I don’t have cable television. That’s such a simple statement, but I often get very strong reactions when I tell people that I don’t get HBO, CNN or Bravo. It’s as if I were telling people that I don’t breathe air. First, I get the incredulous look (eyes wide; mouth open). Then I get the question: “How do you live like that?”
Cable television has some real status in our world. We worship that little black cable box and the remote that controls our lives and our leisure time. I gave up cable television years ago. Now, let me be clear. I have a TV and I watch it on a regular basis. I have certain shows that I enjoy and watch regularly. My current favorites are Glee, Modern Family and Cougar Town (ignore the title; it’s better than it sounds). I have an antenna and a digital converter box so that I get shows free over the airways and I love, love, LOVE hulu.com (I would highly recommend checking it out if you haven’t heard of it). I also make good use of the netflix.com subscription. So if I enjoy TV, what’s my deal with cable? I don’t have cable because it’s costly to me in several ways.
1) Cable is expensive! It really is. How many channels do you actually watch? I realized that of the hundreds of channels that my cable company offers me, I watched somewhere between five and ten channels. When you do the math, it’s often not worth the cost. Many people who complain about living paycheck to paycheck and say that they can’t seem to save money are spending hundreds of dollars a month on cable. And the cable company wants you to pay for everything, don’t they? The cable box, the remote control, the DVR. They leave no piece of equipment uncharged.
2) It’s not a “want” that I would miss. When we talk about money management, we talk about our “needs vs. our wants.” Our needs are the things we must spend money on to live our daily lives ,e.g., food, shelter, clothing, transportation. Wants are the luxuries, e.g., morning coffee, designer handbags, movies. We should all know which expenses are needs and which expenses are wants. I’m not here to tell you that you shouldn’t spend money on wants. That’s no fun! But find out what’s worth your money. There are some wants that I’m happy to spend money on. I love brunch with friends, the occasional cute pair of shoes and my blackberry. But I just don’t need all those channels for all of that money.
3) It would take away from more productive activities. I want to point out that not having cable is not just a financial issue for me but it’s also a quality of life issue. I am one of those people who can get completely sucked in by a good movie. It doesn’t matter if I’ve seen the movie 100 times. I can have the best laid plans for the day, but if a movie that I love comes on (Dirty Dancing!), I’m glued to my couch for 2 hours. And don’t let another movie from my childhood come on after that. In other words, I have little self control when it comes to watching hours upon hours of mindless television. And that’s not good for my quality of life. I don’t feel good about myself when I have watched TV all afternoon instead of going out and enjoying my neighborhood and the world around me. Limiting my channels and programming choices takes away temptation and forces me to live my life away from my sofa.
Do I think YOU should give up cable? No. I don’t know you so I have no idea if that makes sense for you. And I’m not writing this because I believe all people should give up cable. Maybe you love your sports channels or your news channels. Maybe TV is the best way for you to unwind after a busy day and you like having many options when it comes to which shows you watch.
But maybe there is something else in your life that is costly in more ways than one. How about the weekly happy hour that empties your pocket but also adds some extra pounds? What about the shopping habit that makes you fear your credit card statement but also adds clutter to your life and increases your dependence on material things? Are there costs in your life that are expensive to you in more ways than one?
Kimberly Allman, Esq. is a financial planner and the President of Allman Financial Planning, LLC where she assists individuals who are seeking to improve their financial health. She is also the Manager of Homeownership Preservation for the New York Mortgage Coalition where she provides assistance to homeowners in distress through seminars, informational workshops and one-on-one counseling. She started her career as a corporate lawyer where she advised clients on a variety of investment products including hedge funds, mutual funds, structured products and real estate investment trusts.
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