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?

happy little trees

Nick recently discovered that Bob Ross’s The Joy of Painting is on every day. So of course, the DVR was promptly set for a series recording, and we now get to experience the joy of happy little trees every day. (Even though I swear I’ve never seen Nick truly stressed out, he says watching Bob Ross paint relaxes him, so whatever works.)

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Could you imagine a show like this taking to the airwaves today? It would never happen. Yet back in its heyday in the early 80s, everyone knew who Bob Ross was. I don’t know about the kids these days (har har), but I’m pretty sure anyone my age also knows who Bob Ross was. He’s a legend.

In reality, it wasn’t that long ago, but oh how television has changed. It’s scary to think how much could change 30 years from now…what do you think we’ll find interesting then? I bet/hope we’ll find it appalling that anyone ever found Jersey Shore entertaining…

friends and “Friends”

When “Friends” first came on the air in 1994, I was immediately hooked. I recorded each week’s episode (on VHS, holler!), and my mom continued taping it for me every week when I went away to college four years later. (TV-watching was at a minimum while I was stressing myself out until graduating in 2002.)

I know I am certainly not the only person who loved this show… but for me, it wasn’t just that it was funny. I loved the relationships that the six friends had with each other. I loved that their lives were intertwined, for better or worse; they supported each other in all of their endeavors (Joey’s bad plays and Phoebe’s strange songwriting included); they argued and disagreed, but still loved each other at the end of the day. They had open-door policies at their apartments, celebrated Thanksgiving together as a family, and hung out together whenever possible.

I know it was just a television show, but as a teenager, it was what I imagined my twenties would be like.

I still catch episodes of “Friends” often, as it’s in syndication for eternity, and a while ago it finally hit me: I am now older than them. At least, older than they were throughout a good majority of the show. (I’m not the only one who had the same recent revelation). And relationships in my twenties did not, in the slightest, resemble those of the six friends.

Don’t get me wrong: I have some amazing friends. I spent 70% of my twenties in a stable, loving, wonderful relationship with someone who I now call my husband (and we never broke up like Ross and Rachel). We have couple-friends with whom we enjoy getting together from time to time. We have friends we’ve known forever, and some new friends who have come into our lives more recently…but we don’t have that one, single group of friends who we do everything with or see all the time, or any neighbors we can hang out with at the drop of a hat. Most of our friends don’t live close enough that we would ever just “stop by,” so our time between visits is usually much more spread out, and we have friends from all different areas of our lives who don’t all know each other. We are lucky to have great people in our lives, but it is so different from what my teenage “Friends”-loving self thought my social circle would look like.

Do you have a close-knit group of friends that you see all the time? Did you expect that relationships in your twenties would look more like the friendships of Monica, Rachel, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler, and Ross?

So You Think You Can Dance – finale!

Tonight is the final batch of performances we’ll see from Lauren, Kent, and Robert before a winner of So You Think You Can Dance season 7 is crowned tomorrow night. I’ve been rooting for Lauren all season, and I hope she’s the big winner — she is simply fantastic (and I always want a girl to win… girl power!). Kent is still adorable but has a lot of growth ahead of him in his dancing, though his teeny bopper following will surely leave him in the top two. Robert is very good, but I’ve felt very “meh” about his connection with his dances and partners all season.

Robert, Lauren, and Kent

I’ve heard mixed reviews of the season overall, but generally I’ve been entertained. I really enjoyed having the all-stars on the show this year, if for no reason other than having the opportunity to see some of my favorites dance again (Twitch & Allison, mostly). I think there were some growing pains throughout the season to make the all-star aspect work, but I think it panned out nicely and I am glad that good competitors haven’t been pulled down by weak partners due to unlucky match-ups. I think it’s actually ruled out the weaker dancers earlier in the season, because they can’t hide behind their more seasoned partners.

Clearly, it would have been the Alex Wong show had he not become injured weeks ago; there is no denying that he’s spectacular, but I think it has been slightly more exciting to see the competition unfold after his departure, now that it is anyone’s game. It’s a bummer that so many of the girls were voted off early this season, leaving it mostly guys and Lauren for the last several weeks, but I guess that’s what happens with a mostly-female fan-base.

Who are you rooting for?

if you really knew me

We have established that, in terms of my television viewing tendencies, I am essentially a teeny-bopper trapped in the body of a 29-year old woman (see also: SYTYCD obsession, love of Pretty Little Liars). We have also established that I am a crier (see also: me since birth). On the surface, those two factors alone make it pretty clear that If You Really Knew Me on MTV was pretty much made for me… but in reality, I’m pretty sure you’d have to be a cold-hearted snake to not feel some sort of connection to the kids on this show.

The run-down: If You Really Knew Me is a documentary-style show, chronicling the experience of high schoolers across the country as they experience Challenge Day, run by an organization whose “mission is to provide youth and their communities with experiential programs that demonstrate the possibility of love and connection through the celebration of diversity, truth, and full expression.” Each week on the hour-long show, a different high school is featured, and different kids share their deepest feelings and find unexpected common bonds with one another. The jocks, nerds, popular kids, and bullies discover that they’re not so different after all.

There are some things that haven’t changed since I was in high school — drama with friends, relationships, family turmoil, bullying — but one thing that is extremely clear is that the way the internet and cell phones have changed how kids communicate with each other (and bully each other) is pretty alarming. It’s hard to imagine what they go through now that we never, ever had to worry about. I mean, AIM was just catching on during my senior year in high school, and no one had a cell phone back then (except maybe our parents who had them for work). It was just a different world, and that’s kind of crazy considering it was only 12 years ago.

In case you don’t remember high school or were one of those rare people who never dealt with drama when you were younger, teenagers can be cruel. I mean, I’ve seen the internet be a threatening and scary place for grown adults who get bullied by strangers online — I just can’t fathom what teenagers deal with as Facebook, Twitter, Formspring and texting have all become commonplace means of communication and bullying. It is sadly not surprising to me that teen suicides as a result of online bullying have become an unfortunate reality in our society.

Personally, I had a pretty average high school experience. There were highs, and there were lows. I wasn’t the most popular, but having gone to school with the same kids since kindergarten, most people in my grade knew who I was (I think). I was never the victim of serious bullying. There were times when I didn’t know where I fit in, but there were also amazing friends who came along and made it all worthwhile for me. I was a fairly well-adjusted, well-behaved, and well-liked person. I was not faced with any major losses or tragedies in my life. I was lucky.

Hearing the stories of so many teens with real pain in their lives on If You Really Knew Me has me in tears every week. The show has kind of restored my faith in the youth of our country — maybe they don’t have an unrealistic sense of entitlement, after all. Maybe they get that life isn’t fair, and being kind to others is one of the greatest things you can do in life.

Have you seen this show? What was high school like for you?

Don Draper makes smoking look cool.

I, personally, have never smoked. (Nope, not even one cigarette. Yes, I am a goody-two-shoes.) And I know that smoking is wrong. I do not condone smoking in any way.

But I swear — Don Draper makes it look oh-so-right.

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Really… can you argue with that?

Don’s behavior so far on this season of Mad Men has not been very… charming… but I still love him and I’ll give him a “free pass” for at least a few more weeks in the hopes that he cleans his act up a bit. Roger Sterling makes me laugh the most, but when it comes to the looks department, it’s all Don Don Don. What do you think of this season so far?

what I’m watching

You all know that I love my shows. I admire people who don’t own televisions and spend their spare time reading and cultivating new skills… but I will never be one of those people. I admit it: I love television — my shows make me blissfully happy — and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. So there :P

Growing up, summer tv used to be all about the reruns. Now, there are more non-traditional seasons on many networks, which means new shows to dig into throughout the year; summer reruns also create the perfect opportunity to catch up on shows that were new last season that I haven’t yet seen. (When new seasons begin, it’s hard to know what is worth watching and what will be canceled within a month… so sometimes, I wait to hear what the buzz is before I start watching!)

Right now, this is what I’m watching:

SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE (Season 7)
This is an obvious one as I’ve been a die-hard fan since season 1, but it’s still worth a mention. Ever since superstar and clear front-runner Alex Wong got hurt and had to leave the show, season 7 has become anyone’s game. I think it’s safe to say that I’m rooting for Lauren to win, as she impresses me more each week and I think she’s an absolutely stunning dancer. I love Kent because he’s just so darn cute, but I don’t think he’s the best dancer (although the tween girl votes will most likely push him into the finals). If José doesn’t go home soon, I might seriously lose my mind. I’m sorry, but he has no technique and does not belong on that stage anymore! Otherwise, I love watching each week and I especially love seeing the all-stars perform (I think a Twitch and Allison show would be my dream come true). What are your thoughts on this season so far?

PRETTY LITTLE LIARS

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I heard some really positive things about this show via Twitter, and I admit to having been intrigued when I started seeing commercials a few months ago before it premiered. Don’t let the fact that it’s on ABC Family fool you into believing it’s for teeny boppers — seriously, this show is amazing. Great drama, great characters, and juicy mystery. The story revolves around four high school friends after the disappearance of their “queen bee,” and follows their lives a year later (complete with flashbacks that give a glimpse into what really happened). I have been DVR’ing and finally just watched the first several episodes last weekend, and I am hooked. So good! (Any other fans out there?)

MODERN FAMILY  |  THE MIDDLE  |  COUGAR TOWN
I was late to the party on these three Wednesday night gems; Nick and I caught on towards the end of the season and fell fast for these hilarious comedies, so we’re doing our best to catch up on all the episodes we missed. I don’t know what I love more: Cam and Mitchell’s banter and general adorableness on Modern Family; every word out of Brick’s mouth on The Middle; or Jules’ goofy circle of friends on Cougar Town and their wine-guzzling ways.

MAD MEN

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Okay, so I’m cheating a little — this hasn’t started yet, but in just a few hours season 4 will finally begin and I. CAN’T. WAIT. How will things go with Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce? Will Betty come back to Don, or is she with her new beau for good? Will I still loathe Pete Campbell? What will Joan be wearing, and could she be any awesomer? I would watch this show for the sets and clothes alone, but the fact that the writing and characters are amazing is just the cherry on top. Welcome back into my life, Don Draper!

What are you watching this summer?

a sunny wedding

Even though I love Boston, Philly is my home; I love seeing my city on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (even though it usually means the gang is doing something illegal/offensive with the city as their backdrop). I came across photos from the wedding of Glenn Howerton (also known as Dennis) on Green Wedding Shoes today, and it’s kind of funny to see the gang looking dapper and somewhat normal — with the exception of Danny DeVito, of course.

photo by Natalie Norton

Head on over to Green Wedding Shoes to see the rest of this gorgeous (and totally non-offensive) wedding. Dennis cleans up nice!

So You Think You Can Dance is back!

If you’ve kept up with this blog for a little while, you know that I am a die-hard So You Think You Can Dance fan. I have been since season one, when not many people watched and when the host was sucky (the fantastic Cat Deeley is now half the reason I watch). I used to do weekly recaps, but it got to be a little too much, so now I just like to check in from time-to-time to chat SYTYCD to any other addicts out there.

When I first heard that season 7 was going to have a new format, with only a top 10 making it past the Vegas auditions and “all-star” cast members returning to the show to round out 20 dancers, I was hesitant. I don’t like change. I always liked the show the way it was before, so why change it? Then they announced who the all-stars would be, and I quickly changed my tune. Neil! Twitch! Allison! Courtney! Pasha! (Among others.) Amazing.

On Wednesday night, the top 10 were chosen (but it’s actually the top 11 because they just couldn’t narrow the guys down to 5). Last night was the first performance show of the season, and it did NOT disappoint. I can breathe easier — the show I love and look forward to every summer is back!

So far in the top 11, I am loving Kent, Lauren, Billy, and Cristina. You can learn more about all of the dancers here and here. Oh, and for regular SYTYCD updates on dancers past and present, I love SYTYCDism.

I’m looking forward to seeing the first week of competition next week; who are you rooting for?

food revolution

Have you heard all of the hype surrounding Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution? I watched it on Friday night (clearly, Nick and I lead a wild and crazy nightlife), and it did not disappoint. I’ve always seen Jamie Oliver as a likable guy and I get a kick out of his enthusiasm for food, but I like him even more now since watching this show. He’s really trying to make a change in the way we feed our children and ourselves in this country, and while it certainly won’t be an easy or immediate change, I think he is already making a positive impact.

Jamie set his sights on changing the school lunches in Huntington, West Virginia, which is apparently the most unhealthy town in our country. He was met with plenty of resistance, and it’s clear that many of the people in Huntington are in denial about the future of their youth if they continue on the path of meals that are completely void of nutritional value. In last week’s premiere, it was pretty eye-opening when a class of first-graders could identify French fries but not potatoes, and they knew what ketchup was but called tomatoes “potatoes.” Sure, they’re only 6 years old, but it’s still a little scary to think that they don’t know the difference between two pretty common vegetables… and don’t even get me started on the “breakfast pizza” they are being served at school.

If you missed the 2-hour premiere, you can watch online at ABC.com. Don’t forget to watch (or set your DVR for) this Friday night’s episode!

Images via ABC.com