My wife and I began life quite simply when we married in July of 1978. Our monthly budget included debts such as:
- Natural Gas
- JC Penny
Over time, we added indebtedness to finance companies such as Modern Finance, Beneficial Finance, and several other loan companies. Polly and I had zero understanding about the real world of debt. Neither of us grew up in families that were smart about money. My parents ran up debt and skipped town, whereas Polly’s parents spent every penny they earned and put the rest on credit cards. Neither was a great example for a young married couple. This resulted in us making poor financial decisions. It took us a few years to figure out that if you don’t pay your gas/electric/phone bills you won’t have gas/electric/phone. I wouldn’t, even today, say that we handle money and debt very well. Things are certainly better, but medical bills are slowly choking the life out of our checkbook. That said, we have cellphones now, and it has been 35 years since we found a tag on our door saying that our gas/electric/phone was shut off. Progress, eh?
In the 1980s, our primary form of communication was the telephone. There was one phone company, and phone choices were limited: black, white, pink and rotary or push button dial. That’s it. Per-minute charges for long distance could be as high as 25 cents. In the 1980s, thanks to deregulation, scores of companies entered the long distance telephone market. These companies offered all sorts of incentives for customers to sign up with them. For a couple of years, we received weekly enticements to change long distance companies.
Many of these enticements were cash incentives in the form of checks. Signing and depositing the checks gave the long distance providers permission to change our service. I suspect, all told, we changed long distance providers a dozen times during the days of wild, wild west long-distance shoot outs. At the time, I was the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. We were quite poor, so the check inducements became a source of extra income. I never had a twinge of guilt about changing companies, I thought, at the time, if you are going to give me free money I am going to take it. The biggest incentive we ever received came from Sprint: $200 to switch to them. I could hardly believe that they were offering us so much money to change providers. I quickly endorsed and deposited the check, worried that Sprint might find out that we had been their customer several times before. Ah, those were the good old days.
After several years of battling for customers, long distance providers realized that giving people large amounts of money to change providers was not financially sustainable. In the 1990s, companies would use similar incentives to attract new internet service customers. I am sure many readers can remember when our mail boxes were filled with offers from AOL, Prodigy, Compuserve, and a slew of dial-up internet service providers. These days, it’s cell phone companies, along with cable and satellite TV providers, who use cash incentives to attract new customers or steal customers away from their competitors.
Do you remember the days of long distance deregulation? Please share your experiences in the comment section.