Friday, March 11, 2011

Using Technology to your Financial Advantage

DIY DVR, cell phone savings and no cost home phone with Google Talk

After completing a recent home audit of the subscriptions we utilize that carry monthly fees (DVR service and cell phone plans) I did some investigating to determine what we could do to save money using technology we already have in house or that could be acquired inexpensively.
Even though a home phone will be new to us, I'm including the "savings" in our total annual cost calculation to give readers a better feel for what they could potentially pocket each year -- $1,275.

Here's an overview of what we did:

Cable Guide, DVR and Cable Remote

Goal: Get rid of the Cabl
e DVR and Cable Remote and save on monthly rental and service fees

Materials Used: XBOX 360, Windows Media, Laptop, USB TV Tuner, Logitech

Results: Using an old laptop, and a USB TV Tuner, we installed Windows 7 Home Premium, and placed the laptop in the new space once occupied by our DVR on our media/tv stand. We fired up the XBOX and navigated to Windows Media Extender and retrieved the code to pair the XBOX with the laptop. After entering the code into the Windows 7 laptop, we successfully paired the two devices. Using our remote, we can turn the whole system on with the press of a button and watch TV, view TV Schedules on the built-in
guide, pause live TV, and record a program for later viewing.

Approximate savings: $24/month (approximate costs for DVR rental, DVR service, and Remote rental)


Goal: Find a lower cost smartphone option/plan. Our existing plan for 2 Verizon Droids with 1400 shared minutes and unlimited surfing was approximately $188/month.

Materials Used: Virgin Mobile Optimus and pre-paid no contract monthly plan.

Results: Virgin Mobile offers a truly outstanding smartphone plan that can save you a lot of money.

Cost: $130 for phone and $40
/month per person for 1200 talk minutes and unlimited texting and web.

Approximate savings: Waiting for the final bills for an official number but estimating $57/month.

(One of us did drop talk minutes but wasn't ready to leave Verizon and his soon-to-happen phone upgrade)

Home Phone

Goal: We've been using cell phones in lieu of a landline for over 6 years now but wanted to add a home phone given that we've dropped our cell phone minutes and can do so for $50.

Materials Used: Obi110 and Google Chat.

Results: We're currently waiting to receive the Obi110 from Amazon, but given the reviews, we think it's going to be fairly painless (It also helps my husband is a software engineer).

Price: One time cost of $49.99 + Free Shipping and free monthly service

Approximate Savings: Relationships -- more time to chat with friends and family without the fear of burning cell phone minutes.
All things considered, these have been essentially painless changes to our life style, and in the case of a home phone, a welcome addition. My only regret has been not taking action sooner. I'd recommend taking a serious look at your technology usage vs. expenses to determine what cost savings you can find and what cool new purchases you may be able to negotiate (Logitech remote comes to mind) given the savings you'll soon see.


  1. Oh yeah, here are the comments.

    So, anyhoo - in our effort to save money - we did the same.

    We already had the XBox and a PC - and we had decided to cut cable first.

    After that, we longed for a DVR option - so I figured, in the least - I could buy a TV tuner for my computer and record live-air shows.

    After looking at my local Best Buy - and I hate Best Buy - I found only one TV tuner in stock - and it was USB. I kringed at first, thinking of USB supporting a good quality video input - but after using it I am very much surprized and satisfied. (Purchased the Happauge (

    My plan really was to jsut record on the computer and later play the recordings through the media extender via the Xbox - but I was very pleased to find that the Xbox session allows a stream for live TV. The options within the guide in Windows Media Center allow you to color the channels for what type of programming is on. To compare the three options most common here: TIme Warner, AT&T, and TC tuners - Windows Media Center wins for clarity, responsiveness (thanks to the Xbox) and ease of use with setting up series recordings for shows.

    All of the best DVR options (and more) are available through Windows Media Center.

    The added bonus is the separate 'Movie' section within the WIndows Media Center menu. All movies that are recorded are placed here, along with their "cover art"; making it very easy to peruse your movies in the fashion that you might be used to, and most importantly to display all movies that will be playing soon, so that you can record them.

    Of all of the purchases here - I think it's good to point out the ridiculous benefits of the Xbox - but there are too many. It's central to everthing digital in our house. I jsut can't wait until all of my voice commands can control hulu and netflix, too (Kinect).

  2. As far as the mobile phones go - we had two smartphones. we now have one, and a good ole flip phone.
    -$70 /mo phone service
    -$120 /mo AT&T TV/Internet/DVR service

    Next up? My recipe<->home grocery app - to save on groceries (the biggest variable month debt in our house is food/dining). THe biggest savings will be to cut down on waste. Google offers a good service, which brings us halfway there - but it would be nice to be able to see - in a dashboard-style app - what we can make with what we have - and just what shopping is needed to achieve a good balance per week. (All in an effort to stop dining out).

  3. You're absolutely right -- the XBox is amazing! And the Windows Media Center interface is impressive and miles ahead of Time Warner Cable -- and we're just beginning to explore all of its capabilities.

    And that said, for the price, about $60-$80 for an HD version (on sale) we're also still loving the Rokus that are set up on two other TVs. Such a clean, simple interface for quickly accessing Netflix, Amazon Video, Pandora and Hulu.

  4. @Todd I have an upcoming post about saving money on groceries. I've recently slashed our grocery bills by at least half using numerous online sources for information and coupons. It's a bit time consuming, but saving $300-$400/month is certainly worth it and allows us to make a nice, extra payment toward our mortgage each month.

  5. PlayOn- A software application that allows you to stream most any of the free streaming media feeds available on the web, via your home PC, to many portable devices (ipad, iphone, droid, etc.) and in this case, my Xbox.

    While the video quality probably isn't as good as a Hulu instance on the XBOX - until then, there's PlayOn. (I believe it was in a hotlist once...)

    Annual, $39.99
    One-time purchase, $79.99

    Most shows that we could only get on cable we now get through PlayOn.

  6. By the end of this thread, Jill, we're gunna save so much we'll be wearin' golden diapers.