I love TV. It is my guilty pleasure, my mind break, a chance to unwind after a long day of having my brain turned on. That said, as we were in the process of moving two years ago, we decided not to get cable TV at our new place for the following reasons:
- Primarily to keep our monthly expenses as low as possible.
- We were tired of dealing with cable providers due to poor customer service. (Read more about this below .*)
- And to avoid getting locked into channel bundles with hundreds of channels we don’t even watch but have to pay for.
As I mentioned earlier, I like my TV. So before I agreed to ditch cable*, I did some research to make sure we’d have options to watch TV cable-free. And I’m happy to report there are!
So, if you’re looking to break-up with your cable provider (and you’re not alone), save an average of $103.10 a month1 (that’s over $1200 a year!) and still watch the shows you like, here’s what you can do. It’s really easier than you might think.
What You’ll Need: Set-up
To have an enjoyable cable-free experience, you’re gonna need some gear.
- Digital Antenna: Yes, antennas still exist! They’re no longer bunny ears, but they’re still around and totally usable. First, we checked Antenna Web to ensure we got reasonable TV signal in our area. Just enter your zip code and it’ll provide you with a list of channels you can get. We are able to watch most local channels, including PBS, with our AmazonBasics Ultra Thin Indoor TV Antenna. We picked this antenna for its price and relatively good reviews. I don’t think it’s intended to be moved from place to place, so decide where you want to stick it and keep it there. We made the mistake of moving it, as we wanted it in another location and the sticky part just wasn’t as good after. But it’s easily resolved with tape. Also, know that this antenna is very noticeable so if you can, you may want to place it in a discrete location. There are other HDTV antennas out there, such as the Mohu Leaf, which is also well-rated, it does cost more, unless you get a refurbished one.
- Good Internet Connection: The last thing you want is to be relaxing on your couch, ready to watch a show and you hit play, only to have it pause and buffer every couple of minutes. Super frustrating. You need a good internet connection that can handle streaming video. So what’s “good”? Netflix recommends having at least 5Mbps to stream HD shows. However, keep in mind that this is for one user. And the more devices you have running in your house, the more data is being used. If your household is like ours, you’ve got several devices running — wherein one might be streaming a show, while one is browsing the web, plus both our cell phones also use wifi — you will definitely need more than just the recommended speed of 5Mbps. To support multiple devices, it is recommended to have at least 25Mbps. Because I work from home, I need reliable internet so we signed up for 75Mbps. But based on what I’ve read, 50Mbps would most likely have you covered. In addition, we hardwired our TV to the router to ensure we get the best performance.
- Smart TV: With the plethora of streaming devices available, I would consider this optional. But in our situation, we sold our TV before we moved and knew we would not get cable. We decided that having a smart TV would just make the transition much easier. So, we got a Samsung Smart LED TV. We’ve enjoyed it and haven’t had any major issues using it. The picture is clear and vibrant. It’s really the best TV we’ve had. My one complaint (and in the grand scheme of things, I don’t find this to be a huge deal), is that the TV takes some time to warm up before you can access the Apps section to get to any of your streaming options. So you would turn on your TV and would need to wait a few minutes before you can start using Netflix.
- Streaming Device: If you don’t want to get a smart TV, it’s perfectly fine. You have a pretty great selection of streaming devices you can use to hook up to your existing TV. You can get a Roku 3 for about $80-90, an Apple TV for at least $149, or an Amazon Fire TV for about $90. We have a small TV in our bedroom and my brother gave me a Google Chromecast, which has worked great for us. They’re generally about $35. We don’t watch much TV in our room, but it is a nice back-up when our primary TV in the living room is being used. I’ll pull up the Netflix, YouTube or HBO Go app on my phone and cast it to our bedroom TV. In addition, if you already have a Playstation or Nintendo Wii, you can use these to stream stuff too. Although, I wouldn’t recommend these as your primary streaming device, as I didn’t find them very easy to use.
What You Can Watch: Streaming Options
I recommend assessing your family’s viewing habits and interests to guide your decisions. What do you guys like to watch? Sports? Movies? Cartoons? Our family enjoys TV shows, movies, cartoons and sports.
The awesome thing today is that more and more programming options are being provided outside traditional cable subscriptions. To top it off, a lot of these streaming options don’t lock you into a contract. For the most part, you can sign up and cancel anytime.
Warning: If you’re not careful and just sign up for a lot of different streaming accounts, you can end up paying just as much as you would a cable bill. If you have a digital antenna to watch local channels already, you don’t really need more than 2 other streaming accounts. I think one would do just fine, but again, this depends on your viewing habits.
The Verge is an awesome site you can check to see how much you would end up paying per month based on what online streaming accounts you select and see what channels are included. What you and your family enjoy watching will determine what streaming apps you should select.
The three most popular streaming options are Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. More streaming options have been entering the market, like Sling TV, Playstation Vue, and “a la carte” options like HBO Go and Showtime Anytime.
In addition to local channels, our family subscribes to Netflix for a total of $9.48 per month. And since I’m an Amazon Prime member, we automatically have access to their Prime Video Library. We pay for the Prime membership for other perks like free shipping and Amazon Mom, so I don’t consider that an additional TV expense, as it’s more a nice free bonus we get from Prime. That said, I probably wouldn’t subscribe to it for its video library only, as they have some overlap with Netflix in the videos they offer. Also, I find Netflix’s smart TV interface a lot easier to use and navigate.
We also have HBO Go for free as part of our internet promotion*, which is great because we can watch Game of Thrones. However, like Amazon Prime, I probably wouldn’t sign up for HBO Go for $14.99 a month. I find the other options, like Netflix to have more bang for our buck.
Between local channels, Netflix and Amazon Prime (and at sometimes YouTube), our family has plenty to watch. We’ve gone 2 years now without ESPN and my husband actually has gotten used to it (he used to always have sports on) and prefers not having access to it, or he’d be glued to the TV more. We are considering trying Hulu at some point so we can watch certain TV shows the day after they air. If we like Hulu, we will most likely cancel Netflix. But as I mentioned earlier, we can sign up for and cancel these online streaming apps easily. Sling TV also seems like another good live TV alternative, wherein Paul can get a dose of his sports fix, if he chooses.
It’s Been 2 Years Since We Cut Cable TV And …
We have no regrets!
- In the 2 years since we’ve ditched cable TV, we’ve saved at least $1440 — based on a conservative $70/month cable fee, compared to the average $103/month, minus $10/month for Netflix.
- We get to watch our shows commercial-free! With Netflix and Prime that is.
- We don’t have to pay for a multitude of channels we don’t even watch.
- Since these new streaming alternatives allow you to cancel anytime, we have the flexibility to try other viewing options if we like pretty easily.
- In addition to a variety of movies, TV shows and documentaries we can choose from, we can also watch it from our laptop or tablet if we’re not home.
- And last but not the least, I’d say we’ve reduced our stress levels in that we have minimal contact with cable providers. The whole cable box set-up ordeal we had was enough.* We don’t get bounced around from one representative to another over the phone — only to end up feeling like we’ve been left with no choice (none that we really like at least).
So, how about you? Are you ready to break up with your cable provider? If you are, assess your family’s viewing habits, decide on streaming options that will match this and get the gear you need to make the transition.
You can do it! Cut the cord and save some money now.
*Note: We actually have a basic cable TV package and HBO Go for free as part of our internet service plan. We took it, as the total monthly internet rate with basic cable was cheaper than the regular internet only rate. However, we don’t use it, as the transmission to our cable box never worked. We tried to set it up and we were told it should be working, but we weren’t getting a signal on the cable box. When we called the provider to try and troubleshoot the problem, we were on hold for some time and were transferred around. The primary solution we were offered was to have a technician come to our house. When I asked how much it would cost, they couldn’t quote me the service cost for this. And after each transfer and representative I spoke with (a total of 3), the cost “estimate” they gave just kept getting higher and higher. We were so frustrated, we requested to get this free TV package off our plan. In the end, we were transferred yet again, to the Retention Department. After having to repeat our issue and expressing our frustration, the gentleman I spoke with still couldn’t tell me how much the technician service cost would be — we would only get a bill after. He apologized for the situation and said “It would cost you more to remove the TV package from your bundle. Why don’t you just hide the cable box in your closet and not use it.” Arghghghgh! So to end this overdrawn story of sad customer service, our cable box resides in our closet, collecting dust.
1According to Fortune, Leichtman Research Group released that the average monthly cable bill in the U.S. as of Sept. 2016 is $103.10.