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.


What Kind Of LED Lightbulb?

2018-02-03 indoor outdoor LED bulbs a

Last year we switched all the light-bulbs in the house to LEDs. We were very satisfied with the brightness, and how little electricity they use. But in the last month 4 of them burned out on us, and another one dimmed considerably. What  was going on? They’re supposed to last 5-10 years!

We noticed that the bulbs that burned out were in the bathroom above the mirror, and in the kitchen ceiling near the stove. After a bit of checking online, I got the answer: dampness and steam drastically shorten the life of most LED bulbs. So off I went to the nearest hardware store. There were dozens of different varieties of LEDs. I looked at all of them, and found one that said “Indoor Outdoor” on it. That sounded like a good possibility, since the great outdoors tends to be damp quite a bit of the time. I flagged down a clerk, who confirmed my choice. He pointed out that the box also said on the back: “Suitable for damp locations”.

2018-02-03 indoor outdoor LED bulbs b

So I bought a box of four, and took them home. My son replaced two bulbs in the kitchen, and I replaced the one in the bathroom. The garage got one too as an experiment. I dated the box and wrote which bulbs were replaced. We’ll see how long these last. LED lights are a great value, but only if they actually last as long as advertised.


Save Those Pancakes!

pancaakes 2

The week before school started, the grand-kids were over and I decided to fry up some pancakes for them. But not just any pancakes – chocolate chip pancakes! I stirred up the pancake mix and dropped 4 small blobs of it into the large frying pan (about 1/4 cup for each). I quickly sprinkled chocolate chips into the batter.

pancakes 1

When the edges of the pancakes turned brown and air bubbles rose all over the pancakes, I flipped them over and cooked the other side. Then onto the plates went the piping hot pancakes, with syrup on the side for dipping. (These pancakes are so rich you don’t want to pour syrup over them.)

There was some left-over batter, so I just made up some more chocolate chip pancakes. After they cooled, I put pairs of them in sandwich baggies with folded wax paper between them to prevent them from sticking together. Today I pulled out one of the baggies and popped the frozen pair into the toaster. Just like pop-tarts, they were ready in under a minute. Instant breakfast at a fraction of the cost!