All about the challenges of Midlife Finance

Cable: What’s In It For You?

    According to the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, more than 62 million households subscribed to cable in 2010. More than 70% of those subscribers were watching it digitally. If that sounds like a lot, consider how many households were paying for cable worldwide back then — more than 430 million! Those numbers haven’t gone anywhere but up.

Is it worth it? 

Depends.

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     First and foremost, do you need it? Do you:

*really like sports?

(Many games are only available on cable — or online versions are spotty)

*use news, documentaries and other ‘real-life’ shows to help educate yourself?

(the rest of the your family, especially children, could be in on this)

*crave certain shows? (I have friends who would practically kill for  the latest

                      Dancing With the Stars or Downton Abbey)

*not mind commercials? (You’ll see a lot of them)

*enjoy movie channels? (although classics like AMC now bother you regularly

with commercials, umpteen previews of upcoming shows, etc etc.)

*watch a lot of television, anyways? (say, 20 or more hours a week)

Next, can you afford it? Do you:

*have $35-75 monthly in your budget that’s not needed elsewhere?

(some of this amount could be argued for, if you also use cable for internet access)

*have your credit cards paid off?

*have a healthy amount already in your emergency fund?

(One to three months salary is a good starting point)

               *have the fortitude to hold out for discounts or the best price possible?

                      (You should be dickering with the cable company rep)

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If you find yourself craving what you really can’t afford, there are alternatives.

*Try another provider for less. Amazon Prime (you also get free shipping!), Netflix, Hulu and other companies give you a thick layer of television series, movies and documentaries to choose from. The good news: you’ll get full seasons of shows, with no commercials to put up with. (Helloo, binge viewing!) Vintage tv series are often included, as well as current ones. Netflix, for example, not only has Blue Bloods and Frasier, but childhood favorites like The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show...and Star Trek.

You can often watch these not only on your television or laptop, but your IPhone, too. There’s also generally a wide number of subjects to choose from, including holiday favorites.

The bad news: you probably will have to wait for the current season to air. (Frustrating.) Some offerings may go offline before you’ve had a chance to watch them. And new items may not load as quickly as you wish.

Nearly all of these companies give you a 30-day free preview. That’s enough time to look over what’s available, and decide if you want to stay. You can also cancel reasonably easily, once you do subscribe. (Tip: Instead of crappy ties or other schlock, ask for a gift card to one of these places for your birthday or Christmas, instead.)

     *Check the channel’s website. The History Channel has current episodes for its signature shows (changed weekly), everything from Top Shot to Ice Road Truckers and Swamp People. We watched The Walking Dead the same way, as well. (Until they started charging for individual episodes — now we’re waiting for the season’s worth.)

     *Get it from the library. I’ve checked out everything from The Mentalist to Rawhide from the library — with three weeks to watch. If you’ve got a DVD or Blu-Ray player, the discs are there whenever you’re ready for them. (Our local library sells its used DVDs in the book sale room — I just bought a season’s worth of The Office there for a measly buck.)

*Keep it in your library. Amazon, Ebay and other online sellers have literally thousands of different movies and series to choose from. Many are quite reasonable, too — less than $20.

Major retailers like Wal-Mart and Target are also ramping up their video offerings. From the regular $5 bin at Wal-Mart, to the $10.99 series and dollar movie specials on Black Friday, you can amass quite a collection in no time.

     *Watch games with friends — even if you just met them. In our neck of the woods, we have good friends who are fanatic about watching the Denver Broncos. And for a platter of appetizers, plus appropriate apparel, they’re more than happy to share the experience with us.

But if they weren’t willing, we would head for the local sports bar or restaurant. For the price of a beer, we’ve got the chance to cheer…or boo, as the case may be.

(Note: sometimes these games are available online — but we’ve had trouble with the game freezing up regularly during transmission. We’ve also picked up the potential for some nasty viruses this way; thank God for protection programs.)

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  *Get an antennae. Regular network programming is still available without cable — and with a clear enough view, you can pick it up. It depends on the region, though. Although networks have stations in Denver, Colorado, for example, it’s nearly impossible to see them clearly — the hills and mountains in our home state get in the way. On the other hand, our brother in Grand Rapids, Michigan has his pick.

Should you have cable at your place? (Or a satellite dish, as the case may be.)  

 The answer could still be yes — but make sure you think it through. Other options, or a mixture, might do just as well, for a lot less.

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