September 10, 2010

Why I Pay Over $100 a month for TV

We pay over $100 a month for television because we can afford it and because we want it.

I was tempted to end the article right there.   Isn't that really saying enough?  If you can afford something and you want it then isn't it OK to buy the things you want?    I think it is. 

I decided to write this topic after reading yet another of the 1,548 different articles or comments on personal finance blogs from people saying how you should drop your cable and save a ton of money because theres free TV.     I wrote such an article myself about free and inexpensive alternatives to pay TV and its actually good advice for many people.   If you can satisfy your TV watching needs with free alternatives then canceling your cable bill can save you a ton of money.  For many people this will work just fine.   However this is one area I don't follow my own advice for several reasons.

Yes I can afford it... for real

When I say that I "can afford it" I mean that we have disposable income and save a significant amount of our money.    Some people think "I can afford it" means they can scrounge up $100 a month from somewhere.  If you're struggling to pay bills or piling up credit card debt then you can't afford spending money on luxuries like cable TV.   Part of this is prioritizing your expenses.   I can afford cable TV, partially because I drive a used car and live in a below average size house.   For other people they may value a bigger house or nicer car over watching more expensive TV.   Thats fine with me.  

Its a want, not a need... and we want it

Let me be clear: cable TV is a luxury and not a need.   I do not need cable TV and neither do you.   I want TV and so do the vast majority of American households.   If you can honestly afford something then its OK to spend money on it if you want it.   Its OK to want things.   Its OK to spend your money on things you want. 

Can't I get FREE TV? 

Yes if I went and bought an antennae I'd get several HDTV channels off the air.  I can also get a lot of TV via Hulu or direct from network websites.   We also have Netflix which gives us a lot of stuff via online streaming.   This all ads up to a LOT of TV that I could get for free.   But in one word the reason this enough for us is "sports".    The sports teams we watch are not available on free venues.   With the exception of a handful of games I can only see our teams on pay TV.   

Free TV isn't that great for us

The broadcast HDTV reception available at our home is not that great.   There are various channels but I can't get all the major networks here.   My experience with Hulu is varied.  Sometimes it works great but other times the video is choppy or jerky.   If it isn't playing well then it is extremely annoying to watch.   Of course free TV has the major advantage that it is FREE.

Paying More for Comcast Preferred package

We currently have Comcast for our cable TV because they have specific networks that carry all the sports we want to watch.   DISH or DirecTV do not offer those networks.   We could switch to Verizon if we wanted but haven't done so, largely in part since our experience with their service from them has been poor.   So we have Comcast.   We have the premium cable package since it offers HD and all the specific shows we want to watch, again there are the specific networks that carry the sports we watch most.  We could drop one tier to save about $15 a month.   But we choose to keep the preferred level package since it has the BBC America channel and the Encore movie channels.   I watch certain BBC shows and Encore has various good movies on them. 

Hooked on DVR

One reason our TV bill is as high as it is is that we have a DVR.    I really wouldn't ever want to go back to TV without a DVR.  I've had a Tivo and now a DVR from Comcast for at least 7 years now.  Our DVR costs about $15 a month.    I do not want to sit through 20 minutes of commercials for every 1 hour of programming.   With a DVR I don't have to.   I don't want to miss the big game since I have to be somewhere else or have other obligations when the game is on, with a DVR I never have to.  I don't want to idly surf channels looking for something good to watch, with a DVR I've got a selection of good programs pre-recorded anytime I feel like watching them.   

My wife likes HBO

We pay another $15 a month of our $100 bill for HBO.   I like HBO a lot but I could live without it and just watch the shows after the fact on DVD via Netflix.   However my wife likes the ability to watch good movies on demand and she prefers to keep the HBO subscription.  She wants it, I don't mind it and we can afford it so this is cool with me.

Another $6 a month for sports

I recently signed up for a sports package that has a bundle of minor sports channels.  I did this specifically to watch one game.   Yes thats right, I said I did it for just one game.   Watching that one game was worth enough to me to pay an extra $6 a month.   I will probably keep the package till the end of football season since they might show more games on one of those channels.   At most I'd be paying $24-$30 for this package over the 4-5 months of football season.   That is easily worth it for me.   Keep in mind that I would also definitely pay over $500 in hotel and stadium tickets to go see a game in person, so by comparison $30 to watch one game is a bargain.

My Sports teams are NOT available free

When you tell people that you have cable because you watch sports invariably you get some people who will ask "well can't you just get that free on the Internet or watch it on the networks?"    No.  I can not.   Some sports organizations have neat deals where you can watch all the games for all the teams online for a flat fee.  Some teams are always on the local network.   My teams don't have those neat online deals or local network coverage.   At best I'd be lucky to be able to watch 10% of the games for free via local networks.   I want more than that.

I Don't Want To Go To a Sports Bar

Some people expect that I should be able to watch any sports program that I want at the local sports bar.   That might work well for some people but not me.   I enjoy watching sports in the comfort of my own home or in the actual stadium.   I am not much of a drinker and I don't enjoy hanging out in bars for several hours.   I especially do not enjoy watching my favorite team play in a bar full of people who are rooting for the opposing team. 

TV is not evil

Often times people who have "cut the cable" are also not very fond of television.  This makes me wonder why they were paying for it in the first place, but thats another matter.   These people will declare that now that they don't have TV they are doing better, more productive things with their lives.   No longer is that evil brain altering box sucking all their time and making them fat and forcing them to buy things via its insidious advertisements.   Now they spend their time reading and enjoying the outdoors and other stuff.    Ok thats great for them.   I do not buy the concept that TV is inherently evil or lesser of a media than reading trashy romance novels or the 184th Steven King book.

Bottom Line:   We pay over $100 a month for cable  TV because we want it and we can reasonably afford it.   We don't use free alternatives since they don't give us the sports programming we want most.

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