Building your family’s media budget for 2021

As a budget-minded participant in your place of work, you know what it’s like to rely on an important tool or service that yields a particular usefulness throughout the year. When you do your budgeting for the following year, do you simply allocate known costs for these things or do you put the work into finding especially good deals for them?

Here’s a thought: your family’s media budget for 2021 deserves the same kind of planning. Unfortunately, the calculus for media budgeting has changed considerably over the past few decades.

Back in the ’90s

Your family could be fairly well-informed and entertained for about $550 a year in the early ’90s. It cost $140-ish to have an Eastern Iowa newspaper delivered to your doorstep seven days a week. As far as other papers, you probably fed your Wall Street Journal habit via the office subscription; back then, it was rare for someone in Iowa to actually subscribe to the New York Times or the Washington Post.

TV was free but you were probably paying a coaxial cable provider $30+ a month for extra channels. Radio was free but you could name your own price to support NPR. Theater tickets for new movies were $5. Older movies could be viewed at a slightly less fancy theater for just a buck. You could also rent VHS movies for about $5. The internet wasn’t a thing yet. Cell phones were still attached to bags and didn’t play a role in your media habits outside of calling for the time and temp.


A seven-day print subscription to the Gazette or the Iowa City Press-Citizen (you’ll get the Des Moines Register on Sunday), delivered, is about $400 a year. Online subs are cheaper. Special deals give you more pricing options but you have to time your re-up just right.

These days it’s not unusual for someone in the Corridor to subscribe to the electronic editions of national-type newspapers and magazines for important national and business news that local papers can’t match. With some work hunting for the right deals at the right time, electronic subs to the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist and The Atlantic can each be had for $5 monthly. In my universe, anyone who is truly well-informed subscribes to at least three of these.

Local business news is more important than ever. Various subscriptions to the Corridor Business Journal range from $50-$100, depending on your preferences for print/electronic and your interest in upgraded subscriber benefits.

Local high-definition TV signals are free, but it’s often a royal pain to get a digital antenna in the right spot to get the stations you need. Chances are, you’re paying $100 a month for some kind of satellite or cable TV service with a gazillion channels. You’re probably paying at least $50 for the internet as a separate or bundled service. If you put the work into it, you can latch onto good deals or even negotiate better bundled rates and channel packages.

Unless you’re living under a rock and have no interest in seeing what happens next to Marty Byrd, Handmaid Offred, Claire Randall or Din Djarin, you’re probably paying $6-12 apiece for various levels of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and Disney+. Put the work into it and you can roll Prime and Disney+ into your Verizon cell service, which might require a carrier switch or a new Verizon package upgrade.

Your carrier service, by the way, is a must these days – our cell phones are critical for accessing all of this stuff, as well as communicating with others. Expect to pay $300-ish in monthly cellular/text rates for plans that accommodate the typical needs of two modern-day adults and two teenagers. Put the work into latching onto the right deals at the right time and you can pay less.

Radio is still free but hardly sufficient, considering the options you get with a $16/month subscription to SiriusXM. You should be ponying up at least $5 a month to support Iowa Public Radio, of course, and don’t forget Spotify, which is a must for $10 a month. There’s also Patreon – surely, you’re supporting a few brilliant content providers on Patreon.

So, it’ll cost you about $7,000 for your family to be well-informed and entertained in 2021. You can pay less, of course – the deals and dollars to be saved are out there if you’re willing to put the work into finding them. •

Joe Coffey has 20 years of experience as a journalist, educator and marketer in the Corridor.