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Remember the good old days when we watched television for free. We only had to worry about basic utility bills like gas, electric, water and telephone. While technology has brought a lot of conveniences and choices into our lives, it has also added a ton of monthly bills. So today it's time to talk about how we can take advantage of the latest technologies without extra costs.


In addition to normal utilities, most of us now pay monthly for Internet access, cell phone service, and cable TV. Some of us have an added cost for a TIVO or a digital video recorder, satellite radio, On Star service, music subscription services, ID theft protection, and online backup services. These all add to our monthly burden. This makes it imperative that you choose the technologies that you will use wisely. Much of the time it is a trade-off between convenience and cost.

For instance, you can subscribe to Carbonite or Mozy and let them seamlessly back up your computer for about $5 a month (less with a multi-year subscription). Or you can purchase a USB drive or portable hard drive and take on the chore of backing up your data yourself.


Other examples of cost versus convenience abound. While cable TV is very convenient, it can be quite costly. Instead you can purchase a cable and hook your computer or laptop up to your television.


The number of available Internet television shows is almost mind boggling. All the major networks have their main shows online and you can watch high-quality streams at your convenience. You can watch current and past episodes of CSI, the Office, Grey's Anatomy, The View, General Hospital, and many more. You can also watch classics like Perry Mason, Twilight Zone, Star Trek, and Miami Vice to name just a few. There are lots of current news programs and cable TV shows on the Internet, as well. Several video hubs such as Hulu (www.hulu.com) and Joost (www.joost.com) also offer a variety of television shows online.


Assuming that you have a newer computer with Windows Vista or Windows 7, for as little as $50 you can add a TV tuner card to your laptop or computer and you can watch live television on your computer. If you get over-the-air signals you can watch that or you can watch cable or satellite through the computer's TV tuner card. Windows 7 and Windows Vista have a program called Windows Media Center built-in. This gives you an integrated programming guide and the ability to record live television to your computer to playback at anytime. It's just like renting a digital video recorder from your cable or satellite company or owning a TIVO, but without a monthly fee. Again, if you purchase a cable and attach the computer to the television, you can watch it on a bigger screen, if you like.


As I said before, there is always a trade off in terms of convenience. The computer is not "Instant On" like the television. You may have to deal with a slightly more finicky remote control or keyboard. And it may not be convenient to have the computer near the television, but you can save money in the long run.
If you are into movies, you can subscribe to Netflix and watch all the movies you want for $8.99 a month. Now that's a great deal if you watch a lot of movies. If not, for the inconvenience of traveling to a local store or gas station, you can rent movies at RedBox for $1 a night.


And if you are a music aficionado, you can subscribe to an online music service. With services like Rhapsody and Zune, you can get all the music you want for $10 to $15 a month. The caveat here is that although you may get to keep a few songs a month, if you let your music subscription lapse, all the other music you have downloaded gets deleted. Why not check out some of the free music on the Internet instead. Both Amazon and iTunes have songs that you can download for free each week. Or check out Internet radio where you can get music from all over the world for free. Pandora (www.pandora.com) is a great website that lets you stream music you like right to your computer or smart phone. Or try Screamer Radio (www.screamer-radio.com), which not only lets you listen to Internet radio, but also lets you record any songs that you like.