What You Need To Know Before Cutting The Cord on Cable TV

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Almost 10 years ago, my wife and I did something we had previously considered 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 $75 per month for basic cable), and we were relocating to…

Almost 10 years ago, my wife and I did something we had previously considered 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 $75 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.

It didn’t take me long to realize I didn’t miss cable and didn’t need to replace it. But I did miss watching movies and the occasional live sporting event. 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 videos on DVD or Blu-Ray.

Here are a few things you should know before making the decision to cut the cord on cable TV.

Should You Drop Cable TV?

drop cable TV subscription
Dropping Cable TV is Easy

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. That said, I encourage you to continue reading.

This article is 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.

You may find ways to reduce your cable TV package, and find less expensive ways to watch your favorite movies, shows, or sporting events.

Assess your 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 a streaming TV service such as Netflix or Amazon Prime. 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 Streaming TV Recommendations:

Most television networks offer a limited number of shows you can stream directly from their website. However, I find it easier to use another streaming service such as the following:

  • Amazon Prime Video
  • HBO Now
  • Hulu
  • iTunes
  • Netflix
  • Sling TV

In general, Netflix and Amazon Prime are the best for streaming movies, documentaries, and older TV shows. Hulu is probably the best option for streaming current TV shows and some original content. The premium version of Hulu also shows some live television, which is something not offered by Netflix or Amazon.

iTunes features a large library, but it’s more of an a la carte service which requires you to rent or purchase almost each item you watch. That can get expensive quickly if you aren’t careful. So it’s best to use iTunes to fill in the gaps.

More Tips on Cutting Cable TV

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.

Most major sports offer a similar season pass that makes it easy to stream a season’s worth of sporting events for a reasonable cost. This can also be an excellent way to watch sporting events that are outside your local area, or avoid the dreaded blackouts featured in certain sports.

Required Hardware to Drop Cable TV – Antennas and Streaming Boxes

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. A digital antenna will also allow you to watch live network television over the air. This is how we watch many live sporting events at home, such as the Super Bowl and World Series.

Many newer Smart TVs make it easy to stream directly from services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and others. But if your TV doesn’t offer this feature, 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, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Apple Fire TV, certain BluRay players, and other devices. The price of these ranges from around $50 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.

Dropping Cable TV is 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.

photo credit: horrortaxi.

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About Ryan Guina

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of The Military Wallet. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is a current member of the IL Air National Guard.

Ryan started The Military Wallet in 2007 after separating from active duty military service and has been writing about financial, small business, and military benefits topics since then. He also writes about personal finance and investing at Cash Money Life.

Ryan uses Personal Capital to track and manage his finances. Personal Capital is a free software program that allows him to track his net worth, balance his investment portfolio, track his income and expenses, and much more. You can open a free Personal Capital account here.

Featured In: Ryan's writing has been featured in the following publications: Forbes, Military.com, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, Reserve & National Guard Magazine (print and online editions), Military Influencer Magazine, Cash Money Life, The Military Guide, USAA, Go Banking Rates, and many other publications.

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