I rarely think about it much, but I recently realized I just survived a decade without TV.
And Mrs. Thrifty and I have been married for almost 5 years in a household with no TV.
What’s more, with the exception of Mrs. Thrifty agreeing to marry me during that time, nothing that crazy has happened to either one of us.
Though an unusual series of events starting in the summer of 2008, I pretty much stopped watching TV and never have really wanted to look back.
So, gather round the digital campfire and bring your favorite s’mores ingredients, a guitar, and some Vanilla Ice lyrics and parachute pants (maybe it’ll make sense later in the post?).
And I’ll tell you how I, Mr. Thrifty, have survived an entire decade without TV.
TV by the Numbers
I think we’ve already established in the introduction that I’m the weird one here, and it’s probably not just because I don’t watch TV.
It’s pretty normal to spend some time watching TV, so don’t feel bad if you spend more than a passing minute or two engrossed in the latest episode of “Stranger Things” or even the original “Magnum, P.I.”
No one would argue with you if you said that Tom Selleck’s mustache is mesmerizing, so let’s get back to the post here.
I ran some numbers, and according to a number of very scientific sounding surveys out there, the average American watches between 0 and 24 hours each day.
To be more precise and less facetious, the average American watches around 4 hours of television a day.
That’s over a 24 hour day worth of TV each week and over 60 full days a year!
For most of us, not only do we spend a lot of time watching TV, we also spend a lot of money.
If you still have cable, the average cost is over $100 a month. That’s around $1,200 a year, or around $60,000 over 50 years of TV watching!
And I’m not even calculating the magic of compounding what you might achieve investing that money in things like index funds or extremely rare pogs.
Growing Up on TV
When I was just a little thrifty, I used to watch quite a bit of TV.
Growing up, I probably got in at least 4 hours a day on average.
If you count video games, I definitely hit that mark.
There may have been days I spent more time watching TV than sleeping. There may even have been weeks.
That experience growing up also gives perspective that not every minute of that time is spent mindlessly looking at a screen.
I, of course, spent most of my time watching timeless, educational shows like the original “MacGyver.”
Who could disagree that Richard Dean Anderson was the voice of a generation?
But, I digress.
The point is, for better or worse, I watched a lot of television as a kid.
Some of it was pretty mindless, while other shows like Mr. Rogers and Reading Rainbow taught valuable life lessons and cultivated a lifelong passion passion for learning.
Why I Stopped Watching TV
It was actually by happenstance, rather than any ideological reason, that I pretty much stopped watching TV.
In the summer of 2008, I moved to a new place for a job and was looking for somewhere to live.
The small town where I found myself didn’t have much housing available, so I bought an RV and rented a place to park it each month.
My RV didn’t have a TV. Try saying that three times fast.
I didn’t buy a TV because the one I owned was almost a thousand miles away in a storage unit, and I was cheap.
It really is as simple as that.
I vividly remember the time my dad came to visit me for a fishing trip a few months later.
We were staying at a hotel, and the TV was on.
After about 30 minutes, I realized I had been sitting in a spot on the couch where I couldn’t see the TV at all.
I hadn’t seen TV in about 6 months, and I didn’t even miss it.
I wasn’t quite so focused on pursing financial independence yet, but even then I realized there were better ways I could be spending my time and money.
Getting Mrs. Thrifty on Board
It was pretty easy to get Mrs. Thrifty on board for a household without TV.
She’s the thriftiest woman I know, and she places an even greater value on time and money than I do.
Mrs. Thrifty didn’t watch much TV when she was single, and we made a decision not to make television a major part of our relationship when we were dating.
We don’t even have a TV plugged in anywhere, though we do bring the one we have in storage up to watch something like “It’s a Wonderful Life” a time or two a year. And, we also like to catch some of the Olympics every couple of years when they’re on.
We have our computers, of course, which we might watch a DVD from the library or a YouTube video every now and then.
But we’ve been busy enough with one thing or another most of the time since we’ve gotten married that I’m not sure either of us could even begin to figure out when we would regularly watch TV.
It seems like life gets busier and more complex with time, even when we’re trying to manage that.
Not being tied to things like programs, shows, or sporting events frees us up to invest that time and money in other things.
I’m Still Not Really Anti-Television, But…
I’m not really against watching TV.
Mrs. Thrifty and I occasionally catch old episodes of quality family shows like “Andy Griffith” and “Family Matters.”
And the little thrifties love watching things like “Berenstain Bears” and “Daniel Tiger.”
When we visit other folks who have the TV on, watching a show or an event together or discussing the news we’re watching can help build community and relationships.
I love sitting with Mrs. Thrifty’s grandma and catching an old episode of “Hee Haw.”
TV can be a fun form of entertainment, and it can even be educational at times.
It can be a nice break from reality or a good way to unwind from a long day.
But TV consumes so much of our time and money and, unfortunately, even so many of us.
Just like everything else in life, the time and money we spend on TV has an opportunity cost in terms of how else we might otherwise be investing that time and money.
I can’t imagine the average person doesn’t have anything better they could be doing with at least some of the 4 hours a day spent watching TV.
I can’t imagine they couldn’t find some more productive use of at least some of the $60,000 they might spend on cable during a normal adult lifespan.
After all, $60,000 buys a lot of nachos.
The Value of Being Present
One of the biggest interpersonal challenges most of us seem to have in this digital age is being present with others.
It’s easy for me to think of a number of times I’ve annoyed someone, or been annoyed by someone, by not paying attention.
If you’ve ever been pulled from a digital haze to hear words like “Daddy, daddy, daddy, watch this!” like I have, you know you’re missing some opportunities you won’t get back.
The reality is that unless your goal in spending time together is watching TV, it can be hard to spend quality time together on things like conversation with the TV on.
When you’re not splitting your time trying to focus on more than one thing at once, you can be more active and present than you would with the TV on.
And I’ve also noticed how much more time I have to invest in my family and friends when I’m not tied to a TV or to a show.
Not a Sermon, but a Challenge
This post isn’t intended as a criticism of TV or of you if you watch a lot.
Don’t misunderstand me; I don’t always spend my time wisely.
If you knew how much time I spent singing “Ice, Ice Baby” by myself every week, you’d understand what I mean.
If you knew how much time I spent trying to perfect the accompanying choreography, you’d really understand.
But if you watch a lot of television, I’d challenge you to consider what else you could accomplish if you were able to reclaim over a day of your week back.
What could you do with an extra two months of your year?
How might you invest an extra $1,200?
For me, becoming financially independent isn’t an end unto itself.
My primary motivation for pursuing financial independence is having more time to invest in the people and things that matter to me.
And getting rid of my TV has been something that has helped me get closer to the goal of achieving financial freedom.
It’s also helped me free up time to focus more on the things I value most.
I won’t tell you to get rid of your TV.
But, if you did, my guess is you wouldn’t miss it as much as you might think.