Budgeting

How to Ditch Cable Without Starving for Entertainment

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Cable TV is expensive. It was that long ago when nobody paid for Television. Then cable TV came along in the 70s, and now almost everybody is paying upwards of $100 or more for a gazillion channels few ever watch. So it wasn’t surprising when a reader recently asked about how to get rid of cable. Here’s his question:

“Can you give tips on how to do away with cable/satellite? What are the options? Thank you!”

I speak from personal experience when I say that you don’t need cable or satellite for entertainment. I’m a member of Generation Y, the 20-and-30-something cohort notorious for its apathy toward most forms of traditional media, including cable and satellite television.

(I still like newspapers and paperback novels, though.)

I’ll admit that my husband and I had cable for about a year when we were first married. But we quickly decided that it was too expensive, especially because we increasingly found ourselves using alternative ways to access entertainment. Now, we’ve been cable/satellite free for five years, and we’ve never regretted cutting the cord. Here are several ways that we get entertainment without paying a fortune for cable, as well as a few good options that we don’t happen to use:

Get an HD Antenna

HD antennas will cost you less than a month’s worth of cable and, as long as you don’t live too far out in the boondocks, will give you remarkably clear channels. Because many popular shows air on broadcast TV, you can easily keep up with some of your favorites.

(“Bones” and “Sleepy Hollow” on Monday night Fox? Yes, please!)

If most of your news and entertainment come from local channels, give this a shot. You can always hook up an antenna and see what kind of reception you get before you cancel cable.

If you don’t live in the city or have problems picking up a signal on an HD antenna, try an amplified antenna, which will cost you $80 or less. One final option is a $500 rooftop antenna, which can give you a better signal and can work for all the TVs in your house. This is an expensive solution, but it is likely to be cheaper than paying for cable or satellite year after year.

Turn the Computer into a TV

In our house, the computer is the TV. Our large flat-screen TV is hooked up to the computer tower. We play games online on the big screen and use the computer to access our best, cheapest forms of entertainment: Netflix and Hulu.

You can also use Netflix and Hulu through a gaming device, like an Xbox.

While you can’t always watch new releases through a streaming service, most of the latest shows are available on Hulu. And you never know what treasures you’ll find in Netflix’s streaming options.

(If you like crime dramas, go check out BBC’s “Luther” and/or BBC’s “Sherlock.” Both are currently available on Netflix.)

At $16 a month for both services, we get a bargain. We get streaming movies and TV, both old and new shows, and we rarely pay for anything outside of that. There are plenty of options to get your entertainment over the Internet, including Amazon Instant Video, Zune, iTunes and Cinema Now.

We use Amazon Instant Video once in a while if we miss episodes of a TV show and can’t find them anywhere. (My husband bought the last four episodes of “Breaking Bad” for $2 each because he missed the live airings and had to catch up and see the finale.) We’ve not used the other options that let you buy or rent episodes and movies online, but the prices are pretty comparable across the board, from $1-$4.

Streaming Video Players

We’ve never had the need for a streaming video player like Roku or PlayOn. However, from what I can tell, these can be good, cheap options. The Roku device connects to your computer and costs $48-$85. It lets you stream a variety of channels that you might not otherwise be able to get.

The PlayOn device offers more streaming channels, such as Disney, ESPN, Comedy Central and HGTV. If you’re addicted to “House Hunters” or have to keep an eye on ESPN’s bottom line, this could be an affordable way to cut your cable cord.

Filling the Gaps

Of course, part of your entertainment budget likely goes to movies. Even if your Friday nights frequently find you crashed on the couch with the latest On-Demand video, you can give up satellite without being bored.

If you devour multiple movies per week, Netflix is likely the best option on the market. You can pay $7.99/month for one disc at a time up to $15.99/month for three discs out at a time. Netflix’s delivery service boasts a huge collection of DVDs and Blu-Rays, so you can get nearly anything you want (even workout DVDs). You can try Netflix free for a month here.

Those who watch fewer movies a month may not find Netflix worth the cost. In this case, I highly recommend Redbox. For $1.25 a night, it’s a cheap option for the occasional date night – especially if you’re good at getting the movies back to Redbox on time.

Extra Advice for Sports Fans

My mom doesn’t watch TV most of the year, but she’s a rabid college football fan. So she has to have ESPN during football season. For her, it’s worthwhile to pay for services only when she needs them and suspend them for the rest of the year. When she suspends her service for up to six months of the year, she only pays $5.25 a month.

Of course, whether this will work for you depends on how your contract is written and whether you need to pay disconnect and reconnect fees. Check with your provider, or just check your contract, before you decide if this will work for you.

Your Savings May Vary

On average, our TV and movie-related entertainment budget runs about $30 a month, and that includes part of our Internet costs –even though we’d need Internet even if we didn’t use it for all of our entertainment.

Compare that to the average $65 cable bill in 2011, and you can see that we’re saving quite a bit. And because cable costs are expected to rise to $200 a month or more by 2020, we’ll be pocketing even more money with these cost-saving measures.

The key to ensuring that cutting the cord is worth your while is to look at your entertainment habits. You might need to rearrange when and how you watch your favorite shows, and you might have to avoid the spoilers on your favorite TV review blogs. But all of this might be worth the $30, $50 or $100 a month cutting the cord could save you.


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