12.16.2008

belt tightening at chez L-sock

Money is tight in our home right now, and we've got plenty of company there, I know. Since the first Toronto law firm I worked for dissolved, I've never got my income back to where it was. I'm grateful we're both employed in seemingly secure jobs (although security may be an illusion), and considering how many people are suffering all around us, I can't complain - and I don't. But we do need to stay within a budget, and there's not a lot of wiggle room.

Lately I've been poring over our bills to see what I might be able to cut out. One non-essential is the level of cable TV we get. The main reason we have cable - 99% of why we need it - is to watch out-of-town baseball games from April to the end of October. So for the months in between, while we're subscribing to Zip, why also pay for this level of digital cable?

Except for baseball, we watch almost no TV. Movies are on DVD; no cable needed for that. And CBC is on basic cable anyway. The only thing I use Rogers' "VIP" digital cable for is to find the comedies I like to watch before bed. But how much do I want to pay to watch The Simpsons from Halifax or Corner Gas from Calgary?

Today I collected all the information from the friendly, helpful Rogers representative (and they are always friendly and helpful, no sarcasm there), and Allan and I discussed our options.

I thought there might be some termination or activation fee, which might make downgrading not worthwhile, but there is none. With the "VIP package" that we've been getting, we get an extra outlet at no charge (cable hookups on two TVs for the price of one), and the digital box is included, and some other stuff. With basic cable, we'd have to pay extra for each of those.

So after crunching the numbers, here's what we're doing. No cable at all on one TV. That TV will only be used for movies. We never watch TV on that one anyway. On the other TV, we'll get basic cable only, but we'll keep the digital box for better reception. And I'm going to learn a new sleep habit: comedy on DVD.

This would only apply through the end of March, but the savings will still be significant.

Then, in baseball season, we normally buy: the "VIP" cable package, plus the sports package that gives us our Red Sox games, plus MLB-TV online, so Allan can watch games at work, which often accounts for half the games in any given week. It really adds up.

Now Allan is investigating whether we can run MLB-TV from his laptop through the TV. If we can do that, we won't have to upgrade back to the "VIP" cable package, and we won't need the sports package. We'll only buy MLB-TV for use at home and work. Over the course of the year, this will save a big bundle of money, and the loss seems almost insignificant.

I feel lighter already.

21 comments:

MSEH said...

Yeah, we're seeing how long we can hold out w/out cable at all. We rarely watch live tv. We watch lots of DVDs. When we've had cable, it's mostly watched by 7YO and he doesn't need that. I would like to watch the news, etc. on occasion, but I usually read my news on-line. And, as you suggest, more and more stuff can be downloaded and watched. So, we're holding off to save the $ - though I don't know how long we'll last! It's definitely those "non-essentials" that add up!

Sarah Gates said...

While I was on tour a few years ago, I got the MLB-TV and frequently hooked it up to the tv to watch. The quality wasn't great, which is why I get EI at home now, but that was before they had the higher quality stream, so it might be better now. What sort of computer are you talking about using it with? Chances are it's just a matter of getting the right adapter and telling the computer that the TV is a second monitor.

L-girl said...

Yeah, we're seeing how long we can hold out w/out cable at all.

I would try that, too, but I really don't like to watch anything of length on the computer. The few times I want to watch something on CBC, I don't want to sit at my desk to do it. But I applaud your effort. Keep us posted on how it goes.

but that was before they had the higher quality stream, so it might be better now.

That's why we're talking about this now. Allan heard at SoSH that people are doing this with good results.

What sort of computer are you talking about using it with? Chances are it's just a matter of getting the right adapter and telling the computer that the TV is a second monitor.

A Dell PC. I know you're a Mac user, but do you know what we need?

Anonymous said...

L-girl,

It seems like Sarah's got you covered, but if for some reason you can't find a solution I might be able to help. I consider myself fairly geeky and tech-saavy so if you've got some questions down the road when you're looking into setting this up on your tv, feel free to shoot me an email.

L-girl said...

Thank you, Austin :)

Scott M. said...

Another couple ideas:

- Rogers has different tiers for internet. A new feature of "Hi-Speed Lite" (which is still pretty zippy anyway, 1MB down, 256k up) is "Speed Boost" where, 5 times a year, you can boost your speed to 7MB down, 512k up. NOTE: Most people don't use more than 1MB down at a time! It would work just dandy with Vonage as well.

- You don't need digital VIP in order to get the super-sports pack. You can just add it on to your basic digital cable.

- Don't forget your cell phones... you may be able to shave off a bit there.

L-girl said...

Thanks, Scott! I think we've got all that covered.

MSEH said...

"I would try that, too, but I really don't like to watch anything of length on the computer. The few times I want to watch something on CBC, I don't want to sit at my desk to do it."

Clarification - I don't watch much on the computer, save the funny YouTube vid or some such. Once we're set up here we can connect the computer to the tv and watch stuff that's downloaded on the tv screen.

L-girl said...

Ah-ha, I see. You might be able to get by with no cable indefinitely!

M@ said...

We're looking at reducing our cable package ourselves. We really have to get on that.

We used to like having the timeshift channels, but with Cogeco (our provider since we moved) we get very few timeshift channels compared to Rogers. There are a whole bunch of things that are worse with Cogeco. We'll probably scale back quite a bit.

One thing that I discovered in the process of moving was that there are many internet providers beyond your cable providers and Bell. We use Teksavvy, who has a reputation -- quite rightly in my experience -- for great customer service, and so far the internet speed and uptime has been great. I think I talked about them before but I wanted to bring them up as we're paying half what we'd be paying with Bell or Cogeco, and getting a better package. Certainly worth considering!

L-girl said...

I liked the timeshifting, too, but I'm hoping I can adjust. :)

That's really interesting about your internet service. Rogers service (despite what people say) has been excellent and their customer service couldn't be better. So I'd have to compare prices, given that I'd lose the "bundle" discount, for using three of their services (cell, cable and internet). But I'll definitely check it out.

I'm in that mode of really seeing what I can shave off the budget. I've never done this before. In the past I've always said, what's another $20 a month. These days I'm thinking, hey, if I do that, I can save $20 a month!

The final step in my Canadian assimilation??? :)

M@ said...

Yes, the bundling savings are worth taking into account. Because we only have the cable with Cogeco, the bundling wouldn't have amounted to much. We would be paying $70 a month with them for the plan we pay $30 for with Teksavvy.

As for the Canadian-ness of shaving $20 off the bills... well I once heard that the most common Canadian response to the question "what would you do if you won the lottery?" is "pay off the mortgage". So yes, I think you're onto something there. :)

L-girl said...

We would be paying $70 a month with them for the plan we pay $30 for with Teksavvy.

Wow, that's a great savings. I'll check it out shortly.

As for the Canadian-ness of shaving $20 off the bills... well I once heard that the most common Canadian response to the question "what would you do if you won the lottery?" is "pay off the mortgage". So yes, I think you're onto something there. :)

Oh yeah! I still don't do what I hear many co-workers, neighbours, etc. do. I won't price-compare down to the smallest item, I won't obsess on saving 20 cents here and 60 cents there, or buy low-quality products because they cost less.

So many people act like the goal in life is to spend less money - that if you can possibly not spend money, that's what you should do, and money is only to be spent when absolutely necessary - and then only for THE BEST DEAL possible.

And there's no way this is just Canadian, because my father wasn't Canadian! :)

One day when we're older, Allan and I may have to live that way, who knows. But I won't adopt that way of thinking until I have to!

L-girl said...

I'm looking at TekSavvy now...

DSL, I guess I should have realized that. How does DSL compare to cable modem?

I have a bad impresison of DSL because in the US, for a long time, it sucked. I hear it's better now, and I did hear that it was always better in Canada. (No idea why that is, but many tech people have told me that.)

We use Rogers Hi-Speed "Extreme" level. We can't use the "Lite" level that Scott mentioned above, as Allan downloads a lot, and I can't take any chances with my VoIP phone. So it's $54.95/month for Rogers vs $39.95/month for unlimited - or $29.95/month for 200G - with TekSavvy.

Then we have to figure in my "bundle" discount will go down from 15% to 10%. That's not very much, but it's there.

Is your quality very good with DSL? Fast, reliable?

Scott M. said...

Generally, cable is faster and DSL is more reliable, due to their tecnologies.

Cable was first set up as a one-way service, which had just a few really long lines coming from the cable head-end. Each person in an area of town would be all along one big cable with splitters tapping off a bit of that signal, and the occasional signal amplifiers. Unfortunately that meant that just one break anywhere on the big, snaking line would kill your service. On the good side, they used a *really* good cable that they could pump really strong signals through and not cause interference.

When they introduced internet, they slowly severed off parts of the network into smaller chunks. So depending on where you are (and it *really* varies), you might be sharing your connection with anywhere from 3 to 30 customers. And if they are heavy users of the internet where you live, you can suffer from big slowdowns. But because the choice of cable was good, they can fit a lot more bandwith on it, so you're really fast during the fast times.

Telephone was originally designed as a two-way service where every person had their own pair of wires going back to the switch. But the wires are small and unsheilded.

This means no sharing, whatsoever with your neighbours. But because of the cable choice, DSL can only fit so much bandwith on it, so in general it's slower. But it's more reliable. Of course once you hit the general internet, you're still subject to slowdowns, but they aren't caused by the geek next door playing World of Warcraft while downloading gigs of naughty pictures.

In short: Cable faster at the fastest times, but not as reliable. DSL more reliable but not subject to whims of your neigbours.

Note, you'll want "Dry DSL" if you don't want to get a local phone line and instead stick with Vonage.

Scott M. said...

BTW, as long as they don't use more than 60GB/month, most people can't tell the difference between Extreme (10 Mbps) and Express (7 Mbps).

I'm a heavy user and have vonage and use Express ($10 less per month).

Scott M. said...

Oh... BTW, Dawn and I did an experiment last week and shopped at Food Basics instead of Superstore/Loblaws.

We saved $30 for the week. We may have gotten a bit more than normal for the week, so if we figure it's $20 a week that's still over $1000 a year! We were amazed... and we bought the same things we would have bought elsewhere, same brands, etc. but saved $0.50 here, $0.75 there, etc.

L-girl said...

Thanks for the info, Scott!

There is no way on earth I am getting a phone line. That's for sure.

Our cable modem is so fast and reliable, unless I knew I'd get that with "dry DSL", I doubt I would switch.

I'll look into the Express option. Lite won't work, but maybe Express will. It's worth a look!

Interesting about No Frills. We generally don't shop at that store, Food Basics and others like that. We use so many things that they don't carry - it means either a lot of compromise, or extra trips.

These days, we spend more of our budget on food than ever, as we've made the switch almost entirely to organic meat, chicken, and produce, and wild-caught fish. But it's a choice I feel very good about.

Of course, that makes it all the more important to cut down on other expenses. If No Frills carried more of the things we like, it would be a good idea.

Scott M. said...

We're lucky, our local Food Basics serves a very diverse neighbourhood, so they have a heck of a lot of things others don't (including Haalal meat, funky Thai stuff, lots of Soy choices, and many organics).

YMMV, of course.

Scott M. said...

Re: Express vs. Extreme... I recommend you log into your Rogers account on-line (set up a username/password if you haven't already) and check out your usage. If it's always way below 60GB, you're good to go!

L-girl said...

If it's always way below 60GB, you're good to go!

It's never below 60. It's usually more than 70, sometimes more than 100. I guess that's why we chose the level we did. :)

Thanks for the tip, tho. It's good to know that's not a place we can easily cut back.