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Home » Save Money, Summer of Saving

Cutting the Cord: Alternatives to Cable TV

Last updated by on 30 Comments

The intellectual and entertainment value of satellite or cable TV is debatable.

There is, no doubt, loads of crap television out there. And if you sit there, channel flipping, and let yourself get sucked in, your time, mind, and soul can atrophy.

There is also some smart, informative, and really entertaining purpose-driven television out there. And if you’re selective and smart about how you watch it – DVR & skip commercials – it can be a good time investment, similar to reading a good book or learning something new and constructive online.

But if you’re trying to debate the value of cable TV against the cost (even with the smartest programming schedule), you’re fighting a losing battle.

The lifetime cost of cable TV, with its 5% inflation rate, can easily exceed $1 million had it been invested instead (sadly, more than most Americans will ever save for retirement).

For those looking to achieve spectacular financial results or simply keep your head above water, cable TV is simply not in the cords, er.. cards.

Cutting the Cord: You’re Not Alone

cutting the cordMore than 90% of American households still pay for TV, according to Nielsen.

But that is changing fast. By the end of the year, an estimated 4.7 million American households that previously paid for TV will have cut the cord (4.7% of all subscribers). This equates to 1 million more cord cutters than in 2012. And the pace of cord cutting is only increasing.

40% of internet users in the 18-34 age demo (the age group most embracing online video alternatives) will consider cutting the cord, in favor of streaming alternatives this year.

So if you’ve thought about cutting the cord, you’re definitely not alone.

Alternatives to Cable TV

It should first be said, that in today’s fast paced world, consuming even the best television entertainment should be low on your priority list. Your time would be much better spent doing any combination of the following cable TV alternatives:

  • going for a bike ride
  • walking your dog or just yourself
  • getting some other form of exercise
  • cooking (remember?)
  • reading a book
  • learning a new hobby
  • starting a business for side income
  • hanging out with family, friends, and neighbors
  • meditating
  • writing
  • traveling
  • etc., etc., etc…..

For some perspective, the entire history of the human race never witnessed television until about 75 years ago (cable, really only for the last half of that), and they somehow survived the lack of reality shows and commercials.

But you don’t want to miss out on television that is better than all of life’s true pleasures, you say?

If you are patient, just about every television show worth watching these days, comes out in streaming format or on DVD. You could simply get a library card (for free), and wait. Or you could stream your favorites online, on-demand. Most of my favorite shows stream full episodes online for free:

If your favorite shows aren’t streamed online for free, technology has also presented some very legit alternatives to cable TV, at much lower prices.

  • alternatives to cable tvRoku: a nifty little streaming device optimized to stream Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and 750+ channels in 1080p HD on your television. It costs less than $100 (one-time purchase fee equivalent to about a month of cable), and there are no monthly subscription fees. Also supports Netflix, Huluplus, and Amazon Instant Video.
  • Netflix: there’s still no better/cheaper way to stream movies and binge watch your favorite TV shows. $7.99 per month (either streaming or DVD), and first month is free.
  • Hulu: still offers many free TV episodes.
  • HuluPlus: premium version of Hulu – costs $8 per month.
  • Digital antenna: Pick up 1080p HD digital TV with a good ole fashion antenna to get CBS, FOX, ABC, NBC, PBS, and other channels that broadcast in your area at no charge.
  • Amazon Instant Video: many free options (and more if you have an Amazon Prime subscription, which costs $79/yr.), as well as on-demand downloads/streaming.

There are other options out there. If you want over-the-air and DVR capabilities, you can use all kinds of wacky TV tuner cards on your computer and Windows media center setups, etc. And there are constantly new competitors hitting the market, as the content wars wage on.

What Alternatives to Cable TV do you Use?

The most informative part of this post is going to come from all of you, in your infinite cleverness:

  • Do you still pay for cable TV? Why? and how much?
  • If you’ve cut the cord, when did you do it? And what’s life been like since?
  • What cable TV alternatives do you use?
  • How have you been able to replace sports content?

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About the Author
I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 7,500+ others by getting FREE email updates. You'll also find every post by category & every post in order.


30 Comments »
  • TC says:

    I ended up cutting the cord about a little over a year ago. I watch a couple comedies (modern family, the office) before going to bed via a free app on my phone. The programming for the kids on Netflix is perfect. They usually watch that on a rainy day. I am however contemplating cutting Netflix as well since we could almost as easily use our library card to rent a couple DVDs every so often and not have “TV” so easily accessible.

  • Mike says:

    I cut the cord in 2010 when I went on a trip for 6 weeks and haven’t looked back, and have saved over $2000 and counting in the process. When I returned from my trip to restart my Time Warner cable service, they wanted to charge me an exorbitant price. So I called their bluff, and dropped the cable all together.

    At first I used an antenna, Netflix, Hulu and other internet websites for alternatives to catch all of my favorite shows. Last summer something magical happened after the TV seasons ended, I stopped subscribing to Netflix, and I quit watching TV. Today I probably average about 1-2 hours per week of TV watching. I don’t miss it at all, and I am still really busy. So now, I’m not only saving money, but I am saving time. It really is a win-win situation when you cut TV out of your life.

  • Casey says:

    I cut the cord about two years ago and don’t miss it one bit. I do have a roku that’s perfect for me. Cutting the cord has also helped me to not veg out in front of the tv after work. I can get more productive things done without it, plus is a great money saver!

  • Sarah says:

    We’ve never had cable, so there was no cord to cut, but honestly there has never been a time where we wished we had it.

    For the traditional viewing experience, we have had an old PC hooked up to the TV for about 4-5 years. As long as a video is available online, we can watch it… and we don’t have to pay for Hulu.

    In addition to the alternatives you mentioned, there are a number of major networks that stream full episodes on their websites – such as CBS, TBS, AMC, and Comedy Central. YouTube has also come a really long way in terms of quality and continuity.

  • Katie says:

    I’ve been thinking about cutting the cord when my current contract expires. I see that there are definitely savings to be had. The one thing holding me back is access to live sports (mostly college football in the fall). I could see purchasing a digital antenna to pick up the games on the broadcast channels but what suggestions are there in regards to ESPN or Big 10 Network?

    • Ray says:

      This is the big issue for me, too. If you’re not into watching sports: good for you, cutting the cord is pretty easy. If you are, there are no real viable alternatives. ESPN streams online, but you have to have a cable subscription to access it. You can get pirated streams, but they’re very poor quality and not great for your computer, obviously. You could go to a bar, but then you’re forced to buying food and drinks for the length of a game, which could end up being close to what you’d pay for a month of Comcast.

      So, any suggestions would be appreciated.

      • G.E. Miller says:

        http://espn.go.com/watchespn/index has many free ESPN games streamed live, if your internet ISP has a partnership with them.

        Big Ten Network and some other college conference networks have paid digital subscriptions. I don’t know how many of the games this gets you access to, or if its only non-televised games, but it might be an option. Curious to hear more on this if anyone has subscribed to Big Ten Digital Network.

        With a digital antenna, you’ll get all of the broadcast networks still have a pretty good list of sports: Olympics, NCAA football, NCAA basketball, most NFL, NHL playoffs, some MLB, some NBA.

        • Brendan says:

          Again, you need a cable subscription that has ESPN on it to watch via that link.

          • David says:

            You don’t need a cable subscription for everything, but lately I’ve noticed they are blacking out more and more marquee events on ESPN3. I would have cut the cord long ago if it wasn’t for my love of sports. There are illegal streams for most sporting events now, but if you want to go legit you don’t have many options. You could do MLB.tv and things like that, but once you factor in those costs plus going out to bars or friends’ places for NFL games, etc. it’s getting almost as expensive as a cable plan.

  • David says:

    You should check out plex; it’s made not having tv not even an issue.

  • Jake @ Common Cents Wealth says:

    My wife and I just recently got rid of our satellite tv and we’re loving it. It’s making us get up off the couch and actually do something. Plus, it makes me more motivated to work on my blog. As you said, many of the major shows can be found online, so not having the extra channels isn’t that big of a deal.

  • Our biggest strategies for watching sports without cable:

    1) We have an antenna. Yes, tons of games as well as special events like the Grand Slams and the Olympics are broadcast over the air for free, in higher definition than what cable offers.

    2) We have a group of friends we watch our university’s basketball games with. We invite them over for the games that are over the air and they invite us over for cable-only games.

    3) Our parents gave us their login for their cable company, which allows us to stream some ESPN3 games.

    4) We have been able to find certain advertisers or sponsors that allow streaming access to March Madness or the Olympics with a free promo code.

    5) There’s always watching games on campus (ESPNU) or at a bar. We haven’t had to access these.

    We don’t watch any sports over illegal streams.

  • I have been cable free for about 2 years and I don’t think I would go back. I have been able to do more things and if I want to watch TV, I have an antenna. I also have netflix, so I can watch some movies. I would rather pay $8/month than $80.

  • Seth says:

    I just started a new job yesterday doing residential sales for a local company which provides fiber optic internet, tv, phone, etc… there are a lot of locally owned companies popping up around the country who are offering these services cheaper than the big boys(comcast, etc..). Plus, i get half off the services….so I’ll be paying half what i was for comcast. =)

  • Kim says:

    We watch hulu and subscribe to Netflix for the streaming video, and have not had cable in about 6 years. We have an antenna to pick up the local channels and we also make the most of our library card (so that’s what our $70/year property tax bill library line item is paying for!). I really like the Netflix just for kids channel, it makes it a no-brainer to decide what is/isn’t age appropriate for little ones. We are not big sports fans (would rather be out playing them than inside watching it on TV), but if there’s ever a game worth watching like the Superbowl or Olympics we can either go to a friend’s house or the sportsbar down the street to watch some of it.

  • Roger says:

    I’ve been debating whether to drop cable for some time, but still have it for now. I agree with what other people said – it’s tough to find alternatives for watching sports (specifically hockey). I occasionally watch some sports on justin.tv, but there’s no guarantee that your game will be there.

    Also, getting cable TV with internet makes the internet bill cheaper (I get both services from the same company). I think with just internet alone, it would cost $20 more. So for now, I’ll stick with the cable, but I’ll continue to debate this in my head.

  • Oscar says:

    Around the DC area Verizon Fios internet alone costs almost the same as the packaged bundle.

  • Lulu says:

    Nobody has to spend money to look at Basic TV Channels. I am so happy I can see LCD HDTV with a converter from Radio Shack and I see all the Channels Like 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 36, 66 and many others even Spanish Channels. I had my box saved but now it is gone. You can find these on line also. My pictures are clear and pretty. Best of all my viewing is FREE. Just go to Radio Shack they will know what you want.

    These are not the boxes the Government gave coupons for, they were for analog TV’s but they worked wonderful too. I gave mine away when I got my new TV.

    Sometimes we can find old Technology at St. Vincent, Goodwill and Salvation Army. St. Vincent usually help you out when you find yourself between a rock and a hard place. If they can’t help you they usually send you on to somebody who can. They are good people.

    When you are contributing, please remember them with money and items. Please show your LOVE. They used to repair computers and give them away to low income families. At lease I send what I can’t use to them.

    The box is under $40.

  • Wendy says:

    I teach financial planning to Soldiers transitioning out of the Military. I always bring this up when discussing how to cut expenses. While there are always people who cannot fathom living without their cable, I am always surprised to see how many in class have already started to do this. In the past 10 years, I have only paid for cable for a year, although I have had it provided free for a few others. I love being cable-free and with HD antennas, Netflix, and Hulu, I am never without something to watch when I want. And I don’t find myself watching the “best of the worst” since I have no qualms with shutting off the tv and doing something else.

  • Mary says:

    I NEVER thought I’d get rid of cable until I bought an old house that had never been wired for it. It was going to cost a lot more to have the whole house wired for the first time (versus just activating it) and having just bought a house, I didn’t really feel like spending extra money. I decided I’d wait six months or so until I got my savings built back up to a comfortable level and then go for it. That was almost two years ago and I haven’t missed cable for one moment.

    I bought a $50 Roku box and pay $8 for Netflix streaming each month. Every once in a while I think about something that I could only watch on cable but then I think of the myriad other things I could watch on Netflix or, even better, the non-TV things I could do with that time and am completely satisfied with my decision.

    I’ve even thought about cutting out my Netflix subscription since there are so many free things you can watch on Hulu and all the other Roku channels that are available but at this point the specific offerings on Netflix are still worth the $8/month to me.

  • April says:

    My husband and I have looked into ending our cable service and moving to one of the many options presented here. However our challenge is that we haven’t found a great alternative to access a wide variety of sports events that are currently shown on cable channels like ESPN2, ESPNU, etc. ESPN3 online does have some events, but not the variety we would be looking for. Has anyone else addressed this challenge and found a suitable alternative?

  • Zac Lawhon says:

    For when I have the urge, I have the Network stations, youtube, and Netflix. When I get done with these, I’m often struck with a visual hangover. I’m finding that when it comes to actually getting something of substance, it’s really hard to beat the good old fashioned library book (unless you have a specific question, and then Youtube can work its magic). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a book from the 80s or 90s, and then the same concepts explained in the books I’ve chosen to read are explained without being updated very much on the news or in the current memes (ie: The income inequality gap has been unacceptably large for decades, and that was mainstreamed just a few months ago. Also, a lot of the fiscal meltdowns we faced recently were predicted for our times in the ’90s.) Not to mention: In my city, all the art museums are free, and typically smaller museums are only $5 to $7 for a few hours of entertainment.

  • Mike says:

    I get that some people are super into sports. I totally respect that everyone has the right to their own likes and tastes. Personally I have zero interest in any sport that I or someone I care about is not directly participating in, but I am super into a few things that cost money. Mountain biking, for example. What blows me away is that many people who are into sports can read the above article, blow right past the $1,000,000 lifetime price tag on cable TV and still say “nope, I gotta have my college football / basketball / March Madness / NBA package / whatever. If mountain biking carried a lifetime cost of that magnitude, I would find something else to love as soon as I could sell my bike to the next sucker who came along. It really is that simple. In fact, that’s reason #1 I’m into mountain biking and not sport aviation.

    The owners and marketers of sports content are not geniuses, they’re just hyper-competitive and smart enough to recognize that they’re selling a product that many people will pay almost anything for. If you are one of those people, do you ever ask yourself if there is any price you wouldn’t be willing to pay? What if they doubled the price of cable? Charged $500 a month? $1,000 a month? Surely at some point you walk away. For me, the list of things I would not immediately eject from my life in return for $1,000,000 is short and mostly consists of people.

  • I canceled cable in March and haven’t missed it one bit. I’ve been just watching over the air channels, Netflix, and some Hulu. I’m working on a solution to get baseball as I like watching the Orioles. I’ve heard of an IP switching program called “hide my a$$” which should work in conjunction with MLB tv to be able to get Orioles games. (They are blacked out in the local area)

  • VivianL says:

    I have not had cable in two years and have not missed it at EXCEPT for football! I don’t think I can go another FOOTBALL season without FOOTBALL. How can I watch the NFL games and NOT sign up for cable?
    Thanks!!

  • Christi says:

    If we wanted to bike ride, do some writing, getting some form of exercise, or etc then we would be doing that already..and many people already do those things along with watch television. The real issue is replacing cable with a better and more cost effective form of television watching. Unlike most of the “non tv viewing” alternatives you have posted..with the exception of travel, television allows us to see the “whole” world without us having to spend extra money on a plane ticket. That fact actually opens the door to more people wanting to travel. The real questions are at what cost are we willing to pay, which tv shows are best in showing us the treasures of the world (which will actually persuade us to travel more and learn about places to travel to that we have not heard of before) and which provider gives us the best options for cable alternatives. You mentioned Roku, and that is a great option although a bit pricey. Check out Google Fiber at https://fiber.google.com/about/, and also Google TV.

  • tiberije says:

    The only reason why I pay for cable is because of the sports. Actually European Football or Soccer as we call it here.

    There is no alternative to this unfortunatelly, and I end up paying $85 a month just to watch 3-4 channels.

    Movies, TV Shows and etc, I don’t watch on TV because of the commericals, I usually stream it for free to my Smart TV, commercial free.

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