Since my last column a few months ago, we’ve had some updates to the many topics I have written about. We’ll look at a few today.
The first is the explosion in internet streaming services that I said was a vital part of “cutting the cord.” In other words: dumping your expensive cable or TV satellite service.
I cut the cord more than three years ago, going from a $150 monthly cable TV bill to just $25. I did it using a combination of free over-the-air local stations (via an antenna) and one of the most popular, at the time, internet streaming services called Sling TV. Yes, folks, I’m a Slinger.
Back then, along with Sling TV, there were only a handful of streaming services available: Play Station Vue, which is shutting down at the beginning of the year, Hulu With Live TV, and DirectTV Now (rebranded AT&T Now). Prices ranged from about $20 a month to $40.
Today, YouTube TV is perhaps the fastest-growing option at $50, along with lesser-known selections like Philo and Fubo. All of the above are live TV options, basically what you would be accustomed to with a cable or satellite TV service, but at a fraction of the price.
This isn’t counting services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu Plus, which have loads of movie and TV series content, but are not shown live. The majority of households subscribe to at least one of these, paying anywhere from $9 to $16 a month.
Which brings me to this: In the coming months you will be seeing more of these subscription streaming services than ever. This week, Disney Plus debuts, and at $6.99 a month seems like a good bargain for families who can’t get enough of content that includes the Marvel Comics universe.
Apple TV Plus is set to begin their streaming service, initially at $5 a month. They have a new series starring Steve Carell and Jennifer Aniston being advertised that looks great, and I’m tempted to watch.
But before signing up for all of these, we need to remember why we cut the cord in the first place. Because of cost!
These companies are smart in tempting us with all of these offerings that they hope we can’t live without. They want our friends or neighbors to talk about a show or two they saw exclusively on Netflix, Amazon or Apple Plus. The next thing we know, the $150 cable or satellite TV bill that we eliminated when cutting the cord is back to the same price because of the seven or eight ala carte streaming services we added.
Stand firm. Keep to your budget. There’s so much free content available in places like YouTube, Pluto, Roku and channels accessed through a good antenna.
With Black Friday sales already in place, households will once again make purchasing a 4K television this holiday season a top priority, and for the fourth or fifth consecutive year, they will bring that TV home only to find limited 4K content.
I wrote about this more than a year ago, and had hoped by now that just in the way stations adapted to the new 720p or 1080p high-definition standard in the early 2000s, so too would be the conversion to 4K.
But here we are still waiting. The latest reports say that local stations and the big networks are still two to three years away from moving to 4K. This isn’t to say you can’t find 4K content today. Most of it is limited to the streaming services mentioned above.
This past week, I finally gave in and purchased my first 4K TV, an incredible 55-inch LG 6300 series model that was only $399. The 65-inch model was just $200 more, but looked a little too big on my living room table.
My 50-inch Panasonic plasma TV, which they no longer make, had a great picture and probably would have lasted at least another 10 years. Just think: I paid $1,200 for that TV about 10 years ago, and now something better with all the bells and whistles of a smart TV is just a fraction of the cost.
So even if 4K content is limited, you can’t go wrong buying a big TV these days, and if you don’t subscribe to any of those services that offer 4K, there is plenty on the free YouTube channel, albeit mostly travel and documentary programming.
One thing to add before I end this discussion on 4K TV: If you are streaming 4K content, be sure to keep an eye on your monthly internet bandwidth usage. Most internet service providers (Xfinity and AT&T for sure) limit your usage to about 1000 gigs (a terabyte). This may seem like a lot, but 4K streaming may use up to three or four times the gigs that a normal HD program uses. If you go over your monthly allotment, it will cost you in the same way cell phone providers used to ding you for exceeding your minutes.
Finally, an update on something I wrote about that wasn’t about an electronic gadget or service, but was of huge interest to many. It's when I recommended that people move their savings from traditional banks to online banks.
One of the best things I did for my money was to move my savings from a bank that for years (and still does) provide approximately 0.05 percent in interest to an online bank (Ally Bank in my case) that as recently as six months ago paid 2.50 percent.
When I first wrote about it, I was ecstatic to be getting about 2 percent in interest after suffering through the almost 0 rate from my big bank. Over the next few months that rate peaked at 2.50 before the Federal Reserve started reducing rates in order to improve the economy. Today it stands at 1.80 percent.
Anticipating the possibility of future Federal Reserve rate decreases, I decided to allocate about half of my savings into a short-term CD. I locked it into a 2.50 percent rate for 18 months. Since doing that, that same CD rate has dropped to 2.05 percent, so I’m glad I made that move when I did.
As always, it’s important to remember that you need to leave your money in the CD until it matures, in order to avoid any penalties.
But even with the interest rate drops, my advice to move to an online bank is as relevant today as it was last year.
To read more Cheap Geek columns, type in Cheap Geek in the search field on this website (the magnifying glass icon).