Cut Your Cords To Cut Your Costs
Updated: Jan 13, 2021
One of the cornerstones of my journey to financial independence was understanding where all of our money goes and then taking action. I was a typical consumer with tons of monthly payments going out all over the place to pay for the services we use in everyday modern life that I didn't really monitor or mange.
Add in the fact that I am (was) a tech early adopter and it was no surprise to find that a large portion of our monthly bills went on tech and media subscriptions. To give you an idea of what our spending was like, here is the high-level breakdown before we decided to retire early.:
Mr H's "Tech Stack Supply" - Pre-FI
Internet - Fibre - 300MB Line - R1,400 / $82 / £66
Cellphone - Unlimited calls and SMS / 10gb Data / 18 Monthly Upgrade - R1,200 / $70 / £57
iPad SIM Card - 10gb - R500 / $30 / £24
Satellite TV (DSTV) - Premium Package - R900 / $53 / £43
Netflix - 4K Premium Package - R200 / $12 / £10
2 x Usenet Subscriptions - R300 / $17 / £14
Spotify - R100 / $6 / £5
Other App subscriptions (Health / News etc.) - R500 / $30 / £24
Bear in mind that is just the subscriptions, the kit that I spent money on e.g. home automation / Wifi / TV's / Speakers / Amplifiers / Remotes made all of that look like chump change but that's for another time and I love those gadgets!
So my monthly spend on being "Connected" was around R4,600 / $270 / £220 per month or R55,000 / $3,250 / £2,600 per year. I should also add that in South Africa, those monthly subscriptions generally increase by 8-10% per year when salaries go up 4-6% so it creeps up as a portion of your income over time.
Being such a gadget freak, there was no way I was going to give up the tech, I watch a lot of TV, spend more time than many human beings on the internet and I enjoy social media and keeping connected on the move. I would estimate that I probably spend 60% of my life using some form of connected tech.
But I only have two eyes so it was clearly an unnecessary level of "stuff" and an opportunity for some serious savings without depriving myself of my much loved pastime of procrastinating.
Now before I go into how I optimised the shizzle out of my tech game, I should point out I am neither a gamer or a massive sports fan. I like playing games and I don't mind watching the odd bit of sport when it's a big tournament like the soccer world cup or Wimbledon but it's not a thing with me so I can live without the sports channels and I don't need my internet to be bleeding edge fast for beating a 9 year-old kid in Wyoming on Fortnite.
So let me break it down for you on what my current approach to Post-Fi tech looks like:
Mr H's "Tech Stack Supply" - Post-FI
Internet - Fibre - 100MB Line - R1,100 / $64 / £52
Cellphone - 80 call minutes + 2gb Data - R220 / $13 / £10
Data SIM Card - 1gb - R0 / $0 / £0
Netflix - HD Package - R160 / $12 / £10
YouTube Premium - Family Package - TV & Music - R109
Total cost R1589 / $93 / £75 monthly, or R19,000 / $1,120 / £900 annually.
Total annual saving of R36,000 / $2120 / £1714.
Reduction in cost of 65% Reduction in enjoyment 0%
And by now, I suspect what you're looking for is the sacrifice between the two. Quite honestly, there isn't one really, and here is the logic:
A 300mb line is about as fast as it gets right now in South Africa and as fibre here is not "shaped" or "throttled" the service is great. But when do I need 300mb of download speed? I don't ...ever...ever ever.....ever ever ever. Can I tell the difference between 100mb and 300mb? no. In which case, I shopped around for the cheapest 100mb deal which happened to be with Web Africa (I was already with them for the 300mb) who have great customer service and you can upgrade / downgrade with them online. So literally a quick click or two on their site and I'd saved R3,600 / $211 / £171. That is enough for a weekend away in a nice Airbnb for Mrs H and I or maybe four good restaurant visits. If you're in South Africa and looking for a reliable internet provider that gives you full control, then Web Africa is a good call. The eagle eyed among you might also have noticed the Usenet subscriptions. I did use them to download some TV (legally of course) but these days with Netflix and Amazon Prime, they're not really necessary.
I've had the latest cell phone for the last 20 years or so. Like most people, I used to sign up to the 12 (which then became 18, which then became 24) month contract which meant I got the phone for "free". About 5 years ago, I switched to buying the handset outright so I could swap and choose my provider through a SIM only contract, now I buy the latest Xiaomi or other chinese brand top of the range budget phone direct from china and have a month to month SIM contract with a company called Afrihost. I don't make many calls, and these days, I'm not afraid to ask for the wifi password at the places I go to eat or drink so my 2gb data allowance never gets used up, my calls are mostly Whatsapp calls and messages so the call allowance is more for emergencies than anything. A top of the line handset these days is over R20,000 / $1150 / £950. Using my method, the latest phone costs around R3,000 / $176 / £140 so I treat myself to a new one every year so apart from the first 6 months a new iPhone or Google Phone is released, I'm generally ahead on technology.
This was a big one. Again, for 20 years I've always had the top available package of Satellite TV, it was just standard due to the clever marketing by the TV companies that if you wanted the movies (or sports) you had to pay. And I love watching movies. After that it's inertia, you just keep paying year after year. I've had Netflix for years and whilst it's not as good as it self-promotes, it's not bad. So when the regular TV subscription came up for renewal, I canned it. I always knew if we missed it they would welcome back with open arms, but we didn't, and it's' been 3 years. Our strategy is we watch Netflix probably 50% of the time and the other 30% is watching the UK catch-up TV channels and the remaining 20% is the new YouTube Originals which most people don't even know about. You sign up to YouTube Premium to ditch the adverts and you get originals for free. The amount of content is growing but it's really a smaller alternative to Netflix. If we're desperate to see a film or watch a sports match, we either Pay per View it or invite friends over to barbecue and use their catch-up TV subscription to watch the game! These couple of little changes have saved us around R15,000 / $880 / £720 per year. That's a couple of international return flights for Mrs H & I to go exploring or my entire car fuel bill for the year. If I ever feel like I'm missing out on content, I would add Amazon TV for another R160 / $12 / £10 because they have some good shows that Netflix doesn't.
Entertainment "On The Go"
I like to pass the time on long journeys listening to podcasts, streaming music or catching up on a TV series (When I'm not driving obviously!) and like to keep up on things generally when I'm on the move so a second data sim has always been part of my tech arsenal, but since I retired, the travel is less so it's a luxury that had to be weighed-up. And i decided it has to stay!
So I did a little shopping around to improve my current sim which was 10gb for R500 / $30 / £24 and found 2 amazing alternatives for South Africans. The first is RAIN. they do an unlimited off=peak data sim for R250 / $15 / £12 per month with the off-peak being the evening time when I'm less likely to be travelling or not have WiFi. This would have been ideal for me but unfortunately the signal with RAIN is sketchy in my area so after a month of use I had to cancel.
The other option is perfect for me. Afrihost gave me a data only SIM with a gigabyte of data every month for absolutely free! Plus it rolls over for 1 month so if I don't use it I have 2gb for free ready to go. If I do use more when I'm travelling, they charge me R50 per gb which seems pretty fair. The SIM card sits in my laptop and whenever I need it I have free data on tap. I've had it in there almost a year, use it whenever I travel and I'm still yet to have paid anything to Afrihost. What a great deal. My YouTube premium subscription also gives me unlimited access to both Google Play Music and YouTube Music (The two are soon to become one) so my music on the go and podcast listening is essentially free.
So hopefully by now you'll see that I didn't compromise on my entertainment when I reduced the cost of it by 65% and I can hand on heart say that I haven't felt once like I reduced my quality of TV watching or have second rate connectivity, I literally haven't noticed a difference. I can't even watch YouTube with adverts any more!
And for final perspective, regular readers will know that our total cost of living is R62,000 / £3,650 / £2,950 per month. That saving of R3,000 per month we made represented a saving of 5% of our total living costs. If you're part of the FIRE community or are simply trying to reduce your outgoings, cutting the cord is a good place to start, you'd be surprised what's available if you shop around a little and don't follow the sheep into the latest iPhone contract or top of the range internet package.
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Until next time, keep living.