A year without cable and I’m still alive

We gave up our TimeWarner Cable addiction here over a year ago. We kept the phone for a few months, but eventually dropped that and ported the number to Google Voice. The only product we buy from TWC now is high-speed internet. Without it, we would in the darkness.

Quitting cable wasn’t something we came to quickly, but it something we’re happy we did.

With two young kids and our own screen time habits, we were average consumers. Perhaps we were even less than average because we only have two televisions, and the second one was used only occasionally. Our TimeWarner DVR was filled with shows we watched regularly, and we scheduled time to watch our favorites on cable (or satellite)-only channels.

We had to consider this decision for awhile. My wife and I asked ourselves and each other whether we wanted to live without certain shows. She had her favorites. I had mine. We shared a few, too. We eventually answered the question with a question: Why not try it?

The decision was forced on us a bit. We were happy with the service we were receiving from TimeWarner. It was clear and consistent. But it became too expensive. For three bundled services it was over $170/month. This wasn’t question of value for us, either. It was a question of affordability. On top of all the other monthly utility bills, this was the one we could “live” without. We couldn’t maintain a household without electricity, gas, or water.

Before giving it all up, we also tried a few different options. We priced out the dish, and it wasn’t really any different. Their pricing deals were pretty much the same. Our local phone company had also just started offering its own “cable” service, but it was priced the same. I also called TimeWarner and asked for a reduction in price. I told them I couldn’t afford it anymore and I would have to cancel. That was when I found out I was locked in at that price until the next price increase. Meanwhile, new customers were being enticed to sign up for TWC with great yearlong introductory prices like all three services for just $99/month. That was a difference of over $70 a month, and I couldn’t even get a reduction in price of $20 or $30 a month.

roku boxSo, we paid the early termination fee of something like $150, bought a Roku and an antenna, and signed up for Netflix and Hulu.

And we haven’t looked back.

It took some getting used to, especially since we gave up the DVR. We had to go back to the “old” days before DVR (I think that was 2004) of watching TV shows when they aired. We quickly found out that many of broadcast shows we watched were available via Hulu Plus or the networks’ own websites for later viewing anyway. Eventually, like everything else, we settled into a new routine. Dialing up Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon to watch a show or movie became the new norm.

The biggest missing piece has been live sports on ESPN or other cable networks. Luckily, MLS, MLB, NBA, and NHL all sell some form of subscription streaming service per season. I think we could even buy British Premier League if we wanted. Some of the college conferences also sell streaming subscriptions. I believe that this will be resolved in the next couple of years. These content providers will have two converging reasons. The first is the contract disputes with the companies that own the bandwidth such as cable and satellite. Negotiating contracts with each company is always a counterproductive process and it only benefits the delivery service, not the creator. The second is the increasing number of people who are turning to streaming video, live or recorded. I might be a pioneer in dumping cable, but I’m not alone.

The biggest hole in the content we stream is from CBS. The broadcast network’s CEO, Les Moonves, has notably avoided the streaming market. There are reports he and the late Steve Jobs talked about a deal, but it never materialized. That’s a shame. NBC puts a decent amount of its broadcast content on Hulu Plus, but limits it to web-based streaming only which means those of us who stream through a Roku, game console, or web-enabled television or DVD/Blu-Ray player are exempt. Fox, by far, has embraced the streaming environment by making most of its shows available on all devices.

Before we quit cable, I had apps on my iPad for major cable networks like ESPN, but those apps went dark as soon as we cancelled our cable television. This was a big disappointment. We pay $42 month for broadband Internet from TimeWarner Cable. I would pay $100/month if it meant I could stream just the channels I want to my television.

Despite that, I don’t lack content. I live in a constant on-demand video state, and I like it. My wife likes it. And my kids like it. In fact, I see more of what interests me now than ever before. For me, at least, I feel like I’m a smarter television watcher.

What’s Right For Your Dog’s End-of-Life?

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I don’t want to put our dog, Simon, to sleep. I’m OK with him dying. I will be very sad, but I’ve also seen this coming. I just don’t want to end his life any sooner than he naturally would live unless he really is so close to the end.

I’ve been getting a lot of advice from friends, and many of them suggest we put him to sleep because that is what’s best. My wife even suggests it, though more obliquely. I tell them I will know when, and when I do know, I won’t wait. But it isn’t now.

Simon is a boxer. He’s 11. He has cardiomyopathy, and he really isn’t expected to live much longer. He has slowed a lot in just the past week. He gets winded climbing the stairs and going outside to do his business. He sleeps a lot. I have to carry his 75lb. frame upstairs. Those aren’t reasons to put him to sleep.

For the past few weeks, I’ve tried to think of specific reasons why I struggle with putting him down. The first bit is the euphemisms like putting him “down” or “to sleep.” Doesn’t sound so pleasant? Let’s “put him sleep” like he will just lay down and rest, you know, forever. Or we could put him “down” like any other object we own. How inoffensive. But regardless of what we call it, we are killing our dogs.

So then I thought about the practice of euthanizing a dog, and I listened to the reasons people used. They are all animal lovers, but their reasons ring with a bit of self-preservation and even, dare I say it, convenience. I know in my heart that these well-meaning folks wouldn’t euthanize their pets for convenience, but I can’t shake the idea that someone would. How would I know for sure?

See, I really feel like sometimes we convince ourselves into thinking that it’s the “humane” thing to do; that it somehow eases the dog’s pain. But I really think, in Simon’s case, euthanizing him now would just ease our pain. We have no way to judge his pain. We can only judge ours. Since we humans don’t have control over the end-of-life for our human family, we resort to controlling the end-of-life for our furry family, and assuage our guilt by using euphemisms and platitudes. When in fact we don’t want to bear witness to the deterioration that comes with the end-of-life. We don’t want to see our beloved pet “suffer”. I agree, but this is a decision that isn’t entered into nonchalantly.

I feel there is value in those last few days of life. I have been in the room when three people died. Their last hours, their last gasps for air, we’re truly horrifying for all of us gathered. Honestly, I wouldn’t want everyone sitting in a hospital room staring at me while I was dying, but then again it would be nice to be so loved and cherished that people would want to be with me when I died. Each of those people who died were all enveloped with the love of the people around them. It wasn’t clinical. It wasn’t antiseptic. It was real. It was cathartic.

Simon, who comes from the working dog group, has done his job well. He has provided us with protection, entertainment, and (most importantly) unconditional love and loyalty. I feel I owe him more for his service than to do what’s “best” when it still rings of what’s “convenient.”

No More TimeWarner Cable Here

It’s official. We quit cable. TimeWarner Cable is no longer showing in our home theater (read: family room). 

We still have our internet and landline through TWC, but the phone may be gone soon, too. Before we can start saving money, though, we have to pay their early termination fee, of course.

The decision wasn’t as easy as we thought it would be. At first, we thought we could just cut the line and be done, but there were some roadblocks. The first thing we encountered was the early termination fee. This was news to us, too.

Apparently, two years ago when we added phone and internet to our television package, we were put on a contract similar to the ones you sign up for with cell phones. This wasn’t made clear to us, though. There was no mention of an early termination fee at the time. Earlier this year we were notified that our preferred rate was coming to an end, but again the information we received didn’t say that we would be penalized for canceling. We deliberately did nothing, because our opinion was to let our contract expire and make a choice later. That was a bad choice, but not an informed one.

The first time we tried to cancel, we ran into the ETF, and at approximately $135 we had to consider whether it was worth it. We tried to negotiate with TimeWarner Cable over the phone to get it reduced or removed. For over an hour. I talked to four different people in four different departments. Each time I had to verify my information. You know, name, address, phone number, last four of Social, etc. I didn’t even want to talk to the fourth person, but got transfered there after being put on hold while the customer service person tried to find the answer to one of my questions. This fourth person was so condescending and rude when I asked to be transferred back and I was so tired that I just hung up. Also, one of the people I talked to put me through a survey to see if I wanted to purchase more television services!

Staying the course to quit cable was going to be tough, apparently. We had to do some research and be willing to adjust our watching habits. No more live TV (unless we bought an antenna), and a lot of our shows would be unavailable to us. But when we weighed the cost of the television service against the cost of our time actually sitting in front of the television. Two questions occurred to me: What else could I be doing with the time I’m spending in front of the television? and What specific programming do I want to spend my money on?

We were paying about $175 a month for three services, two boxes, one DVR, digital/HD, and the Disney on Demand channel. We also were already Netflix streaming customers at another $8 a month.

There are some alternatives out there. The biggest players include AppleTV, GoogleTV, Roku, and Boxee. All offer TV over IP, or internet-streamed video. It is all on-demand. They key differences come in the subscriber services and hardware offered. Honestly, none lives up to the hype, but I am hopeful that the number of streaming services improves. We chose Roku based on the number of subscription services offered and price. We were able to buy a box about the size of a deck of playing cards for $79. It has two cords: power and HDMI. It sits inconspicuously behind my TV and gives a great HD picture. It’s important to note that this is just for one TV, though.

Now we have to consider getting an antenna for broadcast channels. This could cost between $40 and $100. On the high end, that would mean our capital outlay for this venture is between about $120 and $200 with taxes. After all of the adjustments to our TimeWarner bill shake out – prorated television services and early termination fee – we will need to take account of how long it takes us to recover our equipment costs. We also have to be careful what subscription streaming services we subscribe to. We don’t want to sign up for too many $8 and $10 monthly services to add up to the cost of cable in the first place.

Ultimately, it comes down to preference. We decided we were tired of paying for a television service that did not fit our household. We could enjoy using our television in a new way, deliberately instead of passively. Who knows, maybe we will return to cable. But we are off for now.

Brads Deals is The Real Deal for Coupons and Discounts

I’m a bargain hunter. I enjoy getting a discount, and I like to tell my friends about ways to save money, especially with online coupons and discount codes. But most of the time I find that coupon and discount sites are nothing more than a ruse to get you to fork over all kinds of personal data before you can get access to the a small number of the same, tired discounts. Most of them I won’t ever use.

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Discount codes and printable coupons - no signup necessary

Yesterday, I came across BradsDeals.com, a website built by a real person named Brad whose primary purpose is to scour the Internet looking for deals on everything from shoes, to computers, to furniture, to nifty kitchen gadgets. Immediately the site looked different. It was well-designed and easy to navigate visually. I started to put it through its paces to see what the catch was. Was I going to get away with putting in a name and e-mail only? Would I have to give over my full address? Would I have to answer questionnaires or fill out surveys? What?

Nothing.

That’s right, nothing. I clicked on several of the discount entries waiting to hit a limit and be forced to fork over my info. I couldn’t find any. Every link I clicked opened a new tab and took me directly to the site that offered the discounted product, coupon, or code.

I even tested out the navigation bar at the top thinking it would take me to a few national retailers or some regional ones that were nowhere near whear I lived. I was wrong again, but I was determined to find a catch. I clicked on the links for Macy’s and Old Navy. These are two stores we shop at a lot, especially for our two kids. Macy’s runs a lot of good sales and we buy sizes for next year from the discounted season. Old Navy, a GAP company, always has a good selection of trendy clothes for the kids.

That’s when I hit the Facebook Like button, and I don’t do that very often. (I then waited to have my stream filled with junk, but that didn’t happen either.)

I spent more time on the site just hunting around. I learned that Brad has been searching the Internet and sharing deals for 10 years. He has been featured on national programs like TODAY and Oprah. He publishes his e-mail address on the site and encourages people to contact him. The page also updates its blog regularly with helpful news.

The last thing I discovered in the page footer were links for both teacher and military discounts. I wish those were more visible. I might have missed them if I weren’t really hunting to see what this site was all about. I’m always looking for deals for my classroom, and I know many people around me who are active military or National Guard. If I shared the site with anyone for those reasons, I would have to direct them all the way to the bottom of the page. But that’s not a complaint by any means. At least I don’t have to click through eight pages to get to it. I don’t have annoying pop-ups from affiliates trying to get me to answer if I think a certain pop starlet should go to jail.

Brads Deals is just straight deals, and I will stop there regularly, but especially before planned purchases.

 

Citibank’s drumming up business

Previously, I posted about CitiGroup’s financial troubles, saying that it was a hallmark of misguided government oversight. After posting, I checked my e-mail and CitiCards had sent me an e-mail with the subject line: “A Great Reason to Use Your Citi Card this Holiday Season.”

It seems the more I use my card, the more likely I am to win “The Chance of a Lifetime” sweepstakes. Wow. So, as I dig myself more and more into high-interest, unsecured debt, I can have a chance to win it all? Well, sign me up!

Look, I, like most Americans, carry a balance on my credit cards. It’s the result of poor budgeting and satisfying wants. It is also, lately anyway, partly the result of $4 per gallon gasoline that ate into my cash-on-hand for things like groceries and utilities. So, now I’m paying interest on food or gasoline I consumed weeks or months ago.

The thing I like about credit cards is that they give me a cushion to fall back on in case my cash runs short. I’ve long held the belief that such a cushion is a necessary evil. However, I’ve moderated that opinion in recent years, and now realize that only a small cushion is necessary. I’m beginning to think that a $1,000 limit on any card is more than enough for me.

Introducing the next world wonder: Dyson

OK, few retail products impress me any more. Like most people, I believe they truly don’t make them like they used to. In terms of longevity, I find that manufacturers are making things cheaper so that they break more easily and force consumers to shell out full price for a new model rather than a few bucks for a small part.

This has been my experience with the vacuums we’ve owned since just before getting married. That was until I met Dyson.

Mostly, we’ve either had a Dirt Devil or a Hoover, and they were, admittedly, at the lower end of the product lines — chosen for their lower prices. I knew we couldn’t expect the 20-year life span of the Electrolux, but 20 months would have been nice. Invariably, within six months of purchase, either Sue or I would find ourselves in the throes of disassembling our vacuum on the living room rug to retrieve a clog of carpet fluff or to replace a drive belt. Ultimately, the vacuum would return disappointing results, and I always wondered if we spent another hundred bucks, would we really see improved performance? It was a gamble we weren’t really inclined to take.

Out of necessity, last fall, I bought a lightweight Dirt Devil for $45. It was the best vacuum I had owned in years, and the thing was basically as a Dust Buster on wheels. It really showed results on the wall-to-wall. I was impressed because it was small and cheap, and it really worked well. It was bagless and used a similar cyclone technology I had seen in Dyson commercials. But I knew it wouldn’t cut it in our new house.

That got me to thinking about the type of vacuum I wanted when we moved into our new house. I wanted a Dyson, but they were so expensive that they seemed almost prohibitive. The thought of living with another chintzy sucker didn’t appeal to me, and I started to consider how much we had spent on vacuums in 5 years. It was probably close to the cost of a Dyson. And, in my research, I found Dyson offered a 5-year warranty. I thought if this thing lasts one day beyond five years, I’ll be happy.

I had this 20 percent off coupon to Bed, Bath and Beyond laying around, so I went and bought the Dyson DC17 Animal. It’s called the animal because it is supposedly designed to pick up pet hair. I saved over $100!

This thing amazes me. Even after having our carpets cleaned before moving in, the family room carpet, though only two years old, was pretty shabby. The cleaning took out the dinginess, but traffic areas were still very visible. The cleaning man told me it was likely the previous owners vacuumed very infrequently. I was sure we were going to have to replace it because it was so bad.

Enter Dyson. I vacuumed the family room, and had to empty the container right away. That’s not because it’s a small bin. The thing can probably hold a gallon of junk. The carpet was just that dirty, even after being professionally cleaned. The second time I vacuumed, the bin was filled halfway, bringing out more dirt, and we weren’t walking on the carpet with shoes!

Today I vacuumed the upstairs for the second time with the Dyson, and I had to empty the bin twice — just like the first time.

Best of all, the carpet pile looks a lot better. The traffic areas don’t look as defined as they once did. And it seems like we won’t have to replace the family room carpet as quickly as I thought.