Back to Aldi’s!

Aldi 9

I recently spent some time in another part of the country, and experienced stick shock when we went to buy groceries. We tried several different stores, with the same results. Buying and cooking our own food out there was definitely less expensive than eating out, but it was still way more than we paid at home.

Then we returned home, and I drove to the local Aldi grocery-store to refill our empty refrigerator. Ah, what joy to find that reasonable prices still existed! As I wheeled the cart around the store, I marveled at the bargains I and the other shoppers were getting.

Continue reading “Back to Aldi’s!”

Pluto TV

Pluto TV

A lot of folks are still shelling out a ton of money to watch TV. Sometimes the cable company convinces them that they are saving money by bundling it in with internet and phone service. But are you really saving money? It’s a good idea to analyze your needs at least once a year, and see if you are getting the best deal.

If you have internet service at home, chances are you really don’t need cable tv service.  Netflix ($12.99 a month) and Hulu ($7.99 a month) carry so many tv shows and movies that you could watch all day every day, and never run out of things to watch.  But if you want to save even more money, you can go to websites like Krackle or Tubi TV to stream tv shows and movies at no cost. Not long ago, I heard about another free site: Pluto TV. 

Pluto TV was launched in 2014 by Viacom. It started small, but now has an impressive selection. There are about 100 theme channels to choose from, including stand-up comedy, dramas, pets, action, family flicks, horror, documentaries, romance, cult classics, westerns, martial arts, poker tournaments, sitcoms, tech news, anime, Minecraft, crimes, forensics, conspiracies, travel, cooking, science, history, live news, and music. You will have to put up with commercials, but hey, the website has to make money somehow!

You can watch Pluto TV on your computer, Apple or Android phone, Kindle tablet, Apple TV box, or Fire TV box. In fact, if you have a newer Vizio tv, you probably already have it installed, and can watch as long as you have internet service.

Ok, so websites like Pluto don’t have the newest and most popular television. But if you are willing to watch older shows and movies, you can use the money you save to pay off bills, send to your favorite charity, or sock away for emergencies. What do you have to lose?

Is AT&T Really A Good Deal?

It seems that everywhere I drive in our area lately, there are service trucks and huge spools of bright orange fiber-optic cable being installed in the ground. Our local cable company has had the really fast cable for years, and AT&T has lagged behind in speed as well as price. But now they are installing new cable, making a huge push to speed up their internet and re-gain customers that they have lost over the years.

At least twice a week we get mail from AT&T, telling us how our family will save money if we switch back to them. The most recent was an offer of $94.99 a month for TV, home phone, and internet service. The same deal is offered online:

ATT deals

When you click on the details, the fine print lists a 24-month commitment, and says you must enroll in autopay and paperless billing to get this deal. After the first 12 months, the monthly cost jumps from $94.99 to $137.99 per month. But the initial page just said 12-months. Is it a 12-month commitment or a 24-month commitment? Not sure.

ATT deal 2

On top of the monthly fee, you have “taxes, $19.95 activation fee, applicable use tax expense surcharge on retail value of installation, equipment upgrades/add one, and certain other add’l fees & chrges.”

ATT deal 3

Although it’s not a perfect comparison to the AT&T deal, let’s look at what our family is doing for phone, internet, and TV services:

Phone service: We have two inexpensive cell phones, and put a Simple Mobile $25.00 card on each month. While the final cost with taxes used to be $26.50 for each phone, there have been more surcharges tacked on, so now each phone is $28.13 a month for unlimited nationwide calling/texting, international texting, and 3GB data.
Total for both phones: $56.26 per month

Internet service: Early in the year, we turned off our internet service with Comcast cable because we had used up all the good deals. After about five months without service, we were once again considered “new customers”, and able to take advantage of the good deals. I found an online offer with Comcast/Xfinity for $19.99 a month for 12 months. It’s their starter level, which gives us the 25 Mbps speed – not the fastest, but we are able to stream videos with no problem. (This is the same speed internet that AT&T is offering in their deal.) We have our own router and wifi devices, so there are no monthly rental equipment fees. Amazingly, there are no taxes or surcharges on our bill!
Total for internet service: $19.99 per month

Xfinity bill amount

TV service: We had been checking out DVDs from our local library, or watching some of our own DVDs. But on Thanksgiving weekend, Hulu offered a deal so sweet that I could not resist: 99 cents a month for a year! It only allows viewing on one device at a time, and there are commercials, but our family doesn’t watch tv very much. So I signed us up, and we’ve been happy with the selection of programs to watch when we get the itch for a little tv. No taxes or surcharges either! We also have our over-the-air antenna on the roof, which allows us to watch free live broadcast tv.
Total for tv service: $.99 a month

Hulu special deal

The grand total of our phone, internet, and tv service: $77.24 a month. That still beats out the AT&T offer, hands down. Our next challenge may be to try to bring down the phone cost, but it will probably not be feasible to go down to one phone. I encourage you to take a fine-tooth comb to your family’s budget, and see if you can get a better deal on your phone, internet, and tv costs. Don’t forget to read the fine print!

To read more about our family’s experiment, check out these posts:






The Power of a $20 Bill

20 dollar bill

On Saturday, someone gave me a $20 bill because they appreciated something I had done for them. I said it was unnecessary, they insisted, so I accepted it. Less than an hour later, I stopped at the local library to pick up a few holds that had come in. Turns out the library was having a used book sale, which is irresistible to a person such as myself.

In the space of about ten minutes, I had a stack of items to buy – nine non-fiction books, two biographies, ten fiction books, four classic science-fiction magazines, and four DVDs. All were in excellent condition.  The total cost – $19.50!

Later in the day I sat down to analyze the value of the book sale purchases. Most of them had the price either on the dust cover or on the book itself. Amazon’s website supplied the prices for the few that did not have the price posted. Here’s what I found:

Non-fiction books:      $139.42
Biographies:                     35.95
Fiction:                            176.91
Magazines:                         6.75
DVDs:                                 37.41
Total original value:  $396.44

That is approximately a 95% off sale! So if buying books new at the bookstore is out of your budget range, keep your eye out for library book-sales. You just never know what you might find for $20 or under.





The Family Experiment – Conclusion

home broadband

It started on April 2nd, when our family decided to try doing without home internet service. No DSL or broadband internet, no television (just over-the-air tv from a roof antenna), just $25-a-month prepaid phones with a small allowance of data to check our e-mail. It was back to a simpler life. Could we do it?

We made some changes in our habits, and passed the one-month period.

Then another month and another, until we passed the 5-month mark. Our family was quite satisfied at the results of our little experiment. We’d begun using our local library more, and spent little time parked in front of our computers. But we did have to admit that it could be inconvenient at times. So I started checking out prices again. The local cable company said we were once again considered “new” customers, and they had specials for us. To my joy, we qualified for the $19.99 a month price on internet for a year. We still had our own modem, so after going in and signing on the line, we plugged it in and we had home internet again.

What did we learn from the experience?

#1 – Home internet is a want, not a need! You won’t die if you don’t have it, although you may face some inconveniences.

#2 – It’s relaxing to have the computers turned off. Your health might actually improve if you take a break from fast home internet that constantly beckons you.

#3 – You can save a heck of a lot of money. By the time you add up fast internet (about $80), Netflix ($12), Hulu ($8), and other online subscriptions, you could spend over $100 a month. That’s a lot of money that can be put toward other bills.

Why not try going without broadband and paid tv for awhile? You don’t have to do it forever, but just try it. You have nothing to lose!


The Family Experiment – part 3

cable modem


We’ve passed the 1-month mark of not having home internet service. As mentioned in previous posts, our family decided to cancel our service through the cable company. The cost had risen to $80 a month, and we’d used up all the limited discount rates, as well as the special deals I had persuaded the company to give us by going in and personally talking to a rep. So this was the challenge: could we get by using the 3GB of fast data each of us had our prepaid phones, for which we each paid $25 a month?

We go to our local library about once a week to check out books and DVDs. When I am there or other places that offer free wifi, I try to take advantage of it. The biggest change for all three of us has been a sharp decrease in the number of times a day that we go online. We had gotten into the habit of browsing without thinking. But habits can be altered. I was made much more aware of how often I was accessing the web when I had to plug my phone into the USB cable to make a tethered hotspot connection to my computer. (You can also connect wirelessly by bluetooth, but it’s less secure).

So how did we do on limiting ourselves to 3GB of internet? Well, not so good. One of us reached the limit half-way through the month, one went over the limit just before the month was up just to test how much the speed would be throttled (it went down to the speed of dial-up), and one of us ended at 2.9 GB. In our defense, it was our first month of trying it, and we had times that we forgot to use the wifi signal instead of the cellular data.

The conclusion: It can be done, but it’s harder than you think.


The Family Experiment – part 2


It’s been a week now since we cancelled our home internet service. Last Monday I walked into our local cable company service center and within five minutes had it turned off.

The first couple days were an adjustment. I didn’t realize how often I jumped online to check for something throughout the day. Our grandson was over one day, and he kept trying to watch Netflix or play a game on his tablet, only to have it not work since we didn’t have internet. Eventually he moved on to Legos, and was content with that.

Now we find non-internet things to do. Like re-painting the kitchen, cleaning out the garage, and organizing a closet. In the evening, instead of Netflix or Hulu, we pull out a DVD or Blu-Ray from under the TV and watch it. Last night it was the 1993 Harrison Ford movie “The Fugitive”, followed by bonus interviews. I actually had an easier time picking out movies at the library than off Netflix.

Since last week, the cable company has been in almost non-stop communication with us. On Monday, the same day that I cancelled, they sent an e-mail telling me what great programs I would have access to with their TV service. On Tuesday I got a robo telephone call from them, which I hung up on. On Wednesday, I got an e-mail asking me to complete a survey, and another telephone call. At least this time it was a live person. He was very difficult to understand. I told him we were not interested in their services. On Thursday, I got two e-mails from them, saying I could still keep my e-mail account. Quite frankly, I never wanted their e-mail account in the first place, as I already had one, but they insisted that all their customers have one through their company. On Friday I was informed that I had a refund coming. On Saturday there was another e-mail imploring me to complete the survey they had earlier sent me. Sunday they actually managed to go a day without contacting me, but today I had a letter in the mailbox letting me know that they would send a refund check within 30 days, and to call them if I wanted services (they offer tv, phone, internet, and home security).

We may at some point get home internet again, but it will have to be with a much more reasonable rate. For right now, we’re going to hold to our simple plan of just checking e-mail on our phones and skipping the expense of home internet service. The price tag is just too high.

The Family Experiment – part 1

ATT Comcast

Well, our family experiment has begun. The question was: Do we really need to have internet service through our cable company? Each of us has 3GB of data on our $25-a-month phones, which should be enough for doing non-video type things online. Instead of Netflix over the internet, couldn’t we just check out a stack of DVDs from our public library?

So this morning I went to the cable company’s website, made an appointment for 10:00am, which was when they opened for business. Ten minutes before the service center opened, there was already a line of customers waiting. I was number 9 in line. Ten o’clock came and they opened for business. After signing in, I had barely sat down when a young woman named Ashley called me to the counter. I said I was there to return the TV box and stop service entirely. Are you moving, or do you just not need the service? she asked. We have decided that the price for internet is just too much, I told her, and we don’t need it that badly, as phone data will take care of our basic needs. Ashley looked skeptical, but did not try to dissuade me. She merely asked to see ID, printed out a receipt verifying that I had returned the equipment, and with a few keystrokes disconnected our service. By 10:05 our service with the cable company was gone, and I was walking out the door.

We’ll see how our experiment goes, but I suspect that our household will be just fine without either of big-name internet service providers.


Home Internet: Can We Do Without It?

library DVDs

When someone from our internet service provider called to remind us that our monthly rate would soon be going up, and asking if we wanted to sign up for a 24-month contract in exchange for a slightly lower price, I said no. That call prompted several family discussions about how much internet we actually needed, and if perhaps we could cancel it entirely.

For years I have negotiated better prices on our home internet, often with astonishing discounts of up to half the listed price. But I think they now have a note on our account, saying something like: “No more good discounts for this address!”

If we do nothing, our internet will jump to $80 a month, or $960 a year. But there’s no way we’re going to be tied up with a 24-month contract. There’s really only two choices for internet in our area (only one has a decent speed), and both companies are pretty snaky to deal with. You always want to get something in print about your price, and then you have to watch for tacked-on extra charges. I’ve had to go in several times over the past few years, armed with my printout of the price we were promised, and straighten out the bill. Truthfully, I’m tired of the whole stinking company that knows they’re really the only one people can subscribe to if they want decently speedy internet.

That brings our family to the thought that perhaps we could ditch this company entirely. There is free wifi everywhere now – the hardware store down the street, the public library, the mall, the coffee house, doctor’s office, even at our church. Our prepaid phones give us a bit of internet/data, enough to do e-mail and a bit of web browsing, but not enough to do any Netflix. Maybe the free DVDs at the library could take the place of watching Netflix and Hulu.

So I stopped in our local library, and within ten minutes was able to check out a variety of DVDs:
Flip-Flop (remodeling and selling houses)
Room 222 (high school back in the 1970s)
Amish Mafia
Time Warp (Discovery science)
Astronaut Wives Club (1960s wives of the early US astronauts)
Perry Mason (old-school courtroom drama)

We haven’t decided yet whether to pull the plug on our internet provider or not, but we might just get bold and try it.



Will Sam’s Club Save You Money?

Sam's club

This past week I visited Sam’s Club with my daughter-in-law. We had a guest pass to try out their store, which is membership-based. I had explored this discount grocery store years ago and was not impressed, but figured it was worth a second look. Before going, I wrote down food items that I regularly use, and the Aldi price for each one.  Since most items at Sam’s Club are sold in multi-packs, I had to calculate out the cost per unit to see if it was any cheaper than Aldi’s.  Here’s a sampling of what I found:

tub of slow-cook oats                           Sam: $3.75                Aldi: $2.39
coffee                                                       Sam: .20 oz              Aldi: .30 oz
brown sugar                                           Sam: $1.07 lb           Aldi: .65 lb
broth carton                                           Sam: $2.50                Aldi: $1.79
cheerios/toasted oats                            Sam: $2.94                Aldi: 1.39
frosted wheat square cereal               Sam: $3.63                Aldi: 1.79
granola cereal                                        Sam: $3.64                 Aldi: $2.39
beef hot dogs (8 count)                         Sam: $2.39                 Aldi: $2.49
kleenex                                                    Sam: $1.49                Aldi: .89
frozen veggies                                        Sam: $1.49                 Aldi: .95
eggs – dozen large                                  Sam: $1.32                 Aldi: .69
milk 2%                                                    Sam: $2.09                 Aldi: $1.99
half & half quart                                     Sam: $2.22                 Aldi: $1.69
bananas                                                    Sam: .46 lb                 Aldi: .44 lb
sour cream                                               Sam: $1.05                 Aldi: .99
butter                                                         Sam: $2.75                 Aldi: $2.55
fresh pears                                                Sam: $1.10 lb            Aldi: .96 lb
apples                                                         Sam: $1.07 lb            Aldi: .96 lb

Comparison was made difficult by the odd quantities and sizes Sam’s Club carries. I’m sure this is a marketing technique designed to make it hard to do side-by-side calculations. I also noticed that there was very little selection of some items, like jams and jellies. At Walmart you have at least a dozen flavors, at Aldi’s five or six flavors; at Sam’s you are stuck with only grape and strawberry.  As for spaghetti sauce, you had only one choice at Sam’s. Walmart offers half a dozen choices, and even Aldi has a few different types.

I did not buy anything, as all the items I was interested in were either more expensive or in a quantity too large for our family. My daughter-in-law found four items, but when we arrived at checkout, the one-time guess pass didn’t work. The cashier shrugged indifferently and said we would have to sign up for a membership to purchase the items.

This brings me to the final point about Sam’s Club: to shop at their store, you need to allow a fair amount of your personal data to be stored in their computer system: They input the information on your driver’s license/state ID – name, address, date of birth, and your picture! Why do they need that information? If you have cash or a valid credit card, that should be ALL they need. There have been so many database breaches in the last few years that we should all be leery of anyone asking for information that they don’t need.

So the daughter-in-law and I walked out of the store with nothing but our common sense. We will stick with the other grocery stores in our area that offer reasonable prices and less privacy invasion.