I love television. If I’m at home, there’s probably an 85% chance you’ll see the television on. While I like to think I watch educational programs and news, I do catch a fair amount of Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, and Family Guy. On the way to work yesterday, I heard something distressing… watching television can cost you money. I think I already knew this, but I didn’t want to face then and I’m not sure I want to face it now.
How much does watching television cost? If you believe Boston College sociologist Juliet Schor, an hour each week of television costs you $200 a year. The theory according to Juliet Schor? “Television viewing results in an upscaling of desire. And that in turn leads people to buy.” As CNN Money would have you believe, “a handful of sitcoms and a reality series or two can cost you more than a grand a year.”
It sounds like a good chunk of change, but let’s break that down a bit. The $200 a year number breaks down to $4 an hour of watching television (since it’s report was based on weeks). If I watch three hours of television each day, that’s still $12 more that I could have in my pocket. That’s $4,380 a year. Wow that’s a lot of money! It sounds a bit like too much money. I would buy an argument that watching television stops me making money, but I’m not sure it saves me $4,380. In fact, I would think that without television, I would incur new costs… my wife and I would go out to dinner. We’d go to the movies more. We might even spend time… gasp… at the mall. Sure a lot of the nights, we might stay home and read, play with the puppy, and do other activities like that. But a $40 dinner out once a week eliminates half the savings of not having a television. Going to 25 movies puts another dent into those savings.
When I think about it, I’m usually watching television much as one would use a radio… just listening. Much of the time, I’m doing other things that actually make money, such as writing articles for this website, researching future articles, or creating new website. I’m also chatting with friends and/or reading about sports online.
The CNN Money article finishes up with an interesting thought, “…stop watching shows centered on the lifestyles of the fictionally the rich. Try COPS or The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer. No one ever looked at the PBS anchor and said, ‘I’ve got to get a blazer like that!'” I couldn’t find Juliet Schor original study, but I’d love to read the methodology behind it. What you watch may be very important. I watch a fair amount of sports. I do buy some sports merchandise, like the shirt if my team wins a championship, but that’s a purchase I’d make as a sports fan, not because I’m watching television. I don’t buy Ford F-150s nor do go out and get beer when the ads comes on.
I’d like to know how commercials factor into the equation. Does the fact that I watch much of my television on DVR while fast forwarding through the commercials make me less exposed? As an active personal finance blogger, am I less immune to this because I focus on frugality?
In the end, this may just be an average. It doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone applies to it equally. There will be people all over the spectrum. Just like how you might read that the average person in America has $800 dollars in credit card debt… it doesn’t mean that you do. The fact that you are reading this website probably means you are anything but average financially.
If you enjoyed this article, I have many more on how to save money.