Monday, April 16, 2018

Cutting The Cord (Part 4) - One Month Later ... Lower Costs and ZERO Regrets!

Here is Part 4 of our adventures as we Cut The Cord!

We are of the belief that our TV programming costs could not be maintained into retirement.  Almost $125 each month is way too much to pay if we intend to do other things besides watching television in our old age!  It is time for a change ... how close to FREE can we get?

After selecting our hardware (Roku) and our paid streaming services (CBS All Access, Hulu, and Philo) we tested everything and around the middle of March, 2018, cancelled our DirecTV service.  I disconnected the satellite boxes and packed them away.

One month after the cut ... This is nice!

The most serious problem we encountered after the cut involved the lovely Miss Mindy and our two remote control devices.  With cable or satellite, the remote that ran the "box" also handled the television set.  One remote, easily mastered, brainless, and painless.  
Not so with Roku ... two remotes were needed, one for the TV and one for the Roku.  By the second hour of the first day after shutting off DirecTV, she was frustrated with trying to keep track of which remote she needed to perform a certain function.  I needed to jump in and save the experiment before she demanded the satellite back!  A quick trip to WalMart the next day took care of that pesky remote challenge!

For less than $10, the problem was solved with the universal remote pictured on the left.  This control worked right out of the package for the Roku, and only took one code entry to have the Visio TV setup correctly!  This control now resides by Mindy's chair, while the original Roku and Visio remotes are at my fingertips.  Easy fix!

It did take us both a few days to master our new viewing regimen.  We had to remember which service we use to watch a particular program. We also had to remember what new programs were available to us on what nights ... a bit confusing to say the least!

We Had Become Slaves to the List!

One thing that I quickly realized was how much we had become dependent on the DirecTV "List" feature.  Pushing a button on the remote brought up a list of all programs that had been recorded, stored on the satellite box, and were available to view.  Selecting a program from the list launched it for our enjoyment.  It became the method by which we chose our programs ... if it was on the list, it had to be watched!  If we fell too many episodes behind (like General Hospital after a two-week vacation in Florida) it had to be binge-watched ... after all, we can't get too far behind!!!  OMG - we're behind!!!  Of course, my dear bride (with a few OCD tendencies) could not handle being too far behind on viewing recorded TV shows!  

Stress is not something that should be happening when you are watching television with your wife!

While we were enjoying the lack of  list-induced stress, we soon realized that we no longer had much guidance (or even knowledge) about what to watch!  It became quickly apparent that we had to replace "the list" if we were ever to know how to watch TV ever again!  Thank goodness for an old standby:  TV Guide.

I remember TV Guide from back in the '60s ... a small booklet sold in the supermarket checkout line that had all of our locally available TV listings.  Over the years, and with the move to cable and satellite packages, the magazine that we grew up with changed.  It is now a bi-weekly publication, focused more on articles about television rather than detailed listings of every show on every channel.  The modern-day on-line edition ( is actually owned by CBS.

I signed up for a free account, specified my favorite shows, and now receive almost daily emails from TV Guide informing me of new episodes and current events pertaining to those favorite shows.  I have my email set up to automatically forward those emails to Mindy ... now we know what to watch, and when to watch it!

Immediate $avings!

Shortly after the first of the month, I went online to my bank website to make sure that DirecTV had, in fact, cancelled my automatic payment.  They did!  Over the next two weeks, our three paid services made their scheduled debits for a total of $37.98.  I also received a $24.33 refund from DirecTV by way of a pre-paid MasterCard for the partial month cancelled.  If I add in the one-time hardware costs of two Roku boxes (living room and bedroom) and a remote control (just under $70 total) I'm still almost $20 ahead in the first month!  From hereafter my savings will be about $86 each and every month!

Could We Get Closer to Free?

Yes ... we could have made it all the way to "Free TV" even without the availability of over-the-air broadcast channels ... but it would have come at a cost to our enjoyment level.  If we were totally broke, living on a fixed income, or otherwise unable to pay the $37.98 then yes, we would live with "Free".  However, our desire to be only a day or two behind in viewing and be able to skip commercials is well worth the price we are now paying.

If we had access to free over-the-air programming, an OTA DVR such as Tablo (about $250 and up) would allow us to record shows from our antenna for later playback over our local WiFi network.  "Cable" channels would still have to come from a streaming service such as Philo.

So What Are We Missing?

Nothing, really ... except Red Sox Baseball (and other sports programming.)  For some, this would be a deal-breaker.  NESN (which carries all Red Sox and Bruins games, except nationally-televised games) is available (along with other sports-themed networks like ESPN or FS1) with a subscription to either fuboTV or You Tube TV, for about $40 per month.  Play Station Vue also carries NESN for about $45 per month.  The nice thing about streaming services is the no-contract provision, so if the Sox are in a tight pennant race in August, I just might sign up for a month or two and cancel afterward!

In the meantime, I purchased a season-long subscription ($19.95) to Gameday Audio, MLB's streaming audio service.  I can listen to the radio broadcast of every MLB game (without blackout restrictions) and select from either team's broadcast along with the Spanish language broadcasts if desired.  Looking back to the days of my youth, many a ballgame was spent with my Grandfather listening to the Red Sox on radio ... and we enjoyed each and every game that we listened to together!

MLB-TV also has a free app on Roku, that features one "free" game every day along with video highlights from every other game - all available without subscription.  A "condensed" game is also replayed about 90 minutes after the game is over via the MLB team websites.  So, I can listen to games on Gameday, and see every exciting play afterward on my computer.

What Pleasures Have We Discovered?

Without the pressures of "The List" we are enjoying a more relaxed approach to our TV viewing.  On some of the free Roku content (Baby Boomer TV and the Roku Channel) we are watching some of the old shows of our youth.  CBS All Access has some shows from the more recent past that Mindy is enjoying, since she missed the first several seasons of some of them.  Now that I have DIY, Texas Flip and Move and Barnwood Builders get regular views from me as well.  More importantly, we're not tied to a list, but rather are enjoying the browse through the programming forest without haste or anxiety.  TV seems more fun ... and I still don't have to fuss with an antenna!

Our content comes via the Internet; therefore, wherever we have access to the "web" we have access to our programming.  Our Android phones, Mindy's Kindle, and my iPad have now become truly portable TV sets.  When we visit my mother in Florida, we plan on bringing a Roku with us so we can keep up with our favorite shows.  A two-hour airport layover may become more enjoyable without the need for overpriced adult beverages at the terminal lounge!

Cutting the cord also made me take a look at other entertainment costs that could be saved.  For years I have had a subscription to XM radio in my car.  This dates back to when I was traveling quite a bit and playing music several nights a week.  My XM listening is down to just a couple of talk shows and the occasional "classic old-time radio" show or two.  A 99-cent app for my smart phone lets me download free public-domain radio shows from the '30s, '40s, and '50s, while free apps let me download favorite talk show content on-demand.  As of today I have cancelled my $220 per year XM radio habit!

Now if I can only find a suitable replacement for the daily newspaper ...

Some Amazing Math ...

$86 per month saved on television, and $19 saved on XM radio, for a total of $105 saved every month.  If I invest that savings each month in good quality growth-stock mutual funds with 12% annual track record, I will have $45,370 in my investment account after 15 years.  Ok, maybe a bit too risky for some of you, but that same calculation at 8% (the average rate of return for the stock market) still produces a balance of $38,940 after 15 years!

I guess I do have one regret after all ... we should have done this years ago!

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