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There original post really contained two questions: (1) Can you live without your TV? and (2) Does doing so make it easier to LBYM? My answers are a little lengthy, but I've tried to keep the discussion on topic (particularly the second part).

(1) Deciding to live without your television is a tough choice.

I love good television. We all do. Most of us grew up watching TV, and many of our shared cultural references come from television. (My favorite bumper sticker reads: “Very funny, Scotty…Now beam down my clothes”) The problem is, most television is dreck, and we know it, but we watch anyway. Why?

The simplest answer is that TV is often the easiest (and hence default) activity when we get home. After a long day at work, and a tiresome commute, the last thing one wants is to have to think. Or do anything, really, other than crash in front of the tube and rest for a while. In and of itself, watching is not bad. The problem begins when we become mesmerized – one previous post spoke of the hypnotic effect of television – and become trapped. My roommate calls this phenomenon the “deer in headlights” effect – where one sits down to watch an hour of television at 8 or 9 PM and turns around to find it's 2 AM.

I decided after a few too many such nights that I was going to make an effort to watch less TV. My determination was bolstered by a quote I read. Asked about why he never watched television this person whose name escapes me replied “I can't imagine being on my deathbed, looking back on my life, and thinking 'Damn! I wish I'd watched more television.'”

I tried the following experiment, and encourage you to give it a try. For two weeks, make a note every time you watch television and then add up the total number of hours. When you are done, ask yourself if, during the following two weeks, there isn't anything else you would rather do with the time. The answer might startle you.

If you never find yourself wishing you had more time during the week, you can stop reading here. Otherwise, decide in advance how much time you are willing to allocate to the TV for the upcoming week. Let's face it, we all have a favorite comedy (The Simpsons) or drama (The Sopranos) or special (Ken Burns' Baseball on PBS). But I guarantee that if you restrict the numbers of hours you watch, you will find yourself being much more selective.

These days I have a television and VCR at home, but I only use them for videos. Every other week or so I will watch some television at a friend's place, and last season a buddy taped the Sopranos for me. I may have never seen an episode of Millionaire or Survivor, but I can't say that I feel I left out. With the abundant coverage these programs receive in other media, I get the reference when someone asks me for my final answer. I just wish I had never heard of Richard.

If you do decide to tune out, people will treat you differently, at least at first. I've had to explain to several co-workers that I simply don't care about the “wassup” guys and besides, Bud sucks. Once people have grasped that you really don't watch TV, the most common question will be “What do you do with time?” I was never really sure how to answer that one. Time? What time? I don't have time to watch television. Where does everyone else find the time? I've almost always got something I'd rather being doing. If I am too tired to do anything except watch television, I'd rather be sleeping. If I'm too alert to sleep, there's probably something else I'd rather be doing.

(2) So will watching television help you Live Below Your Means?

You won't have to pay the cable bill anymore, which is a savings, but you might also decide spend the money on high-speed internet access instead, as I did. The real issue, however, gets to the heart of the most important element of LBYM - Living. People on this board clearly put a great deal of thought into how they allocate their money. Why not put the same effort into deciding how you spend your time?

I used my “extra” time to fix up a beat up condo I bought for well below market price. That's LBYM. You'll be amazed at how much one can accomplish with just an hour or two each night. Maybe you've got your own project you've been putting off. Or maybe you want to spend more time at the Fool, learning how to invest your money. Maybe you will get in shape, or learn a new sport or skill. You might spend more time with your friends, or make some new ones. You might even write your parents a quick note or spend time with your kids. Sometimes the most I manage is a nap, but even that helps me feel better the following day.

If television is truly the best way you can think of to spend your time, more power to you. But recognize that it is a choice. You could be using those hours to make your life better. How you define “better” is up to you, but I'm sure you'll manage. Maybe even during the next commercial break.

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When Life Gives You Lemons
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