We lost the TV and found bowling dates, sleep, and a travel budget

Guest post by Jen Hansard
“In present-day America, such self-denial is apt to require heroism. In practice it may mean giving up many or most of the luxuries which I have come to regard as necessities, at least until I have acquired sufficient self-control to use these things without being enslaved by them.” -Thomas Merton
By: Sommer PoquetteCC BY 2.0

In autumn of 2004 I married my high school sweetheart. Ryan and I were finishing our undergraduate work at CSU Long Beach and working insane jobs to keep student loans at bay. We had very little time to actually spend together as newlyweds and the time we DID have was spent watching TV because we were exhausted from the long days.

After a few months of this numbing routine, we decided to get rid of our TV. It wasn’t a radical decision at the time. We just knew that something had to give. So out went the television and in came books (lots of books), cooking, lengthy discussions, hiking, marathon training, Yahtzee tournaments, bowling dates, and much-needed sleep. Ryan even learned to juggle five balls and ride a unicycle. Life as we knew it slowed down and we finally caught our breath.

That was seven years ago.

Perks that have come from not having a TV in our home

1. No cable bill. We have saved over $5500 these past seven years by not having a cable bill (and that is a very conservative estimate). Not to mention what it would cost to buy a TV, speakers, DVD player, DVR, etc.

2. We don’t see commercials. This makes passing by the toy section in Target a walk in the park for our kids. And also hides a lot of the consumerism brainwashing from Ryan and me.

3. We don’t have to arrange our furniture with a TV in mind. It’s nice to choose what is the focus of the room— right now it is our hodge-podge wall of family pictures that dominate the living room.

4. We have become more creative. We listen to lots of music, do puzzles, board games, art projects, nature walks, cook together, ride bikes, read books, write books. We make elaborate snowmen when it snows, jump in puddles when it rains, and collect hundreds of leaves in the fall.

5. Oh, the places you go! With the money we have saved and our appetite for adventure, we have made traveling a part of our family mission statement. In the seven years, we have backpacked through Europe, took a month-long road trip from Los Angeles to Glacier National Park in Canada, three trips to Amsterdam for art shows and architecture admiration, spent a week driving to Denver, Taos and the Grand Canyon, and did many red-eye flights to NYC for art shows. We even drove across country from LA to Tampa, FL along Route 66 with the kids for 10 days. With that kind of traveling, people think we have tons of money. But we don’t. We just don’t have a TV.

Interested in going TV-free? Here are tips Ryan & I came up with to help the transition:

1. Be intentional. Have specific things to replace your time like reading some classic books (we have enjoyed Robinson Crusoe, The World According to Garp, East of Eden.) Ryan made a list of things he wanted to accomplish and when he was bored he would pull out the list and do one of them.

2. Do it together. For us, it was a team decision and I think that is why it was such an easy change. We both felt the same way and wanted to give it a try and it has definitely helped us grow closer together. (We honestly had no idea that it would be a seven-year TV strike going into it.)

3. Set guidelines. If you are going to use Netflix like we do, it helps to have a plan. For us, each child picks out a show to watch in the afternoon (after naps and quiet time). If they are sick or it’s been a crazy day, we bend the rules for sanity’s sake. But we are very intentional about how much time is spent in front of the computer screen each day.

4. Have a time frame in mind. Getting rid of TV forever is a hard pill to swallow (I am not there yet!). Why not set a goal of three months without it? Cancel your cable service, store the TV in the garage, rearrange your furniture so nothing feels missing and see how it goes. Take the money you save on your cable bill and buy some books, board games, and juggling balls to fill the time.

In 2007, our son was born and most of our time was spent infatuated with his bowel movements and babbles. When Jackson turned 18 months old and I was eight months pregnant, I cracked and bought a Netflix subscription for our computer. Sesame Street moved into the house and one month later, my daughter was born. We now use Netflix a lot — and let the kids each pick out a show to watch daily. This gives them commercial-free shows like Caillou, Dora and Sesame Street. And it gives us a much needed break.

Sometimes Ryan and I catch an episode of Grey’s Anatomy before bed or watch a movie. It’s something we look forward to and do on rare occasions. It’s like a date night— yet we can do it in our home without paying for a sitter.

To stay up-to-date on world events, we use cnn.com and npr.org. If there is a big disaster, our parents and friends call to let us know. If there is a big sports game that Ryan wants to watch, he heads to a friend’s house and they watch it together. Or sometimes we even head to the stadium to catch the real thing as a family.

We are definitely out of the loop with the latest TV episodes and new fancy products. Sometimes we kill the buzz on conversations that go “Did you see _______ last night?”, but that’s okay with us. The unexpected joys from not having a TV in our house trump any setbacks by a long shot.

Comments on We lost the TV and found bowling dates, sleep, and a travel budget

  1. I don’t watch TV, myself. I have one in the bedroom because hubby likes to watch the Science Channel til he falls asleep, but anything I want to watch, I just watch online. We’re going to buy a new TV when we move for video games and movie streaming from the computer, but not have it hooked up to cable. We only watch a handful of things… why pay for the 73478473110 things we DON’T watch?

  2. Sorry to disagree with most posters, but I think Donald Glover has a pretty accurate rant on television disparaging folks…who watch TV shows on Netflix or their laptop. Sorry but you watch tv. Using the calculator on your phone doesn’t mean you aren’t using a calculator, it’s just a multi technological scene, dig?
    I grew up with no tv and I missed out socially (a LOT, I felt like a freak on a regular basis) but am way more media savvy than my peers fosho. Ads are everywhere though. Your kids don’t just see them on TVs, it’s busses and their shelters, phones, stores, sidewalks, print media…EVERYWHERE. I think my point is tv can be entertaining and even informative and enlightening, but it’s not to blame for ad exposure or your inability to manage your time better. I sit on my arse reading oodles of books, and cpuld probably do more if I made time, but it’d be ridiculous to stop altogether because it takes time or the content is garbage.
    Kids tv is awful though. The USA really needs to prohibit advertising on children’s programming.

    • I agree. My first reaction to the article was to think that even though I barely watch TV I couldn’t go without it completely. But that’s because I thought no TV meant literally nothing. What this article describes is basically what we do now, which I wouldn’t consider not watching TV at all.

      It’s definately a jump from having it on all the time, or defaulting to watching TV automatically when you’re home, but I see it as kind of a middle ground rather than the same as not watching TV at all.

      I do think TV ads are the worst of the lot though, but I suppose it depends on why you don’t like them. I don’t mind people trying to sell me stuff, but I do hate it when I have to stop what I’m doing while they do it. If I’m on a bus or a train I’m still getting where I’m going (in theory at least), if I’m reading a magazine I can flip past them. With TV however it’s literally a matter of “stop watching your show for 5, 10, 15 minutes while we try to sell you some shit.”

      Another reason I mainly watch the BBC. (Which, in the UK at least has no commercial advertising and none at all during shows.)

  3. What a good post! My husband and I cancelled our dish almost 2 years ago and opted for Netflix over cable in favor of paying bills. It’s a decision we’ve never regretted!

  4. We have a TV, but no cable service. We use it to play games or with Netflix or watch DVDs. I’m happily missing out on commercials and crap programs. It doesn’t bother me at all when someone asks if I saw an episode of “X,Y, or Z” and I say “I don’t have television really”. So we do watch movies and shows, but it’s because we choose to, not just because it’s there. Much more time for books, walks, and more.

  5. Coming from a home that had the tv on almost all day and night to now living with just basic Netflix through Wii, HuluPlus, and the occasional Redbox rental, it’s been an extreme change for me but one that was for the better. Way better.

    Sure, at night after I’ve finished schoolwork I’ll catch up on some shows that I like to watch. For me, it is relaxing (as crazy as that sounds). With Netflix, HuluPlus, and Redbox, it doesn’t limit our fun and adventures. We make traveling and exploring a priority with the kids, or spend time at night painting or drawing after the kids are in bed. We’ll have our friends over at night and enjoy dinner or just hang out. The tv/movie watching is further down on our list of priorities. With that said, we do enjoy it because for us, it’s our “downtime”.

  6. when i moved out of my parents’ home, i went w/o a tv for 8 years b/c i simply couldn’t afford one. then, someone gave me one & someone else later let me borrow one b/c i moved into a place that had free cable. i enjoyed it, i won’t lie. fast forward a couple years & i’ve gotten married (to someone who also didn’t own a tv, but a free one came w/ the apt) & moved to the other side of the world. seeing as how we had to completely start over, buying a tv just doesn’t seem even mildly important. everything i want to watch can be watched on my laptop anyway. i don’t have to view commercials & there isn’t a temptation to channel surf. in the meantime i’ve read a TON of books.

  7. Do you really credit giving up TV with being able to save enough money to go to all of those places in so few years? Or is cable just THAT more expensive than I realized? I’ve never had it as an adult but if giving up TV meant I’d have enough money for international flights I would so do it – we do have Netflix, but if we gave that up and saved all the money it would maybe add up to $180 a year, which is only enough for a single plane ticket to my parents house. (And if it meant I’d visit more, my parents would probably pony it up themselves…but I’d miss my husband!) Is cable really that insanely pricey, or are the vacation funds also coming from other savings or income?

    I think the idea of being intentional is good, by the way. Something you can do with or without a TV.

    • oh yes it is! my mom has the lowest level of cable she can get where she lives & a dvr box. that’s over $120 a month. that’s in a low income place like wv. my sil lives in nyc & she has the lowest level & her cable bill is $160 a month. that comes to well over $1000 each year, almost enough for her to visit me in asia (about $1,400). & then for her to stay with us on an island resort with a private bungalow & go diving, that was $800. so, yes, depending on a few variables, it works out almost even.

  8. Hmm… my husband & I have traveled a ton, set foot on all 7 continents (yes, Antarctica too), but we have TVs, cable, TiVo, HD, the works. The cable & Internet bill is bundled & cheaper than if we got either separately. Oh, we don’t have kids & only have 1 car, which helped us save a ton of money.

    We enjoy watching sports on TV (him more than me, but I do like sharing that with him), science-y shows like Mythbusters, costume dramas (ok, just me!), & some fluffy sitcoms, all without the hassle of downloading or waiting till they’re on Netflix.

    He runs his own business, I work as a writer, he plays sports, I sew costumes, we have a lot of things going on other than watching TV. But it’s nice to have that as a way to relax too.

    Choosing your own options is nice. If TV isn’t something you’re interested in, fine, don’t have it. But don’t claim you can only get more sleep, more money, & more creative activities if you ditch the TV. It’s simply not the only way.

  9. My husband and I went down to bare necessities about a year ago and I don’t regret it a bit. Mind you, internet is a necessity for us because I work from home. But I don’t miss television at all. My step-kids will, on occasion, watch cartoons on dvd. But for the most part they spend more time playing with toys, reading, coloring, and running around outside.

  10. We don’t own a TV – my kids watch 15 mins of “TV” a day (while I do the washing up – I know, I know…) on download, so they can keep up with shows that their friends watch. And then the show finishes and we do something else. We don’t sit through the adverts to see what else is on and we don’t channel-surf. We haven’t had a TV for 5 years and we play lots of board games, paint stuff, make stuff, read books, talk… I still love the reaction of “what do you mean, you don’t have a TV?”. I find we have more time without a TV – but we started on the “no TV” journey by having too much to do to justify having a TV that we didn’t watch. Maybe it’s one of those chicken and egg situations…. x

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