It all began when our Internet dropped off.

Having watched all our TV programming through streaming in the past four years, not having Internet was a huge blow to our evening entertainment. Fortunately, we just recently moved into an apartment with free cable and on-demand service. So we scrolled through the listings and identified a show we heard about on a pop culture podcast that my husband subscribes to.

And the familiar but long forgotten words showed up on screen:

“Fast forward and other functions may not be available for this content.”

Then came the first Viagra commercial we will have seen more than 40 times in the next two weeks.

Each episode comes with 4-5 commercial breaks, and each break usually has one Viagra commercial. By the end of the third episode, my husband started checking how much it would cost to just buy the season on iTunes so we wouldn’t have to listen to the phrase “erectile dysfunction” one more time.

It’s $1.99 per episode. With seven episodes left, it would only cost us $14. At this point our Internet was back. It seemed completely reasonable to pay the money and end our misery right there.

But for some reason, I hesitated.

As we struggled through the next few episodes, I gradually sorted through my thought process of why I wouldn’t just pay $2 a night for a commercial free experience. I call this my “three question decision module”:

#1: Can we afford it? 

Yes, absolutely. $14 is a bottle of wine we can choose not to drink.

#2: Is it worth the price?

Yes, absolutely. There is something about Viagra commercials that are just more grating than, let’s say, one for bathroom cleaning supplies. Using a soothing voice to recite all the side effects doesn’t make the drug more appealing. Also, it makes me wonder if my taste in a TV series is closer to a fifty-year-old man. On average I’m only dropping fifty cents to turn off each Viagra commercial. Totally worth it.

#3: Is it necessary?

This is where I hesitate. We have the show for free. As long as we can keep watching without getting psychologically unstable from all the Viagra commercials, there is no need to buy a show that we will not go back to watch again.

In summary, here’s what came out of my decision process:

Pay to get rid of commercial
1 Can I afford it?


2 Is it worth the price?


3 Is it necessary?


Final Decision


It dawned on me that this is part of my ingrained Value Driven Budget system at a more granular level. I believe most people go through these three questions before making purchasing decisions, albeit in milliseconds. When the answers to all three are positive, we feel very comfortable buying and can act on it quickly. On the other hand, when the answers to all three are negative, we tend to move on from the impulse without too much regret. It’s when there is a mix of responses that we hesitate and agonize over making the purchase decision.

To budget without budgeting, what you have to do is to give yourself very tight decision criteria – only purchase something when you can check all three boxes. When in doubt in any given one, move on. This saves you from a lot of spending that you will look back on with regret or second thoughts.

For me, the answer to the “is it necessary” question usually makes it or breaks it. That is why I did not break down and pay $2 for a commercial-free watching experience. Let’s say we watch two shows a month, ten episodes per show. That is $480 a year. When we lived overseas we happily paid for it because there is no other option. (It’s necessary.) Now it’s an extra saving that my husband could use to pay for the sport coat he really liked.

And of course, if watching another Viagra commercial is going to cost our sanity, we will happily pay $2 per episode to get rid of it, because now it has become necessary for our mental health.

Your decision criteria do not have to be the same as mine. I can see myself sometimes buy things without checking all three boxes. Nevertheless, if you find that you are making purchases while only checking one box, it’s likely you can significantly cut your expenditure. If you’re constantly not checking box #1, you will likely be in more debt than you should be. If you never check box #2, you need to do more research and start asking yourself what is important to you.

Eventually, being more mindful before each purchase decision will help you live a more frugal and meaningful life. This “purchase policy” also helps you turn purchasing decisions into financial habit so after a while you won’t get tangled by every small decision. More importantly, this habit will help you build a healthy financial cushion that makes you more likely to answer “Yes” to question #1.

So last night marked the season finale of the show for us – “Mr. Robot” on USA Network. If you haven’t seen it, you should definitely check it out. I wish you luck in having a Viagra commercial-free experience.

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