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When Your Cable Bill Causes Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Written by Ben Carter

When I was fresh out of graduate school, armed with a master’s degree, I expected I should have a job inside of my field relatively soon. My parents and community elders always expressed the value of higher education and so it went without saying that the promise of a solid job straight out of school seemed sure enough.

The economic downturn of 2008 (also known as the Great Recession) had other plans. If you remember, the Great Recession had people with doctorate and master’s degrees bagging groceries at the local Whole Foods and explaining the difference between plastic bins at Crate & Barrel.

Needless to say, the recession touched me as well. Immediately out of school, I was able to pull jobs as a sales associate at Banana Republic, I was a waiter for a month at a new restaurant close to where I stayed, and finally earned a position as an assistant manager at a Sunglass Hut inside of a Macy’s. I should mention, there was no “manager”. I was simply assisting myself.

I was young, probably a little frustrated and for the first time living in my own apartment (after bumming on my buddies’ couch for entirely too long). The least I could do for myself was get basic cable hooked up for the old television my friend’s mother gave me. The Great Recession owed me that much.

The Sunglass Hut I worked at was new. We were understaffed, which meant as the assistant manager to myself, I had to pick up a ton of shifts for the weeks while we searched for new employees. Full-day, 10 am to 10 pm shifts were a three day-a-week thing, at least. Needless to say, I didn’t have much time for much else except sleeping and selling Ray-Bans.

My hourly rate was $11.50. (Big bucks for a retail job, I know… I did have a master’s degree). $11.50 x 52 = $598… After taxes, we’ll call it $500. So I was earning around $2000 each month, or for that period of time, the equivalent of a take home salary of $24,000 a year. To give a bit of context for that number, in 2012 the U.S. Census Bureau Poverty Thresholds said a family of four making $23,492 a year are living in poverty.

For some reason, one day while home, I did the math for what I was paying for cable television. The breakdown went something like the following:

Monthly Cable Cost (including internet) - $60

Number of Hours Worked in a Week - 52 (give or take)

Number of Hours in a Day - 24

Number of Hours I Sleep Each Day - 8

Number of Hours I Work Each Day - 8 (at least)

Number of Hours Available for Watching TV - (24 - 8 - 8) = 8 per day

8 hours per day multiplied by 7 days of the week equals 56 hours available for watching TV

$60 divided by 56 hours equals $1.07 per hour; it costs me $1.07 for each hour I have available to watch TV, regardless of whether I’m watching it or not.

Now. Assuming I really only have 30 hours a week to watch TV (because hopefully I have other things going on in my life), the new price per available hour to watch TV jumps to $2. That means each minute of available TV time costs me $0.03.

After doing these calculations, I realized there were these services called ESPN 3 and HULU. I kept my internet connection, but promptly called Comcast to end my cable service, which lowered my monthly expense to around $35. Every little bit counts when you’re earning $24,000 a year.

If cable is consistently too expensive, why do we feel compelled to pay for it anyway?

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