Amusing Yourself Completely (and Legally) for $100 a Month

Currently, I pay a stupid amount of money every month to amuse myself and my family. We pay for music, movies, television and books, DVDs and video games and so on and so forth. The economy, such as it is, loves us for it, since apparently we’re some of the few still doing that right about now. But let’s say that in these recessionary times we decided that enough was enough, that we were done with just shoving money down the entertainment hole, and set for ourselves a strict entertainment budget of $100 a month — that’s $100 a month for all three of us, to be clear, not $100 each. Could we (and, implicitly, you) amuse ourselves sufficiently with that sum, without resorting to hand puppets? Legally?

Sure. Here’s how I would do it.

Movies/TV:

Bye-bye, Dish Network, hello Netflix. An $8.99/month account gets me a single DVD at a time from the company — but more importantly, it gets me access to the company’s streaming service, which streams about 15,000 movies and television shows directly into my computer. Granted, not every movie in that 15k collection is, shall we say, a classic. But enough are that we could watch a movie a day, every day of the week, without running out of good movies to see. If that’s not enough, and having one DVD out at a time is working for us, a 3-DVD plan is $16.99. Aside from Netflix, I can get other TV/movie fixes from Hulu and the various network sites that stream complete recent shows, all legal.

Yes, the video quality in online streaming video sometimes sucks. Welcome to recession pricing, people. It’s not high-def friendly.

Music:

So long iTunes and CDs (which, frankly, I had waved bye to a while ago), and hello Rhapsody, which streams millions of songs and hundreds of thousands of albums (including almost all new releases) for $12.99 a month, and for $14.99, you can take on the “to go” feature, which means you can stuff your not-an-iPod MP3 player with as much rented music as it can take. Yes, it’s rented, and it has DRM on it, but as long as you know that going in, it’s not a horrible thing; speaking as someone who’s used Rhapsody for years, it’s not a huge deal as a practical matter. And the vast library of tunage means you can play around and discover stuff not only risk free, but also in a place that’s better organized and curated than the totally random placement of music online in general. And finally, Rhapsody is set up to pay artists when their music is streamed/rented, and that’s a nice feeling. Aside from Netflix, of course, there lot of sites that post legal music for free, from MySpace (where lots of musicians stream their latest work) to Imeem to last.fm and Pandora and so on. But $13 a month gets you everything with a minimum of having to forage all over the ‘net for it.

Video Games:

If you have a desktop computer purchased in the last couple of years, that you didn’t buy for less than $500 (i.e., with an actual video card rather than integrated graphics), GameTap will take care of your general gaming needs for $9.95 a month ($5 a month if you buy a year up front). This includes some recent new games (including quasi-exclusives like the groovy Sam & Max series) and thousands of old school games that even a crappy computer can handle. Again, this is all rental rather than buying; you’ll just have to get used to the idea that in a recession, renting is what happens. If you’re a console gamer, there’s GameFly, which lends out console games, Netflix style, through the mail, but be warned it’s the most expensive monthly subscription here, at $22.95 for two games out at a time (there’s a less-advertised $15.95-for-one-game option, too). And of course the Internets have lots of flash games for casual time wasting.

Books:

Dude, it’s called a library. Pretty much every town has one. You can check out tons of books, totally free (minus, of course, what you pay in taxes to support your local library and its services). Sometimes new books have waiting lists, but all the more reason to use the recession to catch up on your classics. Extra bonus: most libraries these days also lend videos, and some rent video games, too. Nearly all also have Internet access as well. Who knew these secret repositories of information, hidden in nearly every town and city in the nation, could be so useful in these hard times?

So, adding these all up, what are our monthly costs? They range from $0 (Watch Hulu, listen to MySpace, play Flash games, read library books) to $55 (3-DVD Netflix plan, Rhapsody-to-go plan, GameFly standard plan, read library books). My own personal current “here comes teh recession” set-up (1-DVD Netflix plan, Rhapsody-to-go, GameTap on the yearly plan, library books) comes out to $29 a month. Being theoretically able to handle a family of three’s entertainment needs for less than $30 a month (or $360 a year) really doesn’t suck.

But wait! Some of the more observant of you say. We see what you did there: Outside of the library and GameFly, every option here is a fairly bandwidth-intensive computer subscription, which implies a high-speed Internet connection. Well, yes, this is entirely true — in addition to the amounts listed above, you’ll also need high-speed Internet. How high speed? That’s up to you, although if you’re doing a lot of media streaming, I would suggest no less than a 3Mpbs line.

It is possible to get a DSL line with that speed for a fairly reasonable price: Verizon, for example, offers “naked” DSL (that is, a DSL line without a telephone line attached to it) at 3 Mpbs for $29.99 a month. Some other phone providers are reluctant to offer “naked” DSL (for example, my own provider, Embarq, will offer naked DSL only if one is already a subscriber, and threatens to cut one’s service entirely without it), but it’s worth asking for specifically — and then poof, there go your landline costs, replaced by cellphones and/or Skype or some other “voice-over-IP” setup.

So to be on the safe side, let’s say that a 3Mpbs internet line is $40/month. Adding that cost to the most maxed-out of our entertainment scenarios above gets our monthly entertainment costs to $95 a month. My own current “recession plan” set-up — I pay Embarq $40 a month for a 5Mpbs line — comes to $69.99 a month, or about $840 a year. So $840 a year could get me and my family all the personal entertainment we could handle, plus all the various other Internetty things we do, like e-mail and Web browsing and instant messaging and writing on blogs and so on. That comes to just under 77 cents per family member, per day. Cheap enough to throw in popcorn.

Would this be an optimal entertainment experience? Obviously not, and even while factoring in the high-speed Internet costs, I’m making some other fairly large assumptions here, most notably that one’s home situation includes a desktop or laptop of fairly recent vintage, and that a family would be happy to timeshare said computer without friction — and indeed, would be happy to make the computer the centerpiece of their entertainment experience. We can argue how realistic this is, especially if one is in a one-computer household. And of course, speaking as someone who makes his living selling people like you his creative work, I’d hope that even in these challenging times, you might choose to buy an occasional bit of entertainment, especially books, especially ones with my name on the cover. I like to eat and pay my mortgage, you know.

But remember that this isn’t meant to be an exercise in optimal experiences, either for you as a consumer or for me as an entertainer; this is an exercise in “could we still amuse ourselves whilst tightening our belts to an insane degree.” The answer is: actually, yes (just remember to ask your library to buy my books. Thanks).

I will say this, however: Were I just starting out in life, and save for books, which I have an enduring weakness for, this is pretty much the way I’d go: A reasonably robust laptop, a personal media player/phone, high-speed Internet, subscription set-ups more or less like above, and we’re done. I suspect this philosophy will come as no great surprise to current 20-somethings, who are already living like this. But for everyone else, it’s a reminder that there are new and cheaper ways of doing things. Which is good to remember in times like these.

94 thoughts on “Amusing Yourself Completely (and Legally) for $100 a Month

  1. Since I volunteer at a local library, I have to add that you can check out not just books, but DVD’s, CD’s (music) and books on CD from your local library. Some libraries also have game CDs/DVDs available. Check to see.

    That would cut your cost even more.

    If you use Interlibrary Loans (ILLs) you can get what you want (new stuff) relatively quickly and still (in most cases) at no cost.

    Give it a shot…

    Dave

  2. Some other totally free options:

    http://www.librivox.org — free recordings of books in the public domain. Yes, it isn’t the latest and greatest, but it is some good stuff. And even though many of the people reading are amateurs, many of the readings are excellent.

    http://www.decoderringtheatre.com — REALLY good “radio show” done in the style of old time radio. Two shows, both excellent! (Also, one of the authors you have had on your “Big Idea” has done voice work for them.)

  3. If only I didn’t have a sports addiction, I’d totally do it this way. Hell, I would even skip out on the game component. But that sports addiction is a very expensive habit, since it drags the rest of cable along with it.

  4. Great article. One other suggestion regarding legal, free music. Blip.fm…kinda of like Twitter & last.fm combined. It has become my favorite entertain away the hours option.

  5. as a librarian, thanks for the plug. please keep in mind that many public libraries also provide entertainment such as story hours, music performances, lectures, and game nights.

    it’s unfortunate about the dire times, but libraries support communities. also unfortunate that it takes such events to increases traffic through our doors, but we’ll take what we can get.

  6. Pandora.com is a good website for streaming music too. You can set your own stations based on certain types of music or artists, or just dump it all onto one station for your optimal eclectic music experience.

  7. Yup, Luis, I’d be able to watch very little auto racing in this scenario–and I don’t even get to watch as much as I’d like, lacking the Speed channel.

    However, for me, the real kicker is internet access speed. I live in a, shall we say, less than advantaged neighborhood, and AT&T has not seen fit to deploy DSL at speeds faster than 3 Mbit, which translates at my house to about 1.5Mbit. And I’m not giving Comcast another dime of my money; given past history, I’d be paying $300/month for cable internet access within a couple of years.

  8. Is there an xbox in the house? Xbmc for the original, netflix for the 360. Get some of that streaming content on the big screen.

  9. I get cable TV at my apartment for free, so that takes care of most of my tv and movie-watching needs. Hulu.com and CBS.com’s “classics” online video (they have MacGyver!) handles the rest =)

    Also, with the Blu-ray revolution, DVD’s are even cheaper now. For the price of your Netflix subscription, I buy older DVD’s from Wal-mart or Target on sale… and I get to keep them, which is a big deal for me, since I watch my DVD’s (and VHS’s) over and over.

  10. Oh, and I get both wireless and high-speed ethernet (10/100/1000, whatever that means) connections at my apartment for free too. So that’s even less that I have to pay for.

  11. I have never understood why anyone wouldn’t choose Rhapsody over iTunes. The streaming option alone is worth the price if you have a decent speaker system on your computer. Rhapsody’s particularly great when traveling if your hotel has broadband (and I rarely pick a hotel that doesn’t).

    And library use is indeed reported to be way up, which is always a good thing. As mimo pointed out, at their best, libraries are also centers for communities to come together.

    luis is right, though: if you’re a big sports fan, not having cable becomes problematic. All I really follow these days is UNC basketball, and even that’s kept me hanging onto my cable. There are always sports bars but that does tend to drive costs up, especially if you drink like I do.

  12. D00d…you forgot free ebooks! Baen, Tor, Bookview Cafe, Google books, Book Glutton, Fictionwise (and some very cool authors we won’t name) are just some of the places you can find ebooks. In fact, Lincoln Trail Library System in Central Illinois has what is called a “media mall.” It let’s you check out ebooks (various formats including audio books) for a set length of time…a “loan period” if you will. At the end of that time you lose access to that particular book.

  13. Even more music suggestions:

    lala.com – Once you sign up for a free account you can listen to anything* in their library without charge. If you want to listen to the track again, you can either pay $0.10 for unlimited web streaming or buy it as an MP3 (prices vary, but they are competitive with Amazon). Their selection is OK, but not as good as Rhapsody.

    emusic.com – emusic operates on a model where you pay a fixed monthly fee for a certain number of downloads per month. Pros: no DRM, keep your music forever, per-track prices much cheaper than Amazon or iTunes. Cons: little major label content, download evaporate and the end of each month.

    Used CDs – If you don’t like paying monthly subscriptions and you don’t mind buying your music by the album, you can often find used CDs on Amazon for less then the price of the equivalent digital download. I’ve bought several used CDs off Amazon, and I’ve yet to get one that was badly scratched or otherwise damaged. The downside is that you have to wait for the CD to be shipped to you, instead of getting the instant gratification that downloads offer. Also the CD artist won’t be getting any of your money, but then neither will the RIAA. Plus, getting the actual CD means you get the liner notes, which is something I miss when going the all digital route.

  14. @luis #3:
    People named “Luis” must think alike ’cause this was the first thing that popped into my head when reading this entry. I’m not surprised that John didn’t mention sports since he’s stated many times that he couldn’t care less about them (or, at least, they are not one of his major sources of entertainment).

    However, the solution to this is very easy. I can’t stand watching games alone…it’s actually quite depressing. Why not ask a friend to watch a game and go over to his/her place? Bring a 6-pack and some chips & dip and your golden. Plus, you have the added benefit of getting to cheer with someone else instead of celebrating on your own. That should be $12 max per game you watch. I typically only get to watch 1 full game a month so this would be $12 a month for me.

    If you need to have your fix at home, many of the major sports are broadcast over-the-air on the major networks. If you don’t have a digital TV, then you would have to make a 1-time investment to get a digital to analog converter and maybe even an antenna. One time costs for an antenna, mounting gear, cable, and a digital-to-analog converter should be about $200 (or $16/month spread over 12 months). More expensive initially, but you don’t have any recurring costs.

    If you can’t find a friend who will want to watch and don’t want to go through the hassle of setting up an antenna, there’s always sports bars. This is more expensive because they will want you to eat/drink while you are there, but it works if you’re desperate.

    I don’t have the time to watch full games all the time so I get my sports fix via highlights. Most major sports feature free highlights on their websites, generally on the same day the game occurs.

    This certainly wouldn’t work for someone who watches multiple games a weekend/month. But it would work great for me. Thankfully we are not in such a desperate situation that we would need to cut back like this.

  15. Oops, I forgot the footnote in my previous comment:
    * Not quite everything. I’ve come across a couple of tracks that you can buy as an MP3, but not stream.

  16. kittent:

    “D00d…you forgot free ebooks!”

    Didn’t forget them, just prefer to read printed books and want to encourage library use. As I said, this is how I would do it. Although I recognize, of course, others like ebooks.

  17. re: Netflix streaming – if you only have the one at a time plan, you can only stream something like 2 hours/month for free via the website. You only get unlimited streaming with the 2-at-a-time and up plans.

  18. On the wait time issue for popular releases: lots of public libraries (most?) now have extensive online services that enable you to search the catalogue, place a hold, check your place in the hold queue, and process renewals.

    And I would add that while yes, it’s not free, you pay for it whether or not you take advantage of it, so it might as well be free.

  19. J.D.@12: I myself did choose iTunes over Rhapsody as my music provider of choice, for a few reasons:

    1) As an iPod owner, I was concerned about difficulties getting Rhapsody to work with iPods*. Since my iPod is typically the way I listen to music, I want to be able to take it with me. And I can’t guarantee that I’ll always have a computer with me capable of streaming music.

    * Granted, this was a couple of years ago and I don’t know if Rhapsody’s issue of working well with iPods has been resolved or not.

    2) I do appreciate the size of the Rhapsody library; I did have a chance at one point to browse through it and check out new items. However, the concept of renting music just doesn’t work for me personally; if there’s an album I want to listen to, I prefer to just go ahead and buy it. Then I can burn it down to CD and do whatever I like with it. Including going old-school and popping it into a stereo and playing it that way, if I so desire. ;)

    3) I’m happy that iTunes has moved off the DRM model finally and is also going to be instituting more competitive pricing–I suspect because Amazon’s MP3 store is giving it a run for its money.

    (I note that although I am a drinker of the Apple Kool-aid ;), I’ve also bought MP3s from the Amazon store. They’ve had some things I wanted that iTunes didn’t, and were cheaper to boot. They also made it extremely easy to port the purchased music into my iTunes library, so kudos to them for that.)

    To tie this around into the overall topic of the post, I have definitely been interested in buying music electronically when I can, just because the albums are as much as half the price as compared to a full CD bought in a store.

  20. I suspect that in the case of a number of your readers – and I include myself in that number – it could be entirely possible to cut the entertainment budget for a year to $0 (or £0).

    In short:

    Stop buying new DVDs/computer games and watch/play the ones you’ve already bought that you haven’t even opened yet. Sorted!

  21. I am so jealous of everyone else’s internet speeds. I’m in Australia, and pay $129.95/month for 1.5Mps with a 40G limit – and that’s the fastest line and biggest download limit I can get right now without moving to the inner suburbs of a major city. And that’s without the government’s wonderful censorship plan coming into play.

  22. I count “internet connection” as our entertainment and that’s $35 a month for low-end DSL (I think it’s DSL, it shares the phone line because we don’t have cable TV at all.) It’s the all-you-can-read news-and-information buffet!

    For $100 a month we could get cable TV, too, which we might end up having to do given that digital TV signals aren’t potent enough to work their way through the local hills. Or we could continue our occasional chinese-buffet habit and say the heck with television, which is probably more likely.

    We mostly acquire books, CDs, DVDs, etc as holiday and birthday gifts – technically a zero expenditure there, if you don’t count the reciprocal gift-giving. We also have one or two magazine subscriptions that I don’t remember buying… What can I say? We just aren’t media people…

  23. Like some of the others up above, I work in a library, and one of the sad things we’re seeing right now is that even though our numbers are up by more than 10,000 people over last year (pretty busy for a library with only 5 staff members!), our budget has been cut to the point that not only can we not afford to buy new books, we’ve had to do things like turn off our water heater and turn the thermostat down to around 55 to try and reduce our utility bills. Our town council is discussing cutting our hours at their meeting this week, and after that the next step would be cutting staff or closing entirely. On top of that, our state library department sent out an email this week letting us all know that they were cutting back services by almost 90% and laying off most of their staff because the state cut their budget to the point that they can no longer meet their matching requirement for federal funding.

    So, if you like your library, enjoy it now, because it may not be there tomorrow. And please, if you can, let your local policy makers know that you do use the library, and that you consider it an essential service.

  24. Australia has it good. Here in New Zealand, you’d be lucky if $29.99/month would net you a basic /dialup/ plan, never mind DSL. Bloody Telecom has us all over a barrel.

  25. Aha! I knew that Pajamas media thing was putting the hurt on the Scalzis! First, you are sharing a single netflix subscription between three people (o, the humanity). Next, you’ll be watering down the baby’s milk. *sobs*

  26. Lots of good tips. I’ve been mulling over the Netflix over Comcast swap, and will do it soon.

    THe music and gaming are not issues, I have tons of cassettes to digitize before I buy anythign new, and too little time to game. I received Fallout 3 for Christmas, it’ll be Christmas 2010 before I finish it.

    The biggest value for me has always been the library, and while it’s been hard for me not to run out and buy books after reading the Review on Sundays, my kids and I really get the most out of our library cards.

  27. If you’re talking about streaming video and audio over the Internet, and even Netflix (for Mac users), you really should check out Boxee:

    http://www.boxee.tv

    An amazing piece of software that really wraps up all this free video internet thing. I’m in the midst of building a special box for this, but you don’t need to. Just hook your computer to the TV and it would be all you need.

  28. Don’t forget that your internet connectivity is key to many of your cost-saving suggestions. That has to be added into the “Under $100″ equation. Internet + magicJack can eat up a lot of that, especially if you want your connection to be capable of streaming video.

    On the plus side, I know of several places where free wireless is available. You still need the computer, but a friend assures me that perfectly fine laptops are now available at pawnshops in the SE Michigan area for around $100.

    “What’s the last thing you’d give up before food and heat?” has been a parlor game of late.

  29. For the sports addicts above : I am not one, due to disgust over the years of Baseball and other sports having strikes over salaries, etc., when these over grown kids are already making absurd millions playing a game. However, there’s an occasional moments when I remember childhood thrills of the Giants against the Dodgers, etc., and when that happens, I simply go to ESPN.com, and watch their pitch by pitch play. Free, and you get some of the thrill of the moments, if you can’t just get the scores from the many online sources…

    As the son of a librarian, and a major user of libraries (the one closest to me know me by name), I too would like to promote the existence and usefulness of the public library system. If you haven’t been going to one for the last five years or so, you may be very pleasantly surprised as to how EASY it is to get a book, now. If you’re checking amazon.com for books that you might want to read (they suggest it to you based on those you say you liked), you can then check the library online at home, and place a hold. Seriously, it’s almost too convient, you have no excuse for being bookless on a weekend.

    For those of us who are game addicts (“hi, my name is Trighap, and I am a game addict”), you can get many games to play online (flash games, at various sites) for free and some of them are absurdly good considering it’s free. Check it out.

  30. Folks, as Kendra notes, don’t forget to support your local libraries during these times — Book & bake sales aren’t enough. You’ve got to get you neighbors involved too. Libraries are amazing bargains.

    Also, if you’re in a decent location, i.e. within range of a metro center, broadcast TV remains free. Because of the smaller antennas required for HD (most stations have moved up into the UHF channels), even some ‘TV antenna prohibited’ communities may allow them, at least in those places that currently allow satellite dishes.

    Another option, often not legal, is to pool internet connectivity with other households.

  31. As for games, ever since I found a Mac Plus emulator that played Dark Castle and Beyond Dark Castle, I’ve been pretty content. Another option is to check out local flea markets for older game consoles.

  32. Two more advantages of libraries (at least some of them): They have sales of books and other neat stuff at very low prices. Sometimes the items are from the shelves and sometimes they are donated. This has resulted in very pristine books, DVDs, and music CDs entering my possession for literal pennies on the dollar.

    Secondly, my library system not only has free, if limited in time, use of computers they provide BUT they also offer free wireless access with usage limited only by the open hours of the building. Not the fastest but cheap and I have yet to find the system bogged down by too many users.

    If they offered hot coco on snowy days I would be there until they kicked me out.

  33. If you already HAVE an Xbox 360, Netflix streams quite well to your TV. I don’t recommend you run out and buy one for this purpose, but if you, hypothetically speaking, are willing to ruthlessly play the What The Grandkids Really Want for Xmas card, it solves the problem of the whole family being clustered around a computer desk.

  34. J.D. Rhoades: I had the same problem – I’ve been using IE for Netflix, and then it gave me a non-specific scripting error.

    But I wanted to watch a thing, and the help page said the phone hold time was 1 minute, so I called. And they have a new thing called Silverlight, and it plays all the streaming stuff in Firefox. (One of the videos had some weird vertical lines, otherwise all good.)

  35. Netflix + eMusic (‘lite’ subscription and the smallest Audiobooks subscription) here.

    Audiobooks from eMusic are great – hours of entertainment for $9.99/month. Best bang for the buck anywhere, IMO. I’m currently listening to Stephen King’s “Lisey’s Story”, which is about 13 hours of entertainment. They’ve got almost all of the Lois McMaster Bujold “Miles Vorkosigan”
    tales (missing Winterfair Gifts and Ethan Of Athos).

    The question folks might want to be asking is, how much entertainment do you want, and what sort do you want? Everyone’s needs are going to vary.

  36. Re: Netflix streaming resolution…

    The player automatically selects a resolution based on it’s bandwidth detection algorithm. I have found that it often detects a rate slower than my connection will actually support. If you want to force the stream to a higher rate/resolution. Click on the black area in the browser window below the picture window. Hit “Shift B” and it should open a drop down selection box dialog allowing you to select from several “rates”. Keep in mind that if you choose too high of a rate you will be forced to wait for the video to cache a significant portion before it will begin play. Also too high of a rate could result in several pauses of streaming for the player to recache additional stream data.

    This little tip has my Netflix streaming experience much more enjoyable.

    Oh, and you have to force this at the beginning. If you switch rates in mid stream (mid movie) it will start at the beginning with the new rate. The rate selection is sticky for as long as you have that browser viewing session active. So you only have to fix it once to watch three episodes of Hero’s back to back at 1600kbps. >;o)

  37. I just got the media server functions of my PS3 working. I use PlayOn to stream Netflix and Hulu directly to my TV. Sure, it’s wonky if both PC and PS3 are wireless, but the program costs $30 EVER and between Netflix watch instantly and Hulu it’s like having cable again. Obviously, the integrated Netflix streaming is great for 360 owners, but I’m not buying a game console where the wireless adapter and hard drive cost $100 each (not to mention $50/year for XBOX live).

    I haven’t had cable for about four years. Something had to go when my first child was born. So far this has saved me $2000 which I have spent on things like food, shelter and buttloads of toys at Christmas. Also, ditching cable allows me control over my kid’s media consumption and consumer tastes. They rarely see commercials so I don’t have to deal with Hannah Montana or other effluvia from the Disney channel.

  38. Video game cheapskates should also check out GOG.com (Good Old games) for classic games, retooled for XP/Vista, at very reasonable rates and, of course, legal.

  39. I haven’t had cable tv in a couple of years and I still manage to keep up with things.

    I suspect this philosophy will come as no great surprise to current 20-somethings, who are already living like this

    I think that’s me. :)

    I have friends who have cable for the times when I MUST WATCH Battlestar Galactica before Hulu gets it, but most of the time, I either watch HD over the air ($70 tuner gets most major networks over the air) or I wait a day or two and watch it streaming. Or I spend $2 and buy it on iTunes. This still remains cheaper than getting cable (and TiVo, since I am not a huge fan of not being able to pause tv), and the few things I miss I don’t really miss so much.

    In short: watching tv over the internet works for me, and so can you.

  40. If you don’t actually watch a lot of TV, you may find that buying full seasons of only the shows you like from iTunes is far less expensive than paying for cable TV. The only trick is how to stream them to your actual TV, but there are a number of solutions from AppleTV, Slingbox and the Netgear unit down to homebrew stuff for XBox (mentioned above) and old computers you might have laying around.

    For instance, the only shows I really watch “religiously” are Mythbusters, Battlestar Galactica… um, I think that’s it right now. Full seasons of those are what, $20, $30 each on iTunes? I’m paying $50+ a month for just basic HD cable. I’m seriously considering modding my old XBox and chopping that bill – my cable modem bill would jump from $35 to $50, but I’d still save a lot.

    It’s nice, though, to just be able to channel-surf. That would be an adjustment.

  41. Could we (and, implicitly, you) amuse ourselves sufficiently with that sum, without resorting to hand puppets?

    Without resorting to hand puppets? Resorting? Ahem.

    I suppose I can let you slide in that any set of hand puppets that only cost $100 per month of regular use are probably crap.

  42. Netflix’s 2-at-a-time plan has been of GREAT benefit to our family’s entertainment savings since we got sick of paying steadily increasing prices for steadily decreasing services from the cable company. I have yet to find a film that’s been released on DVD or Blu-Ray that they don’t have, and I try HARD to stump them sometimes.

    Being a linux household without a 360 in residence (managed to wrangle a free PS3), Netflix doesn’t seem to want to make streaming easy with our current OSes, so we made a 100.00 one-time investment in the netflix player from roku, which lets us do the netflix stream right on our TV (in 720p when available) without hassle. It’s a great little box, and with support for new services coming (amazon rentals coming, rumors of hulu in the pipeline), it’s a good deal, and keeps us busy, and has great picture quality over a 3mb DSL connection.

    Worth less than ten bucks a month (spread over one year) for my family, anyway, and saves you from having to huddle over a laptop screen to watch something.

  43. the last post, of course, neglects to mention our judicial use of hand puppets, which, despite current thinking, is perfectly legal and not at all deviant.

    TMI?

  44. cphaurckker:

    We went the “please, dear in laws, if you MUST buy us a gift this year, buy us a roku” route, so we’re using that as well. We haven’t had cable for years, and this is simply better.

    Sports – I’m not a huge sports fan, but sometimes I do like to keep track of things. If you don’t mind listening to the game instead of watching it (exactly like our fathers did, lo so many years ago), most sports are streamed live.
    Also, if you are lucky enough to live in a town with a farm team, you can actually go to the game in person – this probably puts you over the $100 limit, though.

    We have an extensive collection of music that I am slowly digitizing, so instead of paying for a music service, I would substitute “frequenting the 2nd run movie theater”.

  45. The only reasonably fast internet connection that we have been able to get is Verizon’s Broadband Wireless. Unfortunately, the service agreement does not permit the downloading of streaming media, and the connection will actually drop if I try.

    We are in kind of an odd situation: close enough to a city to get wireless broadband, but far enough down a dirt road that DSL and cable is unavailable. My neighbor actually talked to Time Warner, but they were unwilling to run cable half a mile for just three houses.

    The local library is excellent, though, and the woods are good for hours of entertainment (you know, walking outside) in all seasons.

  46. “I suspect this philosophy will come as no great surprise to current 20-somethings, who are already living like this. ”

    In fact, it’s so unsurprising that it took me a few minutes to figure out how I could manage to spend MORE than 100$ per month on media amusements. I suppose it’d involve going out to see movies or live music a lot. The difficulty there is more the time and energy than the money.

  47. I used our local library for a number of years and my wife recently started working there. Unknown to me was the “other media” you could take out including paintings, hand puppets, and even fishing rods.

  48. Dailylit.com has over 800 free books, many of them the classics that you all want to read but haven’t made the time to do (I’m currently reading Moby Dick for the first time). It makes it easy, because it emails you (or there is an RSS feed) a short section at your desired frequency. If you get hooked (as I did with Cory Doctorow’s “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom) you can request they immediately send you the next installment. Like virtually not being able to put the “book” down. ;)

  49. You must not live as far into the boondocks as the pictures of the Scalzi compound suggest if you think $40/month for 3Mbps is a safe bet. Ok, now that I think about it all the offers I get are for bundled cable and internet (6 months at $70/month, no indication of what it’d be after that).

    I don’t know if Charter does internet only or how much it would cost to run the line to the house. I’m not holding my breath for someone to install DSL in my “neighborhood”. With satelite running about $50/month (with possible hardware costs), I think I’ll stick with my $11/month dial-up, and do most of my surfing at work (no video, though).

  50. We do most of these ‘on the cheap’ things already (hulu, imdb, no cable at all, library–including Interlibrary Loan where you can get books from far away libraries too) and we also threatened Embarq with switching to Comcast to get our ‘naked’ 3Mbps line (de riguer for online classes).

    I will say that we found Netflix to not be as great a deal as it looks initially. They do take into consideration your turnarounds (how many DVD’s you’ve gotten and how quickly you turn them in for more) when they send out the movies in higher demand. Frequently folks who they’ve (in effect) lost money on get new high-demand movies only after a long wait. We were pleased for about a year because we were very close to a distribution center and turned movies over like mad people. Once we moved, the nearest distribution center was over 500 miles away and the time from us mailing a disc to us receiving a new disc was averaging over 7 days-not a good deal any longer.

  51. Mike, I am digitizing my music too. It is slow going, but VERY satisfying! I am ripping my cds at full bandwidth and ripping the vinyl and other hirez sources with WMA 24/96 lossless.

    I brought the wife back to listen to the results, I wanted her to hear the hirez of Leon Russell playing the piano on “A Song For You.” She listened to the whole track then found out how to see which ones were hirez. Then she kicked me out of the room!

    It would be difficult for me to give up Everquest II which I have enjoyed for three years! I could of course, but I would miss it as it is too expensive.

    Don’t leave out old tech as a money saving lifestyle. My kids got a N64 for Christmas and they play it more than the PS2.

    Trey

  52. In late 2007 my husband was unexpectedly laid off from his job. At the time we were only engaged, but my employer allowed me to add him to my health insurance. Yay, gay rights advocates! Unfortunately, the added cost of the insurance plus the additional taxes (boo DOMA!) resulted in us having exactly $39 leftover after bills each month. Our two luxuries were cable, which we reduced to the most basic plan possible ($15/month) and Netflix ($17/month). My husband does quite a bit of freelance writing, so internet was a necessity, but we did downgrade to a lesser bandwidth. We watched a LOT of TV shows that way (CSI, Doctor Who, Smallville, Star Trek, South Park, to name a few) plus tons of movies.

    So I heartily endorse your money-saving plan. It worked well for us on a very tight budget. (My husband is once again employed, so hopefully the recession will pass us by unnoticed. Cross my fingers.)

  53. Echo what Kendra said above. In tough times, libraries are expected to cut their budgets just like every government agency and sometimes even more so–if it’s public safety or the library, we know who takes the hit.

    But library USAGE increases during tough times. And not only are they cutting their public-money support, but if there’s a library endowment, it will be cutting its pass-through supplemental funding to the library itself to conserve capital in a down market.

    On the (slightly) bright side, this generally means more friends-of-the-library book sales.

  54. $8/month gets you a Live365 VIP subscription, which gets you thousands of internet radio stations commercial free. If, like me, you are a music junkie with extremely eclectic tastes, that’s hog heaven. I’ve got the streaming radio app installed on my laptop, home entertainment computer, and office machine. Once their iPhone app is released (and they already have other mobile apps), I’ll be able to listen in my car. Way better than satellite radio. Between that and the eMusic subscription, music needs are pretty well covered (although we still do the occasional iTunes and Amazon purchase for stuff that we absolutely must have in the permanent library).

    With Boxee on the Mac Mini that functions as the home theater computer, we’ve got a huge selection of programming, all on the big screen, including Joost, Hulu, and Netflix streaming. We’ve been going through Terry Jones’ “Medieval Lives” series, and it’s a hoot. As a matter of fact, our Super Bowl counter-programming was watching the first 10 episodes of the first season of “Adam-12″ streamed from Hulu.

  55. And for music lovers outside the USA (where Rhapsody is not availabe), there’s Swedish Spotify (www.spotify.com) that has a free version for some countries (with audio-ads) and a premium service for anyone (?) for approx 10 euro, if I remember correctly.

    Back to reading your ‘Ghost Brigades’….

  56. We are spending something close to $200 for the combination of high speed Internet/cable/Netflix.

    I find our cable expenses appalling, but Jim is into ESPN “news” shows, and we both watch a fair amount of BBC America and the Sci Fi Channel. We don’t even have a premium movie station anymore, and cable is close to $100 (Comcast). I evaluated other options, but we’re both big fans of digital video recording and movies (somewhat older ones) on demand. Comcast cable turned out to have more features.

    We still buy books and CDs but fewer than we used to.

  57. Great article! We haven’t had cable for 15 years and so we have been doing the Library, Netflix thing for quite a while. Most of our entertainment comes from reading blogs and buying cheap games for the boys from ebay and gamestop.

  58. I do the hulu/netflix thing but occasionally while watching on NetFlix I will get a “your internet has slowed down” message- this is good ole ComCast doing this – not all the time but enough to make it annoying. NetFlix then reconfigures or something and it takes a few minutes before the movie starts up again.

  59. “You can check out tons of books, totally free (minus, of course, what you pay in taxes to support your local library and its services)”

    Glad to see you mentioned taxes. Very few people do.

  60. All of that is well and good, but, could you please share some insight on drinking at a discount?

    We spend way too much time and money entertaining ourselves at the sushi bar, and saki isn’t cheap.

  61. At iTunes rates, $12.99 equals 130 songs. That’s 130 NEW songs, EVERY MONTH. And that’s not to mention the vast libraries of completely-free content, both on the general Internet and right there on iTunes. The Solaris International Podcast is two hours of electronica, every week, totally free.

    Sorry. Rhapsody is the new hotness. It’s not a good deal. The only reason I’d go for it is if I were some kind of anti-Apple zealot, and even then there’s Amazon.

  62. Density Duck:

    “At iTunes rates, $12.99 equals 130 songs.”

    Given that most iTunes songs are available for purchase at 99 cents, I would suggest to you that your math is off, perhaps by a factor of ten.

    As noted in the entry, the advantage to Rhapsody for me is that a) everything is one place and reasonably well-organized, making it all easy to find, and b) Rhapsody compensates artists, whereas just finding stuff online frequently does not.

    Also, Rhapsody’s been around for years; it’s not exactly the new hotness.

  63. It may be worth noting that, with Netflix’s 3-DVD (well, 2+ DVD) package, you can create multiple queues, with different usernames for each queue, so it’s as if you had 3 1-DVD packages. And I believe you can set parental linits on the queues, so littler ones can make their own lists. And of course the master account has access, as well.

  64. As a librarian, like others above, thanks for the endorsement! We know we provide a great public service – YOU know we do as well. Unfortunately, our legislators often don’t. Please tell them how important the library is to you and your community. Often. Emphatically. (though politely, however hard that may be).

  65. “All of that is well and good, but, could you please share some insight on drinking at a discount?”

    Two words: home brew!

    I used to do it before my wife and I had too many kids all at once. Most of us home brew beer, but you can even home brew sake! And mead, and wine. You have to have some serious licensure to distill however.

    Trey

  66. Bloody hell.

    ““naked” DSL (that is, a DSL line without a telephone line attached to it) at 3 Mpbs for $29.99 a month.”

    US internet is cheap as chips. The very cheapest deal I managed to get in Australia is Naked DSL, 1.5Mbps for $70 a month. Seems your basic services are two years ahead of ours.

  67. If you are a console gamer and you like movies and you have a Blockbuster outlet near you, I’d recommend Blockbuster over Netflix. Why? Because you can return your movies to the store and get more, without having to wait for the mail. Oh, and you get coupons (up to two a month) that you can rent games with. And those games only come with a $1.25 restocking fee to keep for 30 days. You can bundle your gaming costs in with your movie costs and save yourself some money.

  68. With a decent internet connection you can also play competitive games like poker pretty cheap. If you’re a decent poker player, you can even make a few bucks to purchase entertainment.

  69. Another “cheap” way to rent movies is through RedBox (www.redbox.com). $1 movie rentals for new movies is a good alternative to BlockBuster.

    I’m lucky to have a few of their movie vending machines in my area. I also have to admit that their business (essentially a movie store in a vending machine) intrigues me.

  70. Best value for entertainment is a 2nd hand PS2+used games from Gamestop. They have WALLS of games and they let you TRY them for a week and return them for equal credit. And the PS2 will still have the best game library for years to come. I bought my PS2 for $50 and can sell it for more than that now.

  71. Folks who drop their land lines and just use their cell phones: Check out 911 first! In many areas 911 calls from cell phones do not go to the appropriate dispatch because they don’t know where you’re calling from. Getting emergency help with a cell phone can be delayed by as much as 30 minutes. Obviously, this is bad. When you call 911 from a land line in most areas the dispatcher gets your 411 before you even report the problem and help is on the way long before you hang up. You may want to hang on to the land line until emergency services catch up with how cell phones have changed things.

  72. There is a decent online videogame that is totally free (donation-based). It’s called Rubies of Eventide. I’m not one to plug things (although I am a volunteer staff member of the game – that goes by the nickname of Mitt – so I do have a little bit of bias toward this game), but I thought I would add my $.02 on inexpensive entertainment.

    Anyway, it’s a continually evolving game, a great community (centered around a easy-to-use messageboard), a great group of volunteer staff and developers, and the game is older code/engine so it’s easily compatible older, inexpensive computers.

    And for the literary sorts, many of the players/staff write decent quality fiction stories and post them in the game’s messageboards (including myself).

  73. Libraries are how I roll. Of the 92 books I read last year, only thirty of them were ones that I already owned or purchased. all of the rest of them were borrowed from the library (except for the few that I borrowed from Momma. she and I have the same tastes!)

    I ripped my cd collection to MP3 and I have various mood playlists I pop on. I get Netflix and I watch the streaming movies. I spent a year and a half without an internet connection, and I nearly went out of my mind.

  74. This is so timely. I want to get rid of cable, but the teenagers resist. We only have a basic cable package, and even that is outrageous. My sports teams aren’t local, so I rarely can watch them play on TV. If I got rid of the cable, I would have to add occasional trips to the sports bar to my monthly entertainment. Which would be great — the local brew pub is excellent, and they have several televisions.

    We do Netflix, although we don’t own the right equipment for the streaming thing. I’d get it, if we ditched the cable. We haven’t had a problem getting stuff we want to watch, but then about half of the DVDs we get are “low demand” items. We’re currently watching _Hill Street Blues_ a few episodes a week.

    I started using the local library more because I was just plain out of shelf space at home. I’m glad to know, John, that you approve of this practice, since so far that’s how I’ve read all of your books!

  75. An Abebooks search only tells you what sellers are asking for those books, not whether they’re actually selling those books for that much.

    That said, I’m going to have to update my homeowners insurance to cover my copy of ATTS.

  76. As an average reader it is nice to pick up 1st Ed HC for $10 and later find that it is being offered for outrageous prices on-line. Would I sell? Nope. I like my books. I’ve noticed that UK HCs that may have an smallish initial print run and then later the author becomes popular in the USA are likely to increase in “value” a great deal (Peter F Hamilton).

  77. Oh, and somebody may already have mentioned it, but I’ve grown fond of Paperback Swap (www.paperbackswap.com). If you’ve got lots of books lying around that you don’t read much anymore, you can trade them for other books for what is, essentially, the price of shipping it Media Mail.

    Caveat that you should not try this if you think it means you can finally get rid of all your old Tom Clancy or Danielle Steel novels; the site tends to be much heavier on mass-market paperbacks and former bestsellers (for obvious reasons) and you won’t turn them around very quickly. But you do find a lot of SF/F, and I’m pleased at the amount of anime I’ve been able to get that my local store doesn’t carry.

  78. I have a four-year-old laptop that I hook up to my older tv with an RCA s-video cable to watch streaming Netflix on RoadRunner. I’m wondering whether AT&T DSL will give me the same speed, as it would be cheaper. Haven’t had problems with streaming Netflix, but do have problems with ABC’s new video player.

    Great suggestions! Yay, libraries! (speaking as a former public librarian, and current patron of two local library systems)–oops, and that reminds me I have a hold to pick up! :) If you MUST buy a book, don’t forget used bookstores (altho that may have been mentioned here already). We have Half Price Books here, they also carry used CDs, DVDs, computer games (and you can sell your stuff there too). Oh, another thought– teachers and librarians often get discount cards at bookstores. :)

  79. I second Netflix. I’ve never had a negative experience with them. The fact that I already own and Xbox 360, and the depth of their Watch instantly offerings, has lead me to cancel my cable subscription. If my roommate didn’t need the landline for work, that would go too.

    My local library system is great, and I’m glad someone is championing them!

  80. Also, Qwest offers naked dsl ranging from $40/mth depending on promo offers. Between that and Netflix, I saved enough $ for books, while still reading what I wanted from the library.

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