Money Management


It has now been a little over three years since I cut the TV cable cord and I figured I’d give everyone an update on how things have changed and progressed over that time.

First and foremost the most exciting thing to happen is the final realization from companies like HBO and Showtime that there is money to be made by offering stand alone streaming services.   In the past you could only get streaming if you had some type of cable TV subscription to HBO or Showtime but in 2015 that has all started to change!

Let’s take a look at my setup and I’ll run you through some other options.

Step 1 – Hardware

When I cut the cord a few years ago there were many limited device options.  At the time the two major devices were the Apple TV and the Roku devices.   At the time I owned both and each had their pros and cons.   Today there are many more devices with a few other options.   Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire Stick/TV have started to garner larger acceptance.   To read reviews you can click here.   You can now also stream content to gaming devices such as a Playstation 4 or Xbox One.

Personally I have most of the devices listed above and use them for different reasons.

The Roku is my family’s primary device.  The Roku device itself I always considered rather primitive but it does the job well enough that I can’t really complain.   You essentially setup “apps” inside the Roku that will stream content to you from a particular provider.

The Amazon stick is great if your traveling and you can plug in to a hotel TV to stream content while you’re sitting in a hotel working.

The Apple TV is what we use to watched purchased movies through iTunes.    We don’t buy DVDs or BluRay discs anymore just keep everything in the cloud and stream it to the device.  There is no danger of a disc getting scratched and it will live forever in the cloud as I plan on passing on my iTunes account to my kids or grandkids!

Step 2 – The Streaming Services

We stream content from HuluPlus ($7.99/month), Netflix ($7.99/month), Amazon Prime (Free with Prime),  I recently added Showtime to my HuluPlus for an additional $8.99/month.   So for $25/month I have access to more content than I will ever be able to watch because these services are constantly adding new shows as time goes on.    Compare this to paying $65+ or more on a monthly basis for cable channels that you never watch and it makes complete and total sense to cut the cord.   What really annoys me though are the superfluous charges for “HD service”, “DVR”, “cable rental fee” that simply don’t exist with streaming services.

I also currently have HBO go as part of my Internet service under a 12 month plan.  When that offer expires I plan on adding the HBO Now service for an additional $15/month or hold off until it rebuilds their content warehouse and switch between Showtime and HBO year over year.

The Limitations

There currently are some limitations to this system though.  The most blatant one I get grief about are sports.  ESPN currently doesn’t offer a stand alone streaming service that is comparable to what is on cable so if you are a huge sports fan you’re a bit out of luck with this system.    The second one are specialty shows like HGTV or Disney that the wife and kids may want to watch.   There are services that do fill a partial gap such as Sling.com that offers a $20 bundle that gives you a few of those channels including ESPN but the major limitation is that it only offers streaming on one device at a time so you won’t be able to watch ESPN on one TV while watching HGTV on another.

I suspect that cable companies are going to have a “come to customer” moment and be forced to offer a-la-carte channel selections or better bundles more competitively priced in 2016 if they wish to keep more people from cutting the cord.

The Future

Rumors are that Apple will release a new Apple TV with some exciting content streaming services so the playing field will become even more competitive than ever just stay tuned and watch…

 

As some of you know, a couple of years ago I gave my kids an ultimatum.   If you want iphones you must give up cable TV.   Every year since I gave them this ultimatum I offer them the chance to give up their phones and get cable back but every year they refuse.    Watching TV on our Roku and Apple TV devices is now an ingrained way of life for the whole family.   Generally speaking, we’re usually a season or two behind the current season since I just finished watching the last season of Breaking Bad as an example.

Where I think Hulu does a GREAT job is bringing new shows and content from around the world.   I can now watch shows from the UK and Latin America that I’ve never seen before.   My current crop of shows that I enjoy watching include PramFace, The Booth and the End, Endgame, and a day doesn’t go by when I find something new that I haven’t watched.  I’m getting ready to start watching British TV show “In the Thick of It” soon which promises to be quite funny.

Perhaps these shows are available on cable TV or perhaps they are not, the one thing I am sure of is that I can’t stand paying for 100 channels of ESPN or 100 channels of cartoons when I barely watch sports or cartoon TV.   Even better yet however is that HuluPlus always has the shows I want to watch when I want to watch them, I just click a button and it streams it to my TV, no need for DVR, no need to schedule recordings, no need to worry about running out of disk space, no need to do anything but just click to watch.

If you want to save some money, try dumping your cable TV, there are more and more options everyday!

Cable TV is undergoing some strange turns lately but it is a good indication that cable TV has become relatively worthless.   I keep seeing commercials from Comcast and AT&T which highlight the benefits of their service.

For Comcast, it seems to be how many shows you can record at once which seems to now be four.  Really?  You have enough free time to watch four shows?  Presumably, if each show is an hour that’s four hours of TV to put on your “to watch” list and that’s just one day.   If there are seven days in the week and you’re recording 4 shows at once per day then that’s 28 hours of TV shows in one week.   Are Comcast customers clamoring for this nonsense service?   How much TV do these people watch?

For AT&T, it seems watching TV everywhere anywhere with either that wireless receiver so you can take your $3000 65″ LED TV outside in the patio to watch your favorite show or Mark Cuban walking around with his ipad watching TV every step of the way like a stoned idiot.

Let me give both Comcast and AT&T customers a hint, you can watch most of the shows from around the world on a little box called a ROKU with subscription to HuluPlus, Netflix, and Amazon Prime.    These three services will cost you less than $25 per month (assuming you already have internet) and there is no need for a “magic box” that you can take outside to your patio or one that can record 5x shows at once.    And while I haven’t tried Chromecast, the new FireTV from Amazon or some other new products, I’m sure they offer way more than either Comcast or AT&T.

 

 

 

For the last two years I was a Sprint customer with four iPhone 4S devices in our family.   Unfortunately, those phones did not work to well when we visited France, Spain, Italy or the half dozen other places I flew around the world over the year.  While voice service worked sporadically, data was absolutely horrible on Sprint.

I essentially had enough with the international problems but was considering renewing with Sprint simply because I was already there but then lo and behold, T-Mobile offered something I could not pass up – free international data on their plans!

I immediately switched after waiting weeks and weeks for Apple to deliver four new shiny apple iphone 5s devices. With my new service working as awesome as possible even working perfectly when landing in Sweden late last year I started to think about what I could do with my old iPhone 4S devices.

TmobileRocks

I posted a “For Sale” sign on our company’s intranet to see if anyone was interested.  Much to my surprise, I got 12 interested parties wanting the phone but ONLY if they were T-mobile compatible.   Unfortunately, these phones won’t work on T-mobile and will ONLY work on Sprint or some convoluted international networks.

I ultimately did find someone that wanted to purchase two of the phones and then someone else that wanted the third but I still have a fourth phone sitting on my desk now idle.   Had these phones been T-mobile compatible, they would have sold immediately.   The good news is that if I want to upgrade in a couple of years, I know I’ll be able to sell these iPhone 5S devices in no time.

Sorry Sprint, but I won’t ever be coming back to you, your CDMA branded phones have little value in the resale market and that ultimately costs me money which has to be factored into the money equation.

Tmobile will you marry me because it’s looking like you’re gonna be rich.

I got my paycheck stub today and while I have one more pay period before the end of the year, I couldn’t help but notice that when I add up Federal Income Tax, Social Security, and Medicare taxes, it tallies up to a whopping $45,000.  This is just the tax on my paycheck, there are all sorts of other taxes and fees I’ve paid throughout the year and it’s painful to see so much money go down the drain.

Of course, this doesn’t include my wife’s income either which is another huge chunk of money but that’s not even the worse part!   The worst part is that I will have mandatory stock exercises starting in 2015 which will only make the tax situation far worse.

The key of course is to tax plan this year and next and it doesn’t help that I’ve got a kid that will be starting college soon and will need financial aid.  So far, things are not shaping up too well and I’ll hopefully write about some strategies in the near future.

So the Comcast guy came by and installed my new 25mb line with HBO and HBO Go included for a low low price of $39.99.   So far I’m happy with the service and speed and I’ve checked out a couple of movies on HBO GO through my Apple TV and it worked flawlessly.

The only fine print I didn’t read was that the HBO service and Basic Cable TV came with a standard receiver instead of an HD receiver.   The comcast guy offered to upgrade me but that came with a price of course and I declined it because I watch most of my TV through Roku, Apple TV, Netflix and Amazon prime and it’s already piped through at 1080p on my devices.   Overall I think Comcast was being cheap and petty by not automatically offering an HD box with the price already included.

In contrast, I was paying about $54 for ATT Uverse internet only at 12mb (half the speed of Comcast).   The deal is only good for a year so I imagine I’ll be canceling it a year from now and switch to the best deal 12 months from now.

We’re one step close to a-la-carte programming and I’m just happy to not have to subsidize garbage like ESPN, 1000+ cartoon channels and all the other channels I don’t watch on TV.   There is so much content now being produced on a daily basis around the world that channels should cost pennies on the dollar or at least the content should and I see cheaper days ahead for TV viewing.

 

If you’re too stupid to get rid of student loan debt as quickly as you get it in, then you deserve to rot in student loan hell.   I’ve outlined my awesome student loan debt laundering scheme here and since Chase kept sending me ridiculous balance transfer offers for zero percent, I decided I would student-debt-launder my final 10k in student loans through a Chase balance transfer.

I am in my last semester of MBA school now and just plunked down the last 3k payment for tuition and books and feel confident my MBA expenses are coming to a close.   I had intended on using the balance transfer offer to pay off the remaining 8k on my mortgage but quite honestly, that mortgage debt will be gone in a few months anyway.   Overall my debt structure is phenomenally low and my cash balances are strong so that means something terrible is probably about to happen because that’s often how life works….

We’ll see what the next few months holds but rumors are about that there may be massive layoffs at my employer and quite honestly I could use some time off!

So in October it will be two years since I gave my kids an ultimatum, “if you want iPhones, you must give up cable TV” and they opted for the iphones over TV.  Since the two year contract was coming to an end, I asked my kids if they were interested in giving up their iphones to get back the cable TV.   They replied they weren’t interested in cable TV and wanted to know how to upgrade to a new iPhone (5 or 5s).

Of course, I’ve caught my kids countless times watching TV on their phones and whether it’s some free online source or something they purchased on iTunes, their main form of entertainment comes from the computer more than cable TV.

We do have a Roku box which provides access to Amazon Prime, Crackle, Netflix and a few other venues for entertainment as well as an Apple TV from which the kids stream to from their iPhones or iPads so overall we’re not lacking any television but it is an interesting situation.

Ironically, I get stacks of mail from Comcast, AT&T, Dish and others trying to get me to sign up for service.   To be honest, the latest offer I got was very tempting at internet+TV for only $49 for a year as this is less than I pay now for just internet but when I read the fine print and do the math, it’s not $49/month after all.   The “HD service fee” kills the deal for me – why is this even here when I can get all the HD channels FREE with an antenna?    When I add up the receiver rental ($10) and the HD service fee ($10) and other fees, the $49 quickly balloons into $100/month so no sale.

 

I completed my first MBA in May and in December I should complete my second MBA and I’ve written about the overall experience here.  What really gets my blood boiling however is the need to have to buy two more books, my last two books for my two classes and the cost…$400.   That’s right, two books are setting me back four hundred dollars!   To put things into perspective, the $400 is 17% of the tuition I paid for the classes!    I could have rented the books on Amazon and saved a ton of money but I opted to buy the books because they look like texts I would like to keep and re-read over the longer term so perhaps the books have more value than others but still the price is ridiculous.

Oddly enough, the higher the level of my education the less time I seem to have to write but I hope to be more active this semester with some final insights into my MBA programs.

 

The last time I had a long decent holiday in Europe was a visit to France almost a decade ago.   The euro was coming into play and at parity with the US dollar.   I remember my flight cost about $600 and the hotels for my entire stay was fairly affordable.  I visited the wine country in Angers.    We decided to take a European holiday this year visiting France, Italy and Spain and the price tag so far is over $15,000.    The air flight alone were about $6,000 and the hotels are pretty pricey in euros with the current exchange rate about 1 euro per $1.30 but still it will be worth it to enjoy a nice time in Europe.

The biggest problem Europe has though is that most hotels only accommodate 3 people and then require you to book a second room if you have four or five people with you.  European hotels are the most anti-family friendly places on earth!    Given that problem, we opted to rent a house in one spot and other accommodations elsewhere.

I am really astonished at how much going to Europe costs and reminds me why we’ve largely stayed away.   Of course I recently had my roof replace for 13k then my son’s tuition for school came due with first payment of 10k and now another 15k for Europe.   So I’ve easily spent 38k in about 3 months and that doesn’t include any of the extras for the trip like new digital camera to take great photos, the tux, or my upcoming MBA tuition for the Fall or the 20k I plunked down  on my mortgage to get down to less than 10k.  I decided I would take surplus cash and eliminate all debt by the end of the year.  Even with interest rates at 3% it doesn’t make sense to carry debt even at this low interest rate when cash is sitting not earning any real interest.

If all my goals hold, by the end of the year I won’t have a single dime of debt except for a student loan that’s now at 1.85% interest due to some fancy debt arbitrage.   I guess this time next year I’ll go on a really nice Australian/South Pacific vacation!

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