Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Cutting the Cord

A recent Facebook post in which I noted that canceling my cable TV service has saved me money – and spared me from the avalanche of campaign commercials that typically precede an election – caught my friends’ attention. They wanted to know how they could cut costs without giving up their favorite programming.

If I didn’t hate the expression “There’s a lot to unpack,” I would use it here. But I do. So I won’t. Instead, I will tell you there are lots of choices, which can be overwhelming. I’m no expert, but this is what I did before cutting the cord.

First, I read this article from Consumer Reports. I read other ones, too, but this was the best. It explains your options really well. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. That might seem like a bad thing, but it’s actually a good thing. If you’re a cable subscriber, you’re probably paying for several channels you never watch. Think about which programs and channels you watch regularly and which ones you could do without.

You’ll need to decide which streaming services you want and what device you’ll use to get them. The article above will help with both decisions. Shop around before you buy. Note that this article mentions Acorn TV, which I’ve told you is available for free with your library card.

Here’s what I chose. My streaming device is Amazon’s Fire TV. It’s not a TV, but a small device you plug into your smart TV. It was a QVC Today’s Special Value for $49.99. It’s ironic that I found this deal on cable TV. Whatever device you choose, remember this is a one-time expense, not a monthly fee.

Fire TV works on apps, many of them free. For example, I watch CBSN, a streaming service from CBS News, and the NBC News app, which includes content from MSNBC, for free. There are free local news apps as well, which include programming not aired on TV. You also can watch local news from other cities via their apps. When the Kilauea volcano erupted, I watched coverage from one of the Honolulu TV stations. Yes, I’m a geek. So are many of you, I’ll bet.

I can access entertainment programs from ABC and NBC via their free apps on my Fire TV, but CBS All Access charges a fee. I can’t watch broadcast network shows “live.” It usually takes a week or so for them to be unlocked. So if you can’t bear waiting for “This is Us,” you can use an antenna to watch that or anything else on broadcast TV.

For streaming, I have Sling TV and Netflix. Sling TV carries many of the channels available on cable TV and offers three pricing tiers. It also offers a seven-day free trial. (Sidebar: If you sign up for Sling TV, please mention my name. I think I get something for referring a friend.) I chose Sling TV’s Orange + Blue plan, mostly to get Indians games on Sports Time Ohio. With the Tribe’s season over, I’m going to downgrade until Opening Day. I also had a Hulu subscription, but it expired. Hulu’s recent offer of less than $6 a month might lure me back.

As far as costs, I’ve kept my internet service with Cox, my previous cable provider, which cut my bill by more than half. Even with the combined cost of Sling TV and Netflix – $50ish per month, but it will be $40ish per month when I downgrade – I’m saving more than $50 a month. In addition, the programming choices are better. And I can’t overstate the value of not seeing any TV political ads the past few months.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Streaming on a Budget

Now that you know how to get free reading material from the library without leaving home, it’s time to discover what you can watch and listen to for free using your library card.

The selection might vary by library, so I’m going to use Avon Lake Public Library as an example. This library’s website has a digital media section that includes Hoopla and Kanopy plus Acorn TV. A few months ago I didn’t know what any of that was, but then I attended a free library program that helped me understand it.

Simply put, Hoopla and Kanopy allow you to borrow movies, TV shows and what I still think of as albums and enjoy them on any device with a browser. Acorn TV offers popular British television shows for streaming. The library’s digital media inventory isn’t as extensive as those of the streaming services you pay for, but it offers hit movies as well as lesser-known films. I haven’t dived very deep into the music offerings, but I found some music I wanted to listen to.

I recently watched “My Friend Dahmer,” which was in theaters last year, and “Carole King: Natural Woman,” a documentary I hadn’t heard of before, on Hoopla. I listened to “Hot Rocks,” a compilation of Rolling Stones hits from 1964 to 1971, and “Creeque Alley – The History of the Mamas & the Papas.”

Just so you don’t think all the Hoopla music is from 50ish years ago, a quick search of “popular” music revealed the “Hamilton” soundtrack and “Sweetener” from Ariana Grande. I don’t know Ariana Grande from Nachos Bell Grande, but her album is dated 2018, and she sang “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” (and was groped by a preacher) at Aretha Franklin’s funeral.

The TV section includes a lot of programs I’ve never heard of plus sitcoms of the Antenna TV variety, documentaries, how-to programs and children’s shows.

Kanopy is more highbrow. It’s heavy on documentaries, which is fine by me. Where else could you watch a doc about trailblazing journalist Ida B. Wells, or another called “A Street Cat Named Bob,” for free? Its TV section has a number of series that have aired on PBS.

Now you have an overview of the digital resources libraries offer. If it all seems overwhelming, I recommend checking whether a library near you offers instruction about its digital media, either in a group setting or one on one. Libraries employ knowledgeable people who want to help you.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Reading on a Budget

I recently used a Christmas gift card I received for a chain bookstore. I love to read, but I don’t buy a lot of books. They’re expensive, and there aren’t many that I want to keep. I try to reserve my buying for books that have a special meaning for me, such as this one that my friend Karen wrote.

The library is my main source of reading material. I’m lucky to have several libraries close to home, and I use them all. I like going to libraries; they’re among my happy places. But I also like the convenience of visiting them online.

You already know you can go to the library and check out books, magazines, music and DVDs. You can read new issues of newspapers and magazines on site, but you can’t take them with you.

But do you know how many library resources you can access remotely? You can check out e-books, audiobooks and magazines. You also can access current issues of local and national newspapers. I subscribe to two local papers – The Plain Dealer and West Life – and I think it’s important to support local journalism. However, I can’t afford to subscribe to every newspaper I want to read.

My library cards allow me to read some of those papers through the libraries’ websites for free. Cuyahoga County branch libraries, among others, also have a database of newspapers going back more than a hundred years.

You also can access Hoopla and Overdrive with your library card to read e-books, audiobooks and magazines. Overdrive has the Libby app, which lets you borrow e-books and audiobooks and read them instantly on your mobile device.

You can get a free library card outside of the community where you live or work. I have cards from Rocky River, Westlake, Lakewood, the Cuyahoga County and Cleveland Public Library systems and Avon Lake.

I prefer to read print versions of books and newspapers, but I appreciate having access to electronic materials. When a new book has a long wait list at the library, the e-book or audio version sometimes becomes available before the hardback.

Friday I’ll tell you about using your library card to get free movies, TV shows and music online.

Friday, October 19, 2018

How-To Festival

I am not a crafter. In fact, I practically have a crafting phobia. Still, news of this free event Saturday afternoon at Westlake Porter Public Library caught my attention.

The library is the site of the How-To Festival, which will offer lessons in skills including smoothie making, origami, composting, 3D printing, making pop-up books, even panning for gold. I know how to make smoothies, but the rest of the list is foreign territory for me.

The event goes from 2 to 4 p.m., which doesn’t seem like enough time to learn all those things. So I think either you’ll have to choose among them or you’ll just watch other people making and doing. I don’t know about the panning for gold, though. How will that work?

You don’t have to live in Westlake or be a library cardholder to attend, but you can sign up for a card while you’re there. I recommend doing this. Some upcoming CLE on the Cheap posts will explain why.

Saturday morning from 9:30 to 11, the library is having a free shredding event so you can safely dispose of documents you don’t need anymore. Keeping unnecessary documents – now that is something I know how to do.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Third Fridays

Today is the third Tuesday of the month, a great day to think about your plans for the third Friday of the month.

I suggest you check out Third Fridays at 78th Street Studios. This monthly event from 5 to 9 p.m. offers four floors' worth of art to see in more than 50 spaces. Often the artists are there to talk with you about their work. You also can “watch” online radio station oWOW, which broadcasts from the second floor, through a window.

Technically, you could attend this event and not spend any money. Parking and admission are free, and there usually is a giveaway of some sort. You can just browse in the galleries if you’re not ready to buy that night. Sometimes I’ve attended one month to get gift ideas and returned the next month to make those purchases.

Whether you do this on the cheap is up to you. Besides the art and jewelry for sale, there is a food truck outside, and there's a drink station and food counter inside. Some artists have sales during Third Fridays, and I have found some bargains there. Also, some of the shops and restaurants in Cleveland’s Gordon Square neighborhood have promotional specials during Third Fridays.

A couple of caveats: This event is well attended, and the gravel parking lot fills up quickly. Get there by 5 if you can. Once you’re inside, seeing everything requires a fair amount of walking. There are things to see on all four floors, and I’m not aware of any way to get between floors except the stairs. Fortunately, there are places to sit down if you need a break.

One more thing: 78th Street Studios has an open house every Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., so you could go on another Friday. I haven't done this, but my understanding is that typically four to eight galleries are open, and you can check them out without the Third Friday crowds.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Rock Hall

Here is some late-breaking news, emphasis on “late,” because I just found out about it over the weekend. Sorry. I wish I had known about this when this month started.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is offering a 2 for $20 deal during October. Two Northeast Ohio residents can tour the hall for less than half the price of two general admission tickets. The deal is for people whose ZIP codes begin with 440, 441, 442 and 443. You must present identification that proves you live in one of those ZIP codes.

Cleveland residents get free admission to the Rock Hall for the rest of the year, an offer that began June 23. This month’s deal gives a break to some of us who live outside the city.

I know people who have lived here their whole lives and have never gone to the Rock Hall. I’ve gone three times since it opened in 1995 and I enjoyed it each time. The exhibits change regularly and it seems to me the hall works to make them relevant.

One you can see now is Stay Tuned: Rock on TV, with artifacts including some related to “The Ed Sullivan Show” in the early days of television and others connected to music videos from decades later.

The Rock Hall’s usual admission fee has kept me from visiting more often, so I might grab a friend – maybe one who hasn’t been there yet – and go before October ends.