When the Mafia Wars and Farmville games first rolled out on Facebook, I didn’t participate. In fact, I actively blocked all of those posts and updates from my stream. Now that Google + has rolled out games in a separate stream, I decided to see why people get so addicted to these games. As I played, I understood the addiction and the temptation to spend real money on virtual stuff.

Monsters and Farms?
I chose the game Monster World, which looks pretty similar to Farmville. I plant, harvest, and sell crops to earn coins, which I then use to hire helpers, decorate the farm, and buy more plots. Each level up affords new opportunities to expand or interesting new crops to plant. That part is fun, and addictive. It’s easy to spend an hour clicking to harvest and watch the points pile up.

In addition to offering a market where you can sell, the game also sends a robot buyer that generally offers more coins per crop, but he only buys certain things and sets a time limit.

You can earn additional points by completing tasks, like building a crib. Tools for the crib are found by harvesting, by asking a friend to send you one, or by buying them with real money.

You Want Me to Spend Real Money?
The game has two forms of currency: coins and cash. You earn coins, you buy Monster Cash with real money. Some of the items I could buy were only available with Monster Cash. So I clicked the link to see what it was about. $80 Monster Dollars cost $11.50 real dollars. For that $11.50, I can buy a large virtual fountain, that will earn me 70 “happiness points” and 105 star points. The star points help me level up, which unlocks additional crops or stuff I can buy. Happiness points earn me the right to plow more plots.

But, really, why do I need to spend $11.50 to buy fake decorations that will earn me the ability to plant fake crops from which I will earn fake coins? I don’t see any option to cash out and make real money from this game.

The task to build a baby crib includes a crying monster baby (not a sound, just an image.) If I don’t want to wait to find the tools I need, I can buy them for just $32 Monster Dollars. If $40 Monster Dollars cost $5.75, I would have to spend $5 real dollars to build a fake crib for a fake baby.

When I saw that baby cry, my heart started to race. What would happen if I didn’t get the crib built quickly enough? Would the baby go away? Would I lose points? Should I spend the money to buy the tools?

I’m too frugal to actually give in to the temptation, but I could see how the game created a false sense of urgency that would prompt me to spend real money to fix whatever issue had developed.

Instead I’ll Just Spend Real Time
At one point, my worker’s went on strike because I’d plowed more plots than they were willing to work. I had to buy decorations to earn happiness points. Decorations bought with Monster coins earn fewer happiness points, so instead you spend more time. One available crop is ready for harvest in one minute. That crop produces two plants. Those plants sell for two coins each. When I saw my plots blocked off, and the time ticking down on a potential buyer, I did a quick calculation. If I spent an hour planting all 20 of my available plots with those crops, I could grow 2400 plants, which would sell for 4800 coins.

But let’s think about that. Let’s say I get paid $20 an hour. I would essentially be spending $20 to earn 4800 fake coins. Why would I waste my time that way?

Yet people do it, every day. A woman shook her baby to death because he interrupted her Farmville game with his crying. Now that’s an extreme, but I’ve also seen friends posting endless status updates on Facebook about their Farmville accomplishments. They spent hours playing the game.

So What Do We Get from these Games?
What do we derive from these games that makes us willing to waste time and potentially spend real money on virtual stuff? I think it’s two things: 1. the false sense of urgency that comes from a waiting buyer or striking worker, and 2. a sense of accomplishment. You’ve harvested your crops and earned points and your friends can come see what you did. (I don’t have any friends playing and I’m ignoring the game’s plea to invite them.)

But really, if you think about it, what have you accomplished? When I post on Facebook about my latest gardening success, I’m talking about a real success. Something I planted with real hands and tended with real effort. All I’m doing in Monster World is clicking a mouse. Clicking a mouse is not an accomplishment. My cat can click a mouse. A one-year-old can click a mouse.

Ultimately, the time spent on Farmville type games is no greater accomplishment than watching TV. So, next time you’re tempted to spend real money on one of these games, go see if there’s something else you’d rather be doing. If you want to do something for a sense of accomplishment, maybe it’s time to buy a real plant.

 

It’s official. I can’t watch TV commercials anymore. Actually, I nitpick the shows, too, but these days a lot of commercials are ticking me off.  Some commercials are pretty funny, but the rest I could do without. Especially the commercials that make things sound better than they are, or claim that they’ve started doing something when really it’s always been that way.

“Farm-Raised Ingredients”
Last night I saw a commercial for frozen lasagna. I don’t recall which brand, but they highlighted the fact that their tomatoes, cheese, and pasta grains come from the farm. This was their major selling point. As if somehow tomatoes, milk, and grain haven’t always come from farms. Just announcing the ingredients are grown on farms doesn’t automatically make the product any healthier than before they slapped a new label on the box. The “new” ingredients could be GMO, or grown from hybridized seeds that ultimately damage the environment (I’m looking at you Monsanto), or raised on corporate farms that kill our small farms. This company is trying to use the trend toward whole foods and knowing where your food comes from to promote a product that is just as packaged and processed as before.

“No Chemical Leaveners”
This one I saw in a pizza commercial that claims its frozen pizza is the only “all-natural” one on the market. One of their claims is that it doesn’t contain “chemical leaveners.” Perhaps they mean that it doesn’t contain a chemical not traditionally used in cooking, but it ignores the fact that baking soda and baking powder are both chemical leaveners, and neither is considered a scary, unnatural thing that should be avoided. This pizza has yeast rather than baking soda or powder, but it also has artificial flavors, which are by definition not natural.

“One Model Year Newer”
An auto insurance company is advertising that they’ll give you the money to replace your totaled car with one that is one model year newer and has 15,000 fewer miles. If you think about it, that’s only a benefit if you replace your car every 2-3 years. If you, like me, keep your car for much longer, then the insurance company is getting a deal. Imagine if my 13-year-old Corolla with 140,000 miles had been totaled. They’d give me the money to replace it it with a 12-year-0ld Corolla with 125,000 miles. Um, yay? Unless your car is less than a few years old, the benefit may only amount to a couple hundred dollars more than you would have received as the cash value of your old car. I’d rather save money on my policy and put the savings into my emergency fund.

“Tell Us on Facebook”
It seems like every company wants me to like them on Facebook. Fine, I will, if you’re offering me something free, like a coupon or sample. If you just want to be able to promote to me on my Facebook newsfeed, then no thanks. I’ve liked a few select companies. They gave me a coupons, miles, or a free sample. And they’re companies I already like. Don’t air a TV commercial asking me to like your company just because. I’m not going to. If I want to give you feedback, I don’t need to do that on Facebook.

And those are just the commercials I remember from this week. I don’t actually see many commercials – we always seem to tune in a few minutes late or pause the show, and then fast forward to catch up. I think I need to keep doing that. It’s hard enough to watch TV when the shows themselves are filled with ridiculous premises (House, I’m looking at you).

What do you think?  Do you find most of the commercials you see irritating?

My husband and I own all seven seasons of the West Wing on DVD. We figured we’d start watching them from the beginning once the show was over. Yeah, that never happened. We’ve watched maybe 20 episodes, most of them after catching a repeat on TV and wanting to see the rest of that episode or the episode after it. Definitely not the best investment, although we didn’t pay for all of them. Some were gifts. If I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t buy them. Instead, I’d use one of these options to watch a TV show that I missed when it aired.

Watch It Online
Obviously this wasn’t an option when The West Wing started, but this is how I caught the first half of the first season of Heroes. I heard so much good talk that I watched one episode on the NBC website. One episode led to two and suddenly I’d watched all nine episodes on a tiny screen on the computer. Now Hulu makes it easy to watch almost any show online. Of course, Hulu episodes are usually only available before the DVD is released, but it’s handy for people who don’t have cable and don’t want to wait for a show to come out on DVD.

If you don’t mind paying a little bit for each episode, you can also download most shows from iTunes. I haven’t tried it, because it seems like $1.99 per episode would quickly add up to the price of a DVD set. Note: there’s another way to watch online, but I don’t support piracy.

Rent It
If you have a Blockbuster or NetFlix subscription, you can simply wait for the DVDs to come out and watch the whole season at once. Or, you could go even cheaper and see if your library has them. Rent the season for free!

Borrow It
If your library doesn’t have it, see if you’ve got any friends who are fanatics and will loan you their copies. This works especially well for sci-fi shows like Battlestar Galactica and Stargate or serial shows with tight plots like Lost or 24. Their fans are hardcore and buy the DVDs to go back and check anything they might have missed.

Sell the DVDs You Already Own
We haven’t sold the West Wing seasons we have because my husband likes to keep his DVDs, even if he doesn’t watch them. He plans to watch them “someday.” Right after he reads all those unread books and burns all those unwatched videos to DVD. If we were to sell them, we’d use eBay or Half.com where we could net anywhere between $8 and $20 per set. It’s not a lot, but it’s not nothing. If you find that your DVDs won’t sell, include them in your next garage sale or donate them to the library.

Cut the Cable Bill
Now you can effectively cut the cable bill. When TV went digital, my best friend opted not to buy the converter for her tiny analog TV. Now she just rents DVDs or watches the shows online. By cancelling cable, you’ll save yourself time (no more commercials) and money ($60+ a month). You might even be able to break the TV habit completely.

Of course, there is a downside. You won’t get to see all those new shows that flame out after just a few episodes. You also won’t get to see the new hot show the very day it airs. But really, with the age of DVRs, it’s hard to know when anyone watches anything anymore.

If you’ve watched TV, listened to the radio, or driven past a billboard in the last six months, you hopefully know that analog broadcast signals were turned off today, and you now need a digital converter or digital TV to receive television signals over the air. You were probably assured that you didn’t need to do anything if you were a cable or satellite subscriber.

Oops. I learned on NPR last night that some cable subscribers will lose channels following the conversion, or may have lost them already. Here’s what you need to know.

What is the Digital Cable Conversion
At the same time that analog broadcasters are switching to digital, so are many cable companies. In most areas, this happened long ago. Cable companies are doing this so they can offer more services in the bandwidth formerly occupied by those analog signals. Unfortunately, they’re simply removing some old channels you used to receive for free, like the second PBS channel or the public access/PEG access (Public, Educational, and Governmental) channels.

Why It Matters to You
Most people won’t notice the loss of these channels. I used to have three PBS channels and was cut back to two several years ago. I may be down to one now, but I don’t mind. I don’t really need more than one.

I also don’t frequently watch public access TV, but you might if you tend to watch City Council meetings or live in an area at risk for “snow days.” When school is cancelled in my region, it’s usually due to an earthquake, and every station is covering that. However, school closures in other regions are usually announced on public access TV. If you live in a snow region, you should check now to make sure you still receive those channels.

What to Do if Channels Are Missing
First, call the cable company to make sure the channel is gone. It could just be out for an unrelated reason. If it’s gone, you may have to buy a digital cable converter to regain those channels, or rent one for an additional fee. You may also have to upgrade to a higher package to get those channels that were once free. Personally, I find the idea of asking people to pay for public access channels abhorrent, but so far the cable companies are getting away with it.

If the channels are no longer free, the cable company may offer you the equipment free for a year, but you’ll have to pay for it eventually unless your city council or state legislature takes up the issue. If that happens, I think it’s more likely to happen at the local level.

Of course, you could choose to dump cable altogether and switch to digital broadcast television. Or you could choose to stop watching TV altogether.

If you only need to know about snow days, check the school district website or track down the snow day hotline phone number. If you want to watch the City Council meeting, it may be streamed on the city’s website or broadcast on a local NPR radio station. I probably won’t pay $3-$10 a month for the privilege of getting either on my TV.

If your tastes or hobbies previously ran to the expensive, such as gourmet cooking classes, wine clubs, or shopping in general, you may be wondering what to do with yourself now that consumption is out. Or, if your personal budget no longer allows this consumption? You don’t have to sit at home twiddling your thumbs. Instead, you can find new hobbies and interests, or transform those interests into something more affordable.

Gourmet Cook = Cooking Club
If you enjoy gourmet cooking and regularly shelled out $80 for a couple cooking classes, you don’t have to give that up. You just have to give up the pricey teacher and classroom setting. Instead, look for a cooking club. Cooking clubs usually meet in someone’s home or a rented community space. You either bring your own ingredients or contribute a smaller fee. Everyone learns together, which makes it all the more fun. You may even get to help choose the dishes the group will be preparing.

Wine Enthusiast = Wine Club
This is another easy one to switch. Instead of visiting an expensive wine bar, join a local wine club. Some are held at wineries or wine stores, and can be pricey. Others are held in the homes of local members. Members take turn hosting and everyone brings a new bottle to share. You’ll discover new wines and make new friends for a fraction of the cost.

Hardcore Shopper = Swapping
If you liked to hit the malls with a group of friends, now you can hold a swap instead. I wrote about setting up swaps last month. You can also look for meetups.

Culture Snob = Movie or Book Club
Can’t afford all those museum memberhips? Like reading or movies? Join a book club or movie club. Most book stores hold monthly book clubs, but you’ll also find them at libraries or in people’s living rooms. Movie clubs will attend local screenings as a group, possibly with special rates.

Gym Rat = Get Outdoors
If you used to spend a lot of time at the gym, join the Sierra Club, an orienteering group, or a local hiking meetup to find new trails and meet new people for free. If you already have a mountain bike, a kayak, or any other outdoors equipment, find a local group that suits your interests. If you can’t find, start one on Meetup or Craigslist.

Heavy Charity Donor = Support a Cause
Have you always wanted to volunteer in a campaign? Help the needy? Work for an environmental cause? There are groups that do that, too. Use your newfound free-time to do something worthwhile without taking out the checkbook.

Passionate Consumer = Pursue a Passion
The consumerist society we live in makes it difficult to pursue your passions when you’re struggling to keep up with the Jones. Now that you don’t have to do that, you can pursue your true passions. Maybe you’ve always wanted to write a book, learn to play an instrument, or garden. This is your opportunity.

See my earlier post on inexpensive hobbies for more ideas. Have you had to change your ways and find new hobbies? What did you discover to fill your time?

Summer is lazy, and hazy, but it can also start to get a little dull as it wears on. To keep you from hitting the summer doldrums too quickly, here are a few suggestions for cheap summer entertainment.

Summer Concerts
You don’t have to be in a big city to get the benefit of free or cheap summer concerts. Most medium-sized cities, and even some smaller ones, host free classical concerts, jazz trios, and other events at local parks, shopping centers, and cultural centers. Check the website for your city, the community calendar in the newspaper, or the local mall website for details.

Hang Out by the Water
If you have a beach or lake nearby, then a day hanging out by the water can be pretty cheap. Parking is usually affordable, and then you just bring a cooler of snacks, loads of sunscreen, and lots of sand toys. As a bonus, the sun will wear everyone out and you’ll get to be early, unless you stay for an evening bonfire.

Free Movies from the Library
If you’ve had enough outdoors time (too sunburned, maybe), visit the library to borrow free movies. Many libraries carry current DVDs, and rental is either free or $1 a day for the most popular titles. If your library doesn’t have movies, look for a local Redbox and then hunt down Redbox coupon codes online.

Wipeout on ABC
I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but I love this show. It’s the perfect summer entertainment, and since it’s on ABC, it arrives free. If you’re not familiar, it’s sort of like American Gladiator, but with poorer athletes, mud, and wisecracking hosts. It’s positioned as family fare, so it’s pretty clean (humor-wise).

Game Night
Invite over a few families for a giant game night. Ask everyone to bring games and snacks and it will be fun for all ages with a minimal cost.

Candlelight Picnics
Rather than eating dinner inside during the summer, lay out a blanket and dine on the grass by candlelight. Then lay back and stare at the stars, or flashing airplane lights, depending on where you live. Bonus points for spotting a satellite or meteor.

Summer Theater
If you’re a theater-enthusiast, then you may be able to find some free or cheap summer Shakespeare performances in your local area. Check the community calendar for upcoming events.

Street Fairs
Most street fairs are packed with vendors, but there’s also cheap entertainment for the kids, live music, and a wide range of food. You can also pack your own lunch and find a bench or spot of grass to sit down on. The fun is in the enjoyment of the afternoon, not in browsing the vendors for stuff you don’t need.

Carnivals
Carnies travel the country this time of year, setting up for a weekend or two in a local school parking lot or city park. Although carnival rides aren’t the cheapest entertainment, it’s certainly a lot cheaper than visiting a full amusement park or water park.

Community Pool
Most communities have a free or low-cost pool. You may need to pay an annual membership, but it’s certainly cheaper than digging your own pool. Contact the local YMCA, a neighborhood cabana club, or your city’s Parks and Rec department for a list of local pools.

Free Museum Day
Many museums host a monthly free-admission day. Although these are often weekdays, they occasionally offer free weekend days during the summer. Get on your local museum’s email list to receive an announcement of the next one. If you have a Bank of America account, they often sponsor free days.

These ideas should keep you busy for several summer weekends. If you need more than that, consider camping or just laying around on the hammock reading a good book. That’s enough entertainment for me!

I watch about 11 hours of TV a week at this point. In the fall, I’ll probably be down to 5 or 6, the way the networks are scheduling. My goal is to limit my viewing only to those shows I really love. But how do you break the habit of plopping down and just watching whatever is on from 8-11?

Summer is right around the corner, and the TV season is about to end, so now is the perfect time to break the habit.

Saying Goodbye to TV Shows You Don’t Like Anymore
It’s easy to say goodbye when the show has worn out its welcome. If you find yourself flipping through magazines or wandering away from the TV in the middle of a scene, you know it’s time to cut it from your schedule. This year was my last year for Heroes. I tried, I really did, but it’s just not working anymore.

Saying Goodbye to Daily TV Shows You Still Like
It can be a bit tougher when you still really like the show. That’s me and the Daily Show and Colbert Report. I do still love those shows most of the time. Since we have a DVR, I only watch the first half of each show, and I love the weeks when it’s not on. I don’t know how much longer I’ll continue to watch, but for now I’m keeping it, just watching less.

Saying Goodbye to Weekly TV Shows You Still Like
Try this next fall: don’t check the schedule to see when the show returns. Don’t buy the TV Guide preview, and don’t watch a lot of TV during the summer to avoid the previews. Delete it from your DVR.

If you get to mid-October and are wondering what’s happening on the show, catch up online and see if you still care enough to watch it. If it’s not a show you really value, odds are good you won’t even remember you’re not watching it.

Plan Your Viewing
I may be weird, but I plan my viewing, especially now that I have a DVR. I have a rule that I write from 9-10 weeknights, and not much gets in the way of that. I use the DVR to allow me to watch the stuff I like from 10-11. This only allows one hour per day of TV, plus the Daily Show, which we watch during dinner.

Fill the Time
Rather than mindlessly watch whatever is on in place of your usual shows, fill the time with something else. Visit the library to stock up on books. Sit outside with your spouse or kids and look at the stars or just enjoy the night. Play games with your family. Play Wii. Take up a hobby. Do something besides sit on the couch and stare at the box. Once not watching TV becomes a habit, it will be more difficult to fall back into the TV watching habit.

Don’t Let “Water Cooler Talk” Suck You In
I’m the rare person who has never seen one single episode of American Idol. I’ve never seen a single episode of the Bachelor or Bachelorette. Ditto for Grey’s Anatomy, CSI, or several other hot shows. You know what? I don’t feel out of the loop. Maybe it’s just my office, but no one I work with talks about TV shows the next day. None of my friends talk about TV shows. You will find other things to talk about.

And remember, you can always catch a show on Hulu or on DVD if you really love it and miss not watching it. In fact, watching it online or DVD is better in some ways because you can pause it or watch it all at once – no waiting a week to find out what happens next. Plus, it’s only 42 minutes – that alone saves you a quarter of an hour.

I envision a day when all shows are available on demand and we can pick and choose only what we like when we want to watch it. Until that day, it’s up to use to break the TV habit and reclaim our time. If these tips don’t work for you, check out last year’s ideas for watching less TV.

I love a family game night. I come from a very competitive family, so we can be a bit hardcore in our games, but you can have a peaceful family game night, too. If you play with games you already own and enjoy affordable snack food at home, it can be much cheaper than a family trip to the movies or even an outing to a mini-golf park or restaurant with games. Here are six tips for keeping it frugal.

Play Accessory-Free Games
Some games only need a watch, pencil, and paper. Try games like Win, Lose, or Draw or charades. Pair up and set a number of rounds. The team with the lowest time score wins at the end.

Choose Games You Already Own
Most families have a few games suitable for everyone. Games like Life and Monopoly are standard in most households, but you can also play cards, dominoes, or even Chutes and Ladders.

Borrow Games from Friends
If you’re tired of the games you own, ask your friends what games they have. Borrow a couple games and try them out. If you find one you really like, it’s a perfect holiday gift or something to ask for on birthdays.

Turn Off the TV and Other Electronics
Since you’ll all be huddled together playing the game, you can turn off the TV, the stereo, and the computers while you play. That will reduce your energy costs and prevent distractions. It may seem extreme, but it’s definitely frugal.

Eat Homemade Snack Foods
Family game night calls for finger food, but rather than buy junk at the store or order a pizza, use what you have on hand. Make a batch of nachos with chips and grated cheese, put out a plate of cold cuts, crackers, and cheese, or serve fondue with chopped bread, salami, and veggies. If you spend the evening grazing on healthy snacks, everyone will get a full meal without breaking up the fun for a real “dinner.” (Hint: my sister and I loved getting a night off the real dinner.)

Invite Friends Over for Game Night
Make it cheaper and even more entertaining by inviting friends over. Ask them to bring healthy snacks and their games. Then you can split into groups to play kids with kids and adults with adults. No kids? An all-adults game night is just as much fun.

Just about any game is good for family game night, but these are my favorites: Chickenfoot (dominoes), charades, Pictionary, Balderdash, Rummikub, Trivial Pursuit, Outburst, Risk, and Taboo. Some are great for big groups while others are good for two or more. What are you favorite game night games or snack foods? Tell me in the comments.

I always feel a bit blue the day after Christmas. The presents are opened, vacation’s almost over, and the eggnog will soon be disappearing from the grocery store. If you also have a bit of the post-holiday blues, here are a few ways to overcome them.

Play a Game with the Family
I have a very competitive family, so we love to play games around the holidays and at family gatherings. We’ve played everything from kid-friendly games to hours long Risk battles. We usually stick to Rummikub or Chickenfoot (a dominoes game.) They can be played by anyone who can count and match colors (although some concept of strategy does help.) I see families on TV talking while playing games, but mine seems to focus on the game with laser-like intensity. Either way works when you’re trying to beat the holiday blues.

Go for a Walk
Bundle up in your heavy coat, hat, mittens, etc., and then go out for a walk in the snow or brisk air. After being inside for so long, the fresh air and sunlight (even if it’s faint) will perk you up.

Take Your Time Undecorating
I take down my decorations as carefully as I put them up. It gives me a chance to recall where I got the ornament or when I picked up the wreath one more time before they disappear until next Christmas. There’s no need to shove everything away on December 26th. Transitioning to your January decorations more slowly to give yourself time to decompress.

Read a Winter Novel
Sit down next to a crackling fire and read a novel set in the winter. It doesn’t have to be a Christmas book, and I’d avoid anything Russian, but you can find other classics and modern novels set in the winter that will entertain you, and possibly scare you a little. (Dean Koontz, anyone?)

Cut Up the Christmas Cards
There are two great uses for Christmas cards: 1. cut out the pictures so your kids can use them for crafts throughout the year, or 2. cut out the photos and add them to your albums so you can watch your friends and relatives change through the years. Like taking your time removing your decorations, looking at the cards one last time will remind you of the warmth of the season and keep it in your heart just a little longer.

Bake Something
Who says baking is reserved for Christmas? Why not make a fresh batch of cookies or bake a loaf of delicious cranberry nut bread to enjoy in January? You can bake anytime of the year. I wouldn’t recommend busting out the Santa cookie cutters, but the snowman and snowflake cutters are still completely appropriate.

Of course, the standard suggestions also apply: make sure you get enough sleep, avoid drinking too much, get at least 15 minutes of sun a day (or take Vitamin D supplements), and don’t let yourself wallow. That’s the most important – don’t let yourself wallow or you might be tempted to try retail therapy to alleviate your blues. Ultimately, that will only make you bluer.

Do you have other tips for handling the post-holiday blues? Share them in the comments.

Along with colder weather and a new school year, the fall brings the return of most TV shows. Once the shows premiere, it’s easy to waste hours you could otherwise be using. Here are my strategies for enjoying the shows I like without getting sucked into stuff I have no interest in watching.

Choose Your Fall TV Shows before They Air
I used to subscribe to TV Guide and would eagerly flip through the new fall premiere guide. I paid special attention to programs that had good buzz. That’s one way I found West Wing, which is one of my favorite shows of all time. Once I knew what I wanted to watch and noted the premiere dates in my calendar, I could tune in at exactly those times.

Don’t Turn On the TV before the Show Is On
There are four shows I currently enjoy. Three of them are on Sunday, so I tune in to them when they start, and then turn the TV off afterwards. The other show I like is on Monday. Again, I turn on the TV when it starts and then turn the TV off afterwards. I also enjoy the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. We watch the 8PM broadcast, usually only the first half of each show, and read email for the last half. We’re never tempted to watch the follow-up shows because we’ve already left the room.

Tune Out the Commercials
If you have a DVR, skipping commercials is easy. If you don’t, then you have two options: tape shows to watch the next day and fast-forward, or leave the room when commercials are on. We don’t have a DVR, so we just go to the bathroom, refill our glasses, or answer email while the commercials are on.

Wait Until a Show Has Buzz
It used to be that you had to watch a show from the beginning of the season or you wouldn’t understand it if you tuned in later. Now you can wait until a show develops buzz, and you know it will survive cancellation. If a show you were tentative about turns out to be a hit, you can easily find those episodes online so you can catch up.

Wait and Rent the Whole Season
A lot of people are opting not to watch broadcast TV at all, and instead wait until the whole season is available on DVD so they can watch it all at once. I did something similar with season 1 of Weeds, which I discovered on Demand, and the first part of season 1 of Heroes, which I watched online.

Don’t Turn on the TV Looking for Something to Watch
You can always find something to watch, but it might not be good. Instead, keep a book handy so you can read a chapter rather than turn on the TV. Once you sit down with the intent of just watching something, you’ll probably watch the next thing and the thing after that.

How is this related to personal finance? Well, if you don’t see commercials, you’ll be less tempted to buy stuff you don’t need. You’ll also be happier not seeing infuriating commercials or political ads. When you’re not watching TV, you can use that time you would otherwise waste doing things to improve your mind or even developing a money-producing hobby. This is not to say I don’t like TV. I love TV. I get excited when the shows I want to watch are on, and I do enjoy a little down time in front of the tube. What I don’t like is realizing I’ve just wasted several hours on stuff I don’t care about at all.

What are your strategies for avoiding TV you don’t want to watch while watching the shows you do?

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