Cancellations Galore

This morning, I opened up my daily folder and blinked at the contents. A few bills. A statement from the bank. Some year old postcards from the vet. A few pieces of paper with some names on them. Fascinating. My Tickler File had delivered unto me a small mystery to unravel: what the heck was I thinking yesterday?

The theme, it turns out, was purging services that I don’t want to pay for anymore: Comcast Cable TV, Tivo, Verizon Wireless, and a local bank. They cost too much for what I get out of them.

Disconnecting Cable TV

First on the block was Comcast. The plan was simple enough: get rid of cable TV, but keep the Internet. For one thing, I was sick of seeing a cable bill greater than $100 every month. Secondly…I was wondering if I could live without cable. I’ve been reading a book my sister gave me, PopCo, and Alice (the main character, a toy designer with a penchant for cryptanalysis) makes an observation that television gives people the impression that they’ve led an interesting life, when in actually they’ve just fooled themselves into thinking that. Yikes! And then there’s this post by Kathy Sierra on Killing the Television, saying how TV was bad and addictive. On the other hand, some TV shows are good, especially the more recent ones, and I profess to believe that the shows I watch are indeed good for the brain.

On the other other hand, I do find myself wandering up to the TV and watching a few hours a day…it’s just so easy to get into the groove and watch a half-dozen documentaries and dramas. I tell myself It’s OK…you’re learning about human psychology! You’re learning about WWII! You’re getting new ideas that spark new ideas! Well, as I finished GTD processing last night, I realized that the last thing I need is more ideas. I realized some time ago that running out of ideas is something I’m not worried about…so there really isn’t a reason to keep the TV around except it…comfortingly easy.

Full of purpose, I called up Comcast and chatted with the surprisingly-pleasant female representative, who was happy to disconnect the cable, but pointed out that if I kept BASIC in addition to the Internet, the package ended up being 9 dollars cheaper than just Internet alone. Bastards…they try to hook ya! After some hemming and hawing, I decided to keep basic cable. It might be handy for watching things like presidential debates or catching the news occassionally when there’s a reason to watch. So this drops my cable bill to about $60, from $100.

I felt an odd little panic at losing access to FoodTV, Bravo, the Cartoon Network…Kathy might be on to something here. Best to go cold turkey. I’ll disconnect the television from the cable box later.

Disconnecting Tivo

The next call was to Tivo. This was surprisingly hard, or maybe not really surprising if you have one. Pulling the plug on Tivo was like giving away a favorite pet, or telling your best friend that you can’t hang out anymore. What has Tivo done to deserve this? I want to save the $12.95 month-to-month fee if I’m not watching TV, of course, but I felt like a complete jerk as I surreptitiously dialed Tivo Customer Support.

“Dave, I understand. It’s OK.” “Tivo, dude, you’ve been there for me for the past 4 years, I really wish I could keep ya around.” I really meant it too…Tivo is my buddy! “That’s OK. What Ma Tivo will do for you is maintain your account for 3 months so you can get your head straight. And if we’re meant to be together, you’ll re-activate your account at the same month-to-month contract, and not have to sign to a 1-year contract like everyone else.” “Seriously?” “Seriously.”

Yep, that’s what happened. After telling the Tivo rep that I wanted to suspend the service for a while, they told me that this has happened before, and Tivo will maintain the account active for another 3 months before cancelling it, no charge. Wow. Part of me thinks, “Those sneaky bastards…they are counting on me falling off the wagon!” But the other part of me thinks that Tivo is like the bestest most understanding friend ever, and I feel kind of WORSE about it.

But then I thought a little more about this. While Tivo is my friend, I could certainly say Tivo is like that roommate that sits on your couch all day. An interesting and pleasant person to be sure, going out of his/her way to record all your TV shows for you and hang out when you need to decompress. But ultimately…the trap is that you spend more time on the couch living through other people’s lives than your own. If I want to go get new ideas, I should go out and meet ACTUAL PEOPLE in INTERESTING PLACES I’ve NEVER BEEN TO.

Still, I’m a little saddened. The end of an era, in the making.

Disconnecting Mobile Phone Service

I like having a mobile phone, but it’s just costing me way too much. I have the minimum plan, $35/month, and I used the phone, like for 5 minutes a month. I would just make this phone my primary phone, but alas…the cell reception in my house is very spotty.

I went to the Verizon Wireless store to see phones and enquire about lower plans. I was subjected to a rather disgusting service experience, even though everyone was very friendly; it was just that the Verizon business model makes my skin crawl. From the design of the store to gerrymandering of packages and pricing, it’s pretty clear that Verizon is in the business of siphoning as much money out of people through as many possible orifices as possible. I inquired about pay-as-you-go plans, and they told me that the starting pay-as-you-go plan was $50. I think they must have looked up my past records and figured that I wasn’t a good customer to leech money out of anyway, so they were fine to cancel my account. They didn’t even offer to do it for me at the store…they told me to call 611 from my mobile. A very weird experience: the retail store was geared only to moving product, not providing any kind of good experience. Maybe the thinking is the experience is implicit in having the phone, but all I could think of were sharks and Boston car salesmen.

So I am in the market for a new, cheap, pay-as-you-go emergency-use only mobile phone plan, as this current one doesn’t expire until July 7.

Cancelling my Bank Account

I moved to a credit union last year that I like a lot thanks to its excellent online banking, low fees, and general friendliness. No fee checking! Easy account setup! Online banking that actually works! Compare this to Citizen’s Bank NH, which is a fine enough bank, but just rubs me the wrong way. Like the Verizon store, it seems like there are dozens of fees lurking around every corner, and the online banking experience was, well, rather crappy. That was over a year ago, of course. The final straw was getting a YOUR CREDIT RATING IS IN DANGER IF YOU DON’T PAY YOUR OVERDRAFT, which was caused by their absurd $9/month checking fee siphoning away the $2.88 I had left in the account.

I went to a bank branch and got a friendly, if somewhat unapologetic response from the account handler. After explaining the situation, I mentioned this was the first bank that actually overdrafted my account with their own fee structure, and the woman said, “Oh, here in New Hampshire we all do that.” The teller I had spoken to prior had suggested I try to get that last fee waived, so I mentioned this also, and the woman said, “I’ll see what we can do.” So I actually came away with six bucks in an envelope, but again…I didn’t feel particularly valued as a consumer or long-time bank customer. Once you’re out, you’re out! I wasn’t particularly impressed, but there’s nothing in particular that I can really say other than the experience was underwhelming.

The experience at my credit union today was much more positive: deposited a check, got some help, and fixed-rated a portion of my home equity loan (which admittedly, I should have done a year ago…better late than never). The aura there is just so much more positive.

Got Things Done!

So today ended up being a day of errands, with some light project maintenance work and new business development. But they’re OFF THE LIST. I also did some invoicing and made an appointment with the vet for the cats “comprehensive exam”. Overall…a pretty productive day. And I have shaved about $100 off my monthly expenses.

The next hurdle is local and long distance telephone service. I looked at using Verizon’s Digital Voice service, but it actually didn’t seem like such a good deal. I tried using SkypeOut for a couple of calls the other day, and the quality was merely OK compared to the otherwise good Skype-to-Skype call quality. Vonage is a possibility, though I’ve heard some horror stories about their customer service. On the other hand, what telecomm doesn’t have horror stories told about them?