When I realized that I was living beyond my means, and something had to give, I didn’t start chopping away at the essentials — shelter, health care, and transportation.
Of course not. No one wants to turn their lifestyle upside down overnight. Just chopping away at the low-hanging fruit is painful enough.
By low-hanging fruit, I mean the little things that don’t cost much. You begin carefully pruning the little things.
First thing I learned I could live without came by accident. The moderately priced apartments where I lived were converted to condos. I moved to the cheapest apartment I could find in a safe neighborhood. It was a “junior one-bedroom,” barely larger than the efficiency I live in now. I got telephone service turned on in the new apartment. Basic telephone service, plus the telephone company’s voicemail, for which I paid $5 a month extra.
One little problem: the voicemail didn’t work. It sounded an annoying tone when I picked up the receiver. The tone signaled that I had voicemail waiting. Not such a big problem, right? Except that the system also wouldn’t let me access the mailbox. So I couldn’t get my messages and turn the annoying tone off. And I didn’t know how many important messages were stuck in the mailbox. How many people were mad at me because I hadn’t called back? Worse still, as long as the annoying tone stayed on, I couldn’t get a dial tone. I couldn’t get my messages, and I couldn’t make calls.
So I call the telephone company’s customer-service department. You know how that goes. The telephone company doesn’t like to answer the phone. You get a recorded message tree: Push one if you speak English; Push two to pay your bill; Push three to add expensive options; Push four if you speak Portuguese. And so on.
Eventually, you get through to a live customer-service agent, who listens to your problem. First time, customer service tells me they’ll fix the problem right away. Three days later, I call back, and they say they’ll fix it. I keep calling. One time they tell me there is no problem. One time they tell me I will have to pay an extra service charge to get it fixed. One time I even speak to a supervisor, who promises to call me back. She never did.
Three things you can count on when you call customer service: One, you get an answering system; Two, the customer service agent can’t solve your problem, but wants to sell you additional telephone services; Three, at the end of every frustrating conversation, the customer service agent asks: “Did I provide excellent service today?”
I finally realized that my existing phone service would never work again. I had an idea. I’d cancel the phone service, wait a few days, then call and order new service. What a concept!
And you know what? After weeks of not being able to use my home telephone, I had an Epiphany. I realized that I can live without a land line! Why was I paying for both a land line and a cell phone? And the cell phone even came with free voicemail.
That is the story of how I got rid of my monthly telephone bill, and lived happily ever after. Except that I was still spending way beyond my means; I needed to prune lots more low-hanging fruit. To be continued . . .