Of Cell Phones, Cable TV, and High Speed Internet

Part of being frugal is constantly re-evaluating your bills to make sure the services you pay for are serving your needs. Up next for re-evaluation in our house is our Phone/TV/Internet service. When we moved here two years ago, we signed a contract with Qwest/DirecTV for phone and satellite television. That contract will be up in September, and we’re looking to make some changes.

Where We Stand Now

As I mentioned before, we currently have a Qwest/DirecTV bundle for our phone and TV service. Charter cable is our only option for high speed internet, which I need for blogging, and we have cell phone service through AT&T. Our AT&T contract won’t be up until next March, though we’ll probably stay with them, because we get good reception out here in the boondocks.

Here’s the breakdown on what we pay:

  • Qwest/DirecTV: $115 a month for phone (no long distance), the cheapest satellite package, and DVR.
  • Charter: $55 a month for the lowest level of high speed internet, part of which I can write off on my taxes.
  • AT&T: $105 a month, part of which I can write off on my taxes.*

The total comes to $275 a month. That’s a lot in my book.

What We Need/Want

Our family needs:

  • Some type of phone service, so we can call 911 in an emergency.

In all honestly, everything else is a want, as far as family needs go.

My business needs:

  • A cell phone with a data plan.
  • High speed internet.

My husband’s business needs, if he is to continue as a NASCAR blogger:

  • High speed internet.
  • ESPN/Speed/TNT
  • A DVR (many times the NASCAR races start while we’re at church).

Possible Scenarios:

1) We could keep things the way they are, but we’re currently paying full price on just about everything. Plus, I’m not a fan of DirecTV, so I’d rather end that relationship. Monthly cost: $275.

2) We could bundle our phone, internet, and cable with Charter for around $130 a month, depending on the package they’re offering in September. Adding in our cell phone plan, that would bring the cost to $235, saving us $40 from what we’re paying now.

3) We could bundle the internet and cable with Charter, and switch to cell phones only, picking up an extra line for my 12 year old daughter. Our AT&T bill would increase by $10-$20, depending on whether we’d have to bump up our minutes, though we’re not big phone people. Our Charter package would run about $104, but the price would only be good for 6 months. Total: $230, saving us $45 from what we’re paying now.

4) We could get Dish Network for $37 a month, but it would require a 24 month commitment, and the price would go up $15 after 12 months. We’d drop the landline and use cell phones. The total for Dish TV, Charter internet, and AT&T Wireless would be around $211, saving us $64 a month for the first 12 months and $49 a month for the second 12 months.

5) The final option would be for my husband to end his NASCAR blogging career. We’d go cell phone only, adding $10-$20 to our AT&T bill, and drop both the landline and TV package. The bills would then total $180, saving us $95 a month.

What I’m Leaning Toward:

Though it’s tempting to drop TV all together, my husband loves writing Bump-Drafts, and he’s getting a lot of traffic lately. Though the site isn’t making him a much money yet, I’ve found blogging can lead to great opportunities in the future. I’d like to see him continue. That pretty much rules out option number 5.

On the other hand, if we keep paid TV mainly for the basis of my husband’s career, I’ll start writing off the portion of the bill that we use for his blogging, which is actually a pretty good portion. Other than sports, we’re not big TV watchers.

Option #1 is out, because it’s the most expensive, and I want to get away from DirecTV.

That leaves me with options 2, 3, and 4. I’m tempted to drop the landline and go with a cell phone only, as we’re probably looking at getting a cell phone for my daughter in the next couple of years anyway.

Ironically, bundling everything with Charter won’t save us the most money, mostly because their DVR service is so expensive. It would seem that the most cost effective option would be to use AT&T for phone service, Charter for internet, and Dish Network for TV. The only thing that makes me nervous about going to cell phones is that a lot of times 911 operators can’t trace cell phones as well as landlines. My husband is going to check with his contact at the fire department to see how big an issue that is.

I won’t make any firm decisions until September, as I don’t know what other options might present themselves before then. What would you do if you were in my shoes?

*I realize that my cell phone bill is quite high. If I didn’t use a data plan for blogging and related work, I would never dream of paying that much for cell phone service. I’d probably have a go-phone.


By , on Jul 28, 2010
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.


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  1. This has inspired me to re-evaluate my current setup with bell and look towards other smaller companies to get our internet, satellite, and phone from different companies, or just a cheaper alternative. Thanks!

  2. kris:

    Instead of a DVR, I would buy a winTV that you connect to your computer. I have had a winTV for years and it is great ( paid $80 for the version i have). This beats paying the cable companies monthly fee in the long run. You connect it to your cable and connect it to your computer using a USB 2.0 port. Then you can set it to schedule every time NASCAR shows up in the guide and it records onto your computer. I have an older XP machine that I use specifically for that and my Magic jack for my VoIP which is another option you can use for phone. Magic Jack costs $40 for the first year and $20 a year after that and I have never had any issues with it.

  3. Groovy Girl:

    Just cut out your landline. If you need high speed internet, you can always do DSL “dry loop” where you don’t have to have a landline (Verizon offers it in my area, though I’m sure other places do too) or do your cable, since you are already getting cable tv. AT&T may also do high speed net for you and tack it on to your cellphone bill.

    I hate landlines because a) I don’t ever talk on the phone unless its an emergency b) you can use your cell as your contact number.

    Cutting out your landline and bundling your cell/internet could be the way for you to go. Also, if you have options such as unlimited texting or data plans then that also drives your cost up.

  4. thanks for sharing

  5. Mar:

    Will your cell phone plan have unlimited texting for your daughter? I have a 14 year old daughter and she rarely “talks” on her cell phone using her voice, but she texts – a lot! Pretty much all of her friends do – she is often carrying on 3, 4, 5 or more conversations at the same time. I would not have envisioned this 2 years ago, but things change as they grow older. It’s something you should keep in mind.

  6. Anakin:

    I am saving so much money because I switched to Net10. I used to spend so much on my contract cell phones, but now I am finally stress-free about it all. I control my bills. Also, Net10 has amazing nationwide coverage. Such a great deal!

  7. lynn:

    I’am having trouble with my health insurance it keeps going up
    I don’t know where to put my blog so I’am writing it here in
    hopes you will be able to help me with some answers ? I have
    a high deductable and it is still over 500. per month just for one
    person and now it came in the mail yesterday it is going up again
    I’am 60 this year and need coverage for the next few yrs. but
    can’t afford that kind of fee. I have some prior health problems
    but still need coverage I don’t want to lose my house etc. over
    health bills. Thanks for all your help.

  8. MM:

    Straight Talk is expensive for prepaid, unless your daughter is planning on using her phone significantly. You could probably go cheaper with TracFone or Net10 and pay for the minutes used. This could also help her budget (i.e. we’ll buy you 200 minutes/month and you buy any extras with allowance).

    The NHL offers a subscription for games; I’m sure there is a NASCAR one too. If you have an old PC, you can turn it into a Linux based DVR type system– I know there are instructions floating around online. You can also use this system with cable, so you don’t have to have a DVR from the cable/satellite company.

  9. Do you have to have a landline for Dish or DirectTV? Although I haven’t read their policy in awhile, I know when I signed my Dish contract I had to have a landline to plug the Dish in to.

  10. Sara:

    Have you checked to see if Tivo would be cheaper than having a DVR from the cable company? You could purchase one used online, and you can get a much better rate by paying up front.

  11. Rebecca Sparks:

    For 911:
    The question for 911 is how quickly the dispatcher can get your location. The most reliable service for this is land line, because your address is mandatory for the service to work–since you are literally connected to your house and cannot move the service at all.

    VoIP does not work the same way, even if you get it bundled with your cable provider. When call 911 on VoIP, your equipment/software contacts the server/trunk of your provider online. The server recognizes your equipment and will include the address you have on file when you call 911. However, this address can be wrong (such as the gentleman in 2007 who moved from Georgia to Oregon and failed to update his address; so when he called 911, they dispatched in Georgia, or the boy in Calgary, Alberta where they dispatched in the city where the service was based instead of where he lived). However, in most cases this is consumer error, where they did not verify the address on file was correct.

    Cellphones connect to various radio towers around where you live; it is very hard to have one confirmed address. You will have to tell the dispatcher your location. Also if you have not updated your phone number to be local, you will need to be transferred to a different center. (This happened recently for me, as I have moved to a different city and spent a good 10 minutes getting the right dispatcher to report an injury at the nearby park.)

    Some other important things to think about: all phones will allow calling 911, (so you can just leave a phone in for emergencies) but if you don’t use it, it will make it hard to notice if your phone is broken, or if you do somehow notice, difficult to request repair. If you have lifeline/alarm systems/other digital equipment, they might not work over VoIP very well. (I had a customer learn this the hard way, by falling down and his life alert did not contact 911; his apartment manager found him 2 days later when his light was on all night.)

    There are many cheaper VoIP services out there that are cheaper than bundling with your provider that provide good service; but if something does go wrong, you will probably get troubleshooting advice over a phone, where a provider can just send out a tech.

    I believe that per call dialing is something that must be available for all big providers, but it is extremely discouraged in sales talks and not advertised anywhere. You should be able to get this with Qwest.

    I would also look into options for IPTV for the Nascar stuff.

  12. marci:

    Remember when going to straight cell phones how very often we loose cell service in this neck of the woods…. sometimes its just for a couple hours – but it was 8 days when the wind storm got the tower 2 years ago – and many times it has been over 24 hrs.

  13. Lynnae:

    Thanks for all the ideas! It looks like I have a little more research to do.

  14. Tabatha:

    I also have an Ooma phone as its great. The only worry I had was if the power goes out and we need to dial 911, we wouldn’t be able to. But my boyfriend has a cell phone provided by his job we could use(I don’t think they would get mad if he used it to call 911) and even a cell phone that doesn’t have service can dial 911. Now I have a prepaid net 10 phone as well that I can use for emergencies and I use when I am traveling. with net10 its always 10cents a minute regardless of what phone card you buy, and its not the same with other prepaid phones like tacphone. the most the net 10 phone would cost me would be 20$ a month to keep active. or you can even get one and just get a phone card and not activate it unless you actually need it.

    Someone else mentioned still being able to dial 911 to a plugged in phone without phone service, I hope that’s true everywhere b/c that’s awesome.

    My Bf’s job pays for the internet, but if they didn’t I wouldn’t pay for it, I’m fine just going to the library to use it with my laptop. and we won’t pay for cable at all, we just watch stuff online or rent movies occasionally.

  15. Tricia:

    Have you checked in to Clearwire.net? I don’t know if they’re in your area, but we have them and they’re only 29.99 a month for internet service.

    • Lynnae:

      My mom has it and loves it. Unfortunately, Clearwire isn’t available in my area. We really are stuck over a barrel with Charter internet. I have looked into EVERYTHING else.

      It’s expensive, but so far the service has actually been really good. I was worried about that when we moved here, but it hasn’t been an issue.

  16. Erika:

    I messed up, Wal-mart’s new cell plan is Straight Talk, not Smart talk but an excellent deal.

    • marci357:

      Erika – Thanks for mentioning this. Something I’ll keep in mind in case I get laid off, or manage to make it to retirement :) Except we don’t have a Walmart within 80 miles – so will have to make a trip if need be.

  17. Erika:

    Here is what we recently did with our cell phones, we ditched the contracts and Wal-Mart has a new plan called Smart Talk it is a prepaid cell service that works off of Verizon’s network, you can do 1000 minutes and 1000 texts and 30mb of internet for $30/month or have unlimted minutes, texts and internet for $45/month. I now get cell service at my house! We also have charter cable extended package with their phone service, which is great because there is no long distance fees at all, and there high speed internet we pay $130 per month which includes taxes. We don’t have DVR but we could probably add it for $10/month (I think?)

    • Lynnae:

      That’s a really good deal! I may look into that!

  18. Brian:

    Federal law requires the phone companies to maintain 911 access. You should be able to plug in a phone into the landline and it will dial 911 even if no phone service is paid for (this is also the same for cell phones).

    • Lynnae:

      Good point! That makes me feel much better about going with cell phones!

    • Sarah:

      Is this really true? I would love to try it.

      • pamela:

        if there is no dial tone on an old land line that currently has no service..how would one “dial” 911?

  19. marci357:

    Is Measured Dialing available thru your phone company?
    Mine is now $2.07 for 6 months and $7.07 after. Unlimited incoming, and 10 cents an outgoing call. That way you have the landline for 911 location if you can’t talk… According to my local 911, they cannot tie my cell phone to my house address – I looked into that about a month ago.

    Don’t you have an old-fashioned DVD or VHS recorder that can record the sports for viewing later, instead of the pay-for package thru the cable company?

    I was at $107 + $15 for bundled phone, basic TV, low speed internet, and cell phone. However, the cell phone is paid by my company, except that I pay $15/month to the company for unlimited texting for personal use with family.

    Yesterday I looked at my options.
    I continued the basic TV for news, weather, and babysitting grandkids, and the occasional Hallmark movie :) Except for the grandkids, I’d drop the TV entirely…..
    I dropped the internet entirely – meaning my desk top computer has no internet now – I’ll have to move things via flashdrive. But my laptop picks up free wireless – probably from the local library nearby. And without the internet (which required a full service phone for the bundle package) , I could get the low cost measured dialing for the phone – mentioned above. The only time I call out on the land line is to find my cell phone :) I’ll just have to be more careful where I put it!

    Cost now: $32/month plus taxes, rising to $37 plus taxes, and then the $15 texting charge on the cell phone.

    I saved $70-$75/ month, or about 2/3rds less :), taking advantage of various opportunities, including the free wireless and some inconvenience.

    It’s well worth checking out your options!

  20. Leslie:

    Most people I know have dropped their landlines and rely on their cell phones. My main worry was the same as yours–having 911 trace my call if something happened. I’ve have dialed 911 since dropping my landline and you have to be very clear when giving information to the operator. I know you want to save money, but you also have to consider what will work best for you, and sometimes its worth spending a little extra.

  21. Erica Douglas:

    We have cell phones only, no land-line, on a family plan with my mom. We dropped the cable when we realized we were watching a lot of tv and then dropped the cable internet when they tripled our bill from $25/month to $75! We switched to ATT internet, which is 19.95/month. When we do watch tv now, we often watch on hulu.com. My husband watch F1, not NASCAR, and he watches those online as well.

    • Lynnae:

      Yikes! That’s a big increase in internet charges!

      Unfortunately, DSL isn’t available where we live. It’s either Charter or the more expensive and less reliable satellite internet.

      I could easily get by for TV with hulu and Netflix, but for my husband, there’s the sports thing…

  22. Donna:

    Is it possible to watch ESPN and Nascar online? Don’t they have those paid subscriptions?

    • Lynnae:

      So far I haven’t found an option that would work out for us. He needs to record the races, because they start so early for us West Coasters, and most of the time we’re still in church.

      • marci:

        Won’t a regular dvd recorder record them for you? Mine has a time set so it will start recording when I need it. It plays DVD’s and VHS and records on both also – or one from the other for dubbing.

  23. Linz:

    @Erika and marci357: You can order StraightTalk online so you don’t have to go to Wal-Mart. They will ship the phones directly to you and you can sign up for service online. The service is fabulous!

    @Lynnae: Is your husband’s blogging career bringing in enough money to justify the monthly expense of satellite TV? You have to look at what makes sense from a business perspective. If it is just for fun, then don’t make satellite service a ‘need.’ If he doesn’t have the readership or a strong growth trend to bring in the income to cover his time and expenses, then it is not a good business strategy.

    • Lynnae:

      His blogging isn’t bringing in the money yet, but it’s on an upward trend, and his traffic is really growing. I’m not sure that he’ll be blogging forever, but we’d like to see where his recent growth goes, before pulling the plug on the blog. These days he gets more traffic than I do!

      • marci:

        and we all know all the doors that unexpectedly opened for you thru blogging :) Good for him!

    • marci:

      cool on the online – thanks!

  24. You know what? It just is expensive. My husband needs high speed internet for work and let’s face it I can hardly live without it either. TV is certainly a luxury that we don’t need and have rarely had in our married life, but since having cable lowers our internet bill it doesn’t really cost us much. We are a cell phone only family. And our cell bill is much higher than I would like due to my hubby’s data plan. Sigh. I have tried to come up with a cheaper option, but so far nothing has presented itself. And I HATE that TV/phone/cable companies can’t just offer a permanent rate! Why the stupid promo prices that jump astronomically after 6-12 months? Boo.

  25. Brandon:

    Our family recently switched home phone service to a VoIP provider to save money. We went through several providers, but at the end of the day we decided on getting an Ooma Telo. It was $200 on amazon, but completely nixes the phone bill completely (except $12/yr for regulatory fees). The voice quality is top notch, although you do want to check your broadband connection to make sure it is strong enough for VoIP (http://www.whichvoip.com/voip/.....speed.html). We were spending upwards of $30-35/month for phone service before, so the break even for us was around 6 months. As for the rest of our services, we bundle TV/Internet and renegotiate yearly…

    Good luck!

    • DM:

      Ditto on the Ooma. Had mine for almost a year. Great phone. I work out of home office but am in meetings 4hrs+/day. And you can keep current #, link your address to it for 911, etc.
      Pro – low low initial cost, free US long distance, great spam call blocking. Call and vmsg fwd’ing to another phone or email.
      Con – tricky to fax, but does work. If internet is out, so is phone.

      Drop cable altogether. Use over the air for local channels. Repurpose a space PC to run Boxee (or other) and watch tons of free and legal TV shows from the web. And rely on Redbox or Netflix.

      Don’t scrimp on the Internet if your work, phone, and movies depend upon it. And get involved in net neutrality.

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