How We Got Rid of Cable (And What We Watch Instead)

How we cut the cable cord How We Got Rid of Cable (And What We Watch Instead)

Nationwide, the average pay cable bill (not including internet and phone service) was $86 in 2011.

It’s expected to reach $123 by 2015, according to estimates by the NPD Group.

That’s well over $1000 a year on something that — at least according to most of my friends who do have cable — offers little to watch when they want to watch something anyway!

And for everyone who has ever said, “I’d love to be able to {go on vacation/save for retirement/pay cash for my kids’ camp/fill in the blank}, but I can’t afford to,” $1000+ a year goes a long way toward making those goals happen.

We cut off our cable six years ago when we were knee-deep in Get Out of Debt NOW. But even today, with no more consumer debt and a nice padded emergency fund, we’re still cable-free — and the money-savings are a big reason.

If you think you/your husband/your children can’t live without cable, I get it. We, too, once thought we could never cope cable-free — not with its allure of nightly programming, live sports events and oodles of options for our children. And yet here we are, six years later, never having regretted our choice.

How Do We Watch TV Without Cable?

First a few technical details about our family’s set up. We have two televisions in our home — one in our master bedroom and one in our playroom/basement.

Both TVs have antennas on them to maximize access to local channels (primarily so that we can watch live sports when they are on — like NFL games in the winter).

The basement TV is a 43-inch flatscreen TV, which is hooked up to our XBox. The XBox functions as a DVD player as well. The bedroom TV is a 32-inch flatscreen, which is hooked up to a Blu-Ray DVD Player.

We are able to watch Amazon Prime programming through our bedroom TV, since it’s an available app on our BluRay. In the basement, we don’t have Amazon Prime hooked up – primarily because we like a bit more “surveillance” on what the kids are watching.

If we wanted to have that TV hooked up, we’d have a few options: We could get a year of XBox Gold, which has the Amazon Prime app built-in (as well as Hulu Plus, Netflix, and others) or we could buy a Roku (or similar) device for that TV. Until now, it hasn’t been necessary, but I’m always keeping an eye on the Roku sales in case we change our mind.

Screen Shot 2013 11 28 at 7.25.21 AM How We Got Rid of Cable (And What We Watch Instead)

The other gadget we’ve invested in is the Google Chromecast. There are lots of ways to use this little $30 guy, but here’s an example of how I use it: I love the show The Good Wife, but I’m usually not around at 9 on a Sunday to watch it. So instead, I watch it on free playback on CBS.com. The only downside is that I have to watch it on my computer — which is annoying, because I’d rather be using my computer for something else and have my show running in the background.

The Chromecast solves that problem. I just get The Good Wife running on my computer, then “cast” it over to our TV with the Chromecast. I can then open up other windows on my computer and proceed to do whatever needs to get done. There are lots of built-in apps for programming within the Chromecast as well, but I love it most for its ability to wireless broadcast whatever is on my computer to the TV.

Yes, I could do this with an extra long HDMI cord, but for $30, I prefer the wirelessness of the Chromecast. (It’s possible I just made up the word wirelessness.)

Where Do We Find FREE Television Programming?

Let me first say that my husband and I aren’t the biggest TV watchers. I have friends who watch a good four hours of TV every night. That’s not us.

Other than my weekly date with The Good Wife, my husband and I have programs that we like to watch – most of which we either borrow from the library or download/stream to “binge watch”.

Our best source for FREE (and, ehem, legal) “streaming” is Amazon Prime. We just watched a whole season of The Americans that way and loved it. (The whole first season of The Americans is FREE on Amazon Prime.)

Our kiddos take full advantage of Amazon Prime’s kid programming. My four year old loves shows like Olivia, Little Bill and Backyardigans — all of which are available for FREE on Amazon Prime.

My bigger kids enjoy Garfield, Alf (yes, that Alf!), Penguins of Madagascar and plenty of family-friendly movies — all of which, again, are on Amazon Prime for free.

They watch an hour or less of TV per day, and the options on Prime more than meet their needs.

What about Paid Subscription Services?

We have done free trials of Netflix, Hulu Plus and Redbox Instant, but we’ve never become paid members. I know some friends who swear by their Netflix memberships — and at $7/month it’s certainly inexpensive — but we just never found it to be necessary.

Between the library and Amazon Prime, we’re able to get 99% of what we want to watch for FREE anyway.

How Do You Watch Live Sports without Cable?

Here’s the truth: If you/your husband watch 10+ hours of live sports every weekend, going cable-free is going to be tough. Even downsizing your cable package is going to be tough, because most of the packages required to watch that level of live sports are costlier than basic.

I’ve asked my husband to write up a post about what we do to watch sports, because other than the fact that NFL is on all Sunday, all season long, I honestly have no idea. I know that Frankie and my boys are HUGE sports fans and I know that they don’t seem especially deprived by us not having cable. But the specifics — well, I’ll leave that up to him. So stay tuned for the particulars in Part 2 of this post.

That said, I did want to add my $.02 on this subject – and I know it may ruffle some die-hard sports fans feathers. But here’s my advice: Figure out what you’re spending for your games. I mean really calculate it out, down to the penny — What’s your cable bill? And what’s the cost of the extra packages that you’re paying? I’m guessing we’re in the neighborhood of $150 – $200 per month.

Then ask yourselves: Is $1800 – $2400 a year worth it for me to watch these games? I get that it makes you happy. And if you make a great salary, have no debt, and can easily afford your cable bill, then go be happy with your sporting events.

But if money is tight, if you’re having to say “no” to things you’d love to be doing because the cash isn’t there, then take a deep breath and more carefully consider your cable bill.

If cutting the cord forever is too much for you / your husband to handle, how about taking a 6 month break? Put all the money you would have spent into a savings account. At the end of that time period, have a good long talk about whether or not you should back.

When you’re staring at the easiest $900 – $1200 you’ve ever saved, it may make your decision a whole lot easier. And even if you do decide to reconnect at that point, at least you will be doing it with full intentionality about your decision.

Okay, I know that’s way more personal finance advice than you bargained for in a post about cable TV, but there you have it. Saving money is as much mental as it is technical!

I’d love to continue this conversation in the comments section: Have you cut the cable cord? What do you do to watch “your shows”? Are you considering going cable-free? What are your reservations?

Comments

comments

Comments

  1. Great post. We never got cable when we bought our house – just didn’t want to spend the money. We are able to get what we need thru Amazon prime, Roku, chrome cast, etc – all the stuff you said and I’m happy to save the money! HOWEVER, big caps, my boys are very upset not to see the NBA games. I’m looking forward to hearing how your husband manages to watch them (if he does).

    • The NBA and secondarily the NFL are our 2 main barriers to going cable free as well. Otherwise we are doing a lot of the streaming you mention but that sports issue is keeping us “tethered” or “cabled,” so to speak.

  2. I find that having cable actually saves us money. We watch a lot of TV. I mean, the TV is just on in our house. My husband is a stay-at-home father, our older son is only in school 3 hours/day and our younger child is at home. My husband also likes to get out and take trips that require really long drives. Or, he likes to watch sports on TV.

    When calculating the cost of gas, admission prices, parking, and tolls, it’s far cheaper to let him sit at home with the children and watch every live sporting event imaginable – golf, tennis, baseball, football, basketball, hockey, complete Olympic coverage live, and commentary about all of this, than cut the cable bill.

    He still takes the kids out a bit, but I don’t have to worry about him driving 6 hours round-trip every week insisting on going hiking on a different section of the Appalacian Trail. In fact, he’s even considering ditching our Redskins season tickets thanks to how wonderful our TV is (a savings of $1,600 without parking (another $40/game) and we often cannot sell games we cannot go to, even at the minimum allowable price on TicketMaster’s Ticket Exchange).

    So, I really think cutting the cable bill is not just about the savings from not watching TV. The flip side is what do you spend when you’re not being occupied by the TV? For those of us who like to be out of the house, the cable bill can be a real money saver.

    • I’m having problems processing this.

      Your husband and kids like hiking and you would rather they sit in front of a TV? Even without considering any moral/spiritual/psychological costs, don’t you think that the future health costs of such a lifestyle might eventually outweigh any current budgetary advantage to such a decision?

      For example, what if one of you–down several hours of exercise a week–eventually needs medication to control blood pressure or blood sugar? Or if an increase in weight aggravates a sprain, back pain, foot trouble? Or watching hours of commercials a day stimulates the desire for additional purchases?

      Has your family considered other hiking options, for example, parks with cheaper entrance fees or the like? That sounds like a win-win.

      • Snoglydox says:

        I am with you on that one; maybe she wants her hubby to get fat, so other women find him…repulsive…or he dies early for the insurance money? It is a first for me, to hear (read) that.

  3. We had cable for ~6 years. We finally cut the cord and have never looked back, nor been happier. With the exception of sports, we are asynchronous media consumers. We can find all we are looking for through netflix or hulu or the other internet sites. As for sports, anything we really want to watch we go to the bar. One beer is much less than a month of cable.

  4. Anne Dillon says:

    Instead of accumulating more ‘stuff’ we’ve been putting things like Netflix and zoo memberships on our gift wish lists. We got a Netflix subscription for christmas this year and the whole family has been enjoying it. Prior to that we just used Amazon Prime and the library just like you. We also got a ChromeCast but haven’t used it yet. Actually we tried the other day but got no sound so not sure if that was an issue because I have Macbook.

    • Anne – I do it from my Macbook. If you can’t get it to work, email me/Frankie and he can talk you thru it. (I’m sure he loves that I volunteer him for this stuff!)

  5. We downgraded years ago. We now have a Roku, and pay $7.00 a month for netflix streaming, which is great for the kids.

    For the network shows, we have a digital antenna.

    And books. Lots and lots of books.

  6. I am actually the craziest football fan in my family, though my 10 year old is a close second! ;-) We got a super deal on a PS3 just to be able to get Sunday Ticket and watch the games. The only games we can’t see on that are broadcasted locally – so cable isn’t needed if you’ve got an antenna. :) (We also have Apple TV and roku in order to see all the tv and movies my husband is interested in watching…..Hulu, Netflix, etc all through those…)

  7. I would like to get rid of my family’s cable and phone. I have been researching different carriers (we are currently on Fios triple play). It seems that many of them “get you good” for just the internet service. I am curious what internet only service others have found to be reasonably priced as a stand alone product. Thanks so much!

    • I too had the verizon Fios triple play. With all of the equipment and such I just couldn’t afford it anymore, so I downgraded. I have 25/25 internet and local only cable through verizon and with some discounts I pay $73/month. That’s a savings of $100/month for me. I got a great deal through AT&T for unlimited talk/text and 2gb of data to make up for losing the home phone. We have netflix and I’m looking at getting hulu and amazon prime. We’re not big sports fans here but we’re more than satisfied.

  8. We stopped the cable when our first daughter was a baby. She is now 7. Both my husband and I work full time so we are not a lot at home, neither our two daughters. My husband and I usually watch movies from the library Saturday night and the girls will watch a movie from the library or youtube on Sunday. We also watch news and other programs from the Israeli tv online once in a while. It is more than enough for us. I am definitely going to look at Amazon Prime though…

    • Barbara, which websites do you watch Israeli TV from? I am looking for child-appropriate Hebrew language TV for my children. I’ve had no luck with mako.co.il. Any others?

      • My daughters mostly watch Rinat ve-Yoyo in Hebrew with some English words. You can find it on the Hebrew Ynet website (the yeladim channel on Video Ynet) or a lot of them are on Youtube too. They really like it.

  9. We haven’t had any tv at all for about two years now, and it’s really fine. You’d be amazed at all the things you can do when you’re not wasting time with tv! My daughter watches about two hours a week online, and that’s it. We have so much more time for books, games, going out, baking, etc. and I don’t have to compete with the tv to get my daughter to spend time having fun with me!

    • We also have no TV. It’s been nearly 14 years. The kids do not know what it’s like to watch TV. When they are sick or the weather’s bad, we watch pre-screened (as in Mom and Dad check for mating animals and the like) episodes of NOVA and the like, or Jewish videos (some streaming, some ones we own). They are book junkies, love to skate and jump rope. On weekends, we visit the park and the library, hike, or play games.

  10. I would be happy to go without cable- we barely watch it, but with all of the companies we researched, it’s actually cheaper to get cable and internet then just internet. What do you do for internet services?

    • Mara Strom says:

      I’d call again, Mimi. That’s what they tell you to try to get you to sign up for their cable package! :) We have the fastest Internet speed available and pay less for just Internet (our home phone is thru Ooma – a VOIP device) than we would for the triple play by about $15. And the Internet speed in the Triple Play is the slowest they have. So, if you don’t need 50 MGPS like we do, and are fine with 10 MGPS, you’ll pay a lot less. When we had a slower speed, we spend $39/month for Internet. It took some calling back a few times, but we did it. Don’t take their first offer – it’s never the best one!

  11. Lauren Roaen Gerofsky says:

    Can someone speak to watching local news and programming without cable? An antenna, I guess. But will it show HD formatting correctly on one’s TV set? Or have you used your Chromecast for local news?

    • Mara Strom says:

      That’s our situation – and the antenna is fine. You get one that’s HD-compatible. If you need specifics, I’ll ask my husband to pop in, but that won’t be an issue. You don’t need your Chromecast for live network programming. (I’ve been watching the Olympics right on my TV without any problem!) The reason I don’t want The Good Wife live is just because I’m never around at 9 p.m. on a Sunday, it seems. Sorry – I should’ve mentioned that!

      • Snoglydox says:

        All antennas are “HD compatible;” “HD compatible” was created by antenna makers wanting to sell you something you do not need. The tuner needs to be digital, which new TVs are, and back when the over-the-air switched to digital, you could get two coupons for two tuners.

  12. We have cable because it is included in our rent, but sports are the main reason I would be reluctant to drop cable if I ever had the opportunity. Most major US sports league have some sort of package that allows you to steam live games online. This is not an option if you are a fan of a local team because local streams are blacked out, but worthwhile if that’s not an issue. These packages are not cheap, but are inexpensive relative to cable, especially if you only subscribe to one or two sports.

    Another way to follow sports without cable is over the radio. If you do not live within range of your team’s broadcast, you can also listen online through subscription services. They are generally much cheaper than the TV packages and there are no blackouts.

  13. Do you need a subscription to amazon prime to be able to watch all of the free shows on it? Also, do antennas always work? I feel like here in Miami you can’t get even the local channels without paying for the minimum cable package and that is just too costly!

    • Yes, you do need a membership to Amazon Prime — those free shows are one of the big benefits of membership, in my opinion! :)

      As far as antennas – if you’re concerned about it not working (we actually had to swap out our antenna for a stronger one at first), you might want to buy locally, so you can return. We got ours from Radio Shack — and were able to make the return without an issue.

  14. It’s really important to me to have Hebrew-language TV to maintain my children’s Hebrew, so we have Dish Network’s Israeli package–$35/month for 3 Israeli channels (which is a bit steep), plus Dish’s minimum package of $10/month for a total bill of $45/month. With fun, family-appropriate shows like Pijamot, Meah B’Tanach, and Mivtza Kipod, the money is well worth it. Though Netflix has many Israeli films, almost none are appropriate for children (“David & Kamal” is 1 exception). I’ve tried streaming Israeli TV from the internet, but nothing has seemed to have worked. Most of the links on mako.co.il are blocked outside of Israel. If folks have other suggestions on how I can stream Israeli child-appropriate TV (free or paid), I am all ears.

  15. What do you do for live news? I always watch abc when getting ready in the am.

  16. We dumped cable too. We can watch the standard broadcast channels (ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS) free. Some cable stuff is available a day later for free on Hulu; this is how we watch The Daily Show. For a few other shows, e.g. Major Crimes on TNT, which we love, we download episodes at $2 a shot from Amazon. We have Netflix and a Roku so that we can watch Netflix in bed. Downstairs, we watch Netflix and Hulu on our large-screen computer. The Netflix and occasional Amazon downloads are WAY cheaper than cable.

  17. Mara, you are the first person who has mentioned watching network TV using chromecast. Do you know if you have to do the 8 day waiting period on NBC to watch their shows if you have chromecast? or Roku? or any other streaming device?
    That has become my primary source of frustration lately, having to wait to watch network shows on the computer. And yes, we have a 30′ HDMI cable connecting our computer to our tv at the moment.

    • The shows are on NBC.com, Tracy? If I’m watching there, no waiting period. And that can be casted right from your computer. Hope that helps!

  18. We ditched cable a few years ago. We have a Netflix streaming, Amazon Prime and we hook up our Chromebook to the TV to watch stuff from the network websites, but I’m going to check out chromecast. That sounds like a great option. We were streaming one tv through our Wii which was a Hanukkah gift a few years ago and the other tv through a blue ray player. We took advantage of some of the Black Friday sales and treated ourselves to a smart tv of the family room so now we don’t need an additional device to stream and moved the old dinosaur tv to the girls playroom with the Wii. The Smart TV seemed like an unnecessary luxury, but we had the money and I have to say it’s really nice to have. We mounted the TV above the fireplace and it’s nice not to need any additional gadgets to stream shows with. We also have an antenna which we mostly use for PBS. I was surprised at how good the picture quality is with the HD antenna. Nothing like antenna’s used to be.

  19. When we cut the cord several years ago, I didn’t want to give up using a DVR to record local programming (nfl, network shows). It is extreamly convenient to season pass things to automatically record stuff when you are not home and watch them later. Being able to pause, rewind, and fast foward is tremendous.

    So what I did was purchase a tv tuner card for my desktop computer (around $100). Then connected my HD antenna (on roof) to it. Open up Microsoft Windows Media Center to scan all available channels and download their programming content into a TV guide. Here’s the best part. I hijacked the kid’s xbox and activated the media extender feature. So all the features of windows media center can be enjoyed on the tv!

    I have also noticed the HD quality to be better than cable or satellite because over the air broadcasts are typically uncompressed. Some of my stations are amazingly clear in super high quality HD from a little antenna I installed on the roof.

  20. Thanks for this. throughout college and beyond, I want to completely ditch the TV. I can rent movies for free from our library, and I get a student discount on Amazon prime! :) I don’t know much about Amazon prime…will look into it. thanks!

  21. Rachel S says:

    We have a Roku and a converter box/antenna (we still have an old-school analog TV) and we love it. We have Amazon Prime and pay about $15/mo. for Netflix and HuluPlus. My husband is a big baseball fan, so we pay about $100-$150 for the WHOLE SEASON for MLB.tv. He can watch almost all of the games live or on demand on our Roku. We had a Blu-Ray player with streaming (Samsung), but took it back to Best Buy and traded it in for a Roku because it didn’t stream well. (It was a few months later, but less than a year.) We have really not had issues with the Roku at all. And the kids can watch content from PBS on it (and so can we, like Downton Abbey and Sherlock), too.

  22. I don’t watch TV myself, my husband watches The good wife, new Sherlock Holmes show…Kids I would rather NOT let watch a lot of the tv shows especially when you have ED commercials over cornflakes ……I find offensive. Anyway we get the basest of all basics cables as its all tied together……cable,phone and computer….all three are 147 dollars a month total…….. We live in a rural area where cell phones do not work…yep you got that no cell towers for us. we have to have a land line and I have an old fashioned cord in the jack land line so when the lights go out we can make a phone call. husband doesn’t think he can live without cable .,. ..and Amazon prime you have to pay for the same amount………..hulu is a cheaper option for things…..that or that roku thing…. anyway so there you have it……..I am on the computer at night while husband sleeps in front of the tv pretending to watch hahahha……

  23. Suzanne C says:

    I’m having trouble talking my family into going DirecTV free. They watch Swamp People & CNN on a regular basis and we get the MLB package every year. Anything else we watch regularly is on the networks. Until now, we couldn’t ditch DirecTV because there was no other way to watch MLB and that is non-negotiable in our house (for me, too, I’ll admit!). But now we can watch through Roku. I don’t know exactly what is holding them back- I’ve even written out the numbers for them, promised them I would put the amount we would save each month in a separate account, and reminded them of the things they like doing that they can’t now because of money. They see the sense, but just can’t let it go. (I’m speaking of the adults, now, the kids watch Netflix anyway.)

  24. I would like to know how to get Amazon Prime for free. I went on Amazonprime.com and they said it was $99.00.

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