Education gifted and talented Review Reviews

Hooked on Phonics Review – Help Your Child Learn To Read Early

Hooked on phonics parent review

Like most parents, I wanted my two girls to get ahead. One of the areas my wife and I felt were the most important was literacy. We felt it would be good to try to get our kids to read as early as possible. Since we didn’t have very much experience teaching very young children to read, we weren’t really sure what was possible.

When our first daughter was 3, we started her on the Hooked on Phonics program. Mind you it was alot of work on our part (okay, mostly on my wife’s part), but the results were stunning–she really did learn to read, and quite well. By the time she was four and a half, she was able to read on the third grade level and now she’s five and reads fifth grade materials with no problem.

This literacy most certainly is helping her succeed already. Okay, she’s not even in kindergarten yet (late birthday), but her reading, no her love of reading, has advanced her in many subject areas including science and social studies. My other daughter who is now three and a half is ahead of the first one by about six-eight months. She is definitely able to read on the first grade level.

Here is a video of her reading one of the books from the program. Keep in mind this was from a few weeks back, even before she was 3 and a half. Since then, her reading has become much more fluid and quicker.

Yes, I am definitely proud of my daughters, but I am not bragging. I believe that most parents who are dedicated to using the Hooked on Phonics program will find similar success. You just have to have the time and the desire to work with your child on a daily basis. I would also recommend some supplemental things like certain TV Shows and devices.

I also want to note that being able to read, doesn’t equate to being able to understand what you read. This is a separate issue to some extent and at least to start comes down to finding reading materials that are appropriate and advancing the vocabulary of your little student.

Hooked on Phonics Review - Second Grade KitHooked on Phonics has been around for many years and is based on research. The kits come in a variety of types and sizes. They are offered by grade level. We purchased the Pre-K kit and eventually all the way up second grade. The kits we got were about sixty dollars before coupon.

We searched the internet and always found good 20-30% discount coupons, so the price you’ll pay for a kit is about $59. Amazon also offers these kits–and you can buy them used/slightly damaged but new (usually just fine) or even rent them for a considerable discount and then just send it back to Amazon when you’re done–this is a great way to go.

[See my list of birthday present ideas for your gifted or talented child]

Here is an example of a kit we purchased. It comes with a workbook, storybooks, flash cards, progress chart, stickers, two DVDs with music videos and parent instructions. The workbook is where you’ll spend most of your time (see the video above for what that’s like). The story books supplement the workbook as you progress through the programs. We found that one of the best things about the kit was the progress charts/stickers.

Our girls really were thrilled to be able to put a new sticker on their progress chart as they moved through the programs. We hardly ever used the DVDs at all or the flash cards. You can also try the Hooked On Phonics App

The DVDs are nice, but the reality is that if you know what to do with the kit, a parent or teacher can accomplish what’s on the DVD much faster if they just work with the child, so as far us usefulness of the DVDs, time was really the issue.

Again, I will take this opportunity to tell you that this is real work for the parents…and you can’t just do it sometimes. Maybe using the DVDs might free up a parent to do something else if you need to. And aside from the thrill of watching your child learn to read, it can be very repetitive, even boring sometimes to teach phonics “by hand”, so I can image that many parents would turn to the DVDs for a break.

Eron Cohen Ideas and Tips for Parents in Maryland

I definitely recommend Hooked on Phonics to other parents. Young kids can learn to read so that they can read to learn.  Check out my list of other early reading resources.

Update 9/12/2015; It is a few years later since I wrote this review, and I can definitely say that I still recommend this reading program. My daughters have benefited so much from having learned to read early using this program that it is difficult to measure what would have happened if we wouldn’t have done this.

Again, it was a huge commitment with practice night after night, but that has equated to a huge gift to my kids. They both love to read and are in the most advanced classes in school. My oldest, who is now eight years old just tested at the 10th grade reading level on a standardized test. My younger daughter who is almost seven is also reading several years above her grade level. I would definitely recommend this program — don’t forget to search for a coupon before you purchase.

stars5 Hooked on Phonics Really Works!

Both of my daughters learned to read very young. This is mostly due to the Hook on Phonics program!

– E.C.

Phone Bills Review Reviews Save Money Technology

Almost Free Home Phone Service – How To use Google Voice for Your Home Phone Number

Finding a Cheaper Home Phone Service

In this article I explain how I replaced my home phone service provider with a $50 adapter (or cheaper with a good sale/coupon) that uses the free Google Voice service to make and receive phone calls.  For the past 10 years I have been a customer of Vonage for my  home phone service.  And although I think alot more of Vonage than I think of most other home phone service providers, especially the POTS landline providers, I finally dumped it.  I had Vonage’s $26/month international plan, but with all the taxes it was $36/month…and that money could be better spent or saved…so goodbye Vonage, but what to do instead?

Many people would suggest just getting rid of the home land line completely in favor of using your mobile phone, but I felt that having a handset to reach for that is always charged, and has less radiation was worthwhile, especially when it is almost free.

Obihai 200 Adaptor Free Home Phone Service
The OBI200 Adaptor – About $50 on

So what is the solution I am using?  Google Voice with an adapter from Obihai Technology, specifically I got the Obi110 for $48.99 from–this is a one-time purchase.  It is easy to install-to summarize, you  hook the adapter up to the internet via an Ethernet connection and then to a telephone or telephones in your home. Once that’s done, you log into the Obi Technology website and set up an account (for free)–this is where you configure your device to use Google Voice, which currently allows free phone calls in the USA and Canada.

If you’re not familiar with Google Voice, you should be–even if you don’t plan to use it for your home phone service.  Google Voice is Google’s free telephone solution.  Just visit while you’re signed into your free Gmail account and you can get started choosing a phone number, hopefully in your area code.

You can always change the phone number at any time and I will explain how to transfer a phone number from another service below.  Google Voice is great because it has lots of features and it is really flexible–for instance you can set it up so that when someone calls you the call is forwarded to one or more of your other phone numbers–simultaneously.   Most importantly though, it works with the OBI adapter so that you can get home phone service for free.

The quality of the calls is very good.  As long as you have a decent internet connection, you will have crystal clear calls without lag or noise.

Cutting The Cord From Cable Television

I want to add this is an important part of the puzzle for people who are cutting the cord and getting rid of Cable TV in their homes.  The ballooning prices make it worth it to ditch the hugely over-bloated and wasteful television experience, but many people are in a circumstance where they get their television bundled together with internet and phone service.  So getting rid of the TV and phone service is complicated by the fact that the cable company provides your dial tone.  I’ve written more about this in another post about saving money, but basically if you get in on a good deal from your cable company for internet only, you can easily save $100/month just right there.

More About Google Voice

Google Voice Settings
Here is a screenshot of the interface of caller
treatments in Google Voice. 

Google Voice is awesome.  It gives you lots of flexibility in routing your calls and handling your voicemail.  

One of my favorite features is the fact that it allows you to decide how to handle calls from contacts you know, people you don’t know and anonymous calls separately.  So you might decide to send anonymous calls straight to voice mail, or when your mother calls–all of your various phone numbers will ring in unison.

Keeping Your Existing Phone Number

The good news is that Google Voice lets you transfer in a phone number for $20.  So theoretically you can keep your existing home phone number…but there’s an issue:  Google Voice only lets you transfer in mobile phone numbers, not landline or VOIP numbers.  So if you had a Vonage, AT&T, Verizon or other landline, you’re going to have to go through some contortions to keep your old number.    

I think the easiest path to take is to do what I did: get a T-Mobile mobile phone SIM card (it was on sale for $1 shipped when I got mine–normally they are $10), and then transfer your old landline phone number to T-Mobile as a waypoint between your old provider and Google Voice.  One the number is transferred to T-Mobile than just transfer it again to Google Voice.  

Google Voice needs to be able to call your phone number in order for you to initiate the transfer eg- in order to successfully transfer the number to Google Voice, you’re going to have to activate your T-Mobile phone.  And in order to do that, you’re going to need some money on your T-Mobile account.  I can tell you that the smallest amount you can get away with is $10.  

If you select a pay-by-the-day plan or pay by the minute, that will work fine.  Unfortunately, once you transfer your number out, you loose any credit on the account…so, in my case, I lost $10 (plus the dollar I paid for the SIM card).  The process took three days altogether…but I am happy to still have my old number.

Republic Wireless Review

Hooking Up The Adapter

If you already have been using Vonage or another VOIP phone provider, hooking up the OBI adapter is a very simple matter – you just swap the Vonage adapter for the OBI one by hooking up an Ethernet cable and phone line.  If you haven’t used Vonage before, you might need to make some adjustments to your home phone wiring if you intend to use your wall jacks.  It is a much simpler matter if you just want to hook up a cordless phone (or better yet, a multi-handset cordless phone like the ones you might get from Costco with one or two bases, but four handsets).

It turns out that if you run a phone wire from the telephone out of the OBI box and plug it into your wall jacks (you can use a Y-jack if you want an extension where you plug this in).  But it is very important that if you are going to go this route, you need to first disconnect your old phone company’s wires from your phone system (through the network interface box that is probably outside of your house). IF YOU DON’T, there could still be current on the line and it will fry your OBI box.  Again, this is only important if you plan to light up the phone jacks in your house with a dial tone…if you just plan to plug in a set of cordless phones, you don’t have to worry about that at all.

911 and Emergency Phone Service Concerns

Although using Google Voice for your home phone works very well, there is an important, valid concern–what happens in an emergency?  There are two facets to this–one is that with regular phone service (the old kind) your electricity could go off in your home but your phone would still work.  That may still be true with Cable/FIOS service if they give you equipment with a battery backup…however it is not so with the OBI device–at least not unless you put your internet equipment, phones and your Obi200 device on a separate backup.

The second concern is that if you dial 911, what will happen?  Well, in short, that may not go so well with a Google Voice line.  Luckily, there is an option.  For $12/year you can get E-911 service from a company called Anveo  that will route your call to the correct nearest 911 center and will send your address (that you provide–you have to change it if you move) so you don’t have to tell the operator where to send help. (If you sign up for Anveo’s e911 service, please use the following referral code: 2722344.) After you create your online account for your OBI adapter, you’ll find a link to setup Anveo’s service.

BTW, if you’re looking for a very low cost mobile phone service, I suggest you consider Republic Wireless Android smartphone service with no contract and 4G data, voice and texting for $30/month.

Here is a video that explains more about the OBI and Google Voice–some of it is slightly outdated especially the information about no 911 service (See above):

Summing It Up

Using Google Voice for your home phone numbers is a fantastic/flexible way to save you a monthly phone bill.  Altogether, this was about an $92 investment (the adapter plus the costs of transferring in my old number and E-911 service) that will very quickly pay for itself if you consider I was paying $36/month prior to this switch.

Looking for other ways to save money, consider changing your electricity provider…a no-brainer way to save money every month with about a half-hour’s worth of effort. You may also want to read my review of Google’s mobile phone company “Google Fi.”

Education gifted and talented regulations

Early Admission to Kindergarten in Howard County Maryland

Kindergarten Early Admission Information – Shame on Howard County, Maryland Board of Education

Howard County Maryland Kindergarten Early Admission.

According to Maryland State law, children under the age of 5 by September 1 are not eligible to attend public school kindergarten unless the board of education gives the child a waiver.

So for instance if your child was born on September 2nd, they cannot attend Kindergarten in Howard County (same in other Maryland Counties) until the following year without filing an appeal.  As the parent of an advanced child who has an October birthday, and a former elementary school teacher, I find this arbitrary and unfortunate.

School systems, teachers and other parents will quote myths, wives tales, and stories of children who crashed in older years to warn off parents who might want to attempt to get their very capable child early admission.

Although the stories are sometimes true, most of what you hear has been debunked by research many times.  There are plenty of kids who have had early admission and turned out better than fine; who didn’t find themselves lost among older peers in middle school, and who didn’t just do well in their academic careers, but excelled.

When are school systems going to stop trying to treat every kid the same?

One of the more famous works on this topic is entitled “America Deceived – How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students by the Acceleration Institute.  The free, downloadable book does an excellent job of laying out the usual reasons school systems give (ie-child isn’t ready, we’ll save money, etc.) for not accelerating young students and thoroughly debunks them.  Their website even has a section of success stories that school systems would rather ignore.

Have a gifted child? See my blog post on gift ideas for Brainy Kids >

The Impossibly High Bar for Early Admission

In Howard County, the bar for early admission is extremely high, and honestly makes no sense at all.  Some parents have even attempted to sue the county.  There are several examples of lawsuits that were filed, I don’t know of any that were successful, and they all pretty much read just like the one linked above.

The story is pretty much the same in other Maryland Counties too–the bottom line is that state law has set the admission cut off to Sept 1st and provided for school systems to use their discretion for younger kids…and that’s that.

So how high is the bar for early admission to Kindergarten?  Well, in order for your child to gain entry into the Howard County Maryland school system early, s/he will have to demonstrate that at age 4 they are already working at a level equivalent to a highly able (ie-advanced) kindergartner in at least four of six areas.  The areas include writing, math, reading, “kindergarten concepts”, a parent checklist and teacher checklist.

Pay attention to those last two parents–because if you are modest about your child’s ability when filling out their insipid checklist, you could disqualify your child from early admission.  The checklist asks you to rate your child’s behaviors and abilities in many areas, and so you are at your peril if you tell the truth and say that your child “sometimes” ties her own shoes instead of “always”, because occasionally you do it for her to save time.

Aside from the checklists, the other four areas are tested.  You will be given an appointment to come to Howard County’s Board of Education in Ellicott City so they can test your child.  The test they use is homegrown–at least that was my understanding from a conversation with the test proctor. I am sure if they do use a commercial test, they would rather keep that information quiet though.

In Howard County, when your child finally does attend Kindergarten, they will be put in relatively large class sizes of up to 25 students (with one teacher) and will not have access to gifted and talented until 2nd grade.

So your already advanced child, who is going to be very much more advanced in another year is going to be quite bored learning phonics and to count to ten while the teacher attends to other less advanced kids.  And note that thanks to the brilliant new teacher ratings system in Howard County, it will behoove the teacher to make your child seem less able so that she can later show their advancement.  I know people will send me mail saying this doesn’t happen, but I can tell you I have heard from reliable sources about all kinds of shenanigans along these lines.

If you are lucky, your child will get a reliable and experienced teacher who will do some differentiation and provide some challenging work, but you can be sure that even in this case, much of your son or daughter’s time is going to be wasted on things they already know well.  The reality is that teachers don’t have all the time in the world so they will naturally pay the most attention to kids who are the most in need of instructional time.

I don’t have any great options to suggest for you if you’re looking for public education.  It seems that the best options are certain private schools that cater more to advanced students, but there aren’t many of those around–most seem to tow the September 1st cut-off party line.  Howard County doesn’t have any magnet schools or special programs for young talented and gifted children. Parents opt for Montessori education and others homeschool their kids.

The homeschool option is definitely a good one if they parent is able to do it financially and intellectually. Odds are good that if the student is advanced their parents are advanced too, so the second part isn’t usually the issue.  Home schooling has become much more popular lately because parents are getting more information about the broken public school system and they’re fed up.  There are of course other private schools in Howard County that aren’t using the Montessori system, but you may find that even at the best ones, the situation is much the same as public school.

I can tell you that after calling many private schools in Howard County, quite a few of those, including Montessori schools, adhere to the Sept 1 cut-off date.  Among those, some of them at least stated that they did test advanced kids to see if they would be allowed early kindergarten admission.

Two schools that parents will want to check with are Columbia Academy in Columbia, and Maryland International School in Elkridge. Both of these schools will consider children with later birthdays for Kindergarten admission.

We were able to test my child into Columbia Academy and they were very gracious/grateful to have my daughter as a student.  They did an excellent job differentiating for her in Kindergarten (Mrs. Lauenstein was her teacher). So if that is a convenient school and it is in the budget, give them a call. Note that your son or daughter will still have to be tested to qualify for kindergarten but they seem to be less concerned about a cut off date. You might also think about Montessori education where differentiation is built in since each child learns at her/his own pace.

I don’t expect Howard County to change this policy unless they have to…and that would probably only happen if the state or federal government change their laws…again, I don’t think that will happen any time soon.  BTW, here is another example that proves that every kid is different when it comes to the best age to start school–this study shows the potentially negative affects on students who are “redshirted”/start school a year later than their peers.

The point isn’t to denigrate parents who decide to wait an extra year to send their kids off to school, it’s more just to say, that every kid is different and schools should give parents more power to decide for themselves. (FYI-here is an interesting NY Times Article about redshirting entitled “Delay Kindergarten at Your Child’s Peril“)

As I mentioned before, we did find a private school that tested our daughter and confirmed she would be admitted to Kindergarten.  The only question was, if we didn’t continue at that school, will the public schools allow her into first grade when she’s already successfully finished Kindergarten?  Apparently the answer to that question is maybe.

Your child will be repeating Kindergarten in Howard County Public Schools even if they already completed Kindergarten elsewhere if they aren’t able to pass a different proficiency test.   I don’t know any of the details about the first grade test, but from my daughter’s class, I know of a couple of kids who managed to pass it and one who would have to repeat kindergarten (she opted to stay at the private school).

Update 2019: My daughter is now a 5th grader in public school and is on par or way above grade level in performance. So far there haven’t been signs of the problems we were so sternly warned about. Having said that, she is going to be a young middle schooler, and that does concern us. We can definitely see she’s not as tall as her peers, for example. She is still keeping up with (and often surpassing) the rest academically though.

By the way, if you have a gifted child, you may want to read some of my other blog entries, such as gift ideas for brainy children, Great Summer Camps in Howard County, and educational TV shows on Netflix and Youtube.

Education Technology

iPads vs. Chromebooks for k12 Schools

Acer Chromebook

I was recently asked by a teacher what I thought would be a better purchase for her school–a fleet of chromebooks or a bevy of iPads.  This was an interesting question because I am huge fan of the Chromebook platform and also have some respect for the iPad  as well.  I also have experience as a fifth grade teacher who had a laptop classroom.

In summary, my answer was  “it depends”…it depends on what you plan to do with them, and this was really the crux of my response.  I basically sent the teacher back to research more about what programs they were planning to use with the devices–its a huge difference between what you can do with a Chromebook vs. iPads.

Most people these days have some level of familiarity with iPads as they have become more ubiquitous.    We have all seen happy people playing with various “apps” and reading email on the devices.  They are colorful and fun.  Since they are a tablet, they have only an electronic touchscreen keyboard.  You can of course purchase a keyboard separately, but I bet more often than not, no keyboard is ever added to school based iPads.

I would say most people have never heard of Chromebooks.  I think that’s a shame because they’re really great once you understand their limitations and strengths.  I own two Chromebooks.  They are very light, sleek, turn on and get on the internet in 10 seconds and have very long battery life (9 hours of usable time).  The true beauty of the Chromebook is that it is basically a laptop with only one program on it — the Chrome web browser.  Because of this, you can’t do anything on it that you couldn’t do in Chrome on your Microsoft Windows or Apple laptop.  So yes, there are apps you can get (for instance Google Hangouts, Remote Desktop, etc) but you won’t be installing Microsoft Office or any other Windows/Apple program on it–well, at least not unless they create a Google Chrome plugin for it.  The Chromebooks sport a “hardened” OS which means that basically they are virus-proof.   That’s a VERY good selling point, btw.  You can do word processing, spreadsheets and slide shows on the Chromebook-but it is through Google Apps.  In fact, I think you can assume that for the best results, every kid should have a Google Login/email address (something I strongly support) so that they can store their own documents and photos in Google’s Cloud system–Google Drive.

So to get back to the question and my answer: if the school is planning to use an education program with specialized apps that are made for an iPad, well, then your choice is to go with iPads.  On the other hand, for web based programs and for better typing / word processing experiences, definitely opt for the Google Chromebook.

BTW, looking for educational Android Apps? Or how about educational toys for your classroom?

anne arundel county estate maryland Recommendations will

Do You Need A Lawyer To Probate and Settle Estates in Anne Arundel County Maryland?

wills in Anne Arundel County Maryland

Note: This post isn’t meant to be take the place of legal advice–it just describes my experience.

My mom recently passed away in Anne Arundel County, Maryland and I was made the executor of the will. (She did not have a trust) She had used a lawyer in Annapolis to draw up the will and he kept it for her in his safe.  I went to see him after she died and after speaking to us, he offered to help us do the paperwork and settle the estate for the handsome sum of $5000 plus fees from various services and the courts.  Among the services he said we’d need, after making the process seem very complicated, were two appraisals–one for her house and one for all of her personal property.  This alone probably would have cost between $500-700.

Yes You Can Handle the Estate Without a Lawyer

After looking at the Registry of Wills website for Anne Arundel County, I thought it seemed pretty daunting.  There are so many ins and outs–so many questions to answer.  But as it turns out, if you go there in person, the clerks are unbelievably helpful.  So helpful that they pretty much fill out many of the forms for you and guide you in exactly what you are going to need to do.  So if the estate you are dealing with isn’t very complicated (they’re all a little bit complicated) you can DEFINITELY take care of doing this yourself and save thousands of dollars.

I spent about 45 minutes with the clerk at the Orphan’s Court in Annapolis on Church Circle.  Then a few more minutes with one of the auditors at the desk next door who gave me some guidance in some of the accounting we’d have to do.

The clerk I met with looked up the value of my mom’s home from the tax records (so I didn’t need a real estate appraiser to come out) and she got the Kelly Blue Book value of my mom’s car for me and printed that out as well.  I asked her about whether we needed to have all of my mom’s personal effects appraised by a professional appraiser, and she said that it wasn’t necessary as long as the furniture she had was not antique.  Basically we only need to account for valuables–the point of which being for two purposes, but most importantly so that the state can value the entire estate.

The reason for this accounting is that if it turns out the estate is worth more than $1,000,000 then some extreme taxes start to kick in.  So if it looks like the estate is worth that kind of money, you’ll need to dig deeper to work out what to do.

Things are also much simpler if the person had less than $50,000.  What you need to know is that there are two different ways to administer a regular estate.  Normally you would need to do everything under court supervision, in a six month long process.  But if the heirs all agree, and sign a paper stating such, there is a streamlined way to administer the estate that is much less complicated/time consuming.

The court mainly wants to make sure that everyone who is supposed to inherit money gets it, and that before that happens anyone who is owed money by the person who died gets what’s due.

The person who’s administering the will is going to need to get a surety bond–a form of insurance that basically protects the heirs against the executor walking off with all of the money. This is going to cost about $150. You’ll be glad to know that the Orphans Court will help you get signed up for that insurance.

The most difficult part of the process is the final form–this is where you, the executor, will account for the money that is being handled. They will need to account for all of the major assets and money the person who passed away had, then all of the money that was spent since they passed away including funeral expenses, electric, water, condo fee bills, etc, and other payments that may have been made along the way using the estate’s money and finally account for the distribution of the remaining assets to the heirs as described in the will.

The bottom line here, is that the final form won’t be accepted until the numbers all align. In other words, you have to be able to show how much money and assets there were from the moment the person passed away until the moment the remaining money is disbursed to the heirs. The money that remains can’t be given to the heirs until the final statement is accepted and a letter is received saying the money can be distributed.

In my case, I didn’t have the numbers quite right, and I had to redo it several times before it was finally accepted. The good thing was that the auditor at the court was helpful and patient while I got it right.

By the way, the same lawyer mentioned above said they would be happy to help me write a simple will starting at $900.  The will that was written for my mom was clearly just a copy and paste job with a few names changed and three lines leaving some specific items to specific people. It is clearly possible to do a will yourself (there is software and websites available to help you with this).  You just need to make sure it is properly witnessed.  You can then store it at the courthouse / Register of Wills for $5.

Here is a helpful website for getting your own documents in order:

Archive Education Future Technology

Jobs for our children- What Jobs Will Disappear and Which Will Become More Important Over The Next Few Years

The Future of Jobs
By Eron Cohen

What kinds of jobs will be available for our kids?

I frequently discuss technological advances with friends and family.  Inevitably these discussions turn to what the future holds for jobs for kids in America (and the rest of the world).  Frankly, I think there will be many jobs that will disappear completely and many more that will change dramatically.  The bottom line is that there aren’t many jobs that are “safe” from being taken over by technological advances, computer software and robots.  Doctors, cab drivers, pizza delivery drivers,  hamburger flippers, pilots, maids and many more aren’t necessarily safe bets for employment like they are now.

I want to make it clear that although I put some of what’s below “lightly”, this may be a very serious situation for the future of our country and for the people of the world.  Certainly it is a big problem for people who have lost their job or will loose their job because of automation.  I honestly don’t know what will happen but I mainly see a downward spiral of job availability and this will happen very quickly over the next twenty years.  Part of what motivates me to write this is the hope that some parents/schools will see the fields where there are potential jobs and guide their children into those areas.

Below I will outline some professions and why fewer people will be employed in these fields.

Medical Doctors

Certain kinds of doctors will probably find the need to look for new specialties.  Insurance companies are looking for ways to save money and remote medicine and artificial intelligence are getting better.  This is driving a squeeze on practicing medical doctors, and making the field less enjoyable and rewarding.  There are a few major changes that are developing now that will have a major effect on this career choice.

For example, several companies are now selling remote medical “booths” where you go in and talk to a remote doctor (who could really be anywhere) via video conference.  Machines in the booth take your vital signs and you explain your trouble to the doctor.  Prescriptions are printed out and you’re on your way.  So okay, you read that and you’re thinking, well the doctor still has a job…well, sort of, but economies of scale and the affordability of this sort of service are going to put a squeeze on the general practitioner…

Then there is Watson.  You may remember Watson from Jeopardy.  Watson is IBM’s artificial intelligence supercomputer that can read in information and then answer questions based on what it found.  Several hospitals are testing Watson for medical diagnostics including Memorial Sloan Kettering hospital’s oncology department.  The recommendations which are currently given to a patient’s doctor are very accurate and the computer never has a bad day.  The system keeps learning and taking on new information from a huge variety of sources constantly so it will become even more valuable every day.

Ken Jennings, the Jeopardy Champion who first faced Watson gave the following TED talk. It is a very interesting introspection about having to face a computer opponent who quickly replaced him as the all time best Jeopardy champion:

Some jobs that people can’t even imagine being taken over by a computer are also in danger.  Consider the phlebotomy robot–it does a better job than people of finding a vein and taking blood.

Growth areas: Medical careers certainly aren’t going to disappear any time soon.  It seems like the safest jobs will be around developing pharmaceutical and biotechnology improvements.  One source of huge growth is genetics-based cures.  This is one of the factor’s driving websites like where people submit their DNA and information about disorders and cures that work are collated.


Jobs of all sorts that require driving are certainly going to be obsolete very soon.  Florida, Nevada and California all currently allow driverless cars on the road, and several companies are taking advantage with experimental self-driving cars.  Chief among them is Google who owns a fleet of robotic Toyota Priuses that have already driven hundreds of thousands of miles completely unassisted by humans.  The fact is these drone cars are safer than human drivers (the only accident so far was when a car rear-ended the robotic car–it wasn’t their fault).

As these cars start to make their way onto the consumer market in the next few years, the consequences to the job market and society as we know it in the USA are going to be immense and deep.  All sorts of careers will disappear.  Taxi drivers, truck drivers and bus drivers will no longer be needed.  No more need for valet parking–these cars will park themselves, thank you.

People who deliver food from restaurants or packages will likely be redundant as well.  I picture a pizza delivery drone will drive up to your house.  When it arrives, you’ll get a phone call and go out to the car.  Then you’ll insert payment or prove your identity with facial recognition and a hatch will open that has your order.  It will drive back to the restaurant.  The same could be true for package delivery (For another possibility, see flying drones below)

By the way, consider the idea that public transportation as we know it could quickly become obsolete.  Imagine small time-shared vehicles that are driven by robots.  These would be very fuel efficient, very convenient and very cost effective.  Since you don’t own your own car anyway, you’d just use your smartphone to call for one of the nearest cars to come pick you up and take you to your next destination.  Robotic cars can make much better use of existing roads since they can communicate with each other.  That means that they can follow much closer than human-driven cars can.

Cooks / Burger Flippers

Did you always think that in the worst case scenario, you could just get a job flipping burgers at McDonalds?  Maybe not.  Someone has created a robot that can grind and cook the meat and put together a full hamburger at a rate of over 300 sandwiches per hour.  Although such a robot would not be cheap as an up-front cost, the “savings” by not having to hire a human burger-flipper could potentially be very big–especially at a busier restaurant.  The creators say the robots are more efficient, more consistent and more sanitary than a human cook…and figure the cost savings could be put into higher quality food.

Another example is a recently deployed robot that makes noodles in China.  It works harder and cheaper than human noodle makers.

There are other areas specific to fast food that could be cut out or cut down too.  For many years now, several fast food chains have been using remote order takers.  When you pull up to a drive-through at an Arby’s restaurant, there is a good chance a professional order taker, sitting in a cubicle in some other state is talking to you, creating your order and then rendering it to monitor in the restaurant you’re at.

Certainly there could be kiosks where people can just put in their own orders and pay with a credit card (or maybe that’s all just done from your smart phone).  So perhaps we’ll see fully automated fast food restaurants in the near future.  Wait, what happens when someone forgets to clean up their table?  There’s a bot for that too.  (See maids below)  There is even a robotic bartender at MIT and Royal Caribbean has started deploying them on their cruise ships.


Aircraft of various types have been “flying themselves” for many years.  To a certain extent having human pilots (especially two of them) on board a plane is really just a formality and mostly has to do with perceived safety. (Ok, well to a certain extent actual safety too, as in the case of an emergency landing in a field–can a robotic plane determine if there are people on the field it is about to put down on?)  There are also unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) which don’t have any people on board and are either remote controlled or follow a pre-programmed flight plan.  All of this means that modern planes will not need two pilots, maybe just one on board, with potential emergency backup pilots available on the ground.

Many companies are seeing potential cost savings and other advantages from doing away with having human pilots aboard planes.  For example Fedex and UPS are both hoping for regulation changes that will allow them to fly their 747s without pilots.  These planes would immediately have more room and save fuel by not having the need for creature comforts required by humans.   The year 2015 is when the FAA promises to release overhauled regulations that will allow for more drones to mix into the airspace.  Until then, they’re going to have to wait.

Postal Workers

Year after year, the number of pieces of mail delivered by the post office is declining by the billions.  This is definitely due to the utility of email and the ease of getting information online.  More and more people are using online bill payment and getting whatever they need from websites.  One growth area for the post office has been package delivery.  Unfortunately, this is not going to last long.  First off, for the reasons listed in the “drivers” section above, packages will be able to be delivered by drones.  But there is something else that’s going to drive a huge change–the new industrial revolution: 3D Printing.

total us mail volume
This table shows the diminishing mail volume and the corresponding diminishing number of postal employees
year after year.  In 2003, 202.1 Billion pieces of mail were handled by the post office.  In 2012 it was down to
160 Billion.

3D printing has been around for a long time, but these days it is being adopted in droves by people who want to create and print things in their home.  A decent 3D printer can be had for between $500-2,000 dollars and they can print small to medium sized plastic items.

People who are interested in printing things can use a 3D drawing software to create something from scratch or download premade files and print them. There are quite a few websites dedicated to sharing files to print all sorts of things such as pens, vases, tools, personalized parts and more.  The reason this is going to affect the post office is that there will be many things that you would have had to order and have shipped to you in the past, which you will now simply download the file and print it out.

Manufacturing Jobs

It sounds good to be able to say that more and more manufacturing jobs that were previously outsourced to China and other countries are now being brought back to the USA…One of the realities of this change is that the manufacturing is increasingly being performed by robots and that the robots are even cheaper than foreign labor.


The need for librarians to organize information probably is going to remain important for many years to come.  The need for librarians to continue to manage traditional paper books is already diminishing.  Libraries are already replacing checkout stands with radio tag readers that are much faster and more efficient.

Fewer librarians will be be needed to handle checking out books, and checking in books can be done on an automated basis by running them past a reader on a conveyor belt.  Someone still needs to be available to put physical books back on the shelves.

The elephant in the room is obviously that as electronic book readers, such as the Kindle, become more accepted, the need for physical books is starting to drop off.  Let’s face it, there isn’t nearly as much work needed to maintain an electronic book collection–it is pretty much automated already.

Talented research librarians are definitely still valuable and will be for some time to come, but they too face an uncertain future.  Artificial intelligence and search engine advances will eventually diminish the need for them as well.

The Travel Industry

Traveling to visit loved ones or for sightseeing is one thing, but business travel is another.  Telecommuting and telepresence devices are making significant dents in the need for business people to meet face to face.  As telepresence devices become more common and improve, business travel is going to start to fade out.  This could have huge impacts on hotels, airports maybe even cities.  

Construction Workers

There are several areas of construction work that could potentially be disrupted by technology in the near future.  We have 3D printers that are able to “print” housing out of concrete-like materials.  View this Ted Talk on robotic construction:

The Future Jobs

It is difficult to say what fields of expertise will lead to the best job prospects.  There are a few that definitely stand out and they’re all science and technology related. For example, alternative energy is going to be very important in the coming years, so studying electrical engineering or materials science would be a safe bet.  Data Science and robotics related fields would also be a good bet.

Columbia Maryland Featured Recommendations Review Reviews

Review of Lifetime Fitness / Lifetime Athletics Gym in Columbia MD

Updated on December 1, 2016 By Eron Cohen.

This is my two part review of Lifetime Fitness/Lifetime Athletics ( click here to view part 2 ). Although this is a review of Lifetime Fitness (recently renamed to Lifetime Athletics) in Columbia Maryland, much of it applies to most of the Lifetime Athletics/Life Time Fitness Clubs in the USA and Canada.

I will try to give you my best assessment in a fair, honest way. I also mention some alternatives to Lifetime Fitness in the Columbia area at the end of this review.

tl;dr: If you don’t have time to read the entirety of this review, I have bolded the good things about the gym and some of the other reasons you may want to avoid it below along with this executive summary:

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Lifetime Fitness Review Executive Summary :

The Good:

  • High quality fitness equipment.
  • Wide variety of group classes including kickboxing, yoga, hip-hop, weight training, and tabata. Great instructors.
  • Pools, climbing wall, racquetball courts.
  • Nice locker rooms.
  • Towels, shampoo, conditioner, mouthwash, shaving supplies, and soap supplied.
  • Upscale environment (this is somewhat dependent on club level-when you sign up for a membership, you’re also signing up for a membership level that admits you into clubs that are of that level or below–more on this later!
    The important thing to note is that some clubs are more luxurious than others. Some of their facilities even have doctors and physical therapists to coordinate with the personal trainers.)

      The Bad:

    • Sometimes high-pressure sales tactics used on new members and guests of current members.
    • Dues are frequently increased (I have seen them raised more than once per year). Specific prices listed below.
    • No outside food or drinks allowed in the gym or at the pool, aside from water.
    • Monthly dues are very high compared to other clubs.
    • The gym gets crowded on weekday evenings–you may have to wait in line to use equipment. This is especially so just after new years.
    • Occasional long/slow lines to get into the gym and more frequently to drop kids off in the child center. I have spent as long as five minutes waiting in line to get into the gym and/or drop my kids off.
    • Class formats may change or can be randomly canceled and classes often fill to capacity week after week.
    • The climbing wall is not open at slower times of the day.
    • Unreliable notifications about pool closures or canceled classes.
    • You must pay extra for some group classes

Lifetime Fitness Club Overview

photo of lifetime fitness in columbia maryland

Lifetime Fitness provides an adequate experience for families with children as well as all of their members Although it is pricey (about $90/month for one single membership, about $200/month for a couples membership plus two kids–each child (13 and under) is about $15/month extra-there are also student rates available for college students–a discount of about $10/month), if it is in reach for you then you might consider joining–but please read below for more information about the club .

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There is a 14 day trial membership period, so you can try it out for a couple of weeks before you join–and they seem more than willing to let you come in as a guest for a day without much in the way of formal paperwork. There are definitely some good things and some bad things about this gym .

[See my list of great educational gift ideas for the kids in your life]

If you decide to join, tell them I referred you (Eron Cohen) , even if you’re not joining in Maryland . By the way, they regularly have new membership promotions, for instance they often give the people who are signing up for a new membership AND the person who referred the new member some extras–so it is often better to be referred by someone than not to be — see below.

First a bit about Lifetime Fitness:

  • Lifetime Fitness (NYSE: LTM ) is a chain of over 100 gyms across the USA and Canada.
  • They are based in Minnesota and were founded in 1992.
  • They have locations in from Phoenix to Dallas to Kansas City to Boca Raton. This map details all of their current destinations .
  • The experience from place to place seems to be generally consistent judging by the reviews left about other locations and the amenities available, but note that not all locations have all the same features (ie- some locations do not have a pool or a climbing wall).

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My Review of Lifetime Fitness
As a four year member of Lifetime Fitness , my observations and comments are relatively informed. I have a family membership that allows me, my wife, and two young children (age 8 and 10) to use the gym as often as we like.

General Comments
Being at Lifetime Fitness can be a nice experience–especially in the summer when the outdoor pool is open. A few thoughts:

  • The place is vibrant, fairly clean and makes you want to get in shape.
  • The facilities are modern and they are kept up with frequent refurbishments and remodeling–most recently there was a major renovation in September 2013.
  • Clean towels are provided for the pool and showers.
  • There are plenty of lockers available.
  • The staff that I have gotten to know are generally friendly and helpful.
  • The gym is open 24/7
  • There is plenty of parking on site (although many times the place is so crowded that you may have to park pretty far from the door, especially during the summer months–I consider this part of the exercise though.)

I have read other reviews that have said things to the effect that the place has “gone downhill”. I would say that either it started out better than it is now, or that they have since solved some of the problems that caused those complaints. Don’t get me wrong, this gym isn’t perfect, but it is better than that:

Price of Lifetime Fitness and Joining the Gym in Columbia, MD

We are members of an Onyx level club (second best) and we pay about $161/month for the family membership ( dues are raised frequently )–this price is no longer available since they’ve raised dues for new members–couples who join now would pay at least $180, plus junior memberships. I was told back on 6/19/2014 that single memberships are $110/month. There is a “start-up fee” which ranges for $20-200 depending on what kind of special offers or promotions you might be able to garner (again, if you come in as a referral they may reduce this fee–so tell them I referred you). Personal training at this gym costs about $70/hour as of 9/1/2016.

A Note About Lifetime Fitness Club Levels/Membership Levels

The club levels of Lifetime Fitness clubs indicate the types of amenities you can expect. In order of best to worst, the club levels are:

  • Diamond
  • Onyx (the one in Columbia, Maryland)
  • Platinum
  • Gold
  • Bronze

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More on Lifetime Fitness Membership Costs

If you happen to be in a market that has a diamond level club, expect to pay more…quite a bit more. I am told (thanks cGott42 who commented below) that you will pay $160 for a diamond level monthly membership and $340/month for a family of 4. Note that you will only be able to use your membership in a club that is at your membership level or below. I believe diamond clubs are only available in New York, California and Las Vegas.

Whichever club you join, you will have a month-to-month contract that you can cancel at any time, but when you cancel you have to pay for the next month –in other words, you have to give them a month’s notice and pay for an additional month from there. Some important things to know about this are:

  • This applies to any paid kid’s classes or swim lessons you sign up for. So if you’re kids are taking karate class there, and you cancel, you’re going to pay for the following month of classes. If you decide to start taking the classes again, your price is going to jump to the current monthly fee.
  • You also have the option of “pausing” your membership for a small monthly fee–I believe it is $19/month–the caveat, I am told, is that if you DO pause a membership, when you unpause it, you will resume your membership at current rates for membership & classes . So if you were getting your membership or classes at a lower, grandfathered rate, they will shoot to their current levels when you unpause–and given the frequent increases, this could be a big difference.
  • In the first year that were members dues were raised three times (!). The first time was for the primary couples membership which we didn’t have to pay because they told us our dues were frozen until 2014 when we signed up as a referral. But the second increase we DID have the pay–they raised the cost of junior memberships. I complained and they said that junior dues are separate and were not frozen. This was sneaky of them and definitely an indication of below board policies on their part–it definitely did not reflect what their salesman told me when I signed up for membership .

They also have this promotional gimmick called “lifetime bucks”. When you join you’ll be granted some number of lifetime bucks which you can spend on all sorts of gear, yoga workshops, personal training or even classes like swimming or karate (sorry, you can’t use them toward your membership dues).

If you refer people who join Lifetime you’ll be given additional bucks. And BTW it seems that the people who are referred are also given additional perks–so if you do decide to join and don’t know any other members, tell them I sent you. In our case, since we were referred, we got additional lifetime bucks and our “dues are frozen” (see above for why this was a misleading promotion ) for 2 years.

I’ve been using my lifetime bucks to pay for swimming lessons for my kids. So if you do get a promotional rate or use a referral, be sure to get the offer in writing and carefully monitor your bill to be sure you get what you’ve been promised.

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When I signed up, they made the process easy with not much pressure (the pressure comes later-see below). This was welcomed because I have had experiences in the past where you feel like you’re working with a used car salesman when you just want to sign up for a gym. The salesmen I worked with did contact me a few times while I was thinking of joining, but otherwise, I didn’t feel he was being pushy.

Having said that, when you join they will probably ask to set you up to speak with a personal trainer about the various upgrade offerings of Lifetime Fitness. They do this under the guise that they want to get your baseline measurements and weight, etc. But, basically it’s their chance to sell you some (overpriced) add-ons which you may or may not want (personal training, vitamins, protein supplements, heart monitors, etc). If you are interested in personal training, I’d definitely say take them up on that meeting, but otherwise, don’t bother — they use high-pressure sales tactics for these sessions and you’ll be able to get what you need when you decide you need it.

If you read the employee reviews of what it is like to work at Lifetime Fitness – a few of the cite pressure and sales tactics as a reason they do NOT like working there. At this meeting, I definitely DID feel like I was with a used car salesman – and again, plenty of other reviews mention high pressure at the initial meeting with the Lifetime Athletics salesperson.

One thing I can say about paying for a pricey gym membership is that it gives me one more reason to keep using it. If it was alot cheaper it would be easier to let it go. Having said that be sure and consider the Columbia Association if you live in the Columbia, MD area (see below). If you’ve read my review and still want to join, even the sales pressure won’t matter much because you probably already decided to join anyway.

Want to know more about Lifetime Athletics’ offerings? Be sure and read part two of my review !

Continue to Part 2 of My Lifetime Fitness Review >

You may also enjoy my review of Costco Wholesale and my list of birthday gift ideas for gifted kids.

Phone Bills Recommendations Save Money

Easy Ways to Save Money Part 4 – Change Your Cell Phone/Mobile Phone Provider

For a good time call with Republic Wireless

If you have AT&T or Verizon contracts for your smartphone, you’re paying too much money.  Not only are you paying too much, but you probably don’t have an unlimited data plan and it is likely that you have some stupid text messaging cost arrangement too.  If you have T-Mobile or Sprint, then you’re probably getting a better deal, but there are still savings to be had–and sometimes those savings are so great that it might be worth to break your contract and pay the penalty to switch to a different carrier.

If you have an AT&T or T-Mobile phone that want to keep using, you’re in the best situation because those phones have a certain amount of flexibility that Verizon and Sprint phones do not have.

The Republic Wireless Option

Let’s talk about Republic Wireless.  They offer no-contract service on the Sprint network which is unlimited talk, texting and data for either $19/month or $29/month.  The catch is that you have only one choice of phone (a relatively decent Motorola Android phone) and you have to buy it from them.  The cost for the phone depends whether you’d like to pay $19/month or $29/month.  If you’re willing to pay $29/month then you can get your phone for $99.

If you want to pay $19/month then you must pay the full cost of the phone up front, which is $250.  There is no discount for multiple lines however, which means there isn’t anything like a family plan, so depending on your situation the savings from a typical AT&T contract could be relatively small–that is assuming you don’t really need unlimited data.  If you only need one or two lines, then you should definitely consider it.  You can read my review of republic wireless and Google Project Fi.

Another Option: Get the Same Network Much Cheaper

There are several companies that purchase bulk access on AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon networks and then resell it for cheaper with no contracts.  Some of these are especially good options if you already have a phone you want to keep using but that is no longer on a contract with another provider.

If you have an AT&T or T-Mobile Phone You’d Like To Use

This applies to one of my phones…I originally purchased a Samsung Infuse Android phone from AT&T.  Now I use the phone with a month-to-month deal from Straight Talk Wireless.  I pay $45/month with taxes for unlimited data, texting and phone service.

The great thing is that I am using my old Android smartphone on T-Mobile’s network, but paying much less than I would if I had a contract with T-Mobile   It works very well and the setup involved putting a different SIM card in my phone to get it going and changing a few settings.  Relatively painless.   They also offer some phones that you can purchase from them outright, but you’re even better off if you already had a phone that you can use on their network.

Another reliable example that is similar to Straight Talk Wireless is Simple Mobile.  They are definitely worth comparing to the Straight Talk if you’re thinking of going that direction.  They use the same networks as Straight talk. You might also look into Net10.

If you have a Verizon Phone You’d Like To Use

I only know of one company that offers service on Verizon’s network and they do not have an unlimited plan, but it should still be cheaper than Verizon themselves: Page Plus Cellular.  I am not sure if you can bring your own phone though.

If you have a Sprint Phone You’d Like To Use

I need to look to this.

Save Money Secondary Features Technology

Easy Ways to Save Money Part 3 – Get Rid of Your Cable Television

Roku box channel screen
Roku boxes let you choose various channels from the internet
including  unusual channels like the Autism Channel and NASA
Television.  You can’t get these on cable TV at all.

I wanted to write some posts that outline a few ways that I have saved more than a few dollars lately.  Even if you’re not really on a budget, these ideas should make sense, after all a penny saved is a penny earned, but for most families with kids, every penny helps.  This one is about cutting out cable TV in favor of getting your television entertainment through internet-based channels.  I have written others about changing your home’s electricity provider and changing your mobile phone provider.

Save Money By Getting Rid of Cable Television and Going with Streaming Video Instead

More and more households are coming around to the idea of getting rid of their cable television provider and sticking with an internet only service. (See here for Nielsen’s survey on this)

I used to have cable TV until recently–I was sick of paying $120+ dollars per month for service that I mostly didn’t use.  I had a “triple play” from Verizon FIOS which included  phone, TV and internet.

First of all, I never once used their phone service.  I was very happy with Vonage and didn’t see the need to switch.  In fact, the only reason I had Verizon FIOS’ phone service was because it was part of a bundle deal, and if you didn’t get the bundle, you’d wind up paying more than you would if you got it. (You can read more about how to save money on phone service in Part 2 of this series)

Secondly, I hardly ever watched Verizon’s Television offerings.  I had hundreds of channels but couldn’t find anything to watch.   So that leaves the internet.

I rely heavily on good internet service, not just for surfing the web, but also because we do watch alot of streaming video entertainment.  So the idea here is get rid of cable TV and then “roll your own” television entertainment instead.

If you are not in a contract with your cable/FIOS provider, then you should be able to cut the service down to internet only.  We found that Verizon’s best price for internet was about $75/month–alot cheaper than the $120 we were paying, but still kind of alot.

Luckily, we also have Comcast cable in our neighborhood, and they’ve been trying to build up their customer base.  They had an offer for relatively fast internet (25down/5 up) for $24/month with taxes for a year (and then it goes up to 34 the next year).  So that’s what I decided to go with.

Note that you do have other possible options besides cable if you have “alot of bars” for cellular service in your neighborhood you may be able to get a cellular modem from Verizon, AT&T, Clear or FreedomPOP (the later two being the best deals price-wise–again it also depends who’s service has strong signals in your neighborhood). As 5G starts to roll out, this will become more common.

We have a Roku Ultra Box, which is a device that costs between $50-100 and allows you to connect your television to the internet.  This device allowed us to watch television series and movies that are available on services such as  Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus.

If you have a Wii or an X-box, then you will also have the ability to use these services and view their offerings on your television. (See my blog post on Kid’s TV shows that are available on these three services)

We especially like Netflix because it has the largest selection of streaming videos that you can watch on demand.  This includes all sorts of television series, comedians, films and educational videos.   They also have a DVD service that mails you DVD movies that aren’t available on streaming video.   Visit the Netflix website to see their offering and to get a free trial.  Netflix streaming costs about $9/month.

Hulu is good because it has many more recent TV series that you can watch, but it also has commercials.  At this writing (July 2019) Hulu costs $5.99/month.  You can visit their website to have a look at their offerings.

Amazon Prime is similar to Netflix with a couple of differences.  First they have fewer available free viewing choices when compared to Netflix, but they also offer newer movies and tv shows that you can pay-per-view.

These choices usually don’t appear on Netflix for a few months, so it is a nice option, but it can cost $1.99 per TV episode, which can add up fast.  The other difference is that when you get Amazon Prime, you get free two day shipping on many items and you get a free kindle book rental per month.  So the free movies and tv shows on Amazon could be considered a perk if you use it enough to justify the free shipping.  Amazon Prime costs $99.99 per year.

You could also get  a digital HD antenna to pick up “over the air” channels.  Many people have had cable for so long, they don’t even realize this is an option…and in fact, it is a pretty good one.

The antennas cost about $30-60 and they are able to pick up many traditional TV stations, plus some other stations that you probably didn’t know you could get for free over the air.  This may be a good idea because it does make up for one thing you might miss-if you ever need to watch live news on TV or an event like the Superbowl, it might not be possible without one.  Although my Roku box does offer the “Roku News Channel” and in fact Fox News, it’s not usually “live” news.

It is clear that the costs of cable TV aren’t going to go down soon unless more people start dumping cable.  More than a form of protest, you will save money and probably wind up fairly satisfied with what you get.

Recommendations Save Money

Easy Ways To Save Money Part 2: Get Rid of Your Home Phone Service

Easy Ways to Save Money Part 2

Voice over IP Phone System

This is part two of my series on ways I have been saving money that have been easy to adjust to.  This one focuses on home phone service.   I have written others about easily saving money on electricity and changing your mobile phone provider.

If you still have regular “land line” phone service at your home, you are probably wasting some money–it is time to “cut the cord!”  Specifically if you have stand-alone phone service from Verizon or some other dial-tone provider you need to think about making changes.

These days people usually fit into four categories of home phone service:

1) People who have totally gotten rid of their home phones and rely strictly on cell phone service.
2) People who have home phone service from a stand-alone “Voice-Over-IP” (VOIP) provider (such as Vonage or Obihai with Google Voice )
3) People who have bundled phone service that comes from their cable TV provider (Comcast, Verizon FIOS…)
4) People who still have old-fashion copper wire service to their homes

Lets have a look at each category to see how they can save more money:

People with no home phone service

The folks in the first category are content with their cell phone service and don’t see the need for a special phone to their home.  These folks might still be able to save money by switching to a cell phone provider such as Republic Wireless that has a lower monthly rate than AT&T and Verizon (Republic Wireless is $19.99/month for unlimited data, voice and texting–you can read my Republic Wireless review here).  At any rate, more power to these people because they have recognized that for them it is more convenient simply to have no home phone number at all.  This is definitely a growing group of people who most likely ported their old home phone number to their cell phones.

People Who Use Voice-Over-IP (VOIP) For Their Home Phone

I fall into this category.  I have been using Vonage for my phone service for over 10 years now.  The idea is that you use your existing home internet connection to make your phone calls.  As long as you have a halfway decent internet connection, this works very well and you can definitely save lots of money with  full featured phone service.  The gist is that they send you a box and you connect it to the internet in your home.  Your phones are connected to the box.  I can tell you that Vonage is very low cost and has great plans.  If you make lots of international calls you will certainly save good money.

A second, even cheaper VOIP option is to purchase an Obi200 (or better) adaptor and to hook it up to your home phones. You pay for the adaptor once and from there, you home service comes through Google Voice, which is free for calls in the USA. This is slightly less reliable than Vonage. See my full review of the Obi experience in my blog post “almost free home phone service“…

People Who Use Bundled Phone Service

This category of people will have the most difficult time saving money.  It is very common for the cable TV providers to sell their services as bundled “triple plays”–you get phone, internet and television together for some set price and you’re tied to a 2  year contract.
I definitely have some experience with this, because until recently, I actually had a triple play, even though I never once used the phone service it provided (since I was happy with my Vonage service).  It turns out that they rope you into the triple plays because if you unbundle the services and just go for say TV and internet, you will pay more than you would if you got all three services.   If you are in a contract, there isn’t much you can do–but if your contract has expired, then I do have a suggestion or two.
First of all, don’t get into a contract again.  Be very careful when you call to negotiate that you do not get a new contract.   I cannot emphasize this enough.  Your current provider desperately wants to keep you, so you have that as a negotiating tool, especially if you have more than one provider in your area.  Keep your eye out for deals, and search websites like to see if you can find any special offers.  Most of the time these offers renew your contract, but if it is an attractive deal, then probably take it.
In my case, I decided I didn’t want cable television anymore.  I was sick of having hundreds of channels of stuff I never wanted to or had time to watch.  I was paying about $120/month for a Verizon FIOS triple play, but I also had netflix and was able to watch movies and tv shows over the internet with a special device called a Roku Box (if you have a WII or an X-Box you’d be able to do the same thing). I found that I was watching shows and movies on Netflix much more often than I was watching anything on cable TV.
So I decided to get rid of the TV and phone service.  With FIOS that brought me down to about $74/month.  But I also had offers from Comcast for $20/month for a year of similar service.  So now I save $100/month and am not really missing the TV.

People Who Still Have Old-Fashion Copper Wire Landline Service

People in this category should consider any of the three choices above.  You stand to gain more features and a much more flexible phone service.  If you have concerns about whether these other solutions would work for you, you an always try them out while keeping your traditional phone service.  Once you’re comfortable then pull the plug on your copper wire land line phones.  People who have alarm systems that are wired to your phone service may have an extra consideration–you will probably want to contact your alarm provider to see what they suggest.