Cable TV, data plans, landlines – they’re all nice from time to time, but do you know how much they’re costing you? Because it’s likely more than you think.
Lots of companies, in their marketing, try to make a monthly expense sound manageable by dividing the total into days. For example: instead of a phone plan costing you $60 a month, they’ll advertise it as “only $2 a day” or (my personal least-favourite) “less than the price of a cup of coffee”.
You can see why this works: smaller numbers sound manageable.
You can turn this approach on its head: every time you see a potential monthly expense, multiply it by 12. For example: a $100 monthly phone bill costs you $1200 a year. Compare that to your annual income and you’ll have a much better idea of how much that plan is costing you.
Thinking this way, it’s easy to see how keeping monthly expenses down can help you balance your budget. And if you’re tech-savvy, there are a lot of ways you can do this. Figuring out how can even be fun, because if there’s one thing geeks love its working around arbitrary restrictions and making something work. That’s half the fun of video games, and it can be fun in this case too.
Let’s go over a few ways to save money every month. None of these ideas are particularly original – you’ve probably heard most of them around the web. But add them up and you’ll save a lot.
Cut Cable; Save $1000 Every Year
The average American cable bill is $86 a month, or $1032 a year, according to Consumer Reports. That cost just keeps rising: some estimates say it will be well over $100 in the next couple of years.
So if you can live without cable, you can save yourself a lot of money. And thanks to online streaming, living without cable is easier than it’s ever been. For many services like Netflix have already replaced most TV watching – switch over completely and you’re done.
Sure: you might not be able to watch the latest episodes of your favourite shows right now. But you’ll get to eventually, and you’ll have no shortage of things to watch in the meantime. And there’s a lot of free entertainment to be found online, from YouTube to Hulu, to keep you entertained – set up an XBMC media center and you can access it all from a nice interface.
“But what about sports,” you ask? Well, depending on what league you follow there are online-only services you can use for streaming – I use NHL Gamecenter to watch hockey games. But there are other options. If you’re paying $100 a month for cable just to watch one football game a week, for example, consider going to a sports bar every week instead. A pitcher of beer might cost you $10, but that’s a lot less than $100 a month – and you get beer.
And it’s not like all TV costs money. You can use an antenna to get free over-the-air TV. In the US this includes the “big four” stations – ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox – alongside PBS, the CW and a number of other local stations. You might be surprised how many of your favourite shows are available without cable.
Cutting the cord isn’t for everyone, but there are a lot of options. Check out our cord cutting guide to learn more about the gadgets and software you can use to entertain yourself without a cable bill.
Ditch Your Mobile Data Plan, Save $1000 Every Year.
The average American mobile bill is over $100 a month, or $1200 a year. That’s a lot of money – and you might not even need it.
My colleague Christian recently pointed out that you probably don’t need a mobile data plan. It sounds crazy, but think about it: how often are you actually away from WiFi? And how much of that time are you spending online?
At this point most restaurants, hotels, libraries and even grocery stores offer free WiFi. So even without a data plan, your phone can likely access the Internet wherever you are most of the day.
Being offline for a bit might suck, but there’s plenty you can do on your phone in the meantime. Many games work offline, and you can load up your device with podcasts and ebooks if you really need an information fix. Think to yourself: do you need to be online constantly more than you need an extra $1000 a year?
If you’d rather not ditch your phone completely, you’ve got options. Republic Wireless, for example, provides a $10/month plan with unlimited talk and text. Combine this with WiFi at home and you’ll be pretty much covered, but if you find yourself needing data you can switch a month to an upgraded plan: $25/month for unlimited 3G. You can switch twice a month, so you’ll only pay for data when you actually need it.
Look around and you’ll find lots of options, so think outside the contract. It could save you $1000, every year.
Replace Your Overpriced Home Phone Line, Save $200 A Year (Or More!)
Fewer people still pay for landlines, and this makes sense: one phone bill is enough. But there are reasons to still have a landline: long distance calls tend to be cheaper, and you can give someone a phone number to reach you at that’s not your cell.
But there’s a downside: a landline often costs $20 a month, alongside possible long distance charges. If you’re paying for this, consider using VoIP instead. I personally like Skype phones, because for $30 you get unlimited long distance in the USA and Canada. You can find similarly priced plans for calling to Europe and Asia, and it doesn’t matter where on earth you live – the prices are the same. If you regularly need to call people abroad, there’s a lot of potential savings here – especially if you’re currently paying for long distance by the minute.
I showed you how to use Skype as your main home phone line. It has gotten a lot easier since then, with a variety of apps now allowing you to make and receive phone calls on any Android or iOS device.