April 2, 2009

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Save cash with the Web
Cancel everything but your access
By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

Times are tough. Eating out is a luxury many have cut down on, thermostats nationwide are set a few ticks lower than they’ve been the last few winters, and snapping up that latest gadget just because it’s cool isn’t really possible — either because you can’t afford it or all the places selling it have gone bankrupt.

What’s an early adopter to do in a bearish economy? It’s always smart to save money, but now it’s downright essential. If you’re reading this column, you probably have a PC and Internet access, so right there is an avenue toward cutting costs and tapping into all the resources it can offer. Here are a few ways to do just that.

• Cancel your cable: Now, I’m the last to suggest that giant corporate conglomerates negotiating exclusive contracts with municipalities yet still claiming that they have multitudes of competition because there are other cable companies in existence even though no customer could switch without moving — I’m not saying they don’t deserve your money. But there’s so much television online that there’s very little reason to pay for it.

Hulu, Fancast and Veoh are just a few of the .coms to check out, but they’re just the beginning. Check the Web sites of your favorite broadcast networks or cable channels. You’ll find, in many cases, that shows are available for viewing at your pleasure starting the day after they’re on television, occasionally even in high definition. If sports or news are your thing, you might even find live streaming. Check FreeTVOnline.com for a guide.

• Kick the paid newspaper habit: Also would I never suggest, as a freelance writer for a free weekly, that daily newspapers aren’t essential to not only your personal store of knowledge, but to the health of an informed populace in a democracy. I’m just saying that subscriptions cost money, and most dailies post all their news online free for at least one day. Sunday circulars and coupons are often online at their respective companies’ Web sites. And how much fish do you really wrap? Be honest.

• Hang up the phone. Land lines are dead. Your cell phone costs enough already. If you insist upon a phone tied to a physical location, go VOIP — Voice Over Internet Protocol. Skype, you might have heard of it, does free voice calls to other Skype users and cheap calls to real phones. It also does instant messaging, which, if you’re like me, is a whole lot more attractive than speaking into a plastic handset.

Love the handsets? There exist handsets for every need: ones that plug into your PC, ones that connect to your broadband router, ones that switch between cellular networks and open Wi-Fi networks you encounter in your travels.

•Trash the radio: OK, radios are cheap. And listening is free. But my true goal here, as you should have figured out by now, is trashing all other forms of media. And phone service.

Oh! Satellite radio costs money. Cancel that.

Seriously, do you have any idea how many Internet “radio” stations there are? Just Google that phrase. You’ll be astounded. Stations that play one genre of music; stations that suggest music based on what you like or what your friends like; stations that tell stories with song. Sure, you’ll be tempted to spend more money on dedicated Internet radio units, but any PC with decent speakers does fine. And then you can buy new music you like online. See how this works?