On changing techology and shifting bills

We’ve been looking around the house for ways to cut expenses and trim our debt a bit, because, well, what better time to do it than when things are going well? One of the first things that caught our attention (after the credit cards — which are where we’re trying to cut debt in the first place) was the utilities conundrum.

My folks, when I was growing up, only had a few utilities to worry about: electricity, oil (if you can call it a utility), and the telephone. The electricity ran the house appliances and the well pump. The oil powered the heater. And the telephone was how we connected with the outside world, with local, regional, and long distance calling. (My folks had a huge antenna on the roof for television, because the cable company wouldn’t run a cable down the street to our house.) We could lose a lot of things, but those three (along with the roof over our heads) were permanant items on the budget sheet. So if you wanted to cut your utility bills, you had to use less electricity, lower the thermostat, and stay off the phone. Well, you might take advantage of a new long distance deal, but outside of that, you were locked in.

Now, things are a lot more complex. We have electricity, a home telephone, cell phones, cable TV, internet access, and the condo association fee. The electricity runs our appliances and the heater. We have a local phone with Verizon that’s got regional calling and long distance. We’ve got cell phones with national coverage and no long distance fees. We’ve got cable internet for fast Internet access, and we’ve got cable TV for television, and we’ve got the condo fee for the water and sewer and trash. That’s a lot of fees.

And really, in this day and age, there’s little we could give up. We literally can’t get a TV signal in the house without cable and the condo association won’t let us put an antenna on the roof. I could give up the Internet, but, well, I like all of you, and it’s hard to post a comic with no ‘net connection. We’ve got the most efficient electricity we can muster, we don’t control the condo fee, and that pretty much leaves us with the telephones.

Ah, the telephones. Our home phone rings about twice a week. It’s usually either my parents, or a doctor’s office when it’s someone we know. When it’s someone we don’t know, which happens 5 times as often as someone we know, then it’s a survey or (shudder) politicians.

We spend around $45 a month for the privilege of receiving surveys and political calls.

Why $45? Because between the monthly local package with three features, the monthly fee for regional toll, and the monthly fee for long distance, that’s as cheap as it gets. And when you add in the almost $100/month for the cell phones and the just over $100/month for the cable/internet, well, $45 is a damn lot of money for a phone full of people I generally don’t want to talk to.

So we’re actually seriously considering something that wasn’t even available when I was kid. We’re considering telling Ma Bell where to pack it. When 20 years ago you couldn’t even change local phone companies, now you can not only change companies, but shut your whole service through the phone company off and still have a local phone — either by getting phone service from the cable company, or just adding a line to the cell phones and leaving it in the livingroom all day.

The most interesting part is that, if you do it right, either of those options is much cheaper than the alternative. I knew that the communication industry had become cutthroat, the same way that I know that the mall sells clothing. I don’t price it very often, and I’m often amazed when I do.

Right now, I’m just amazed that the era of the home phone is about to disappear before our very eyes.