Over four months ago my wife and I did something many people would consider unthinkable – we canceled our cable TV and sold our televisions. We did this for a couple reasons: namely, we didn’t watch enough TV to justify the monthly expense (almost $50 per month for basic cable), and we were relocating to a new state and didn’t want to haul the heavy TVs with us. We moved into a short term rental home while we were searching for a house to buy, so we decided to wait a few months before purchasing a new TV.
After several months without TV I can honestly say I don’t miss cable, although I do miss watching the occasional movie. So we will likely buy an HDTV in the coming months so we can watch TV on something larger than my 15″ laptop screen. As for the cable TV – I don’t think we will get it again. Instead, we plan on replacing cable TV with free and inexpensive alternatives to fit our TV needs. This will include the network channels over the air, streaming TV shows and movies online, and watching DVDs. Here are a few things you should know before making the decision to cut the cord on cable TV.
Should you drop cable TV?
It’s not for everyone. The first thing I will admit is this isn’t for everyone. If you love watching TV and it fits into your schedule and your budget, then go for it (but I do have a few tips for you before you head on to the next article). So who is this article for? It’s for anyone who wants to save money on their TV experiences, or for anyone who doesn’t have the time, budget, or desire to continue paying a lot of money for cable TV.
Assess you TV watching habits and needs. Even if you love your TV and your cable subscription, I encourage you to take a few minutes and review both your plan and your watching habits. See which channels you are paying for, and which you actually watch. Then see if there is a way you can get them cheaper, or do without. For example, many people can replace premium movie channels with Netflix or Blockbuster. You may find that you are paying for a premium cable package, but you only watch a few of the channels. If this is the case, you may be able to buy them online or work out a discount through your cable provider.
There are free and premium alternatives. The next thing to do is look at the alternatives. For example, most network channels are now broadcast over the air in HDTV and you can watch them free (many markets now broadcast more channels than they did a few years ago because the new signals take up less bandwidth). You can also find many TV shows free online, although these are sometimes shown a week after they were originally broadcast. Check with your favorite network website to see which shows are available.
Some recommendations: Hulu is a great option for streaming TV and it comes in both free and premium versions. Netflix is another great way to get access to great content at a low cost. Here is a Netflix free trial offer if you want to try it out for a month (also see Netflix Military Discount for a free trial).
You need to be flexible and patient. If there is a show or sporting event you absolutely must watch, then dropping cable may not be for you. Not all shows are streamed online and some sporting events are spotty at best. But if you are flexible regarding the shows you must watch or when you watch them, then you can probably drop cable and save a lot of money in the process.
Dropping cable TV isn’t for most die hard sports fans. You should be able to watch many sporting events on the network channels for free, but dropping cable TV completely would eliminate ESPN and other sports networks. There is good news and bad news to this: Several major sports offer season passes which can be streamed online, but not all sports offer this yet. For example, MLB.tv offers very competitive rates for season access to all the major league games, as well as an interactive user interface, live stats, and more. The cost might seem expensive at over $100 a year, but that is about 2 months of basic cable TV in many markets. If you are a huge baseball fan, then this may be an excellent compromise between subscribing to cable and getting your baseball fix.
Things you may need to pull this off. If you are planning on dropping cable and using alternatives, you need to be aware that you may need to make a few purchases – or you may already have the equipment in your home. If you have an older TV you may need to buy an antenna capable of converting HDTV data to your analog TV. These are already installed in many newer TVs, or they can be purchased for around the cost of a month of basic cable TV service. You may also need a converter to stream internet shows to your TV. These can be found in some devices such as an XBox, PlayStation 3, Roku, Boxee, Apple TV and more. The price of these ranges from around $60 and up. You will also need a high speed internet connection to be able to stream quality content to your TV. It’s usually recommended to have a connection of 10-12 MB per second or faster for high quality streaming video. That said, many people already have the technology in place – they just need to spend some time working out a scenario which works for them.
It’s all about choice. To be clear – this article isn’t about bashing the cable TV industry. It’s about reassessing which areas of your budget are actually essential to you and which bring you pleasure. It’s about conscious spending and making informed decisions. For my wife and I that meant dropping cable. But that’s fine. We get more joy out of spending that money elsewhere, like eating at a nice restaurant or saving for a vacation.