Archives For June 2015

The time is finally here:  when technology, innovation and convenience catch up to the annoyance of paying high cable bills. It’s time to cut cable!

When we moved to Dallas a year ago, we signed up for a one year contract with AT&T Uverse (200 channels) and internet for $108/month. It wasn’t too painful as I need a good internet connection for work and we got most of the basic channels we watch. Admittedly, 90% of our cable watching was concentrated on three channels – ESPN, HGTV and Comedy Central, but luckily AT&T gave us 197 other channels to choose from too just in case we got experimental.

I knew our contract was up June 23rd, and I even put a reminder on my calendar to make sure I didn’t miss this important date when our rates were sure to increase. And increase they did – our $109/month jumped to $175 per month! Luckily, I had already been prepared to make the jump.

Here’s how we approached cutting the cord and finally moving off of cable.

1. Installing the OTA antenna

First, I’ve been working on my OTA (over the air antenna) solution for about a month. As we’re in central Dallas, I thought a cheap interior antenna would be enough, but it didn’t get us any channels. After some research, I decided to go with this outdoor antenna for around $100.

Come installation time is when cutting cable gets challenging, because you have to do it yourself! For me, this meant crawling through my itchy, insulated attic in the middle of a hot summer day and fishing cables through walls and through a roof vent. I should have planned better – like two months previous during spring.

Luckily, my chimney already had a bracket for an antenna so I didn’t have to install a new one. I got our bedroom television hooked up and when I originally tested it, we only received a few channels. It was pretty disappointing after nearly dying from heat exhaustion in the attic. I did some more research and found exactly where to point the antenna. This helped quite a bit, and I got most of the major networks.

We have a second television in the living room and after I saw the decent reception I ordered a splitter and a second coax cable. Then I crawled back up into the attic, installed the splitter and once again fished a new line down a different wall in the middle of a hot summer day. As before, it would’ve helped if I did this two months earlier and at the same time as the first one! I turned on the second television and the results were pretty disappointing – only half the channels of the first television. The second television was further away and older, so it wasn’t getting a strong signal.

I did some more research and bought an amplifier. After Amazon faithfully delivered it in two days, I installed it, hoping it would miraculously fix the second television and make all of my sweaty attic crawling worth it. It didn’t, and actually it made the only working channels worse. Apparently if you’re close enough to the towers, an amplifier can actually mess up the signal.

The next thing to check was if my antenna was high enough. So I searched around the house and shed and found a metal bar we intended to use as a curtain rod but haven’t installed yet (I hope my wife doesn’t read this). I crawled back up on the roof (in the evening, see I learn) and installed it. I came back in, hoping for a miracle… and… it worked!!! Both televisions now get all of the major networks over the air!

But what about ESPN and HGTV?

Good question, and my other major concern. Luckily, the good folks at Dish have it figured out. You can now pay $20/month for streaming television delivered over your internet! There are no contracts and they include a lot of good channels (ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS, Travel, HGTV, CNN, etc). We’ve had the service for a few days, so of course I have some initial thoughts:

  • The interface is just ok and takes some time getting used to scrolling through the channels
  • It can be a little slow and take a few seconds to react as you change channels
  • It has been a little glitchy and sometimes shows will cut out (inevitably, it will happen on ESPN during the biggest play of the year)
  • You need a streaming device to watch it (Roku, Amazon Fire, etc) and if you sign up and pre-pay three months they’ll actually give you a free one!

Are we actually saving any money?

Here’s what I spent:

  • Antenna (with a coax cable) plus a second 50 ft coax cable = $112.98
  • Splitter = $8
  • Amplifier (which I’ll return) = $15.99

Total = $136.97

Roku = $20/month

I’ll run two comparisons, one using my previous Uverse charge and one with my new charge:

  • Previous Uverse charge = $60/month
  • New Uverse charge = $108/month

It will take me 5 months to break even on the previous Uverse charge, even when factoring in the $20/month I pay for Roku. When comparing against the $108/month for my new Uverse charge, it will take less than 1.5 months to break even!!

It was more work than I thought it would be, but in the end it will be worth it. Also, we have Amazon Prime and sometimes we “borrow” my mother in law’s Netflix account, so we have a lot additional television and movie streaming options.

The only thing we’re missing still is a DVR. If it becomes too painful not having this, I found a DVR solution I can buy on Amazon for about $250 total. This would take our break even to 11 months, so hopefully we can live without it.

Little sacrifices like this are what enables you take take control of your money, and now it’s easier than ever. Have you – or are you planning to – cut the cord?

As more people in the US and other Western countries turn away from unhealthy things like cigarettes and sugary drinks, companies have been forced to move advertising dollars to places like Mexico and the Philippines where the negativity of their products can be overpowered by their advertising.  Instead of focusing on healthy products and bringing change to the world, they’d rather just keep selling the same crap but to a new crowd.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “Sales of soft drinks have been falling for years as consumers scale back amid concerns about health. Soda consumption in the U.S. slid 1% in 2014 to 12.76 billion gallons, the 10th straight yearly decline.”

One beauty of capitalism is companies and brands live or die by their ability to evolve. This evolution can either take the form of changing their products to better meet customer demand or by changing their customer demand to better meet their products. In Coca Cola’s case, they’re doing a combination of both. According to the same Wall Street Journal article, Coca Cola said, “It plans to cut its calories per liter 10% by 2020 as consumers continue a shift toward more healthy beverage options.”

The only other steps they’re taking in the US are to reduce beverages sizes and to continue to add additional healthier drinks to their portfolio. To me, it’s pretty obvious their main plan is to keep their soda the same and develop a new customer base.

This became apparent to us on our recent visit to the Yucatan Peninsula when we drove through tiny towns where small brick and adobe houses line the dusty streets. Commercialization was hard to find outside of the very popular Volkswagen Bugs (the cool old ones) and the occasional bank advertisement. However, evidence of a recent infiltrator has popped up in the form of giant advertisements painted on the side of the small adobe shops in each town.

There it was – a giant add for Coca Cola.Coca Cola Mexico

It seems innocent enough, after all, I enjoy a nice cold coke every now and then. However, it seems less innocent when you see a six year old hugging a one liter bottle of Coca Cola as he walks down the street smiling – with teeth that are already rotting away from the lack of hygiene and current sugar consumption. I’m sure dental hygiene was already a problem in these small Mexican towns, but thanks to the advertisements of Coke it will certainly propagate.

That, in my opinion, is why Coca Cola loves poor people. It works to their advantage to have under informed customers who aren’t aware of the negative effects of their products. That’s why they’re moving to less developed countries where information is easier to control and they can spend enough on advertising to keep their pipeline open and flowing. It will only continue to get harder for them in the US and other more developed countries where people like me can whine all day on blogs about the evils of Coca Cola!

This abuse of information used by Coca Cola to keep people doing harmful things is a very well developed practice by companies and advertisers. In fact, many companies currently thrive in the US by taking advantage of poor people. I know I’m quickly jumping to some dangerous conclusions by directly associating poor people with under educated consumers who are being taken advantage, but I do believe it to be one big reason for people staying poor. Of course, there are lots of other reasons like bad situations and bad luck, but many times we make our own decisions to be poor.

In my last post, I expressed my disbelief as new trucks have jumped into the $40,000 – $60,000 range, and found through further research that many people are buying these with 7-8 year loans. Do you think rich people are the people getting these loans or is it the people who barely have enough money to make the payments (and hence won’t be able to save money, and will lead to them staying poor)? Most rich people are rich because they know how to make smart financial decisions. They aren’t the ones who frequent payday lenders, pay credit card companies 18% interest rates on more stuff they can’t afford, or fall behind on bills triggering late payment fees.

It actually angers me when I see companies make the majority of their profits by taking advantage of consumers’ lack of financial education. I was poor when I went $50,000 in debt two years out of college, but now that I’m financially educated, I see the really bad mistakes I made. I’ve spent the last 8 years learning about money and how it works to make sure I’m never again labeled as one of the poor people funding CEO retirement packages. That’s the best news out of all of this, many people can quickly change their situation by learning how to control money.

I’ve often considered investing in Coca Cola, but I just can’t bring myself to do it for the same reasons I don’t invest in Phillip Morris. At the very best they are only harming people but at the very worst they are killing people. Coca Cola may not be in the same ballpark as cigarette makers, but when you see the long term effects drinking it has, it definitely contributes to a poorer life. Learn to take control of your money so these companies don’t love you!

Lately, I’ve had new truck fever. Maybe it’s because I have a beard and sometimes wear flannel… although last weekend my brother warned me of the “Lumbersexual” phenomenon sweeping the country so maybe the fever is due to a broader epidemic.

Lumbersexual Al_the original

Al was the original Lumbersexual.

Regardless of the cause, in the last 4-6 months, four of my friends have bought new trucks: two Ford F150’s, a Toyota Tundra, and a Chevrolet 1500. Man, they’re all sweet trucks. They’re big and powerful enough to pull the space shuttle or to carry a new bedroom set from Ikea (the more likely scenario for truck owners). They’re rough, rugged and very sharp.

Halfway through my deciding which one I would want to buy, I started looking at prices. HOLY CRAP, have you seen the price of new trucks lately?!? The cost of a new F150 Platinum edition is roughly equivalent to the entire Gross Domestic Product of Nicaragua! Seriously, when did trucks get so expensive?!

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you know this only adds to my rants against new cars. It all started because I bought a brand new Nissan Xterra one year out of college that nearly sunk me and it’s continued since then when I’ve purchased all my new(er) cars for cash.

Seriously people, new trucks now cost somewhere between $45k – $60k! I’m sure it’s easy to go above that, but I can’t even bring myself to type it on the screen. This is an absurd amount and hopefully my friends who read my blog will skip this post – seriously though, don’t take it personal, I make people angry all of the time by my poor writing. Also, I know that most of them can afford it (based on the 20% rule) and that a couple of them even paid cash (nice work!!).

So how are so many Americans affording these super-expensive trucks? Some might actually be able to afford them, but according to Experian, the majority of them are taking out RIDICULOUS 6-7 years loans:

The percentage of loans with terms of between 73 and 84 months also reached a new high of 29.5% in the first quarter of 2015, up from 24.9% a year earlier

 

You might tell me it’s a smart use of money because it’s such a low interest rate, but I’ll tell you I think that’s complete BS. Why? Because people buy things based on how much of a monthly payment they can afford, not on total cost. This means too many people will take out a loan on something they can’t afford just to do the same in three years when they get car fever again, but this time they have to roll over the amount they still owe on their car into their new car loan. It traps people in debt and it’s only getting worse.

Buy cars for cash and you skip any issues of buying more than you can afford.

One of my friends is appealing to my practical side and recommending a Honda Ridgeline, but I don’t think that’d earn me the Lumbersexual card. I’ll keep my high-mileage, paid for cars and continue to build up the war chest for next moves.