3 Steps to Cut Your Cable Bill 90 Percent

Cable companies have a dirty little secret: They’re not really needed for TV anymore.

Of course, that doesn’t stop them from charging out the wazoo. The average American adult spends $954 a year on “audio/visual equipment and services,” the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says. Money Talks News VP Dan Schointuch was paying more than twice that for his cable TV, and decided to quit.

But you know a TV lover isn’t going to miss his favorite shows. Instead of giving them up, he found a much cheaper way to watch – and you can do the same. In the video below, listen to Dan explain how he cut cable and how he replaced it. Then read on to learn specifics.

Technology’s evolved to the point where you can go right around the cable company to get your favorite programs. Depending on where you live, you might have to stick with them for Internet access – but there’s definitely no need to pay for big packages that include channels you don’t watch. Here’s how you can keep the good stuff…

Step 1: Take note of what you watch and see what’s available.

Before you buy or cut anything, figure out what channels and programs are important to you. Then see where else you can get them. There are a lot of options:

  • Broadcast. You can still snatch many stations out of the air with an antenna. But before you go buy one, use AntennaWeb to get an idea of the channels available at your address and the best place to put an antenna. Thanks to the switch to all-digital in 2009, there won’t be any fuzzy pictures or static – you either get a channel or you don’t. And if you do, it might even be in HD. If that’s the case, your TV needs an “HDTV tuner” to take advantage of the HD signal. Many but not all newer TVs have them built-in. Check your manual.
  • Program sites. Some shows host episodes on their own websites – for example, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. If the program doesn’t have its own site, check the network’s. ABC posts episodes of many of its popular programs, including Desperate Housewives and Dancing With the Stars. You’ll still face advertisements no matter what, but at least you aren’t spending money to watch ads.
  • Video services. Sites like Hulu and Netflix carry a wide variety of current and past programs. Some shows on Hulu are free to watch from your computer, while newer shows and streaming to your TV will require an $8/month “Hulu Plus” subscription. Netflix has a streaming subscription rate of $8/month too. (You can also get DVDs mailed to you for an additional fee, but Netflix recently killed the popular combo rate of $10/month for both services when it separated the DVD side into Qwikster.) If you are an Amazon Prime subscriber for the shipping benefits, maybe you didn’t realize you already have access to a large library of movies and TV shows too, at no extra cost.
  • Sports. If you get internet from one of these companies, you get ESPN3 for free. This broadband network doesn’t stream everything, but does offer “thousands of live games and events” every year including college sports and major tournaments, with real-time stats and scoreboards. There’s also subscriptions like MLB.tv, but you might be better off at the local sports bar – membership for a season runs about $80.

Step 2: Get the hook-up.

If you want to watch shows on your big-screen TV instead of your 14-inch laptop, you’ll need some equipment – but it’s cheaper than a couple of months of cable, and not hard to set up.

If you have a gamer in the family, you may not need to buy anything else: A PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, or Wii has streaming capabilities for services like Hulu and Netflix. An Xbox 360 requires a Live Gold subscription ($8 to $10/month), while PlayStation and Wii charge no extra fees.

If you don’t have a current gaming console, you can buy a Roku ($60 to $90) or a Boxee Box ($180), neither of which charges monthly fees.

There are other ways to connect a PC or laptop to a TV, but they require a little more technical know-how and won’t duplicate your experience with cable (no remote or channel listings, for instance). There’s a wide variety of plug-ins on different models of TVs and computers, so you’ll have to figure out which ones to use. If you want to try, here’s a video explaining TV input connections. One of the cheapest places to buy decent connectors and cables is Monoprice.com.

Step 3: Check and cancel.

Make sure you’ve got everything set up to your liking before you call the cable company. Inevitably, there will be some shows you can’t instantly get this way, but you have to ask yourself: Are they worth the monthly cable rate? Or: Can the savings from cutting cable more than pay to fill in the blanks?

You can usually get episodes of shows from premium movie channels like HBO a couple of days after they air for a buck or two each on Amazon and iTunes. But you can save a lot more by waiting for the season to come out on DVD or Blu-ray, when you can probably stream it on Netflix (on that $8/month subscription you’re already paying) or buy the discs. Everything else you can hopefully live without.

Look at the math: That nearly $1,000/year figure for cable we started with breaks down to about $80 per month. Invest in one of the consoles or devices mentioned above and you’re out between $60 and $200, which pays for itself in less than three months, tops. Add on a streaming subscription fee for Netflix at $8/month and your new setup is costing 10 percent of what it did, and still getting you pretty much everything you care about – even if you toss in $30 for a show season on DVD here and there.

Anyone out there using some of these techniques? Take a second to tell us how it’s going on our Facebook page.

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Comments & discussion

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  • Anonymous

    I canceled my cable TV bill and switched to Redbox for DVDs. For Movies and TV show Streaming, I switched to TVDevo for online TV and movies. This is working out well for me.

  • http://twitter.com/mharrsch mharrsch

    Although this is a slight variation on the theme of this article, for those of you who have a 3D capable TV, 3D Movies are now available for streaming from VuDu.  Although the service is pay per view and 3D movies cost between $6.99 and $7.99 each, that is quite a bit cheaper than taking the family to the theater and paying admission prices, popcorn and drinks there.  It does require at least 8 Mbps internet speed though but works well (at least it does on my Samsung).

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5Q4AT5HIADS5Y6SZQLWCNEBYOM Sybil

      I’m all for the Redbox! $1 movies? Love it!!

  • Anonymous

    I WOULD LOVE TO DO THIS.  I CANNOT TELL YOU HOW I FEEL ABOUT THE CABLE COMPANY BUT  as an older, technology challenged person, I still feel there are many unanswered questions no matter how many articles I read.  With an older TV, don’t I have to continue to rent the digital converter box from Comcast or buy one if they can be purchased?  Would an older TV (10 yrs. but great shape!) have the capability to connect to the computer? Also, I am willing to buy a boxee or other type device, but what about THE OTHER THREE TVs in the house????

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5Q4AT5HIADS5Y6SZQLWCNEBYOM Sybil

      I know it’s hard to cut the cord. As a tech-savvy person, I’m nervous about it, too, even though I know my bank account will be happier. To answer your question, there are boxes you can buy that allow you to convert your analog TV to accept digital signals. Even for 4 TVs it would save you lots in the long run. And for HD-ready TVs, as far as I understand it, you can use any old antenna to get the HD broadcast channels. My best advide: take a trip to Best Buy and ask your questions. They are usually pretty knowledgeable and don’t work on commission. Plus they carry some less costly house brands. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OYG7IG5WILZAGZNQ46PFPCOPNA dianne

    me and my wife talked 2 weeks b 4 makeing the move from cable to outdoor antenna..
    i worked in chicago and installed out door antennas. have insta;;ed hundreds of antennas and rotors.
    takeing back antenna and rotor back for credit this morning. dont get me wrong plenty of free tv with antenna.
    got 16 channels pointed to huntsville some good some bad but ok.
    the promlem is when i turned the rotor to birmingham where 19 channels was i had to reprogam the tv.
    and reprogam on hdtvs takes up to 30-45 min.
    and reprogaming tv had to be done every time i moved the rotor.
                                                                                                                 randall

  • Alexis Banks

    Many broadcasters have started to offer multiple sub-channels too, giving us “cord-cutters” more free programming options. I have around 20 channels available to me for free using an antenna.

    If you visit TitanTV.com (same company that powers AntennaWeb) you can get TV listings exclusive to your area’s over the air broadcasting.

  • Heather Hickerson

    I switched to antenna/netflix/free hulu a couple years ago.  One thing I couldn’t give up was DVR (the ability to record my TV shows and watch them later).  So we invested in a TiVo box with lifetime service.  It’s definitely a pricier option, but after the initial investment there are no monthly fees.  It paid for itself by the end of the first year and every year that it continues functioning properly it will continue to save us money.  Also, TiVo has the ability to stream netflix (and hulu+ depending on the model).  I think for someone who is used to having a program guide, TiVo is a great alternative to cable.  Of course you can use TiVo with cable services as well, but that won’t save you nearly as much money.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KFG354PIJFNUZ232BTBOVHRGHA BC

    Keep in mind all the non-broadcast alternatives listed here involves either downloads or online streaming with your Internet service provider who might very well be the same cable company you get TV from now.  Take into account the cost of “naked broadband” is typically about $20-30 per month higher than broadband packaged with TV channels, cutting into your savings.

    The cable companies typically begin throttling down your download speed after a certain volume, which might render a streamed show unwatchable, full of starts and stops.  AT&T has capped its DSL service to 150GB/month for regular DSL, or 250GB/month for U-verse DSL.  AT&T won’t — so far — throttle back your download speed, but you will be charged extra for exceeding a limit.

    These throttle-backs and extra charges are not so much aimed at today’s typical Internet user, but it is aimed squarely at the future, as more and more cloud computing services become a reality.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ELVM7QOBMFMZ67X2P46NFAR5XY Dddd

    or you could just save yourself all that drama and use http://www.livetvcrew.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/haveittodayray Ray Lanfear

    Your Cable bill and other bills keep going up.  Solve your problems today with a secret lifetime income folks. Just call 503 389 2140 and have a large notepad and pen handy.  Please, do not share the secret with anyone. Its like having your own Oil Well and Gold Mine combined.  call now.

  • Anonymous

    I have AT&T u-verse + Internet + Phone, checking there site and searching my tv there is no espn3 available.

  • http://twitter.com/jomama43 jo mama

    BRANDON BALLANGER IS AN IDIOT

  • Anonymous

    This is not a good option for me.  I have TV mainly to watch sports.  Sports programming is very limited without cable or a dish.  Although some broadcasts are available on the internet, it’s not nearly as convenient as using a TV with cable/dish.  I use my computer to watch an event occasionally, but it’s a real pain compared to cable/dish.