Cutting the Cable TV Cord and What We Do Instead

Cutting the Cable TV Cord and What We Do Instead

TV CordWe cut our cable TV cord about a year ago and have not looked back. The reason we cut it is basically because I had recently seen the disaster that is my financial life. It looked like someone went on a shock and awe program with my checkbook and we needed to cut expenses everywhere and anywhere.

After seeing the financial wreckage and massive debt, I had a freak out moment. One of many. During this particular freak out, I convinced my wife that we need to look seriously at needs versus wants, and that cable TV fell in the “want” category. In one of the many shocking moments of my life…I won an argument with my wife and she agreed that cable had to go. Whoa!

My wife knew I was serious and this particular freak out moment wasn’t just a passing phase. She knew I was serious because I wanted to cancel our cable during football season. Crazy, I know!

Now, we didn’t go completely Amish and turn our TVs into picture frames or something. We decided to go with cheaper alternatives to the giant, evil cable company.

The Alternatives

There are many, many alternatives to choose from nowadays when it comes to entertainment. My wife and I are somewhat tech savvy, usually figuring things out years after it has hit the market place and gotten the bugs worked out. We are not early adopters but we certainly take advantage of the technology available when we can.

With so much to choose from, it can be difficult to find the most cost effective options available today. However, as long as you are going more frugal with your TV choices, you really can’t go wrong.

There are some geographical issues that you may encounter, like we did. You will have to evaluate your local area to see what is available to you. I’ll describe the issues we had as I go through our current setup.

Our New Entertainment Setup and How We Got There

The first thing we did was to call the cable company and cancel our cable TV service. No matter what was available or not available on the other end of that decision, we had to cut our expenses and this was one of the areas we hit. With cable TV gone, we had a dark screen.

Digital Antennas
I had done some basic research on antennas for TVs and knew that we could probably get some local TV channels with new digital antennas. The old rabbit ears for TVs were analog antennas and the government disabled those signals recently, going to all digital signals. The digital antenna is a flat rectangle that you hang on your wall with a cable that goes to the TV. So simple that even I could install it.

We bought two digital antennas (at Best Buy or Amazon I think), one for each TV we have, and gave them a try. Turns out that we get about 20 local channels in our area. We get the basic channels of CBS, NBC, and ABC (what we used to call 2, 4, and 7 when I was growing up), plus a bunch of ancillary channels.

I found a digital antenna TV guide for my area with a simple Google search. So I can look up the TV guide to see what’s on. It’s weird because we used to have a DVR to record our shows, so I can’t remember the last time I actually had to be in front of the TV when a show was on…or watch commercials. Gasp! That’s the price for frugal TV when you use the antenna.

Beware the area you live in, though. Local channels may not be available in your area. My brother lives in upstate New York in a somewhat mountainous area, and he can only get one channel with a digital antenna. I live in the flat land of southern Virginia and get about 20 channels. Both houses are in more secluded suburbs, close to rural areas (farms). Check your area before diving in.

Total Cost = $70 ($35 per antenna)

There are many devices available now to stream shows on your TV. Roku is one of those streaming devices. You may have heard of Apple TV, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Xbox One, or Roku. All of them are devices used for streaming shows to your TV or other devices.

I found the Roku through a friend at work who has one and likes it. Then I had a deal with my company credit card through American Express, where I received points for every dollar spent. I was able to get a Roku player for free with my points. I got a Roku 2. Later on, I bought a Roku 3 for the other TV through Amazon.

The setup is simple and the navigation is easy. I turn on the TV, go to the video input channel, and up comes the Roku home screen. On that screen are the Roku channels we have selected as favorites, like Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Pandora. There are hundreds of channels to search and add. Most are free to navigate but can charge you if you subscribe.

Total Cost = $86.75 for Roku 3

Amazon Prime
We are fans of Amazon and use many of their services. We have been Amazon Prime members for about 3 or 4 years now. I think it originally cost us $79 or $89 for the year. It now costs $99 for the year, which we consider a great deal. We earn that back with the free shipping benefit alone.

The entertainment benefit is Prime Video, which is very similar to Netflix and Hulu. They have tons of television shows and movies available, free to Prime members. You can also pay for rentals or purchase a digital copy of shows and movies. That means that not everything is available to Prime members for free, but they rotate titles frequently.

So now with the Roku player hooked up, we added the Amazon Prime channel and we instantly had shows to watch. The kids navigate it well, finding kids shows to watch, like Back at the Barnyard and Shaun the Sheep (some of our all-time favorites). I found great HBO series available like The Wire and The Sopranos.

Recently, Amazon began doing their own programming and we have found some good shows from that, like Bosch. Same thing that Netflix has been doing with original programming.

Check out this article on 11 features that make Amazon Prime worth the money.

I will say that the movie selection is generally poor. I have found many movies that are popular but are well out of date and then more current movies that are largely unheard of. I have found enough to interest me, but the movie selection is hit and miss and might depend on your tastes.

For TV shows, I have found enough to keep me busy. They carry a lot of the shows I enjoy, so I might be biased here, but the selection is great. They carried some of my favorites, like Cheers, Frasier, The Wire, Justified, The Americans, Band of Brothers, and Veep. It’s funny how the shows we watch say so much about us, just like the music we listen to.

Remember that movies and TV shows rotate in and out of prime. Something available this month might be gone next month.

Total Cost = $99 per year

After about 10 months on the setup of just Roku and Amazon Prime, I broke down and subscribed to Netflix. I was a Netflix subscriber way back in the early days, years before the kids were saying “Netflix and chill.” We had DVDs delivered to the house. It was an amazing and market disrupting company, and still is in many ways.

I wanted to get access to more movies, so I signed up. I thought there would be many more current (last 2-3 years) movies available. You know, the movies that sound good to watch but you don’t see them for years because you have kids, no life, and never get out of the house and by the time you actually have time to see the movie you have no idea what it’s called or even what it’s about. Those movies. They should make that a category and call it “Movies for Parents.”

What I did find on Netflix was unexpected. I found a ton of great documentaries and TV shows that I have missed. I would subscribe for the documentaries alone, but I found some favorite shows like Phineas and Ferb, The Office, Scrubs, and Breaking Bad, to name a few. The documentaries have been awesome and I’ll share them in another post.

The entertainment value is great for the price. I have no commercials and have a ton of selections to choose from. There is always something that I’m in the mood to watch.

Total Cost = $7.99 per month

Sling TV
My wife found Sling TV somewhere. We had not heard about it anywhere but checked it out and liked it. It seemed too good to be true. This service gives you access to cable channels with different packages. The standard package started at 20 channels for $19.99 per month and has grown to 28 channels now for the same price.

Here’s are some of the channels available with the basic package (called Sling Orange)…ESPN, ESPN2, TBS, TNT, AMC, Disney, HGTV, Comedy Central, History, Food Network, and lots more.

I love having access to ESPN for college football games and we regularly watch HGTV and Food Network as a family for shows we can all enjoy. The other channels are gravy for us.

Sling TV has packages and add-ons. For example, we purchased the Sports add-on for an extra $5 per month to watch more Olympic coverage. We got it primarily to see the women’s soccer team play, but we were disappointed at their early exit…tough loss. We cancelled the add-on after the Olympics ended and went back to the basic package.

There are other add-ons, like HBO for $15 per month or Kids Extra for $5 per month. The add-ons seem endless but are tailored to different tastes.

The great things about Sling TV are that you can customize the channels you access with the add-ons, there are no contracts, no equipment, no cancellation fees, and you get what you pay for. Many of the channels also have a DVR-type feature, where you can watch shows from up to 3 days ago without commercials. I’ve also seen that a network will make an entire current season available of a show, so you can watch from the beginning of the season.

On the downside, there are buffering issues which causes frustration. Based on the comments I’ve seen, the buffering seems to affect most users, but a higher speed internet service seems to reduce these issues. I’m not positive on that, but that seems to be the anecdotal evidence. The frustration comes out when a commercial has no buffering but as soon as the show comes back on…there’s the buffering again. That’s my conspiracy theory coming out, but buffering sucks.

Sling TV has a few deals available. They currently have a deal available for free or discounted Roku players. The Roku is a streaming device for your TV. If you prepay 3 months of Sling TV service, they will give you a free Roku 2 device or 50% off a Roku 3 device. They also have a deal available for a 7-day free trial.

Total Cost = $19.99 per month

Total Cost Savings

When we cut the cord, I knew we were getting great savings every month, but I haven’t done the math until now. Our cable company costs were always increasing and climbed up to $180 per month for the bundled services…cable, internet, and phone! We kept the internet and phone with the giant, evil cable company. I wanted to tell the cable company to go suck it, but we still need internet. Here are the cost breakdowns:

Giant, Evil Cable Company Costs
Cable Package (cable TV + high-speed internet + phone) = $180 per month
Internet Only = $54 per month

Our Basic Setup (internet + digital antenna + Roku + Amazon Prime)
One-Time Costs = $156.75
Recurring Costs = $62.25 per month
Cost Savings from Cable = $117.75 per month ($1,413.00 annually)

Our Enhanced Setup (Basic Setup + Netflix + Sling TV)
One-Time Costs = $0
Recurring Costs = $90.23 per month
Cost Savings from Cable = $89.77 per month ($1,077.13 annually)

So even with our “enhanced” entertainment setup, we are saving about $90 per month and over $1,000 per year. I may cancel our Sling TV subscription after football season, though the kids have gotten attached to HGTV shows and we watch them often.

I was pleasantly surprised by the savings from cutting the cord. I knew it was good to get rid of the giant, evil cable company (at least for TV purposes), but I didn’t know how good. Having an additional $90 per month is a great deal. That’s more money to pay down debt, while still being entertained at home.

Have you cut the cord? Are you planning to? Tell me about your current entertainment setup at home in the comments section below.

Or…tell me about your favorite TV shows. You can see that my favorites generally fall into sitcoms and cartoons…that’s my theme I guess.

Join me on Twitter as well to talk anytime or to see more of my financial and family ramblings.

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About Brian Stephens

Brian is on a journey from massive debt to real estate mogul. Join him as he stumbles and fails on his way towards long term success. Debt isn't pretty and turning it around won't be either. His primary goal here is to tell the story and network with like minded people who want financial independence through real estate investing.

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