I took a long sigh, because I knew exactly where the conversation would go:
"Sorry, but I don't have cable," I replied.
My neighbor was silent. A quick look of disbelief flashed over her face.
"Well, you know, I wouldn't have it, except for the kids," she stammered.
There was a time when I would go through the whole story: When I moved after my divorce I was really broke -- cable wasn't a priority. When I was feeling program-deprived and started thinking about getting basic cable, I played a game. I set up a jar and vowed to deposit one dollar each time I was frustrated with not being able to see a program. If, at the end of a month, I had enough in the jar for basic cable, I'd subscribe.
The jar remained empty.
Our neck of the woods offers the latest in digital cable starting at around $50 a month. There are all kinds of premium channels, pay-per-view and, of course, Internet hookups, not to mention the satellite market. If, on the other hand, you don't have cable, then on a good day you can get eight channels.
During rerun season I started crocheting or (gasp!) reading books. In the warmer months I've been known to sit outside for hours reading, writing letters, and watching the birds at the feeders. Now, I'm likely to take the dog on more long walks. And when I want to see a movie, I usually rent the video from the cheap rack.
No, I haven't added up the savings from my three years without cable. I haven't purposefully invested the money in the Foolish Four. Undoubtedly, my savings on entertainment has enabled me to pay off some debt sooner ($50 a month more to that credit card bill). But, maybe more importantly, it has led me to a careful examination of not only "needs" and "wants" but also my desire for instant gratification. And that's led to a life with a much longer view.
If you're reading a good novel, the story isn't over in an hour or two or even over the length of a mini-series. Crocheting an afghan can take weeks. Watching the baby chickadees learn to feed can span a month. When you stop thinking of life in sitcom-length packets, a whole new world opens up. And, for the Foolish among us, it makes long-term investing much easier. When I send that $50 a month to my discount brokerage account, I don't expect to see 120% returns in two months. I'll wait. I know the returns will come.
Meanwhile, the dog wants to go out again and I can't wait to join her.