When you are looking at ways to cut back on expenses, cable TV should be one of the first to go. Read about my personal experience with cutting cable to see the impact it had on our spending. But don’t just think about the finances – realize that you can watch 95% of all your favorite shows for free and you don’t have to do anything illegal to save money.
Cable bills can add up fast – the average American cable bill is $103 per month. Chances are, you only watch a handful of shows on different cable networks resulting in a super high cable bill. Have you ever thought to yourself, there has to be a better way?
Keep on reading, and you will find a way to cut your cable bills and still watch all of your favorite shows.
These days, most people have internet access, and that in and of itself will solve most of your problems and cut your costs.
Why Traditional Cable Will Soon Be A Thing of The Past
While you can watch your favorite shows on a tablet, streaming device, or even your phone, our options were limited until recently. For the longest time, cable television was the only way to get certain shows that were limited to channels on cable TV. However, if you’re willing to wait until the next day to watch you show, almost every network makes their TV shows available for free streaming online the following morning.
With all of the streaming devices available, you no longer need to pay high cable bill fees to get your favorite TV shows. You can get basic channels free of charge, including but not limited to NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, PBS, and some independent channels. While many of us are satisfied with the basic channels that cover the news, sports, and entertainment, there are certain shows that are only aired on cable TV- at least until now.
You will need to invest in minimal hardware to get your favorite shows. Below, we have compiled a list that will help you get started.
Start With A Reliable HD Antenna
For each TV that you want to cut cable on, you will want an HD antenna. TV antennas come in different styles, ranging from traditional to antennas that lay flat against a window. Amazon has a great selection of HD antennas for very cheap.
Once your HD Antenna is connected, you should rescan for channels on your television, and change the source from cable to antenna, otherwise it will not work. The antenna you get will be used to wrangle the over-the-air signal into your living room so you can watch your favorite local stations. The FCC has a great interactive map that shows you which TV channels you should be able to receive at your address. Check it out here.
Even with the antenna, you still need internet access. This may be the ideal time to make sure you are getting the best deal with your current provider, but don’t skimp on speed. Make sure you have a connection of at least 5 Mbps (Megabits per second).
However, if you have multiple household members that are playing games or surfing the web, you will need at least 15 Mbps according to the Federal Communications Commission. We have a 50 Mbps plan and pay $60/mo for it. But you have to remember that, beyond streaming, I also run an online business from home and do video uploads.
Basics For Setting Up Your Hardware
First, you will need a box (or stick) or some way to watch apps. This is the streaming device to receive the programming you choose. You don’t need a box for every TV you own, depending on the services you choose.
Depending on whether you have a Smart TV (where the apps are built into the TV), you might not need anything to watch your shows. For example, Samsung TVs have Netflix and Amazon built in.
Don’t be alarmed – setting up hardware does not mean you need big clunky device, it can be as small as a thumb drive, like the Roku, which is compact and sleek. You must be sure that your content will work on the box of your choice.
Affordable Hardware Options
If you need more options that what is built into your Smart TV, you need to look into one of these affordable options.
The Apple TV is not actually a TV, it is a device for your TV. It will cost you anywhere from $149-$199, but it will save you time and effort, especially if the majority of your content is stored in iTunes. It is also easy to wirelessly sync Apple TV to your iTunes account on your Mac or PC to start playing music, videos or TV shows from your personal library.
The Apple TV allows you to watch Hulu, Netflix, and SlingTV, but it doesn’t allow you watch Amazon Video. However, the Apple TV also includes apps to most of the major networks, so you watch your favorite shows for free (such as NBC, ABC, E!, Bravo, Fox, etc). There are also tons of games and other apps that can be great for kids.
Amazon Fire TV
Amazon Fire TV will not only let you access the larger content providers, it will also allow you to play a large selection of games. Amazon also has a voice search feature where you can search for movies using the criteria you select, for example, “Sci-Fi Movies”, or “Movies with Brad Pitt”. It will cost you $99.99.
Amazon Fire TV also allows you to watch Netflix and Hulu, but it also gives you access to Amazon Video. If you’re an Amazon Prime Member (or Amazon Student Member), you’ll get access to thousands of free movies and TV shows. It’s a fantastic deal! There is also streaming music available as well.
Finally, Amazon Fire TV can be combined with Direct TV Now, which allows you to have access to live sports and premium channels – something no other platform allows currently. Remember, live sports can still be watched using the HD Antenna if they are on a main channel.
Chromecast is Google’s streaming media device. Just like the other options here, it allows you to download apps and watch content on your TV. Chromecast currently works with Hulu, Netflix, and most of the major networks to provide their apps.
Unlike Apple TV, Chromecast allows you to connect to the Google Play store and access thousands of Android-based apps.
The Roku is a small device that ranges from $50-$150, based on the features of each model. It is important to note that if you have an older TV, you will want a device that will plug in. Most devices work via HDMI, but you can find some of the older Roku models that work via video cables.
The Roku allows you to watch Amazon Video, Hulu, and Netflix.
Content Streaming Subscriptions Options
If you watch shows that are beyond the free channels or shows that are exclusive to certain channels, then you will pay either monthly subscription fees or one-time fees in order to stream your favorite TV shows and movies.
Certain TV series or movies that are exclusive to companies such as Netflix, Amazon, and HBO must be viewed on those channels. For example, if you want to watch shows featured on channels like TNT, Show Time, AMC, A& E, or HBO, you will need to subscribe to one or more content providers. While these subscriptions range from $7.00 to $40.00 per month, basic cable costs at least $100 per month plus the cost of the box.
Amazon TV also offers it’s Prime members access to thousands of shows, so keep that in mind if you’re already an Amazon Prime member.
While most of these services let you view content on your mobile devices, desktop computer or laptop, the content we are discussing here is content you can watch on your home TV.
We have created a list of some of the most popular options to help you make the best decisions for your viewing pleasure.
For most people, this was the gateway to paid streaming online, and it is still a good option. You will get access to shows and movies on Netflix, such as “Orange Is the New Black” and “House of Cards” as well as exclusive documentaries such as “I am Not Your Guru” featuring Tony Robbins.
Netflix will also provide you with TV shows from other networks from past seasons as well as a wide selection of movies. You can read about how Netflix has taught us a valuable lesson about competition in the digital streaming space.
It will cost you approximately $7.99 a month for standard definition and one screen/program at a time, $9.99 a month for HD and two screens, $11.99 a month for HD/4k and four screens.
If you are an Amazon Prime Member (a service that provides expedited delivery for an annual fee of $99), then you already have access to numerous TV shows and movies. However, some programs and movies are not available on Amazon Prime. You can watch or buy your favorite TV shows by purchasing an episode or season.
You can expect to pay $1.99 – $3.99 per episode of a TV show unless they have a season pass, which will cost anywhere from $9.99-$14.99 per season. Movies range from $3.99- $5.99 for a 24-hour rental, and up to $14.99 for purchase.
You already know you can buy your favorite songs on iTunes, but you can also buy or rent TV shows and movies. TV shows will range from $1.99-$3.99 per episode, and movies will range from $3.99 to $5.99 for rentals.
However, Apple TV also allows you to access a range of apps via the App Store. So you can also download your favorite apps, such as Facebook, YouTube, and more – all free.
Hulu is one of the most comprehensive options that covers both cable networks and primetime networks. You will get shows from Comedy Central, MTV, E! and the CW. Hulu is owned by 21st Century Fox, Disney and NBC Universal (which include the Fox, ABC and NBC networks), which also allows you to view most of your current primetime programming after the program airs. You may not get CBS shows, but you can check out CBS All Access for your favorite CBS shows.
Hulu has pricing options ranging from free viewing with restriction, $7.99 per month with limited ads and $11.99 a month with no ads. You can also get Showtime for an additional $8.99 per month.
With HBO Now, you can watch past and present HBO shows, as well as movies, documentaries, and certain sporting events. For $14.99 per month, HBO Now lets you watch your shows without having to authenticate through a cable provider.
Remember, HBO also have a variety of shows that are specific to the HBO network. For example, John Oliver, Vice, Veep, Game of Thrones, and more. Plus, there are a lot of movies that come with an HBO subscription.
Sling TV allows you to watch live broadcasted shows in real time. The main drawback is that Sling shows programs as they are broadcast rather than on demand. Prices range from $20-$40 per month, depending on the plan you choose.
However, what people love about Sling TV is that you can view more than 150 channels – including sports and news. If you’re a sports junkie and want to steam, Sling TV and a Digital Antenna is the best combination to make it happen.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is most people don’t need to pay for cable. Look at what shows you watch regularly, and see if there is a better, cheaper option. Most people already DVR their shows – so they aren’t even watching live TV to start with. Does watching it the next day really ruin anything, especially if it can be free?
Let’s break down the pricing and see what you’ll save. On average, an American will pay $55/mo for a 25 Mbps Internet connection (study). That’s already 50% less than you’d pay for cable, and you get so much free access to shows already. But let’s say you want more? Let’s add on Hulu for $11.99 per month, and you’re at $66.99 per month – a $36 per month savings!
The best option for you will depend on your favorite shows and preferred method of viewing the shows. In any event, the cost will be much less than your current cable bill, while you still get to watch all of your favorite shows and movies.
Have you cut cable yet? Why or why not?
Robert Farrington is America’s Millennial Money Expert® and America’s Student Loan Debt Expert™, and the founder of The College Investor, a personal finance site dedicated to helping millennials escape student loan debt to start investing and building wealth for the future. You can learn more about him here and here.
He regularly writes about investing, student loan debt, and general personal finance topics geared towards anyone wanting to earn more, get out of debt, and start building wealth for the future.
He has been quoted in major publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox, ABC, NBC, and more. He is also a regular contributor to Forbes.