For seven years of our marriage, cable was always part of who we were. No matter our circumstances, we were willing to cut back pretty much everywhere in our budget except that one. Cable was untouchable. And then something happened. As we prepared to move back to New York City last month, we offered everything up on the sacrificial budgeting altar to analyze costs and decide whether or not to maintain status quo or make changes. Cable didn’t make the cut. And that meant getting cut. Our source of hours and hours of mindless entertainment, information, and really awful reality shows no longer felt worth it.
But if you’re thinking that we’re now the TV-hating couple who only allows Sally to play with hand carved wooden toys, we’re about to really let you down. Our love for TV hasn’t faltered one bit. And Sally continues to have an unhealthy obsession with a cartoon monkey named Curious George. We’ve found alternate ways to fulfill all of our cable-watching needs without paying the cable price tag. And we’ve also found we waste less time by being more purposeful in what we watch.
So if you’ve had an itch to cut the cord, here’s our guide on making it happen.
*Heads up: Some of the links below are affiliate links. If you click one and sign up, we get a little Diet Coke money (not buy-a-house-money). This did not factor into what products and services we chose to include in this guide. Domo arigato.
What cord cutting guide wouldn’t start with the pioneer of it all — Netflix. For the uninitiated, Netflix provides all-you-can-stream movies and TV series at $7.99/month. It’s available on your computer, your smartphone, game consoles, smart TVs, media players, etc. They’ve got a solid selection of things to watch and they’ve even started releasing their own line of successful, award-winning TV shows, such as Orange Is the New Black, Arrested Development, and House of Cards. And for the binge-watchers in the house, they come out a whole season at a time (no more waiting a week for a new episode).
Pros: wide availability on third-party devices, cost, TV-series selection, kid’s programming, fantastic original shows.
Cons: so-so movie selection, most TV seasons don’t become available until a year after season ends, focus on TV series, infrequent library updates.
Cost: $8-$12/month. Netflix offers a free month trial.
In recent years, Amazon has also jumped into the streaming business and mostly goes toe-to-toe with Netflix. We’re already Amazon Prime subscribers and get every single penny-worth out of the $99 annual price tag (roughly $8.25/month) thanks to two-day shipping and low prices. The Prime streaming library is a major cherry on top. It has most of the old and recent TV series that we watch and catch up on, all of Sally’s favorites, and they too have recently started creating original, award-winning series. (And as an aside, Prime also comes with unlimited photo storage and a streaming music service. We heart them.)
Pros: TV-series selection, kid’s programming, exclusive HBO library, comes with freaking Prime (2-day shipping, photo storage, streaming music).
Cons: availability on devices is more limited, most TV seasons don’t become available until a year after season ends, bundled with other services, clunky user interface and navigation.
Cost: $99/year. Here’s a free 30-day trial of Amazon Prime.
Like Netflix, Hulu’s been on the streaming scene for some time now. If you need to keep up with your favorite shows and can’t (or don’t want to) wait a year after the season airs before you can watch it, then Hulu Plus is going to be your best friend. Most new episodes appear the day after their original airing, and their selection covers nearly every popular show currently on air. They also offer a limited movie selection, but Netflix and Amazon beat them here.
Pros: wide selection of most popular shows, availability the day after new airings, clean user interface.
Cons: commercials (ughhh), no compelling original programming (yet), weak movie selection.
Cost: $8/month. Get a free 14-day trial of Hulu Plus.
A la Carte Streaming Channels
While the cable cartels are still holding fairly strong, the dream of a “choose what channels you want” model is nearing. Within the last few months, a few major players have announced standalone streaming options with rumblings of others still on the horizon. In the meantime, many networks (ABC, NBC, Comedy Central) provide recent episodes online on their websites without a cable subscription. As of this posting, here are channels that offer or will soon offer unbundled service:
- CBS All Access — $6/month — live streaming, on-demand, some sports blacked out. Here’s a 1-week free trial.
- HBO — coming soon
- Showtime — sometime in 2015
A la Carte Movies and Shows
How many channels are part of your current cable package? Yeah, we didn’t know either. But we did know we had the two or three channels we watched our three or four favorite shows on. So we were paying a highly-discounted $50/month cable bill for 10 or so episodes a month. At $3/HD or $2/SD an episode, we could have saved $30/month by just buying the individual episodes. If this sounds like you, don’t be like us. Here’s where you can get your fill of fresh episodes of your favorite shows:
The $1,000,000 (or $50/month) Question: Sports?
For these seven years, this has been at the heart of our cable dependency. Joanna just couldn’t quit college football. Actually, Joanna really doesn’t give a crap, but I sure did. When we relocated to NYC, it just happened to be after the college football regular season had ended and I was already preparing for sports hibernation. So we did without. Well, we did mooch a friend’s cable account info to use ESPN’s streaming service. But everything changed when DISH announced Sling TV. This angelic gift to sports fans offer ESPN and ESPN 2 streaming, plus a few other sports-related channels (ESPNEWS, SEC Network, TNT, etc.). Price point? $20/month. No contracts, no commitments. So when sports season is upon us, we’ll rev up our entertainment budget $20/month, and then cancel the service when it’s over.
But if you’re a super fan and/or you follow a non-ESPN sport (sorry archery fans), here are a few other options:
- MLB.TV — $130/season — probably the most popular and robust plan of the a la carte sports plans
- NBA League Pass — $170/season
- MLS Live — $65/season
So now that you’ve got your shows, how are you supposed to get them on your TV? First, get a floppy disk. Kidding. You’ve probably heard of one or all of the following devices. Put simply, these things get the things you want to watch onto your TV. But that’s not all. Most of these devices also have dozens of apps and services (some mentioned above) that stream to your TV as well (Netflix, YouTube, Pandora, PBS, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant, and so on). Every device has its pros and cons and some offer more options than others, so check out the follow three leading sticks and devices:
- Sticks: These are all sticks that range from $35 to $50.
- Fire TV Stick — $39
Pros: fast Amazon Prime Video content, comes with remote / Con: fewer apps than competitors
- Chromecast — $30
Pros: all major streaming apps covered, can mirror Chrome browser / Con: can only use phone as remote
- Roku Streaming Stick — $49
Pro: comes with standalone remote / Cons: limited app selection, no mirroring
- Fire TV Stick — $39
- Higher-End Streaming Devices: These do everything the streaming sticks do and then some, plus a higher price tag.
- Apple TV — $99
Pros: mirror content from your iPhone and Mac, clean user interface / Con: no game selection
- Roku 3 — $99
Pros: fastest box, most content available / Cons: limited game selection, no mirroring
- Amazon Fire TV — $99
Pros: remote control has voice control, great gaming support / Con: limited app selection
- Apple TV — $99
Smart TVs and Gaming Consoles
Before you invest in a dedicated streaming device, you might not realize that your TV or gaming console offers a lot of the same streaming apps and functionality. Most newer smart TVs now come with Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services preinstalled and are just a remote click away. Likewise, all new gaming consoles offer a wide selection of streaming options.
Take a deeeep breath. You smell that? That’s free TV you’re inhaling. It’s all around us, and with the right equipment, you can watch it in HD for free on your TV. You’ll first want to check out this site and see what channels are available and what the reception quality is like for over-the-air programming in your area. If you see lots of green bars and channel options, you’re in business.
There are lots of antenna options available on the market, so do your research. You can choose between indoor, outdoor, short, mid, and long range. If you’re anything like us, you want to avoid hanging a huge metal grill out your window and instead go with something a little more discreet. Amazon’s got you covered with their 35-Mile Range Indoor HD Antenna for only $30. You just throw it up inside your home, plug the included coax cable into the back of your TV, and voila, HD TV from your favorite over-the-air networks — plus those weird public access stations that give basically anyone airtime for their own show.
If you’ve been waiting for your chance to finally cut the cord on cable, here’s a sample breakdown of how much a cord-cutting setup might cost, and more importantly, how much you might save over the course of a single year.
First, the status quo.
- Cable Costs: $50-$120/month
And then the cord-cutting alternative.
- Netflix: $8/month
- Amazon Prime: $8/month
- Walking Dead episodes: $40/season
- Chromecast: $30 to $99/one-time
- HD Antenna: $30/one-time
- Cord Cutting Total: $20/month (plus $60-$130 upfront)
In this hypothetical, you’re looking at savings of $30 to $100 each month. Maybe you want to use some of those savings to buy more episodes of your favorite shows or invest in a better streaming device. Or better yet, maybe you want to throw that money at some debt or an emergency fund. No matter what you decide, you can rest easy knowing that you’re saving up to $1,200 every year while still enjoying your favorite mindless entertainment.
Have you already cut the cord? Are you going to? What’s got you sitting on the fence? Weigh in and share your tips, advice, and questions.