Sunday, June 29, 2014

How I have a smartphone for only $15 a month

How NOT to shop for a smart phone and data plan

Before I go into the right way to shop for a smart phone and plan, let me tell you how a certain individual (OK, it's my dad) made all the wrong moves when shopping for a smart phone and data plan.  First, not only did he have no idea what his data and communications needs were, he had no real need for a smart phone: doesn't use email, doesn't have anyone to text, already has a GPS in his truck, and is computer illiterate.  So the smart phone was an impulse purchase bought on pure emotion.  Second, he didn't shop around at all.  He already had a Verizon phone, so he just walked into the Verizon store and presented himself as a nice juicy target to the sales staff.  Third, he followed up on these fundamental mistakes by not understanding his data plan and not seeing his phone as a part of his overall communications strategy, and promptly went above the limits on his data plan by incessant and unnecessary web surfing, none of it using wireless access.

What The Technical Meshugana taught me

Now that we've seen the case study of what NOT to do, let's move on to the smart way to shop for and use smart phones.  Much of what I learned about how to buy a smart phone and shop for a data plan I learned from The Technical Meshugana.  He has an extensive guide on telecommunications on his web site.  If you want to geek out I highly recommend it.  If you're looking for one set of recommendations that may work for you, and don't want to read an exhaustive guide, read on below!

First, know what your communications needs are.  Do you make a lot of international calls?  Are you a true road warrior who spends most of your time traveling?  Do you do a lot of texting?  Do you spend most of your time in a few locations, with easy access to phones and computers?  Will you have a home phone in addition to your cell?

Second, understand how best to use the technology infrastructure that already surrounds you.  I do a lot of surfing on my phone, and use apps that need access to the internet.  And yet I rarely use more than half my monthly allotted data.  The key is to use wireless access where it is available.  While I'm at home my phone is always using my home wireless access.  When I'm not at home I'm always looking for free wireless access.  In the past month I have used free WiFi at Barnes and Noble*, Kohl's**, the hospital where my mother in law was admitted, the hospitals where she had doctor's appointments, and my parents' house, just to name a few.  While the biggest threat to smart phones is apps that aren't downloaded from reputable sources, you still need to be careful when using unsecured WiFi networks.  Take a look at the free suite of antivirus and VPN products available from avast! to protect your phone while using free wireless access.

Third, take control of your texting.  SMS texting is a cash cow for service providers.  A text is a tiny amount of data that your provider will want to charge you big bucks for, so even if you don't have free WiFi available, almost any method of sending a text using your data plan is going to be more cost-effective than sending a text using your texting plan.  I limit my texts and I message my Facebook friends using Facebook Messenger, especially when I have free WiFi available.  In addition to Facebook Messenger, you could convert the few people you text most over to a service like Kik instant messanger or you could use Google Voice.  There's no need to give up texting -- just take control of it.

Other people "have to have" the latest and greatest; their loss is your gain

If you don't need the hottest, newest incarnation of the iPhone or the Samsung Galaxy (hint:  no one needs the newest version of a phone), you are in control of the smart phone market.  While other people are selling their like-new phones in exchange for questionable benefits like owning a status symbol, you can have a great phone at a bargain price.  I bought my phone at, which is a middle man that connects sellers and buyers of used phones and other consumer electronics.  At Glyde you select what you want to buy and what condition you are willing to pay for.  The better the condition, the more it will cost.  However, having said that, I did not pick the best possible condition, and my phone still showed up looking brand-new; it still had the original protective cover on the screen.  Glyde guarantees the transaction, so if you're dissatisfied with anything, Glyde provides customer service, not the unknown seller.  So, for $100 I had a great, brand-new Samsung Galaxy phone and no 2-year contract obligating me to pay through the nose.

Now, this only works if you are using a service provider that will allow you to bring your own phone, so don't pick a provider that won't.

Where to get a $15 a month service provider

There are lots of providers out there who are buying service from owners like Verizon or Sprint and reselling it to consumers at a much cheaper rate than you can get from the owners yourself.  For a list of recommended providers and an explanation of how this works, check out the Technical Meshugana's Cell Phone Providers.

I chose Ting***, which is a Sprint reseller.  What I like about Ting is that there is no contract and you only pay for what you use.  Data, voice, and text each have their own buckets, and as you move out of one usage bucket and into another, you are charged incrementally more.  Here are their rates as of June 29, 2014.









No usage
1 - 100
101 - 500
501 - 1000
1001 - 2100
2101 +
1.9¢ per


No usage
1 - 100
101 - 1000
1001 - 2000
2001 - 4800
4801 +
1/4¢ per


No usage
1 - 100
101 - 500
501 - 1000
1001 - 2000
2001 +
1.5¢ per

In addition to the usage bucket charges, you pay $6 per device, and all devices on the plan share these buckets.   If you go from one bucket to another there are no overage fees, and they have a nice app for your phone that you can use to monitor your usage.  Plus, you can set up alerts to let you know when you're coming close to the top of the bucket you want to stay in.  I have always been in the "Small" bucket by using the tips I listed above, so my monthly charge is only $15.  You can also go through Ting to buy your phone via Glyde, so you'll be sure you get a phone that works with the provider.

Ting also has a referral program.  If you use my link ( you'll save $25 and I'll also get a $25 referral credit.

The Key is Mindfulness

When I had a work-issued phone I didn't pay attention to how much I used it or where I used it.  But, as in anything you pay for yourself, mindfulness is the key to keeping your bills low.  The good news is, once you've got this all set up and you've figured out what works best for you, it's extremely easy and CHEAP!

*I used Barnes and Noble's free WiFi to scan the bar codes of items using my Amazon price checking app and found that the items were cheaper at Amazon.  Purchased the items within the app and saved at least $5.  Barnes and Noble does not do price matching.
**Here's a tip that doesn't belong in this article but it's too good not to share.  Kohl's almost always has 15% off coupons available online.  Next time you want to buy something at Kohl's just connect to their free WiFi in the store then go to a site like and find the best current coupon.  The cashier will scan it directly off of your phone's screen.
***This is a referral link and both you and I will benefit if you use it, as I describe above.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Sh*t happens ... usually when you least expect it

Three weeks ago my mother-in-law went in for what should have been a "routine" surgery.  It did not go well.  She spent four days in the hospital for a surgery to fix a disc in her back.*  After a week and a half at home my daughter and I took her back to the ER because the pain in her leg and hip was so terrible.  It turns out the disc was not fixed, and was worse than ever.  She spent another seven days in the hospital and came home.  This past Friday morning she called us again and we were afraid she was having a stroke.  We called the ambulance, my spouse rushed to her house, and my daughter and I met them in the ER.  It turns out that several blood clots had gone to her lungs and she was at risk for more clots that could do even more damage.  It was one of the scariest days of my life.

After we knew that she wasn't having a stroke, but that she was still in danger, next we had to start making plans.  First and foremost, who could take care of our nine-year-old daughter while we were in the hospital with my spouse's mother all weekend?  Sitting in the ER, seeing my mother-in-law lying there on the gurney, her face gray and full of pain, hooked up to so many machines, we knew we couldn't leave her any longer than necessary.  However, a nine-year-old can't handle the stressful boredom of sitting with a loved one who is dangerously ill.  And, after three weeks of dealing with her mother's pain and suffering, my spouse needed me at the hospital by her side.

Friends and family to the rescue

My first call was to my own mother.  She and my mother-in-law have become close friends, and I knew she would want to be here with her.  She could also take care of our daughter while we spent the weekend in the hospital with my mother-in-law.  Most of all, even though I am 43 years old, I was scared and I wanted my mom.  Despite the fact that she lives 3 hours away, she immediately said that she would be at our house by the evening and would stay all weekend to help us.

My second thought was where our daughter could spend the day while we dealt with the immediate emergency in front of us.  This was a Friday morning, so most people would be at work.  Luckily for us, several of her friends' parents would be home that day.  We texted the parents of a friend from Girl Scouts, and they invited our daughter over for the rest of the day.  It was such a relief to drop her off and see her run into their house, and to know that she would be happy and well cared for that day.


My mother-in-law is doing much better, and the doctors say she can come home tomorrow!

During this ordeal, we have had so much to be grateful for.  Besides the wonderful doctors, nurses, and nurse's aides who have taken such good care of her, we have a community of people to thank.  First, my own mother, who drove 3 hours each way to care for us and our daughter while we did our best to care for my mother-in-law.  Second, the kind family who took care of our daughter during those frightening hours we spent in the ER.  Third, my spouse's employer and coworkers, who have been more than generous and supportive while she struggled to care for her mother while also keeping her commitments at work.

Investments that pay off

During this time I have also been grateful for the investments we have made that have paid off, and I wanted to pass along our experience so that you, too, can make wise investments.

Invest in...

  • your community.  The family that took care of our daughter while we were in the ER was a family from our Girl Scout troop.  I have been the troop leader for three years.  I am a big believer in giving back to your community for many reasons, and one of them is that we all benefit by creating a web of interdependence.  We have spun a web from volunteering with the Girl Scouts, getting to know our neighbors, being involved in our church, and reaching out to other parents at our daughter's school, among other things.  
  • your career.  Don't just pick a job based on the salary.  My spouse works for a non-profit that allowed her flexibility while we were dealing with this crisis, and she has enough vacation time that she could take time off to be with her mom at the hospital.  In addition, she has worked for this organization for almost 20 years, and has proven herself to be a valuable employee, so she has earned their trust, which enabled her to be flexible.
  • yourself.  We have been using the "pay yourself first" method of savings for many, many years.  When you have money automatically transferred to savings, 401(k), IRA, and money market accounts as soon as (or before, as in the case of employer-sponsored 401(k) plans) your pay check hits your checking account, you are paying yourself before you pay any other bills, and before you can spend the money frivolously on "wants."  Because of this, we have built up a sizable emergency fund, which is important when the unexpected happens.  But we weren't the ones in the hospital, so why did we need money?  The hospital we visited was in the city, and parking was a minimum of $8 a day, and averaged more like $25 a day.  On top of that, while we spent long hours at the hospital we got hungry and had to eat at the hospital cafeteria every day.  Also factor in gas for trips to and from the hospital, as well as items we had to buy individually while we were there for a huge markup (the jokes about $8 aspirins are not far off the mark).  We also bought bagels for the nursing staff one day in appreciation for the wonderful care they provided.  And, while she was laid up we bought groceries for my mother-in-law as well as picking up and paying for all of her prescriptions.  She later reimbursed us for her groceries and medicines, but we didn't have to worry about where the money was going to come from in the meantime, like we would have if we lived paycheck to paycheck.
  • health insurance.  I am not an expert on the Affordable Care Act, but the intent is to make health insurance affordable for everyone.  If at all possible, invest in health insurance.  Without health insurance my mother-in-law would probably be facing a bill of $100,000.  One of the medicines she was prescribed would have cost $800 for just a two-weeks' supply without insurance.  With her insurance it was only $8.  There is a lot to be said about our country's broken health care system, but all I will say is that you need health insurance.
Most of all, know that things will go wrong.  If you make the right investments, it will feel a lot less like a catastrophe.
*I am not a medical professional and will use all manner of incorrect terms in this post.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

How Did You Retire at 43??

Wait ... what???

The Official Dilbert Website featuring Scott Adams Dilbert strips, animations and more

Last week I announced to my employer that I was going to be retiring at the beginning of June.  Reactions were mixed, but mostly dumbfounded.  How could I be retiring?  I was only 43.  What did I plan to do with myself?  How would I support myself?  What if the stock market dropped?  Did I win the lottery?

I'm going to give you a sneak peek to the end of the article, so if you don't read anything else, just read this:

Here is the simple solution for retiring:

Stop buying so much shit!!

OK, now that we've gotten that out of the way....

The key is getting out of the consumerist trap.  I'll cover how to do this in subsequent blog posts, but, if you can free yourself from consumer culture, you can easily retire by the time you're 40, or before that if you are a high income earner.  People who say that they "can't retire" usually have one or more of the following:
  • multiple electronic devices such as iPads, XBoxes, laptops, iPhones, big-screen HDTVs or other toys that they trade up every year or so.
  • unlimited data plans for the $400 phones so that everyone in the family can text, talk, and surf the internet at all times without restriction.
  • cable packages for $200 or more per month so they can DVR or OnDemand over 1000 channels.
  • shiny new cars, trucks, or SUVs that get terrible gas mileage, that are purchased with 6-year financing (or, perhaps even worse, leased), that they drive 60 miles or more each way to work.  Work, by the way, that they are doing so they can afford to drive their shiny new status symbol.
  • giant McMansions deliberately purchased far from the places where employment is located, so that the "owners" of the 30-year jumbo loans can live in the country.  Except, of course, that they're never in their underwater albatrosses because they are always at work to pay for them, so they don't really "live" there at all.  And, naturally, they must have their shiny new SUVs (see above) to drive an hour or more each way to a house with a square footage 3 times or more of a single family home of the 1950s. 
  • Coach or other "designer" purses, shoes, and clothing.
  • climate-controlled storage units that they rent for $150 or more per month so that all of the stuff they've accumulated that won't fit in the McMansion will be nice and cozy during the winter, and not too stuffy during the summer.
And why do they have all of these status symbols?  "Because I deserve it."  "Because I work so hard / work so much."  They are saying that they deserve to be slaves to things.

This defies logic -- I am miserable because of the job I hate, working with people I don't like, for a boss I don't respect, doing work that I don't care about, and spending frustrating hours in traffic every day driving to and from so I can buy things so I can get in my car the next day to start the cycle all over again.

So the solution to our unhappiness is to buy things that will make us feel better temporarily.  Of course, the things that make us feel better temporarily then trap us into more work so that we can pay for them.  We are like crack addicts who will trade our lives away for the next brief high.

This is the part from the beginning that I liked so much I had to write it twice:

Here is the simple solution for retiring:

Stop buying so much shit!!

It doesn't actually make you happy and it ensures that you will be a slave to your employer until they decide they don't want you around any more.  When that day comes (and it will come as long as you are living in 21st century America), do you want to be sitting in your over-leveraged house surrounded by the stuff that put you in $15,000 credit card debt*, thinking about the career that you still owe $33,000 in student loan debt* for, and knowing that you are only one paycheck away from homelessness, just like 1/3 of all Americans**?

Or do you want to be contemplating your healthy stash of "FU" money that stands between you and whatever life throws at you?

*debt figures from

Monday, April 21, 2014

Your community: your strongest resource

The Amish Way

When I was growing up I was always surrounded by my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.  My grandparents had been raised Amish, but had become Mennonite.  My mom and her eight brothers and sisters were raised Mennonite.  None of them remained with the Mennonite church into adulthood, but our family retained many of the values of these close-knit communities.

We were always helping each other with something.  My uncles came and helped my dad put a new roof on our house one year.  Another year we helped my aunt and uncle paint their house.  My grandpa, a mechanic, changed the oil in our cars.  My cousin, a beautician, gave us hair cuts and perms at a reduced cost.  My aunts would come over and help my mom paint and hang wallpaper.  We also helped each other with canning and preserving the produce of our large gardens.

Take the Time to Cultivate your Community

When I was growing up I thought everyone had this supportive community that helped each other and shared their talents.  It was a shock to me when I met people who would never ask for help.  It was also a shock when I learned that so many people don't even know their neighbors.  I have found that my neighbors and the members of my community are a resource in so many ways.

I moved away from my home town almost 20 years ago, so I'm no longer able to give and receive help from my family, but in every neighborhood where I've lived since, my spouse and I have enjoyed a close relationship with our neighbors that transcends age, background, race, socio-economic status, and sexual orientation.  By cultivating these connections and interdependence, you can have a richer life in every sense of the word.

Be Willing to Give

First and foremost, if you want to create a community of interdependence, you have to be willing to give with no expectation of receiving anything.  For example, our next door neighbors have a daughter who is the same age as ours, and the girls go to school together.  Before we moved into the neighborhood, our neighbors would have to pay a babysitter or "aftercare" at school to take care of their daughter from 3:30 to 6 p.m. on school days.  After we moved in, I offered to take care of their daughter along with my own, as I was home from work in time to get the girls off of the bus.  My neighbors generously offered to pay me for taking care of their daughter, but I would not accept payment.  It was a pleasure and a privilege to care for their daughter.  My daughter, an only child, enjoyed her company, as did I.  In addition, my daughter was happily occupied after they had done their homework, and I was able to use that time to make dinner or just to relax after a long day at work.  When my neighbors would thank me, I would thank them earnestly in return because I really felt they were doing ME a favor!

Be Willing to Take

Over time circumstances have changed, and our neighbors no longer need us to watch their daughter in the afternoons because one of them is usually home when she gets off the bus.  But we have developed an interdependence that makes all of our lives easier.  We take turns taking the girls to school in the morning.  If either my neighbor or I is not going to be home in time to meet the bus in the afternoon, we can text each other and ask if our daughter can stay with her friend until we get home.  When our daughters are involved in the same activity, we can share rides.  Now we not only have a satisfying relationship with our neighbors, but all of us have benefited financially as well, as none of us have to pay for aftercare or the extra gas for duplicate trips.

Don't Worry about Coming out Even

My best friend when I was growing up was an only child, and she was so concerned about making everything "fair" that when she poured us drinks she would carefully pour the drinks from glass to glass until they were exactly even.  I don't know if it was because I had two younger sisters, or because I had come from this family where we shared and didn't care about "fairness", but I always thought this leveling was unnecessary.

A member of a different part of my family reminds me of this childhood friend.  She never wants to owe anyone anything, even the return of a favor from her own daughter.  To me this is tragic in so many ways.  By doing things for each other we recognize our interdependence, we build strong bonds, and we are not alone in our time of need.

Besides the obvious financial benefits these strong community bonds also keep us healthier.*  Specifically, doing good for others makes us happier.**  So, as long as you don't feel that someone is taking advantage of your good will, the more you can give of yourself, the more benefit you receive.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Reinvent Yourself! Part I

Stuck in a Rut

When you were a kid did you think, "When I'm a grown-up I'm going to waste every Sunday evening feeling depressed about spending another week in an airless cubicle staring at a computer screen all day!  Woohoo!"  I'm guessing you didn't.  My 9-year-old daughter thinks she might want to be an artist or a veterinarian or a comedian.  My neighbor's daughter wants to be a diplomat.   If you were like me you might have fantasized about being a writer, teacher, or scientist.  My best friends wanted to be spies, marine biologists, and actors.

You might even have practiced your chosen field.  I got a tiny microscope from the Sears catalog for Christmas one year and spent all summer examining the local plant life up close.  My friend David made spy badges for us so we could practice spying on the other kids at recess.  I wrote constantly.  I still remember my first book, written when I was five years old, about a lazy polliwog.  It was called "Log the Polliwog."  So why did we stop dreaming about what we really wanted and settle for a dreary 9-to-5 existence?

Letting the Days Go By

Sometimes we don't know what we want.  Sometimes we do, but it seems too impractical, or it doesn't measure up to others' expectations.  Or maybe you tried out your dream job and it wasn't all you thought it would be.

That's what happened to me.  Twice.

First, I had always wanted to be a college professor.  It combined my loves of teaching, reading, and writing, and I was in love with the romantic vision of academia I had gained from my undergraduate experience at a small, private, liberal arts school.  I started out by getting my master's degree in English from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.  I loved the school, the students, and the professors.  I loved teaching there and felt truly nurtured and encouraged as an academic and could picture myself in a rosy future as an intellectual.

Then I began work on my PhD in English at another, more elite institution, and the magic seemed to wear off.  I wasn't enjoying the teaching there, and my classes were uninspiring.   I also realized that my chances of getting a tenure-track job were poor, and, if I did get such a job, I would have little choice about where in the country I lived; I would have to go wherever I could get a job.  In the end, I felt like my education was killing my will to live.  After three semesters in my PhD program I took a leave of absence and never returned.  A few months after I left my PhD program sent me a master's in the mail for "time served."

My second career 

My second career has lasted 16 years.  I took what many considered a 180 from my career as an English PhD student and entered the field of Information Technology.  I got another master's degree in Information Systems and have held positions variously as a web developer, systems analyst, project manager, department manager, and business intelligence analyst.  As long as I was learning and being challenged I was happy.

My next career?

After 16 years in IT I find myself burnt out, fed up with corporate culture, and ready for a new challenge.  What will it be?

Discover how you can find your next career in part 2 of this post, coming soon!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Nice house ... too bad it's costing you your health, sanity, and happiness

The Perfect Life

In 2010 we seemed to have it all.  We had a healthy, bright 5-year-old daughter who was the light of our lives.  My spouse was working at a non-profit that she loved, and had steadily worked up the ladder to become a manager.  I had just landed a six-figure IT job the summer before, and was working in a beautiful new office.  Five years before we had purchased our dream home:  a 1920s craftsman style 3,600 square foot beauty in a leafy suburb.  Everything was going according to plan.  I was miserable.

The six-figure dream job was a living hell.  The stress was horrible, my boss was erratic and a terrible manager, and the company culture was so dysfunctional that I often went an entire day without anyone so much as saying "hello" to me.  But I was trapped.  We had two car loans, two student loans, expensive daycare,a huge house, and we had financed furniture to fill that huge home.


At $1,500 a month the mortgage on the house was not that bad, since Pittsburgh is such an affordable area.  However, the maintenance on the house was killing us.  Since we both worked so much and had a young daughter, we were paying $200 a month for someone else to clean the house.  We were also paying someone $100 a month to take care of the yard.  Our heating and cooling costs were high because it was such a large house, and the gorgeous old windows were not energy efficient.  And the house had constant plumbing and electrical problems.  One spring we had to replace the entire sewer pipe to the tune of $9,000.  Since our whole back yard had been dug up to replace the pipe we had to hire landscapers to re-shape and reseed the yard for thousands more dollars.

On top of the housing expenses our lifestyle was costing us an arm and a leg because we were too stressed and tired to do simple things like cooking our own meals.  We turned to our old standbys to relieve us of the stress and unhappiness of our lives:  eating out, shopping, and cable TV.  Our house became cluttered with the results of our unnecessary shopping, and our bodies bore the brunt of too much take-out and television, and not enough exercise.

Something had to give

No matter how many times I ran the numbers I could not figure out how to quit my job and maintain this lifestyle.  Something had to give.  One Friday I left my job and never went back.  Two weeks later I started working as a consultant at a company where my new coworkers welcomed me with open arms and my manager treated me like a human being.  I was blissfully happy even though I had taken a huge pay cut.

Still, I never wanted to feel that horrible trapped feeling again.  We had to cut our expenses so that we would have choices.  We sold the beautiful house and moved into a small 1960s ranch.

Mortgage free at 43

The new house is 1/3 the size of the old.  It does not make people gasp when they enter the front door.  It is not beautiful.  But, as of September of this year it will be paid off.  And it's small enough that we can clean the whole thing ourselves in about an hour, our utility bills are 1/3 of what they were in the bigger house, and we have the freedom to make choices.  I never have to be trapped in a high-paying nightmare again.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Lose Your Cable and Gain Your Financial Freedom

You did what??

Seven months ago we did the unthinkable:  we cancelled our cable.  Our cable plus phone plus internet had grown to over $200 per month, and I realized that we were spending $2,400 per year for TV!  Even worse, that $200 per month compounded at 7% over 10 years is $34,600!  

$34,600 for TV?

If we take that $200 per month and invest it at an average rate of return of 7%, at the end of 10 years that luxury will have become worth $34,600.  If your salary is $34,600 (after taxes, of course), you would be working for one full year out of every ten, just to pay for cable TV!!

But what could we do?  We are an average, TV-loving family.  We have friends who do not even own TVs, but we are not that family.  We are the flat-screen owning, DVR-ing, OnDemand watching family.

Streaming Services to the Rescue

Since we didn't want to give up TV completely we investigated the possibilities of streaming services.  I had thought you could only stream them to your computer, and I had visions of us huddled around a laptop trying to watch Dirty Dancing.  It wasn't a pretty picture.  But what I found was that there are a number of subscription services available, and you can stream them from any Blu-ray DVD player or internet streaming device such as a Roku and watch them on your TV.  To watch on your Blu-ray player, just hook up the DVD player as you normally would, and look for the streaming options on the on-screen DVD player menu.  To watch on a Roku or other streaming device, just follow the simple instructions included with the device to connect it to your TV and select the "channels" you subscribe to on the Roku on-screen menu.

There are many streaming services out there, but here are the ones that we tried and enjoyed.


For $7.99 a month you get commercial-free TV shows and movies.  There is a huge catalog of movies and plenty of television shows to watch.  Netflix does not include the current seasons of shows on cable right now, but it does include past seasons of thousands of shows.  Netflix has also started producing its own series, and they are fantastic.  They produced another season of Arrested Development after the networks cancelled it, and they produced the original drama series Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards.  In addition, I have discovered many great British series on Netflix, such as Doc Martin.

Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime includes both a streaming commercial-free service and free two-day shipping from Amazon.  At $99 per year, it's a steal.  Not only do you get a huge library of television shows and movies that you get for free through Amazon Prime, you also get access to other shows and movies you can rent or buy.  As soon as movies come out on video you can rent them from Amazon Prime, usually for a price comparable to OnDemand cable services.

Hulu Plus

For $7.99 per month you can watch new episodes of current series the day after they air on television.  Hulu Plus does show commercials during the shows, but there are fewer than what you have to watch during a broadcast of the show.  I have found that I rarely watch Hulu Plus, but my spouse likes it.

An Old-Fashioned Antenna

Remember these?  So many of us have gotten used to paying for TV we've forgotten that it's still being broadcast over the airwaves for free, and in HD no less!  The picture quality of broadcast HD television is excellent -- much better than cable.  Why?  Because to deliver thousands of channels to your home the cable company has to compress the signal, which degrades the quality.  Not so for broadcast television.  The first time we hooked up an antenna to our HD TV and watched a football game we were blown away by the picture quality.  Depending on where you live you may need to put the antenna on your roof.  This reminds me of the old days when my Uncle Frankie used to climb onto the roof to turn the antenna in his underwear.  Luckily they lived out in the boonies so no one could see him, but my Aunt Geve was always worried that if he fell off the roof the EMTs would see him lying outside in his underwear.  I do not recommend this, by the way.

The Drawbacks

The biggest drawback we have found is for sports fans.  As long as your local broadcast stations are airing your game, it's no problem.  Just hook up your antenna and you're good to go.  But what about when the game is being carried by Root Sports, ESPN, the NFL Channel, or some other cable channel?  Well, especially during the hockey playoffs you'll want to make sure you've been nice to your neighbors, friends, and relations for the rest of the year.  ;-)

The Savings

Between Hulu Plus, Netflix, and Amazon Prime we are spending roughly $24.25 per month on television, a difference of $175.75 per month from the $200 we used to spend.  Not bad!  Compounded at 7% for 10 years, that's a savings of $30,404.75!  In other words, we are saving enough just from cutting cable to fund one full year of retirement.  Over the next 20 years we will have funded two full years of retirement.  And we not only get to watch TV, we have a HUGE catalog of shows to watch!

What other small changes add up to BIG retirement savings?  Stay tuned!