So you've got your cell phone, your laptop, your big-screen TV with movie channels ... and a really big bill (or two!) every month. Make no mistake: Those high-tech devices that keep us connected to the rest of the world are necessary -- how else would you read WalletPop, for instance? -- but they can be very pricey.
It is possible, however, to stay wired (or wireless, if that's your preference) and not pay an arm and a leg. A couple of budget-minded Americans and one savings expert show how you can live beneath your means without sacrificing the conveniences of modern technology.
"We turned off our cable, not only to save money, but also because we found that we really only watched three or four TV programs," Atlanta resident Gary Unger tells WalletPop. "Only one of them was on the cable channels, and we decided that cutting that expense made sense." Unger says he and his wife still get their TV fix by connecting their laptop to the TV set and watching movies or programs on Hulu.com.
Although he doesn't regret ditching the cable box, Unger says his frugality can be trying at times, mainly from the incredulous reactions from friends and colleagues who can't believe he's gotten rid of what, for many people, is a major source of entertainment. "Some friends just think I'm cheap and trying to pinch pennies at any cost," he says. "But my thought is, why pay full cost when you don't have to?" Unger says he saves $420 a year just by not having cable. Depending on where you live, this savings could be much higher; according to trade publication Multichannel News, the average monthly cable bill in the second half of 2008 was $71.
Unger's tactic is a good one, says Stacy Johnson, president of MoneyTalksNews.com and author of Life or Debt. He's particularly critical of premium cable movie channels, which he calls "a huge waste of money." If you want to keep your cable, Johnson says it pays to shop around and haggle with your provider. Especially in this economy, and with so many other options available to consumers, service providers are likely to shave your bill if you ask. He says this tactic can also work for other tech service providers, so keep that in mind if your high-speed internet cost is climbing every year.
And Unger's savings strategies don't end with the TV. When it comes to phone service, he uses MagicJack, a provider of voice over internet protocol (VoIP) service that lets you talk on the phone by using your Internet connection (Vonage is another example of a VoIP service provider.) VoIP can be a huge money-saver. The average American family spent $1,351 on telephone services in 2008; cutting out your land line in favor of one that works over your internet connection can go a long way towards trimming that total. Unger says he pays $10 per month for MagicJack in addition to a one-time $35 purchase price for the device.
Stacy Johnson is another fan of VoIP. "We're moving rapidly towards a wireless society. It's hard for me to justify a land line," he says. He adds that, in his experience, quality issues that plagued early VoIP offerings have largely disappeared.
Unger says another high-tech area where he's been able to save big is cell phone costs. Since his wife doesn't use a cell phone much, they decided to get her a prepaid phone and buy minutes as necessary rather than sign her up for a full-service plan with a lot of bells, whistles and minutes she might never use.
Paul Riddell of Dallas is another American who saves big bucks by turning off the tube. His family has a $25-per-month Netflix subscription that keeps them supplied with movies and shows. The difference, he says, is he's learned to be selective and only watches what really interests him. "If a program sounds interesting enough to pursue, we'll wait until it's available for rental," he tells WalletPop.
According to Riddell, the benefits go beyond just the money. "We have many friends who half-complain that we're able to get so much more done in our lives than they are, and that's because we aren't killing time in front of the idiot box," he says. "Watching TV becomes an event and an activity instead of a time-waster." He estimates that he saves about $1,200 annually, which he and his wife are putting aside to save up for a down payment on a new house.
Living a 'Less than average' life: Technology