When my husband and I began our journey out of debt, our monthly bills were overwhelming. Of course, we were paying for all of the regular stuff like our mortgage, utilities and various insurance policies. However, we were also paying for things that we knew we wanted to live without — credit card bills, furniture that we had financed, magazine subscriptions.
I also like to remind myself that I once bought a Kirby vacuum from a door-to-door salesman for $1,300. And worse than that, I financed it! Add that to the list of ridiculous bills I was paying at the time and you might get a better idea of where we started.
Before baby steps
Anyway, our first step getting out of the mess we'd created was to determine what we really needed. As we sorted through it all, we began cutting from our budget anything that wasn't completely necessary and using the money we saved to pay off our outstanding debts.
The weeks and months went by, and we happily continued on this path until there was hardly anything left to cut. And that's when it happened. My husband made a plea to cancel my final hold-out. On a rainy Saturday morning, Greg hid behind the couch and made the suggestion that we cancel our cable television.
Feeling vulnerable and defensive, I refused to acknowledge his frugal and thoughtful advice. “But, what am I going to do every evening from 8:00 until midnight?!” I simply couldn't even imagine a life without all of my favorite programming. Or maybe it was that I didn't want to. After all, I was faithfully watching several reality television shows as if it were my part-time job. I just wasn't ready to let go of that perceived responsibility.
An addict lashes out
Despite the fact that we were forking over $80 to the cable television company every single month, I desperately wanted to keep our cable television package just the way it was.
“Our television bill is part of our entertainment budget,” I reasoned as I watched 10 consecutive hours of the “Real Housewives of New Jersey.”
Even as I said it, I knew that my argument didn't really hold water. No matter how hard I tried, it was hard to defend the expenditure while we were still deep in debt. After all, we still owed on credit cards, our two cars, and student loans. My husband was right. At that point in our lives, cable television was an unnecessary luxury. “Once we're out of debt, we'll reward ourselves by getting cable again,” he promised.
Although I didn't really want to hear it, I knew he had a point. He always does. Although television made for some fun and mindless entertainment, we were just paying too much for the privilege. So after some consideration, we decided together that it would be wise to cancel our cable package until we were out of debt.
I was definitely sad, but Greg convinced me that temporarily cutting our cable would provide an additional incentive to pay off all of our stuff. I agreed, although begrudgingly, and he called and canceled our package before I could change my mind.
The search for cheaper TV
Since we live near our state's capital, we hoped that we could get some of the major networks with a regular old antenna. Fortunately, it worked. A $40 antenna allowed us to view all of the major networks … most of the time.
Of course, our new set-up meant that we sometimes had to walk across the room to adjust the antenna for better reception. However, at least we could tune in to the weather, and my daughter could watch Saturday morning cartoons this way. I had to admit that the inconvenience was definitely worth it considering the fact that our television bill had been so drastically reduced from $80 to zero.
A whole new world
A few months later, we discovered that we could get some really cheap TV by buying a Roku box. A Roku allows you to stream shows through the Internet and onto your television via channels like Netflix or Hulu. We ordered our Roku from Amazon.com for $60 and signed up for Netflix for $7.99 per month. Doing so allowed us to watch tons of documentaries and old movies. In addition, Netflix also offers entire seasons of kid's shows and cartoons for the little ones we had at home.
After a few months, we added Hulu to our Roku box for an additional $7.99 per month. The addition of Hulu meant that we could watch a lot of shows that are shown on the regular networks. Finally, we could catch up on some of our favorites like “Parks & Recreation,” “Kitchen Nightmares” and “Master Chef.”
Although our new set-up wasn't completely free, we were now paying $15.98 per month for television instead of $80. Our $64 savings came in handy as we tackled all of our remaining debt. Using the snowball method, we paid off our credit cards and unsecured debts first. Then we attacked my husband's student loans. After several months, we were able to begin making additional payments on our car loans as well.
Learning to love what we had
In the meantime, we began to love our new television setup. Sure, I missed some of my shows at first. However, I quickly realized that wanting something did not make it a need. I also learned that most of the shows I was obsessed with weren't really adding any value to my life.
I also learned to like the fact that I could no longer turn on the tube and watch whatever was on. My Roku with Netflix/Hulu made me choose each show consciously instead of always getting sucked into countless hours of pointless reality madness. I now felt more in control than ever and the result was that we ended up watching higher-quality television overall. I also found myself watching a lot less as I embraced other hobbies and projects.
Progress with a twist
Eventually, we paid off every last one of our debts aside from our mortgage, and we emerged on the other side with a new outlook and new priorities. In addition, we came out of this process in a position to start adding to our savings.
Although we had earned the right to start paying for cable again, neither of us was all that interested. We found that our new system met our needs just fine. It didn't matter that we could now afford to have cable. We didn't want it. Although I'm still a reality television junkie at heart, I found that I no longer want to devote that much time or money to the cause. And now that we haven't had cable for a few years, days and weeks go by without us turning on the television at all. Of course, I still like to be entertained — but I have found other ways to occupy my time that aren't so expensive in time or money.
Do you have cable television? If so, are you happy with how much you're paying?
Author: Holly Johnson
Holly Johnson is a credit card expert, award-winning writer, and mother of two who is obsessed with frugality, budgeting, and travel. In addition to serving as contributing editor for The Simple Dollar and writing for publications such as Bankrate, U.S. News and World Report Travel, and Travel Pulse, Johnson owns Club Thrifty and is the co-author of Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love.