What We Don’t Need

The phone is so pressing, so overt, so immediate, the only socially appropriate reason to use it is if you’re trapped in a fiery building or someone’s in the hospital.
– Derek Powazek, The Etiquette of Modern Communication

ax_sm.jpgWe’re saving for a down payment, and the conservation mentality starts to snowball after awhile. As a result, we’re looking at a few previously untouchable expenses to determine if they are:

  1. Essentials Necessary to Survival, such as groceries, electricity and Blockbuster Online.
  2. Effectively Marketed Products slickly positioned as Essentials Necessary to Survival. These items can be difficult to identify, as they differ depending on which member of the household you ask. Eye cream, for instance, is most certainly NOT effectively marketed. Therefore, neither are web design books, even if they are the second edition of a title one already owns (after all, things change and one has to keep up). A bottle of the new Absolut Peach may or may not be effectively marketed, but it depends on the week one has had.

Something’s going to fall to the chopping block, it’s just a matter of what. We’ve identified a few regular expenses that would yield some decent savings:

  1. Cable. Currently wearing a big target. We’ve got the most basic cable package you can buy, mostly because if we had more, we’d watch more. And everything’s on DVD these days, right? Potential Savings: $30/month.
  2. Landline. Another strong candidate. We signed up for one because, well, that’s what you DO when you move. But the only reason to keep the phone plugged in is for emergency purposes (911 can track the call if, you know). Can’t say the same for the cell phone. Potential Savings: $40/month.
  3. Internet. I just put this in here for shock value. We’re not crazy.
  4. Cell phone. I made it 23 years without one. True, it’s proven invaluable when I’m lost or late, but I’m wondering if the cell phone’s invaluability (it’s a word) is similar to Tivo’s: I’ll certainly miss it when it’s gone, but I’ll manage just fine without it. Potential Savings: $50/month. Throw in Renate’s (not going to happen): over $100/month.

What do you think? Would we miss one moreso than the others? Are we overlooking other options? Comments are on.

25 thoughts on “What We Don’t Need

  1. Weeks

    I’d vote for getting rid of the landline… A lot of cell phones have the option where if you call 911, they can figure out an approximate location, but how many times (hopefully zero) do you think you’d have to call 911 and not be able to say where you are… Oh, and buy a TiVo… You know you miss it too much


  2. Weeks

    Thought of something else: are your cable/phone/net all bundled together? That could help with some savings… And if you are looking to get rid of cable, have you tested what the reception is like just using an antenna? Have you kept track of how many shows you watch that are on basic cable (I know how much you are looking forward to the new season of Laguna Beach…)


  3. nicola

    Hey, we made it longer than anyone without a cell phone. I’d say if you don’t have a kid you should still be able to do it. Obviously you can’t get rid of the cell phones and the landline – unless you do the Skype or Vonage thing, I guess. I did cancel our voicemail package (almost $10/month) and bought an answering machine – so that’s a nice little savings – although offset by the amount of lattes I consume. Another area of savings…..And you could drink only water and occasional wine (instead of those claremont fizzes, mojitos etc) and you could talk your wife into using Suave shampoo and you could get a flo-bee so the wife could cut your hair.


  4. nicola

    PS Get rid of cable. A supreme money and time waster – especially if you’re keeping blockbuster online. Would you rather have a house or watch Super Nanny?


  5. Weeks — what if I’m choking? I’d need to give my location in that kind of situation. If our cell phones have the 911 feature, that will likely sound the landline’s death knell.

    All the bundle deals here seemed to pop up after we’d already hooked everything up. We get our cable from Comcast, internet and phone from SBC. We’ve thought about the antenna, too — I think that’s a distinct possibility, but only if we can get the 3 networks (Dancing with the Stars is back this fall).

    Nicola, I was thinking about you guys and your cell phone obstinance when mulling over our options. Ditching the cell phone really intrigues me. But I think I might seriously regret parting ways with it. Plus, there’s the added safety benefit for the lady of the house.

    As for the house and Super Nanny — can’t I have both?


  6. Renate

    Leave me (and my eye cream, cell phone, mojitos, shampoo, etc.) out of this! I vote for getting rid of cable. We can hold off on the cell phone b/c in 2 months my Verizon contract is up and I’ll switch over to a Cingular family plan with Drew (instant $20/month savings). Combined with canceling cable, I just saved $50/month on our budget. Think I’ll go out and buy a new outfit to celebrate!!


  7. Matt

    I’d suggest ditching the landline, keeping the cell. Besides the safety and convenience of both of you having cell phones, going through the process of buying a home is going to involve perpetual phonecalls from realtors, mortgage brokers, attorneys, movers, etc. You would regret not having a cell phone (but not as much as Renate would regret you not having one, leaving her the contact person for EVERYTHING.) You could definitely ditch the cable, although you would lose the umpteen million re-runs of “Friends” on TBS, which, along with some Absolut Peach, pretty much makes for a perfect evening, doesn’t it? (By the way, when you say you are “managing fine” without TiVo, are you trying to convince us, or yourself?)


  8. Weeks

    You know you want TiVo… This weekend, we’re going to find you inside all day long using the TiVo… You won’t be able to get a big enough fix


  9. Matt

    Aside from the stuff you have listed, Drew, are the cliche money-saving practices of not eating dinner out, bringing your luch to work, buying generic everything, etc. Although in my opinion, it’s a mistake to let trying to save a few dollars prevent you from enjoying the little things in life. $5.00 Pepperidge Farms cookies may be money you could save, but sometimes a Sausalito at the end of the day makes all the difference. So ditch the landline and cable, but if a nice dinner and a mojito or two on a Friday night is something that makes life a little better, go ahead and indulge…in the end, if you’re $50 short on the downpayment because of it, I’m sure someone will lend it to you.


  10. Maggie will curl up on the couch and go back to sleep.

    I’m doing fine without Tivo. I’m doing fine without Tivo. I’m doing fine without Tivo.


  11. Weeks

    Keep Blockbuster – no way the library has the same selection, and if you are dropping cable, you’d need something for Renate (you aren’t that captivating, Drew). Maybe loan Maggie out to the Geauga County Sheriff’s Dept (she’d give Midge a run for her money…) One thing to balance is, yes, you could live like a miser for the next year, do absolutely nothing and get by on the bare bones, and make the down payment, or live slightly more comfortably and save the money in 18 months…


  12. First of all – I’m just giddy with excitement that you’re allowing comments.

    Secondly – to your savings situation…in my opinion there are a few things you should do first (like before you consider a house), if you haven’t already.
    1) Pay off your school loans (if you can). The interest rate on your school loan is most likely much higher than your mortgage rate would be.
    2) Don’t carry a balance on your credit cards. Again, the rates are double or triple what a mortgage rate is. DO use your credit card frequently, but only put on what you can afford to pay off when the statement comes. This should help boost your credit rating which is always good when applying for a loan. The wife also recommends using a Discover card (some people think they’re “above” Discover, like its some low-budget card or something). We use it to “make” money. If you need to buy stuff anyway and are going to pay if off monthly, why not get cash back. Its like they’re paying you to use their card.

    Okay – some other things you can do to help save in the meantime:
    Don’t underestimate the value of shopping smartly. When making out a grocery list separate the items into “the essentials” – milk, bread, things that you know you need and use on a regular basis – and “the really likes but aren’t necessary for survival” – cookies, chips, (soda) pop, etc. and only buy those things in the second list when they’re on SALE. You can get the Sausalitos, but you won’t have to pay $5 for them. Also, if you don’t already have one, get a Dominick’s or Jewel card. You’d be amazed at how much you can save for giving up some marketing data. Oh, and coupons. Use coupons. The wife and I are easy saving ~$1500 a year with these tactics.

    Lastly (as if this wasn’t long enough) – as someone who was in your situation 4 years ago, don’t underestimate buying a 2-flat. Home prices in Chicago and the very near suburbs (hell, even some of the not so near) are astronomical and it makes the thought of buying almost impossible. We were very discouraged with the home search until we decided to open it up to 2-flats. Yes, we are landlords now, but its been way easier to deal with then we thought. The fun fact that we didn’t know or think about is that the mortgage lender was willing to dole out a ton (almost 2x) more cash because we would be offsetting some of the mortgage payment with rent. Our renters are actually covering slightly more than 1/2 of our mortgage payment now. And if you’re considering a condo, its not like you’d be living without neighbors on the other side of the wall (or floor/ceiling).

    I’m so not done, but this is already a novella. We should talk more when you’re back from Bean-town.


  13. Mom

    Let Dad and I have a crack at your budget. Having to cover your expenses (not to mention car wrecks) taught us plenty about scrimping. The eye cream stays.


  14. Little known fact about the library – they can get you any DVD that Blockbuster carries. You just have to wait for it.

    Jeff – great thoughts. But eesh, landlord-ship… I just don’t know.

    This discussion begs another question – though banks now allow you to borrow 100% of your housing costs, is it smart to do so? Surprisingly, more people I talk to are saying ‘yes.’ Or, at least, ‘yes’ to borrowing more vs. spending more of your own money. The idea is to invest money you would be putting into a house into different investments with higher returns, which then help you pay off the house faster.

    My head hurts.

    Yes, the eye cream stays. I’m not suicidal.

    Page 10, Cingular Terms of Service: “WE CANNOT ASSURE YOU THAT IF YOU PLACE A 911 CALL YOU WILL BE FOUND.”


  15. Landlordship isn’t as bad as it seems. Its all about getting a good tenant. Plus with the current condo development boom, there’s actually a rental shortage happening so you can be a bit picky with who you rent to.

    “Investments with higher returns” – where? I know, I know, they’re out there but…the value of our building is just shy of doubled since 2002. I know that’s not typical but I have zero investments that have yielded that kind of return in four years. My approach is that investments are longer term, for retirement or for the kids/college funds, etc.

    Another thought. Consult a financial planner or a CPA or both – I have friends that are both. And I obviously have many opinions on the subject.


  16. Sell your car. Seriously. Okay, I haven’t done that yet myself, but we’ve been considering it since we heard of I-GO car sharing. They have cars parked in designated spots all around Chicago that you can reserve online. During your reserved time you use a card to unlock the door, grab the keys from the glove compartment which, by the magic of RFID, starts the timer. You pay based on time and miles, starting at $6/hour and 50 cents/mile, with packages going up to 100 hours and 2500 miles for $725/month. But here’s the amazing thing (I’m really starting to sound like an infomercial here, aren’t I?): You don’t pay for gas. If you run low, you just use an I-GO gas card that’s in the visor. These days that has to be their biggest “selling” point. You also don’t pay for insurance, and (of course) no more car payments or parking fees. Plus, I imagine there’s some geek joy to be had thanks to the car’s electronic niftiness (in the honeymoon period, at least).

    Again, this is not something I can vouch for personally (yet), but for city-dwellers who find themselves using their car much less than they walk or take the CTA, this seems worth considering. With the money saved every month it would be easy to afford a rental car for a road trip, or a truck if you need to move furniture or something. And this more than most other expense-cutting efforts would really help with saving for a goal, as you’re not just cutting out $50 or less a month, but possibly hundreds.

    (Hi Drew. Just rediscovered your site, which is awesome. How’s it going at Duo?)


  17. Jeff – We’re thinking about the financial planner route, at some point. Clearly we have lots to think about…

    Todd – I’m happy to announce that we’ve been without a car for nearly a year. We miss it when traveling or going to the grocery store, but we rent a car to go out of town and have discovered Peapod. Going to the grocery store yourself is SO last year.

    And wow, that’s a sweet deal with I-GO — how can they support that business model? I know ZipCar just launched in Chicago, but I’m pretty sure you pay for gas. I-GO might be worth checking out. Do I mention your name to get a discount?

    Thanks for the kind words on the site! When is yours re-launching? Duo is busy and good. And busy.


  18. Weeks

    ZipCar also includes gas… although I-GO might have better rates since ZipCar is just getting started in Chi-Town…


  19. “I-GO might be worth checking out. Do I mention your name to get a discount?” You might think so after what may have seemed like shilling on my part, but no, I don’t have an account with them at this point, and I don’t know if they have referrals anyway. As to their business model, well, it’s a non-profit and very likely subsidized or funded by charitable groups of some kind. There are for-profit car sharing services elsewhere in the country, but I believe there are some tax laws that prevent that here. But that info might be old, considering what Weeks said about ZipCar. Good for you on going carless! Hopefully we’ll be joining you soon.


  20. Dear Friends:

    I am so happy to hear that you are thinking of going carless! Here at I-GO we really believe in the LOW CARBon emissions DIET. Of course you can get driving credits for referring friends. There will be a field to enter the member’s name on the online application, and they will receive $20 of driving credits (their next month’s bill will be automatically credited). Go to http://www.igocars.org and click “Join Now!” Thanks for supporting your local social ventures!

    I-GO Car Sharing


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