Spend less on TV: How to survive cutting the cord

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Should You Cut the Cord to spend less on TV?

It depends on what you value.  I think most people would like to spend less on TV, but many never take the time to calculate what they spend on subscription TV, streaming services, and premium add-ons.  Add up what you are spending and think about what TV is worth to you.

What does “cord cutting” mean to you?

Data show that more and more people are cutting the cord and ditching their subscription TV service to spend less on TV, but are they really “cord cutters?”  That depends on your definition. Does it include those dropping local cable service and picking up a subscription live TV streaming service? How about people dropping cable and picking up several a la carte services for non-live TV (Hulu, Netflix, HBO Now, CBS All Access, etc.)?

Perhaps you are a hardliner and require the ritual murder of everything with a screen at moon-rise of the winter solstice. (Yes, I’m including you, calculator).

Spending less on TV destroyed TV
Photo by Robin Jacob

Unless you are seeking some kind of moral or intellectual authority, the requirements for calling yourself a “cord cutter” are immaterial.  What matters is finding the right solution for you.

Do you want everything but are mainly trying to spend less on TV?  How high is your tolerance for commercials?  Are your viewing interests very specific?  Are you trying to do something more enriching with your free time?

Now, more than ever, you can customize to fit your needs.

Different forms of cord cutting to spend less on TV

1) Switching to full-service streaming.

If you still want your complete, live cable TV, but would like to spend less on TV, there are several streaming options for you.  Consumer reports has a great article comparing the services and so does PCmag.com.

  • Make sure your device will support the service.  Do you have a compatible smart TV or will you need an accessory for streaming like a Roku Stick?
  • How fast is your internet? You may find that the drop in audio-visual quality is a deal-breaker.
  • Check the channel package carefully.  Do your research to make sure that the package in question includes your favorite shows, teams, etc.  If you are a sports fan, make sure that the games you want won’t be blocked due to broadcast restrictions.
  • Consider the DVR features.  Cloud DVR (shows are saved remotely on the provider’s server) can add costs and get a bit complicated.  For example, Sling TV’s cloud DVR does not work on all channels.

steaming cable to spend less on TV

Whatever the advertisements may say, full service streaming replacements like Hulu with live TV and PlayStation Vue are not cheap, so you might decide it is better to keep your internet and TV subscriptions bundled and not spend less on TV.

2) Old-school terrestrial broadcast

Depending on where you live, a cheap HD antennae may meet your needs and help you spend less on TV.  (They can be as cheap less than $20.) This is especially true if you only care about the evening news, network shows, big events, or if you just turn TV on for occasional background noise.

Your smartphone can help you get the most out of traditional broadcast TV: the DTV Antennae app will help you position your antennae, and the Guide app replaces your cable channel menu.

What you might need:

HDTV Antenna

Depending on where you live, you may want to invest in a more substantial antenna (indoor or outdoor).  They range from $50 to $200 dollars.  Many claim to have a range up to 120 miles.  A smartphone app can help you determine where the broadcast towers are in your area (it is pretty neat and very simple).

save money on TV antenna app

Tuner

Make sure that your TV is equipped with an HD tuner, or the signal will do you no good.  If your TV does not include an integrated HD tuner, you will have to purchase a separate HD tuner (they range in price from $50 to $100)

DVR (made specifically for traditional broadcast)

If what you want to watch is available through terrestrial broadcast, consider buying a DVR.  You can skip all of the commercials and watch the news whenever you want.  If you set the DVR to record the evening news and your favorite network show, you could be all set.

The DVRs made for recording terrestrial broadcast range from less than $50 to $100 and have various features.  The simplest ones let you set the channel and time but do not have a guide.

spend less on TV family time

3) A la carte digital services to spend less on TV:

Services like Netflix and Amazon Prime offer wide variety of shows. If you have more specific interests (old movies, British shows, baseball, etc. ) there is probably a service for you.  BuzzFeed has an article listing the more esoteric streaming services and their costs. This option minimizes commercials, but the cost of multiple services can add up quickly.

bollywood movies
Bollywood movies through Spuul

4) Hard core cord-cutting:

Perhaps you want to make screen time a thing of your past.  How much would your life change? What would you do with the savings? There is only one way to find out.

My “cord cutting” approach to spend less on TV

I love TV.  I love cable TV.  I have a top-of-the line Smart TV.  I love weird shows about sasquatch, alternative lifestyles, pressure cookers, and people falling off foam towers.  However, I don’t like wasting money (especially on perpetually renting a DVR from my local provider) or watching commercials.  I decided to “cut the cord” about a year ago, but I knew I would need to take a moderate approach.

We have had a Verizon Fios bundle for a while now (TV, internet, and home phone).  We kept our high-speed internet but dropped the home phone and TV service.  I picked up a $10 antennae and kept the Netflix and the Amazon Prime.  For me, these two streaming services are an excellent value and provide more than enough choices. We did not add any additional a la carte subscriptions, so we are spending less on TV (about $80 a month.)

I am still considering setting up a DVR to record antenna TV.

netflix to spend less on TV

Reflections on cutting the cord

The best part for me has been spending less on TV.  It has also meant that I watch a little less TV and far fewer commercials.  There are so many interesting things to watch on Netflix, Prime, and YouTube, that I don’t miss the cable shows.  I read more books, listen to more podcasts, and spend more time futzing around in the garage.

Related post: “If you are not using your public library, your life is a sham.”

The worst part of the experience relates to sports.  Subscriptions can overcome this problem, but I have been unable to watch the Phillies or Flyers regularly as they are usually broadcast on NBC Sports (formerly Comcast Sportsnet).  You need a subscriber password to stream NBC Sports, and listening on the radio is a poor substitute.  I could get a friend to give me their password, but I don’t really feel good about that.

I would still like to overcome the sports issue, but I am not planning to add a TV subscription any time soon.  Regarding commercials, I am now completely spoiled.  When I do watch terrestrial broadcast, I find the commercials insufferable.  Overall, I have been very pleased with spending less on TV.

Do you have some opinions or tips about cutting the cord?  Please leave a comment.

7 thoughts

  1. We keep our “screen” wrapped in a blanket under the couch. When we want to watch a movie, we take it out, plug it into our computers and slide a DVD into the old fashioned disc drive. What do we do when we want to watch something on Netflix or the Olympics? We go to my sister’s and brother in law’s place!

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