My best friend – let’s call him John – lives on Long Island, New York. Recently John hit a rough patch, deciding to separate from his wife after just two years of marriage. They don’t have kids or own a house together so it should be pretty straightforward, financially, to go through a divorce. As it often happens after a major life event, John is ready to make some other changes in his life. This story is about two small but financially significant changes that transpired.
We all tend to settle into a routine at some point in life. For some it happens in the late 20s, for others in their 30s or 40s… Get a job, get married, buy a car, a house, an iPhone, a gym membership, a cable subscription. A comfortable pattern sets in and suddenly we are sleepwalking the American Dream. Good or bad? I guess the answer is it depends but it’s probably a good idea to set aside some time to periodically reflect on the choices we’ve made in the past.
How often should we reevaluate? I don’t know, depends on your personality I guess. Me? I ask these questions all the time:
- Is it still working for us?
- Would we make the same choice today?
- Is the value still there?
- Is there something else that might work better?
These are broad questions that start a conversation which can result in change, minor or major.
Coincidentally, they also drive my wife crazy. She’d rather “set it and forget it”. She finds value in the routine itself since it makes life more stable and predictable. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t fix if it ain’t broke. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with that approach, but it’s clear that our priorities are slightly different.
By the way, this doesn’t have to cause constant conflict as long as both parties realize and accept this fundamental difference and try to compromise. My wife lets me play my optimization game, even if it makes her shake her head, while I try to keep my most outlandish ideas in my head until I have a convincing case on why we might want to consider challenge the status quo.
Perhaps I should explore some of these ideas on this blog. Writing stuff down forces us to organize our thoughts much more so than simply thinking or talking. A business case for what my wife might consider madness.
Back to John. Him and I started talking about some things – stuff that can easily be shared in a Hangouts chat. We were talking about cell phone plans and cable.
John has always had a fancy contract cell phone plan from one of the Big Three. He tried some alternatives, like Virgin Mobile, but came back to Verizon because Virgin’s service was poor in parts of Long Island. Verizon’s coverage was great but so was the monthly bill at close to $80 per month.
John asked me about other options. I’ve been on the $10 Airvoice Wireless plan for years now and recently switched my wife to it too. It has been working great for both of us.
This week I swapped a FreedomPop Global Sim card into my phone and so far it’s pretty good – considering it’s a $0 per month plan that gives you 700MB of data per month. I will test ride it for a couple of months to see if it’s good enough to ditch my $10 per month plan altogether.
Neither one of these options worked for John though so he decided to switch to Google’s Project FI plan. This will save him at least $40 per month and should provide as good or better service than Verizon. Google FI promises to automatically switch the cell networks between several major carriers and/or wifi for the best possible signal at any given time or place.
With that settled we started talking about cable. John has been paying for a cable package for several years. He’s heard my pitch to ditch cable many many times yet he couldn’t bring himself to cut the cord.
My approach to cable is simple: $30 Verizon FIOS internet service, a homemade antenna for local HDTV and a homemade HTPC for a DVR. Switch from Verizon to Comcast when the 1 year new customer $30 promotion period expires. Rinse and repeat once a year.
Below is how my conversation with John went over Google Hangouts:
John: Now that my cell phone is sorted out, I need to do something about FIOS
Me: What do you have currently?
John: Internet and TV for close to $80
John: But just the internet is like $50
Me: Why do you need TV?
John: Because it’s only $20 more. Includes HBO and Showtime.
Me: 20 here, 20 there…
John: I know, I know. You and MMM are in my head. I feel a little guilty about it…
Me: Do you have another provider there besides Verizon?
John: Optimum Online and I left them because they were more expensive. I really just need the internet
Me: Looks like Optimum Online is $45 per month for new subscribers. Use them for 1 year then switch to Verizon and get a $30 new customer rate.
Me: (after a 2 minute Google Search). Or better yet, get this deal and pay $25 per month for 10MBS.
John: Pretty sure there is a $79 connection fee
Me: See if they have a self-install option. I know Verizon and Comcast do and I never paid it
John: 10Mbps is not enough to stream Netflix is it?
Me: Sure it is. I streamed on a 3Mbps connection so 10Mbps will be fine. It’s not like you have a bunch of other people connected at the same time
John: That’s true
Me: OR… Does your landlord have internet? He lives upstairs right? Can you maybe share his connection if you offer to chip in?
John: I did think about that..
Me: Can you see his wi-fi signal? Offer him like $20 per month. I’d take that if I were him.
John: I can
Me: SOOO, JOHN!
John: I’m friends with him. He would do it.
John: OK, it’s time to ditch FIOS
This short brainstorming session uncovered two solid options to save some serious money on cable. Worst case – John will be saving $600 per year but it looks like $720 or more is possible, depending on his agreement with the landlord. Add the $480 savings from Google FI and we’re talking $1,200 per year. And to make that $1,200 net in a high tax state like New York one must make close to $1,700 gross. That’s some serious ROI from a little time spent to brainstorm, call the cable company and the Landlord.
There is no doubt that John is in a tough place – emotionally – right now. Yet in every challenge there is an opportunity. John was pushed to reevaluate many things that for a while fed a comfortable routine. No matter how seemingly trivial these two changes are in a great scheme of things, for John, it will be a welcome step in the right direction.
Each of us can ask The Questions at any time. We don’t have to wait until a major life change pushes us along.
Each of us will have our own reevaluation interval. The key is to make it routine.
With a New Year upon us, there is no better time than now.