Cut the Cable Bill

2 07 2010

Savings – $57 / moth
Lifestyle Adjustment – Medium to High

If you’re like most Americans you pay around $71 per month for cable or satellite television (likely more).  Cable TV is a huge expense for something we are using less and less.  As I prepare to move from a home that has free cable to one without, I am exploring options for cutting the cable all together.

How to eliminate your Cable bill without lowering your viewing options:

1) Netflix – Starting at $8/month Netflix is a great alternative to cable withunlimited streaming from a massive and  growing catalog of television series and movies.  For about $80 $50 you can get a device that connects to any TV to stream Netflix content for free.  Have an XBOX 360*, Nintendo Wii, Playstation 3, or a computer connected to your television? Then you already have a Netflix streaming device.  Netflix streaming has no ads and is available when you are ready to watch. I don’t even remember what it is like to watch television with ads.

2) Over the Air – Remember how your grandparents used to get TV?  Over the air for free.  That still exists and with the Digital Transition there are more free HD channels than ever before.  If you have a Windows Vista or 7 PC with a TV Tuner you can easily record shows right out of the air and stream them to your XBOX 360 with the free Windows Media Center software.

3) ESPN 3 – Are you a sports fan? ESPN3.com has thousands of live and on demand sports including the 2010 World Cup for free**.  If you have a way to connect a computer to your TV then you are all set!  ESPN and Microsoft recently launched ESPN3 for Xbox Live. Thousands of live and on demand events, highlights, and clips in full high definition are available for free. I can watch my local teams, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the University of Oklahoma Sooners, live or on demand without a cable subscription.

4) Hulu – This joint venture of NBC and Fox offers free online streaming of hundreds of past and current shows from  dozens of networks. Currently Hulu is free on computer screens, but the company offers the service to set top boxes, portable devices, and video game consoles as their $8/month HuluPlus service. In addition to increased device availability HuluPlus subscribers will also have access to full season runs of current shows and a massive back catalog.

The plan for my home’s TV entertainment:

XBOX 360 connected to my network and television
Windows 7 PC w/ TV Tuner connected to DTV antennae

With this setup I will be able to record over the air shows, watch live news/weather, stream Netflix, watch DVDs, and watch ESPN3 and HuluPlus.

Total month fee?

$7.99 – Netflix
$4.50 – XBOX Live Service
———-
$13.49 – Total

Add another $7.99 for HuluPlus when it becomes available and you’ve got a full package!

The long run…..
If you have the average cable bill of $71/month this plan will save you $57.50/month. With those savings the $150 XBOX 360 pays for itself in 3 months plus you have a fully capable gaming device.

For a Windows 7 PC with TV tuner you are looking at around $500.  This isn’t necessary to enjoy the benefits of Netflix and over the air TV, but it gives you the ability to DVR over the air broadcasts.  If you don’t have a Windows Media Center PC with a TV Tuner consider this optional.
* Netflix Streaming on XBOX 360 requires $50/year XBOX Live Subscription.  This is accounted for in the “long run” section.
**ESPN3 is only available to customers of partner ISPs. See if your ISP is included.





Used Auto Batteries – Good as new, only cheaper.

7 10 2009

Savings – $45
Lifestyle Adjustment – little to none

It’s getting colder out and you know what that means… extra stress on your car battery.  If you’re like me you may so discover that your battery that has been faithfully bringing your car to life for 4 years is ready to give up.  Time for a new one… or is it?

Many auto parts stores carry “used” or “refurbished” batteries for a fraction of the cost of new.  My Acura recently needed a new battery and after some calling around I found out that Advanced Auto Parts had a used battery in stock for $35.  This was a great price considering that the same battery was $80 brand new.  So what did I give up for the $45 in savings?  Let’s take a look.

Brand New: $80, 24 month warranty
Used: $35, 3 month warranty

While going from a 24 month to a 3 month warranty may seem like too big of a sacrifice here are a few things to consider: 1) if the battery is faulty you’ll know within the first week of use. 2) Even if the battery fails after 1 year of use you still come out ahead ($35 + $35 = $70 < $80 for a single new battery).  3) you’re recycling which has an indirect positive effect for everyone.

Outside of cost and warranty the new and used batteries look and function the same.  The used batteries aren’t nasty and dirty.  They look brand new.  Think refurbished electronics.

Keep in mind that used batteries aren’t always in stock so it may take some calling, but you should be able to find one after minimal calling.  If the first place you call doesn’t have one in stock ask for a recommendation on which location or chain to call next.

So next time you get in your car and hear that dreadful grumble and click of a dead battery, think about purchasing a used battery and use some of that saved cash to invest in a pair of jumper cables.





Get Free Movie Rentals

5 03 2009

Savings – varies.  At least one free DVD rental per week.
Lifestyle Adjustment – little to none

Looking for a way to LEGALLY enjoy free movies?  For those of you who aren’t familiar with McDonald’s redbox DVD kiosks; they are those little red vending machines usually found around McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, or your local grocery store (Homeland if you are in Oklahoma).

These little boxes hold a wide variety of recent DVD releases which are available to rent for $1.00 per night.  Not bad if you are only keeping it for a few nights, but I have never paid to rent a DVD from redbox.  How?  The free redbox rental codes the company sends to my phone every Monday morning first Monday of the month.

You can subscribe to the SMS redbox codes for free here: http://www.redbox.com/Help/Signup.aspx

The codes give you a free rental (one per credit card) every Monday night every first Monday of the month, good for one use only.  As long as you get it watched and returned by 9PM on Tuesday then you just got a free movie.  Sure beats $3.99 at BlockBuster.

redbox DVD Kiosk

redbox DVD Kiosk






Buying in Bulk Doesn’t Always Equal Savings

23 02 2009


Savings – varies.  43% for me.
Lifestyle Adjustment – little to none

So, how many times have you walked into Sam’s Club or Costco and bought something in bulk for the savings?  These major warehouse retailers, once specializing in serving small businesses, now use the savings of buying in bulk to market themselves to everyday consumers.

So you pay your $40 per year for a Sam’s Club (we don’t have Costco in Oklahoma) membership card and you are granted a pass to huge savings, right?  Well not always…

I was a big fan of buying my laundry detergent at Sam’s Club.  They carry a 32.5lb bucket of Wind Fresh powdered detergent for $13.84 that is good for 200 loads.  Since I’m not too concerned with the fragrance of my detergent and had no skin concerns or problems with using powdered detergent then I thought it was a great buy.  I would find a friend or family member that had a Sam’s Club card and meet them at Sam’s and buy my detergent.

 

32.5lb Wind Fresh Powered Detergent

$13.84 at Sam's Club - 200 loads.

 

Due to the inability to meet with a friend to go to Sam’s Club and my immediate need for detergent I thought I would run to my local Dollar Tree and see what they had for detergent.

 

In Dollar Tree I found a bottle of L.A.’s Totally Awesome liquid detergent for $1.00 good for 21 loads.  At this point I started to do some math.

 

$1.00 at Dollar Tree Stores.

$1.00 at Dollar Tree Stores - 21 loads.

 

Wind Fresh powder 
$13.84 / 200 loads = ~$0.069 per load

L.A.’s Totally Awesome liquid
$1.00 / 21 loads = ~$0.048 per load

That is a difference of $0.021 per load!  Now that may not seem like much, but let’s carry that math out a bit further…

  • The cost per load of Wind Fresh is 43% higher than that of L.A.’s Totally Awesome.
  • For 200 loads the Wind Fresh costs $13.84 where L.A.’s Totally Awesome costs $9.52 –  a difference of $4.34!

In addition to saving money on the detergent there is the benefit of not having to buy a membership card (or mooch off your friends and family).  Also, some would argue, a liquid detergent is a better product.  One negative is not having the handy bucket to use after the detergent is gone, but buckets like that are available at Wal-Mart for much less than $4.34.

So next time you are considering buying in bulk for savings pull out your calculator and run the numbers.  You may be surprised at what you see.

 

Sometimes savings come in small packages.

Sometimes savings come in small packages.





Free Microsoft Office Alternatives

16 09 2008

by Clayton E. Dorris
09/16/2008

Savings – $65 – $400
Lifestyle Adjustment – Very Low

So you just bought a new computer and now you’re ready to load it up with some software.  If you’re a college student like me the first thing you need (once you get some music) is Microsoft Office.  You walk into your local Wal-Mart, Best Buy, or college bookstore to pick up a copy.  You pick up the pretty box for Office 2007 and flip it over only to see a price of $65 (for a student edition, $150 if you’re anyone else)!  Yikes!  Of course, you need to do your school work right?  Then you realized that you pick up the PC version and since you’ve good a new PowerBook you really need the Mac software.  You reach over and pick up Office 2008 for Mac and see a price tag of $150 dollars for the student version!!  That is pretty expensive, but luckily you’re not having to pay the non-student price of $400!  That’s $400 for an office suite!!!!

There are a few things you can do to put those hard earned dollars back in your pocket and still have a way to type up all your papers, work on your spreadsheets, and view and edit all those PowerPoint notes your professor posts online.  Maybe you could use that $150 to buy some Fabreeze for your stinky dorm mate.

The world of computing is changing.  Thanks to the increased penetration of broadband Internet access more and more applications that have been traditionally based on the personal computer (locally hosted) are being based online.  The growth of “cloud” computing means that these applications can be accessed from any computer with an Internet connection and that files are uploaded and stored online.  One service that utilizes the “cloud computing” approach is Google Docs.

Google Docs is a free online alternative to Microsoft Office.  This service allows you to create, edit, download, print, and upload word documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.  Google Docs supports MS Office compatible formats and works with Windows, Mac, or Linux.  I’ve used Google Docs extensively over the past several years and have written many papers with it.  I’ve even convinced my company to start using it’s spreadsheet application to manage contact databases.  Where Google Docs shines is in it’s ability to allow real-time online collaboration.  While is lacks some of the higher functions of a MS Office it provides enough basic functions to for most casual to mid-level users.

If you are looking for a full powered locally hosted alternative to MS Office then you should turn your eyes toward the open source community.  OpenOffice is a full fledged Microsoft Office replacement.  It offers full features and is very similar to Office 2003 so the learning curve isn’t too bad.  It is compatible with almost any format you can throw at it and best of all it is free.  The only drawback to OpenOffice is that it tends to run a bit slow at times depending on your system.  It is compatible with most Windows opertaing systems in common use today including XP and Vista.  OpenOffice also has a Mac friendly brother named NeoOffice.  NeoOffice is simply a port of OpenOffice modified to run natively in Mac OS.

So before you go stuff some more of your hard earned cash in Bill Gates’ pockets try some of these free alternatives.

Worse case scenario – you don’t like Google Docs and you’ve wasted a few minutes creating a Google screenname and password or you have to run uninstall for OpenOffice/NeoOffice.

Best Case Scenario – you save $400…. I bet those papers are easier to type with that cash in your pocket.

Links:


http://docs.google.com

http://openoffice.org


http://neooffice.org





Know what you have – Post #1

31 08 2008

If you are reading this blog then hopefully you are looking for ways to save money.  Of course, before you can save money it is important to know what exactly you have.  Do you know how much money you have in your checking account?  Do you know how much money you have in savings?  Credit card debit?  Student loans?  Do you know your interest rates on these accounts?

If you’re like most people, you don’t.  With the Internet and online banking it is pretty easy to log into these accounts and see exactly what you’ve got, but often times you have to log into several hard to nagivate sites.  This is where Mint.com comes in super handy.  For over a year now I’ve been using Mint.com for online money management.

Mint.com is a free web service that pulls all of your financial info into one super easy to read and easy to use web site.  Mint will pull the info from credit cards, student loans, mortgages, car loans, checking accounts, savings accounts, etc and build reports that show spending trends and your net worth.  This service is a great tool to help you get a handle on your spending habits and let you know exactly what you have (and what you owe).

Mint will send notifications to your email or cell phone to let you know when payments are due or when your accounts are low.

Mint will also let you know how you can save money; for example if you have a Citibank Credit Card with 24.99% interest, Mint may show you offers of credit cards with lower interest rates and an estimation of your yearly savings.  Another example would be if you have a Bank of America Savings account with a 2.00% APY, Mint may show an offer for a HSBC Direct Savings account with 3.5% APY and an estimation of how much more interest you could earn in a year.

Another great feature is Mint’s budgeting.  This feature allows you to budget your monthly expenditures for several different categories.  Once you’ve established these budget limits you can opt to have Mint send you an email or text message warning if you are in danger of going over budget.

The one complaint I have with the service is their lack of support for small local banks and credit unions, but they are compatible with all the big boys; Citi, Chase, Bank of America, HSBC, ING, PayPal, Capital One, WaMu, Wells Fargo, and many others.  They also have a fairly broad selection of regional banks.

Mint is really worth a look if you want to have a handy way to see all your finances and discover your spending trends and ways to save.

In order to save money you must first know how much you have and how you are spending it.