About That No Internet Thing…

On one of our many trips to the library this past month, I picked up a book called Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior. I thought it might help me to better understand why seemingly normal people do some truly ridiculous things. Go ahead, say it, we’re all thinking it. Yes, I got the book to help me better understand why we do some truly ridiculous things.

You see, over the past few months, we’ve done a lot of random things in the name of minimalism and frugality. We went all winter without turning on our heat. We got rid of our microwave. We sold some of our once-favorite toys (like our bowling shoes and snorkel vests) on eBay. And in case you hadn’t yet heard, we cut our home internet service…to save money. In fact, you could make a case that all these things have been done in the name of saving money. And here I thought we were supposed to be in a time-out with the green stuff?? Well, let me just tell you this…not thinking about money is about as difficult as living without the internet…and that, my friends, is pretty darn difficult!

The truth is, cutting home internet has been one of the hardest things we’ve ever done. At this point, I fully acknowledge that this is only a dilemma in a first-world, middle-class setting and that there are far worse things than living without internet – like living without access to food or water – but this is where we are, and privilege acknowledged, I want to talk about the realities of making this [quite possibly irrational] decision. Here’s a breakdown of our actual breakdown:

Day 1 – started with equal parts fear and excitement. We were entering a new challenge and we had a brilliant plan.

Day 2 – we realized that we should have upgraded our cell phone plan the month prior to cancelling our home internet, rather than the month of. We learned that it would be a full 20 days before our unlimited plan with 12 GB of hotspot per line would kick in. In the meantime, we were operating on 3 GB of total data allocation, for both the hotspot and phone. We also learned, while trying to print a med list for my mom’s doctor, that our wireless printer would not print documents via the USB or SD card options, only photos.

Day 3 – was actually a good day. It was Wednesday and I was off so there was no need for the internet. We even went to the library to check out a few videos to watch in our free time. Note that at this point, we still thought we might actually have more free time.

Day 4 – we realized once again that our “brilliant” plan was next to useless. I had zero data for the hotspot and could only connect to a very slow 3G network to check my work email. I was completely unable to connect to the VPN or the server at work to access any of my files. Later, at the library, Angie got online but I could not.

Day 5 though 20 were pretty much the same as Day 4. I tried connecting to every internet source under the sun and would end up working from Panera, Chick-Fil-A or the Walmart parking lot. Unwinding late in the evening took on a whole new meaning to. Where we once tuned into Netflix or YouTube to watch an episode of Gray’s Anatomy or a tiny house/alternative living video, we were stuck with TV show reruns or videos from the library that we probably never would have chosen to watch on a streaming service (like Wild Life Adventures with Billy Ray Cyrus circa 2004). We did opt for the Netflix DVD program and quickly found ourselves running to the mailbox like a cat to catnip.

Day 21 – our cell phone plan was upgraded, and the world was right again. Sure, that’s exactly what happened (no it wasn’t). Connecting my computer to the hotspot worked without any problems but I still couldn’t connect to the server and the screen mirroring trick we had hoped to use to connect our phones to the TV did not work at all. We were back to square one with entertainment, so we purchased a digital PVR from Walmart ($38) to record shows through our antenna onto a USB drive. After two full days of trial and error, we finally recorded something correctly.

Day 22 – after an hour of trying unsuccessfully to connect to the internet at the library, I started to cry and question my sanity. Why on Earth are we doing this?, I asked between sniffles. As we sat in the car, talking things out, we struggled to find a reason for our decision or even a goal for the savings we were supposed to be enjoying. But, at the end of my meltdown, we decided we were still committed to having no internet. We concluded that what we really needed was to anchor this challenge with a concrete goal in order to motivate ourselves to see it through. This is called commitment bias by the way, but more on that later.

Day 23 and 24 were just as stressful but we tried to manage the stress by coming up with a goal. Should we put the savings toward a vacation? Should we add to our retirement fund? Should we buy a van and live out the remainder of our time in TN in the parking lot at Walmart to have better access to the internet? Or should we just order the salmon? Nothing sparked, except our tempers, and our usually fun strolls in the park turned into silent power walks.

Day 25 – I spent the morning in standstill traffic, trying to take my mom to an appointment in Nashville, only to be almost an hour late. When the doctor came back with news we did not want to hear – surgery was the only option left for her situation – we were both disheartened. I returned home, tired, to find that my boss had a last-minute project that needed to be done that day. Last minute, when you have no internet, takes on a whole new meaning. All I wanted to do was rest and decompress and what I had to do was go to the library.

Day 26 – instead of figuring out where to go for internet, Angie and I decided to take a vote. On the count of 3, we would raise our hand if we wanted to re-install the internet. The vote was unanimous.

Our $50/month AT&T internet service started exactly 1 month to the day of our disconnect from Comcast. I don’t think we’ve ever felt so relieved.

Now back to the topic of commitment bias, which is simply the tendency to remain consistent with what we have already done or said we will do in the past, particularly if it was said or done in public. I thought long and hard about remaining committed to no internet. After all, I had just written a post on the benefits of cutting the internet cord. To quit now would be embarrassing. No one would listen to us in the future. Everyone would label us as quitters. Then I decided, embarrassment wasn’t a good enough reason to continue doing something that was making us unhappy.

I’m big enough to admit defeat but can’t say that I think this was a complete failure. Cutting the internet for a month helped us to truly see the value of the service in our lives. Talking about it was not a mistake either. I believe it’s important to share the good and the bad, the highs and the lows, in any adventure or challenge, so that anyone considering doing the same can make the most informed decision possible. Cutting our internet service taught us three great lessons:

  • Without a goal, giving up something you enjoy (and often need) can be extremely difficult, especially when you run into roadblocks. If we were saving for a home or an actual planned vacation, it might have been easier to make the sacrifice each day because we would’ve seen the savings adding up to something. As it is, we’re fortunate to be in a position in our life where we’re already diligently saving for our future and for fun, so the sacrifice didn’t put us any further ahead than we already were. And on top of that, we spent any savings we might have seen on gadgets to make the transition easier (like the PVR) or food/beverages to ease the “guilt” of just sitting in a restaurant to use their free wi-fi.
  • Don’t let emotions factor into your decision. Before this, we always solved the “too expensive” dilemma by finding a cheaper alternative. It was kind of our thing. Friends and family always turned to us to get the scoop on ways to save money. We were never the folks who cut off their nose to spite their face. We could always find a better way to do something. But with this, we let anger and pride get the best of us and we made a radical decision based on those emotions.
  • Life is hard enough as it is without intentionally making it harder. We came to TN to help care for my mom. In any given week, we may run to the grocery store, pharmacy, doctor’s office, post office, etc. a half-dozen times, between keeping up a half-acre yard and helping with house chores. It’s hard to find time for ourselves sometimes. I have no idea how I ever thought I’d have time to sit in a library or coffee shop to work. The best I can offer is that I liked the romantic idea of it all. There’s something kind of dreamy about writing in a coffee shop. But there’s nothing dreamy about sitting in Walmart’s parking lot at 8 PM on a Sunday night trying to make sure you have what you need to work the next day.

So where do we go from here? Well, for now, we’re going to chill a little on the money saving challenges and get back to doing something less dramatic with our life – like working in the garden or going for a hike.

Cutting the Internet Cord

On Monday, we cancelled our internet service.

Yes, you read that right. We didn’t downgrade or change providers. We cancelled the service altogether, boxed up the equipment, and sent it back to the fiery abyss from which it came. No, not Hell…Comcast. Though it may seem a bit impulsive, I assure you, it was far from a rash decision on our part.

We started playing around with the idea of cancelling our home internet service last year and then again in January, when our bill went up. What started as $19.99/month quickly became $74.19/month after only a year. Though our town is not that small, our pool of home internet providers is. We have two options – AT&T or Comcast. We’ve tried both in the four years that we’ve lived here and neither provides what we are looking for, a basic internet connection at a reasonable price, without the inclusion of services we don’t want or need.

At first, Angie and I tossed around the idea of making February our test month. We were simply going to unplug everything and give this new echelon of cord-cutting a try; but we chickened out, citing about a half-dozen excuses as to why we just couldn’t do it.

  • I work remotely and the internet is my primary connection to work,
  • The free wi-fi printer our friend so generously gave us won’t work without it,
  • Public wi-fi isn’t safe for online banking,
  • I need the internet for this blog and to download books and to post pictures of our cat to Instagram,
  • We won’t be able to follow along with our stretching routine on the TV without access to YouTube, and most importantly
  • We’re right in the middle of a Netflix marathon of Grey’s Anatomy, for heaven’s sake!

The Universe was having none of our whining though, and in the midst of our indecision, she upped the ante. Our internet service only stayed at $74 for one single solitary month. The next bill we got was for $98!

That’s $24 short of being $1200 a year!

For the internet. Not cable TV. Not phone service. Just the internet. And the basic Performance tier of 25 Mbps, at that. Not even super high speed.

I may be taking a time-out from micromanaging our money right now, but I haven’t lost my mind. Do you know what we can do with $1,200 a year?!? I just finished reading Meet the Frugalwoods and oddly enough there’s a section in it that talks about spending $75/month on cable vs. investing $75/month in an index fund. In the example, foregoing cable for 30 years can net you around $91,000. And that’s just one option. With an extra $98/month, we might just see Alaska sooner than expected.

When I called Comcast to cancel, they asked if they could transfer me to the “Loyal Customer Department”. My answer was no. If they have a department dedicated to keeping customers, perhaps a proactive approach might be in order here. As customers, we should not have to call and beg not to be ripped off by our service providers. And yes, I call it a rip-off. When I can walk out my front door and have access to the same service for free, what else would you call it?

Home internet is convenient, I’ll grant you that, but it is not worth overpaying for.

So, what about those “problems” I mentioned above? Well, the first thing that we did after scheduling our internet cancellation was to upgrade our cell phone plan to one with unlimited data and 12 GB of hotspot per line. Though this increased our monthly bill by $35, we are still saving $63/month over what Comcast wanted to charge. This alone should be enough to sustain all our video viewing, working, and cat-posting activities; but in case it’s not, we also purchased a cheap $23 DVD player. Instead of streaming, we’re going “old-school” for entertainment.

  • Netflix still offers DVD plans and Redbox sends out discounts all the time.
  • The public library and our apartment office both offer free DVD rentals.
  • We have a TV antenna. There’s always the option to watch a show at the time that it airs. I know, there are those pesky commercials, but seriously…how much TV do we need to be watching in the first place?

And for working and blogging:

  • There are no less than 30 free wi-fi hotspots within walking distance of our apartment, including Walmart, Panera, Starbucks, Chick-Fil-A, and our apartment’s clubhouse; and the library is 2 miles away. Also, we have a BearExtender outdoor wi-fi receiver that we use when camping. I tested it on the patio last week and it pulls in 12 of those 30+ signals with 4 bars or more of signal strength. The quality isn’t always the best, but then again, neither was Comcast, and it wasn’t free.
  • I have Microsoft Outlook on my phone, so I’m never without access to my work email.
  • I rarely have to print anything for work, but if I do, I can just save it to my SD card and pop it right into the “wireless” printer.

Easy peasy, right? I have to laugh at this point. Anything can sound great on paper. It’s when you put it into practice that you truly understand what it’s like to live without something that has been a part of your normal daily routine all your adult life. Neither Angie nor I can remember a time when we didn’t have home internet (not counting the 3 months we lived in our camper). When you turn on the computer and realize that it’s not connected to the greater world, there’s an immediate sense of loss. It’s silly, but it’s true.

Day one without home internet brought to light just how many of our daily routines involve technology. Spoiler alert – it was a lot! By the end of the day, we had worked out a few kinks, but we used nearly 2 GB of hotspot data in the process (which is not something we want to do every day!). I’m sure we’ll encounter other challenges along the way. I know there are going to be days that I don’t want to fight with the open wi-fi or leave the house to find a better connection, but we have to keep reminding ourselves why we are doing this – to put our money where our values are. (And because, let’s face it, we love a good challenge!)

If you’re wondering (as we were) why our bill went up so much, here’s what we were told. Our promotion had expired. A year ago, the Loyal Customer Department told me the cheapest option was to have Performance Internet with the TV Starter Pack (about 10 channels). I adamantly stated that I did not want cable TV but they sent the box anyway. It has sat in our closet for a year. Now, that “cheaper” option is increasing in price to accommodate 20 new channels (that we don’t watch anyway) and an increase in internet speed (that we didn’t ask for).