drastic measure and do something I never thought we could do: we canceled cable altogether.

Yup, me: TV lover and pop culture aficionado, without cable. Take a moment to let that sink in.

But you know what? It’s been a full month now, and it turns out that it’s not so bad. I still have plenty to watch, and I’m wasting less time watching junk just for the sake of watching television, so there is even a huge bonus to our new set-up.

We still get all network stations in HD, plus PBS and a few random stations, with the bare-bones “local” package from Verizon that goes along with our FIOS internet (it costs the same as if we only had internet, so kind of a no-brainer). We already had AppleTV, my Christmas present to Nick a few years ago, which we use to watch Netflix and listen to music through our television; there are also AppleTV apps for ABC, PBS, and some others. As I mentioned, we have Netflix streaming, which is $7.99 a month, and, to be able to watch current shows more quickly after they air since we rarely have a chance to watch them when they’re live, we decided to also subscribe to Hulu Plus, also $7.99 a month. This is essentially a replacement for DVR since almost everything we used to record is available on Hulu Plus.

For shows that are not available on Hulu or Netflix, chances are they are available online. One of my guiltiest pleasures is Pretty Little Liars (yes, I am, in fact, a fourteen-year old girl), and it is available on ABCFamily.com or the ABC Family app the day after it airs.

Wondering how that all adds up? Here’s the math…

Money saved by cutting cable, DVR and landline: $73 per month (including taxes)
Cost of Netflix and HuluPlus: $15.98 per month

TOTAL SAVINGS PER MONTH: $57.02
TOTAL SAVINGS PER YEAR: $684.24

We’re still enjoying the same shows we always did, so I’d say that’s a big WIN all around. I honestly hardly notice the difference, and I waste much less time watching episodes of Friends on TBS that I’ve already seen 15 times. As much as I love Friends, my time is too valuable to watch the same episode for the 16th time, amiright?

Have you taken the plunge and canceled cable? Or have you taken any other drastic measures to save money?

mint condition

A few years ago I set up an account on Mint.com, but never really took the time to enter ALL of my bank information, credit card accounts and monthly expenses, so it sat kind of useless for a while.

While Nick and I have always shared financial responsibilities since we moved in together, we’ve admittedly been kind of lazy about completely combining our finances to make paying the bills and budgeting a bit more seamless. We have a joint bank account, but we use it only for saving for a house, and instead each have a personal bank account that we’ve always used on a regular basis for expenses, spending, and personal saving. I belong to a credit union that I love, Nick has belonged to the same bank for years, and neither of us ever wanted to switch, so we just stayed where we were. (Have I mentioned that we’re both stubborn Leos?)

I lived in our apartment alone for two years before Nick moved in with me, so I already had BillPayer set up for all of the utilities, which were all in my name; as such, I still just pay for the utilities and rent, and Nick writes me a check (yes, writes me a check!) each month for his half of everything. I pay for our car insurance and he pays for our cell phone plans. We each pay for our own car, and I pay off my student loans. We have separate credit cards that we use and pay off individually from our own accounts.

While it’s been easy to just stick with our old habits that began four years ago, this system is no longer working efficiently for us and it has become increasingly difficult to set goals for saving when our money is still somewhat separate. And, let’s face it: it’s time to stop being lazy. I always want to keep a bank account in my name, and Nick will do the same, but it’s finally time that we sit down and combine our everyday expenses so everything comes from one account. It may take a bit of time, but I’m pretty sure it will be way better than continuing with our current ridiculous setup.

Last week I revisited my Mint.com account and finally finished setting everything up; tonight, we have a hot date online to get Nick’s accounts added so we can see everything in one place, and to figure out how to move money to our joint account accordingly. Hopefully being able to track all of our spending together in one place will help us to make cuts where we need to, and it will allow us to save smarter for our future. While I know we’ll probably never have it together as well as my friend Catherine (seriously, she is my budgeting hero), I’m pretty sure I’ll feel a lot better once we’re all organized.

How do you and your partner share your money?

house husband, no more

Last week, Nick returned to work. After ten months of unemployment and endless job searching, he was positively thrilled to get back to a 9-to-5 routine (or, in his case, a 7:30-to-4:30 routine). He actually returned to his old job, since the company is getting back on its feet again and his boss asked him to come back.

It is really nice that he doesn’t have to learn about new systems or meet new co-workers — he already knows the job and the people, so he got right back into the swing of things. It is a job that he was good at and passionate about before, and while it wasn’t the change we were expecting, it is certainly a relief. I think the fact that he was asked to return also speaks volumes about how much his contributions at this company were/are valued.

I felt like I was seeing my child off to his first day of school when he gave me a kiss goodbye last Tuesday morning! I have to admit that I’m going to miss being able to have lunch together sometimes, spending more quality time together, and coming home to dinner on the table, a clean house, and a stocked fridge, but I’m glad my hubby is back to feeling like he has a purpose outside of our home.

but it’s the principle… (a.k.a., I have become a tightwad)

Last weekend, I returned a pair of shoes to DSW. I bought them several weeks ago but haven’t found the opportunity to wear them, and after trying them on again at home after seeing them sit in their box for weeks, I realized they weren’t really comfortable nor worth my money. (I have gotten much better at evaluating my purchases lately and figuring out if I will really wear something enough to justify the purchase.) While said shoes (sandals) were only $34.95, it was still $34.95 that I didn’t need to be without.

Let me just say, I love DSW, and I buy most of my shoes there. They always have what I’m looking for, great prices, and I like that all of their stock is out on the floor for the customers to see — I loathe shoe stores where I have to ask for my size and wait for someone to bring them for me and then proceed to watch me like a hawk as I make my decision. I also wear a very common size (7.5 or 8) that is often sold out, but DSW always has a plethora of shoes in my size.

So anywho… I ventured to my local DSW to return my shoes. I presented my receipt like a good little customer and told the sales clerk that I would like to return the shoes — one of three pairs on the receipt. I am a DSW Premier Rewards member, and I had used a $10 off rewards certificate for my purchase. The clerk proceeded to tell me that since the rewards certificate amount had been split up amongst the three pairs of shoes ($3.27 was deducted from the cost of the pair I was returning), I would be getting back $31.68, instead of $34.95, the full amount that the shoes cost. I said okay, but then had a second to think about it and realized something was off.

I said to her, “Wait — I would have received $10 off my total purchase whether I got one pair of shoes or three pairs of shoes. Why wouldn’t I get the full amount of those shoes back when it wasn’t a percentage discount, but a dollar discount off of my full purchase?”

She took a second and then said, “Well, I could do that, but I’d just have to adjust the pricing of the other shoes.” I don’t really know what she meant, but I figured if it was possible, then yes, I’d like that option. I didn’t really understand why she didn’t do this in the first place, seeing as it is sort of her job… but whatevs. It probably took an extra 10 seconds of her time but I left there with the full refund for $34.95 credited to my debit card. It felt like a small victory.

The old me would not have cared about a $3.27 difference, but I’ve gotten a lot stingier smarter with my cash these days and I really value every dollar. I’ve also gotten a lot pickier with how retail stores run their businesses; although I love DSW, I was a little annoyed that it wasn’t clear to the sales clerk right away that I should receive the full amount of those shoes back. (And no, she wasn’t new — I recognized her and she has probably worked there for at least a year or so.) The old me would have felt like I was inconveniencing the clerk and I would have just let her do whatever she wanted to do, but now I don’t let little things like that slip by me.

Mostly, it was the principle of it that made me adamant about receiving the full refund. Because if they pull one over on me, how many other people are they doing the same thing to? How much money are retailers making off of the ignorance of their customers? And if customers are, indeed, ignorant, does that give reason for them to be cheated out of money that is rightfully theirs?

Have you ever had a similar experience? Did you feel like it was a small victory even though it was only a few bucks saved?

but I don’t have anything to wear!

It was about 12 degrees when I woke up this past Monday and there were four inches (and counting) of freshly fallen snow on the ground. Today, Saturday, the snow was almost melted, the temperature was in the mid-60s, and it rose to the mid-70s by noon. FINALLY! Spring!

I was excited to break out my favorite flats while leaving my socks snug in their drawer, wear a 3/4-length sleeved shirt with no jacket, and drive around with the windows down. After the initial excitement, though, I started my usual beginning-of-the-season-fashion-freakout. What clothes from last spring will still work/fit/make me feel cute? What shoes should I invest in now so I have at least two great staples to get me through the next several months? How am I going to replenish and spruce up my wardrobe on a tiny (very, very tiny) budget?

Then I came across this post about a clothing swap on one of my favorite daily reads, What I Wore. (I love her unique style and ability to put together adorable, fashionable outfits on a budget). Yes — a clothing swap is what I need! While I have gotten much better at regularly purging clothes in my wardrobe that have gone unworn for too long, the feeling of satisfaction that I get from donating is sometimes also matched with the feeling that I now have even less to choose from and work with. A clothing swap, however, where I am trading clothes I no longer need for some fresh, new (to me) items, would be a good way to spruce up my wardrobe without spending any money.

In no time I’m bound to have an enviable wardrobe like Carrie Bradshaw’s, right?

I am wondering, if I found a place to do such a thing, if my local friends and acquaintances would be up for it. We’re all feeling the crunch of this economy, and we would all benefit from it in some way. Perhaps a new project in my future…

In Your Fridge and In Your Wallet

A few weeks ago, the inside of our refrigerator was so absolutely pathetic that I had to take photos to prove it.

Nearly empty shelves… not an uncommon sight at Casa de Claremont Road.

Our sparse freezer… complete with some frozen mystery meats and a half-assed shelf because our freezer doesn’t have one. Pretty, eh?

I don’t dislike grocery shopping, yet some weeks we just don’t make it a priority and we end up with next to nothing to eat in our apartment. Often, this leads us to eat out. However, dining out regularly is no longer an option for us as Hubby got laid off a few weeks ago (boo) and we have to pinch pennies until we know what is next for us (double boo). Economy, you’re a poopie head.

The plus side of this situation is that now Hubby has his days free to not only grocery shop, but cook me yummy dinners as well (only after job searching, of course). Every night since his layoff, I have come home to an apartment smelling of a yummy homecooked meal and a set table. (He even does the dishes!) And now that we really have to put careful thought into the money we spend on food, we have been absolutely stunned by how quickly it was adding up before without us even noticing. $8 for lunch one workday turns into $45 a week when we don’t have any groceries at home, which can easily turn into $190 a month. For one person. Just. For. Lunch. That’s insanity!

I certainly don’t wish a layoff on anyone, but being forced to reevaluate our spending habits has already been an immense learning experience for us, and I’m sure we’re not the only ones. We now have a stocked fridge, and yet our wallets aren’t suffering — dare I say they’re even more stable than they were before because of how much we’ve already wised up.

Do you watch how much you spend on dining out, or do you splurge more than you should because you don’t have time to grocery shop?