Category Archives: Cheap

Television

Getting rid of cable or satellite television probably counts as a project all on its own. For many people, getting rid of cable means getting rid of television. How many cities still have meaningful airwave broadcast areas? The ‘free’ channels may be hard to catch with an antenna and come through fuzzy and unwatchable even if you can. Let’s face it – in America, if you want to watch live TV you almost always need a cable or satellite hook up.

Both cable and satellite cost money. Sometimes a lot of money. Time Warner in NYC is more than $100/month. And now they’re trying to foist the cable/phone/internet package on everyone, making it so expensive to have just one service you bundle them to get a (much needed) break. Satellite may run you as little as $40 and as much as $175 per month depending on the service, how many channels you want, and where you live.

With these services you get well over 100 channels. But the complaint we all hear (and sometimes make ourselves) is that there’s nothing to watch. Just think about how many shows you actually watch in a given week. Now think about how many you really love and how many you just put up with because they’re mildly entertaining. How many hours do you spend channel surfing, going through all 500 available seeking something good? Or, at least, something palatable.

How much time do you waste watching TV?

Not all TV is a waste, of course. There are good shows – dramas, comedies, documentaries, news. TV can enrich as well as entertain. It’s not all bad.

It’s also not all good. For example, I saw a commercial once that revealed what is wrong with our TV-based culture (instead of making me want to buy something to make the experience of TV better, which was the point). In it, a young woman speaks excitedly into the camera about how a cute guy in her office finally asked her out. Oh, how wonderful! He says, “Let’s go out on Thursday night.” “Thursday night?” she says to the camera. “I can’t go out on Thursday – it’s Must-See-TV night! All my favorite shows are on.” How can she miss them? What will she do? At this point, my reaction was: “This is why it’s so hard to get a date, you silly git. You’d rather watch TV than go out and do things with gasp! people.” The solution to her dilemma was not, unfortunately, a smack in the face. It was the acquisition of a DVR (Digital Video Recorder, generic TiVo) so she could record her shows and still go out with the cute guy.

I felt this missed the point entirely.

DVRs are a good solution to the problem of there being ‘nothing on’. Record the shows you like, watch them when you want, and you should never have to surf and search again. That solves one aspect of the problem. However, you’re still paying for hundreds of channels you don’t watch, some you never will. How much is one season of The Sopranos or Lost worth to you? $130/month?

How much money could you save a year if you gave up cable or satellite TV? How much more time would you have if you did? What would you do with that time and that money? How would it change how you relate to people? How would it change how you relate to your family? Things to consider.

For me, TV was taking up too much of my time. And I became a vegetable while watching it, unable to get away once I started. I always fell into the “there has to be something on” channel surfing trap. Plus, I’m a great procrastinator and TV is a great enabler.

I also really resented the growing amount of advertising on TV. Ads creep in, stealing one minute here and one minute there from actual show time. A typical “half hour” show is now 20-22 minutes instead of 24-26 of just a few years ago. Hour long shows get a mere 40 – 44 minutes. 16 – 20 minutes of commercials! What’s worse, it’s often the same damn commercials at every break. No matter how cute or fun or cutting edge a commercial is, it’s not the show I want to watch.

I tried for several years to break myself from the TV habit. But I don’t have an incredible amount of willpower and I’ve always lived in a place with cable or satellite and the temptation was too great. Every now and then I was able to go a while watching limited TV, but could never reach my goal of cutting myself off completely or, at least, only watching the few shows I liked. Then I moved into a new apartment.

When I first met my roommate she informed me that she did not have cable in the apartment. She had a VCR and a DVD player, but no cable. And we can’t get broadcast channels in this area, so the apartment has no TV, essentially. This was great news! Now I could implement my plan of not watching any live TV and, of course, not paying a huge cable bill for a bunch of stuff I didn’t watch.

Does that mean I don’t watch TV shows? Nope. I still watch my favorite shows, just not live.

There are alternatives to paying for cable. There’s paying for the shows you love individually. Almost every show comes out on DVD the fall after the season (or series) finale. If you can wait, you can still watch Desperate Housewives or NUMB3RS, just not right away. There are no commercials on DVD, and for shows with a throughline (like DH or Lost), you won’t have to wait a week from one cliffhanger to the next. Very satisfying.

You can also buy individual episodes of TV. Several networks offer $2/episode downloads of shows through iTunes, available the day after the initial broadcast. You can play them on your iPod or on your computer. Just make sure you take a look at the limits on what you can do with the files. iTunes may not allow you to copy them to a second computer or to a DVD, for example.

I don’t often buy a TV show unless I really, really love it. Of course, I’m not buying any at all this year. Instead, I rent the DVDs. This way I can watch the shows once and return them, then rent again if I want to see a particular episode I loved. Netflix has a huge selection of DVDs, including TV DVDs. But Netflix sucks, so I suggest Intelliflix, instead (click that link and get $10.00 off Superpass plans). You can rent movies, TV shows, games, and ‘erotic’ films. Plus, they have more plan and pricing options. Consumer Reports likes them a lot.

I’ve been struggling with whether renting DVDs is Allowed or not. Is this a necessity? I still don’t know. But I have Netflix for free (because they messed up so many of my shipments) until 2/14, so I have some time to consider the issue. Still, it’s less than cable/satellite and I only pay for what I want to watch.

There are ways to watch TV shows for free, though. Other than going to a friend’s house, that is. Some networks allow you to watch their shows for free via streaming video. CBS, NBC, and ABC all offer shows online. Some you can even watch every episode that’s aired in the current season, some only the latest few. I know in the case of CBS there is one 30 second commercial that plays at each break. This may be true for the others as well. CBS also offers live streaming news.

As far as I can tell, there aren’t any cable networks except for Comedy Central and Cartoon Network that offer full episodes online. If you find more in your explorations, let me know!

There is one last way to watch your favorite shows for free. But it’s illegal, apparently, so I can’t recommend it. Some people in the world download television shows from the internet. These video files come sans commercials of any kind. Some are better quality than others. Many are available a few hours after the show is broadcast. As I said, the legality of this is in question. Television people will say it’s absolutely illegal. Are they lying? Someone will have to enlighten me on the subject.

I often say I have an ultimate goal of not watching any TV at all. I don’t know how true that is anymore. One thing about only watching the shows I want to watch is discovering an appreciation for really good television. I’m not going to waste a rental on a series that’s only sub-par. I’m not going to keep buying episodes of a show that loses my interest. The quality of my viewing is up and therefore I see television shows as less of a waste than I did before. An hour spent watching engaging, well-written, and entertaining television is very rewarding.

Maybe in a few years I will stop watching TV shows. For now, I’m content with renting and streaming. It still means less time spent watching shows and more time for other things. It also means less money spent.

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Filed under Allowed / Not Allowed, Cheap, Free, Resources

Resources: Free Books

One of my major addictions is to books. I’m a writer, after all, and a voracious reader. One of the things it will be hardest for me to give up is buying books because I do like to own them. Getting them from the library isn’t as satisfying.

I can’t fault my local library system for much. NYC has one of the best collections in the world between all of the boroughs. They sometimes don’t have the newest genre books and restrict some of the books I need for research to the non-circulating collections, which vexes me. And there’s still that thing about wanting to keep the books I like.

There are a few solutions for getting books for free or almost free. Mostly in the form of book/media-swapping groups. Here are a few I’ve found:

Zunafish – Sign up here to trade DVD’s, CD’s, paperbacks, video games and more. The only money that changes hands is the $1 fee you pay the site for each successful trade. It’s easy to post an item: you simply plug in identifying information–the site walks you through that–and the Web elves produce a full listing. The sole limitation–apart from those of your collection–is that you can only swap like items (CDs for CDs, books for books etc.). So choose a screen name, and start swapping.


PaperbackSwap – We are a group of real people who have formed a Club to swap paperback books with each other. No gimmicks. No spam. No advertising. No kidding. When another member requests one of your books, you mail it to them. Yes, you pay for the postage. But then another member returns the favor when you request a book from them and they mail it to you. And that way the books are always free because we are all trading books with club members!
(they also have a sister site, Swap-a-CD)


Bookcrossing – A website that tracks books you register and release “into the wild” or to other bookcrossing friends. You can search for books and request them from other users or join a Bookcrossing Meetup group to get books face-to-face.


If you’re not like me and don’t need to own the books you read, then the library is definitely the best resource. If your local system isn’t all that great or if you have a tendency to keep books far past their due date and rack up the fines, there is another solution.

Booksfree works just like Netflix. You add books and audiobooks you want to read to your list, they send you a certain number at a time and send the next when you’ve returned them. Also like Netflix, the shipping both ways is free. The service is not (unlike the library). Plans range from $8.49 to $39.99/month.

Another similar service: Bookswim

For me, PaperbackSwap may end up on my allowed list later. For now I will try and stick to the library.

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Filed under Cheap, Free, Resources