The last few months have brought a few changes. They started when I learned about Perkstreet Financial, which is a new banking system based in Boston. Their basic principle is “Perks not Fees” – they seek to offer an alternative to big banks by offering 1 or 2% cash back on your debit, free ATMs, no checking acct fees, and 24 hour, friendly customer service. They can do this because they are online and do not have the overhead associated with physical bank branches. The timing was good, as I was frustrated with Citizens Bank – they charge $30/year for checking, don’t have many ATMs, and have the typical outsourced, disinterested service. The proverbial straw came when I realized that they had increased their non-network ATM fee to $3, meaning that (with the ATM host’s matching charge), that I could be charged a $6 fee to withdraw $20 – 30%!!!.
Since moving to Perkstreet, I have earned over $60 dollars in cash back, and have been well treated whenever I have a question. I heartily recommend their banking product, and using it has set off a wave of reevaluation of the services that we pay for. First on the list was my gym membership. I work out a good deal, 3 or 4 days per week, and had always justified the ~$70/month that I was paying Boston Sports Club because it is SO close and I used it frequently. However, I never used the premium services like the steam room, classes or the nice free weights. When I learned that I could join Planet Fitness for $10/month, I canceled my BSC membership. PF is not as fancy as BSC, but they have everything I need and I am saving $60/month!
Next was the cable TV situation. This one is a thornier issue. What is clear is that we pay way too much for too many channels that we don’t watch. Our total each month for internet and cable can exceed $120, which is crazy! The alternatives are 1) not having TV at all 2) purchasing a Roku box or Boxee 3) Nexflix streaming on the computer. We did some research on the Roku box, which seems like the best option. For $50 and no monthly fee, you can stream Netflix and other online services direct to your TV. The trouble is – and this is an indulgence – it’s very difficult to watch my beloved Arsenal Football Club online – at least legally. Arsenal is a Saturday ritual for me, and I usually am able to work on a blog post while the game is on. So, we are still working the TV situation out, but I suspect that I will give in and admit that being able to watch Arsenal 1x per week is not worth the extra $60/month we pay for cable. Stupid right?
Anyway, the point of all this that it is clearer to me than ever before that many people pay way too much for what I think of as status quo services – cable, banking, gyms, etc. Not only do they pay too much, they receive far too little in return – this is particularly true of big banks, which have high switching costs – this means you, Bank of America. I have resolved to look for the new, smaller companies that are doing things differently, and who value their customers, rather than treating them as nameless sources of cash.