To my great discomfort, I ordered the pricey shrimp dish our little daughter asked for at the plush Deer Path Inn on Chicago's North Shore. She bit into a huge prawn and, with juices running down her chin, sighed:
"Thank you, dad, for not being cheap!"
At age eight she was too young to understand irony, not to say sarcasm. So her remark was a sincere compliment. For once, just once, old dad had not been cheap. Seldom in the long years since has anybody accused me of that. Early this year, when our monthly combined AT&T telephone, cable and internet bill hit $190, I confirmed it.
First we dumped the AT&T landline phone for a monthly saving of $46 Among several options for voice-over-internet phones, we bought a sleek little Ooma device for $100 and threw in $40 to retain the number we've had for 51 years at this address.
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I easily hooked the Ooma to our internet router and our existing set of four Uniden phones.
The system works as well as AT&T ever did, including excellent voicemail. Now our only monthly charge is just under $5 for taxes.
Then we cancelled AT&T cable TV for added savings of $113 monthly. All we really needed then was an antenna with a cable plugged into a port on the TV. But we want to record some programs for future viewing and also to fast forward past commercials. I bought a $34 RCA DTA880 digital converter half the size of a Subway sandwich and, for about $50, a hard drive smaller than a BLT. The two devices function as a digital video recorder.
I sweated a lot learning to navigate the system, then presto! These rinky-dink gadgets plus a midget remote let us record programs.
We first tried a $25 leaf antenna taped inside a window, which worked poorly because our home is set in a deep valley. Brace yourself for the big expense: $160 for a Mohu Air 60 amplified antenna. Protruding just a foot above the roofline, it brings in 24 channels — the major local ones and lots of religion, but not, for some reason, NBC on channel 41.
We still need the AT&T internet router for $52 monthly. But after one-time costs of $269, we're saving $157 monthly on telephone and cable TV — $1,892 a year.
The first time we clicked on with the Mohu antenna, there was Downton Abbey in high-definition vivid color on our flat screen.
When antenna TV fails us, there is always Netflix streaming with a huge array of entertainment for $9.99 a month, also Amazon video for $99 a year — countless movies, plus science, art and history documentaries.
Then there is the dear old Johnson County Library — stuffed with movie DVDs you can check out free for three weeks, plus feature films for two weeks, plus video games and audiobooks and ebooks and art prints. They can often be renewed several times. Get a library account with a PIN number, then use your home computer. Go to "advanced search" on the library website and click on DVDs. Request any movie by title. Or under "author" select BBC or PBS and you'll get a raft of arty films. A library email notifies you when they're ready to pick up.
"It ain't easy being green," Kermit the Frog warbles through the antenna into our TV.
But never has it been so easy being cheap.