Recently I posted about 5 Money Management Mistakes To Avoid. I came clean in that post about some of the stupid financial decisions we’ve made over the years, choices that we still continue to struggle with. Today, though, I’d like to tell you about a decision we made that worked out really well. It didn’t start out as a financial decision, but as I look back on it now, I realize this one choice has has been one of the best ways to save money that we’ve ever implemented.
It happened back in the late 1990’s. I had just had our third baby and was up late one night nursing her. I turned on the television and started watching a program. Now, maybe I was just still postpartum-ly hormonal, but what I saw on that TV program made me start sobbing. I don’t want to go into details right now — and granted, it was late-night TV — but I was really shocked and appalled by the level of immorality I saw that night, right in my living room. My husband had already been hinting at wanting to quit watching TV, and I had been the one resisting him; but the next morning I told him I wanted that antenna taken down (I realize y’all are laughing at the idea of an antenna) — and we haven’t looked back since.
That was in the days when TV was free. Well, we didn’t have to pay a monthly bill for it, anyway. But it wasn’t TRULY free, even then. It wooed us with advertisements which caused us to open our pocketbooks; and it also affected our thinking, tempting us to call immoral behavior okay and moral behavior narrow-minded. That was then – it is even more so today.
At the time, choosing to stop watching TV was deemed a fairly radical thing to do; and we still get funny looks about it even now. But it was one of the BEST decisions we have ever made, both for our family and financially. Here’s why:
For our family:
1) Our little children were no longer exposed to questionable advertisements. These ads were found playing even during otherwise innocent children’s programming. Who really wants their kids exposed to this stuff at young ages? But it is allowed for convenience’s sake. Which leads me to #2.
2) The TV did not get used as a babysitter. Moms are too quick to plop their kids in front of the TV to keep them quiet and undemanding. I didn’t have that choice. I’m really glad.
3) Our kids were forced to be creative. Have you seen the articles going around recently that it is good for kids to be bored? Well, it is. Boredom forces them to get thinking about something fun to do. My kids staged weddings in the living room, complete with rose petals on the floor. One Thanksgiving they wrote a script and made puppets, in order to have a show about the meaning of the holiday. They dug holes in the backyard and filled them with water to float paper boats on. They used scrap fabric to make clothes for their Beanie-Babies. They rode scooters and bikes. They developed hobbies. Do most kids play this way today? I have my doubts.
4) Our children became avid readers. There is no need or desire to pick up a book when you can flip through a gazillion channels and find a program to watch. No TV in our house meant that if a child wanted to be entertained without physical or creative play (sometimes you just want to vedge; am I right?), then they would have to find something to read. All of them have grown up looking forward to library day. They all LOVE reading.
5) The house is relatively quiet. There is nothing blaring all day long. There is no constant level of background noise — unless we are listening to music, which is much more pleasing to the ear. And you know what they say, “Mozart makes babies smarter!” (That is a quote from Kari in The Incredibles, in case you don’t recognize it. Obviously not a credible source… but I’m allowed to have a little fun, aren’t I? :-) )
6) We became a family that watches movies. Now wait a minute, you say. How are movies different than TV? you ask. Isn’t sitting in front of a movie the same thing as sitting in front of the tube? you query. Well, I see what you’re saying; but there are some crucial differences. First of all, movies don’t have ads. Also, movies can be previewed by parents, so that nothing is flashed in front of small kids’ eyes that is more than they can handle. Third, we generally watch them as a family. And they happen at times when WE decide. And when they’re done; they’re done. We don’t get roped into a continuing saga that we now have to watch every time it airs.
We have accumulated a library of movies (most of them $5 or under), each of which we have watched multiple times. Our selections range from classics to comedies, drama to adventure. As a family we have a shared culture of quotes and themes and imaginative adventures to draw from in conversation. We regularly have epic discussions about whether the book was better than the movie or vice versa.
So it’s not the idea of entertainment on film that we disagree with, just how it’s presented on TV. If late-night morality was bad in the 90’s, 9am morality is a gazillion times worse today. All day. Every day.
1) As ways to save money go, not having to pay a cable bill has been HUGE. We’ve never paid one. Like, ever. Somewhere along the way, TV ceased to be free — but our budget was not affected. A 2011 article in the Huffington Post said that cable bills had tripled in the previous 10 years, from $48 to $128 per month. I get that some of that is a result of bundling. So let’s just stick with the $48 from 2001 and pretend that was the cost of cable (only — no bundling) for the proceeding 14 years until now. That means that we saved a minimum of 12 months x $48 x 14 years = $8064! That’s a pretty large chunk of change! — especially when you consider it’s just for the privilege of watching TV. And we all know it was probably way more than that. It’s not easy to save that kinda money — but this was pretty effortless.
2) It is impossible to count how much we’ve saved because we’ve not been exposed to ads ad infinitum (ha, see what I did there?) — but I bet it’s a lot. Those marketing gurus are smart about what motivates people, y’all. I don’t trust myself to be able to withstand their ploys. So I just don’t expose myself to them. They want me to be discontented with what I have, so that I’ll go buy whatever they are hawking. Nope. Not doin’ that.
In the past year or so we have watched a couple shows online (literally only two), and they do have ads. I hate that, and I feel guilty every time we watch. But the kids are older now, and whether we want it to happen or not, our parenting tends to change over the years… at least it’s only two shows. I am VERY cautious of the addictive nature of TV, so I don’t intend to let it get out of hand.
Of course the children will see TV (and its accompanying ads) at other people’s homes. And they’ll probably be glued to it. Just like I am, sometimes, when I stay at a hotel. Some of those HGTV shows are really fun! But if I had them in my home I would be watching them all day long. Not gonna do it; wouldn’t be prudent!
Of all the ways to save money that we have tried to implement over the years, this has been one of the best for our family. The ramifications go way beyond just the budget; our family is better off in many respects because of our decision to nix the TV in our home. That’s why it’s one of the best decisions decisions we’ve made — because some things are worth more than just dollars and cents.
What’s one decision you made that you didn’t realize would be so impactful?