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- Family Budget
Get Rid of Cable or Satellite TV--Our Family Did!
What could you do with an extra $1,400 a year (or $7,000 over the next 5 years)? Our cable bill has jumped from $52 a month a few years ago to over $120 now--with no premium channels. We decided our family of five could do more than just pay the cable company. Since we don’t have much of an entertainment budget, my husband was a little anxious that he would have to do without our favorite tv shows or sports. The kids initially rebelled too—they are a little too hooked on the Food Network (of all things) and Disney (no surprise there). Not being a technophile, I had a lot of research to do. Could we get broadcast TV where we live? What components did we need? How will we watch sports? How can we apply parental controls? My step by step approach to getting started is below.
Step 1: Availability of Over the Air TV Signals
Obviously, if we couldn’t get broadcast channels where we live, this just wouldn’t work. Fortunately, there is a handy website that lets you enter your address to see just what channels you can receive and offers recommendations on the type of antenna to use. The link to this nifty tool is TV Fool. The good folks there will also answer questions via the forums there. Hopefully, you'll find you can get all the over-the-air networks (like ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and PBS) in HD for free (after you get the right antenna). We discovered we could get the networks plus CW, ION, one PBS station, and an independent station that carries some of our local baseball games with just a set-top TV antenna. We'd need a little more to pick up another PBS channel.
Step 2: The Components
Television—Okay, I admit it. We had a clunky, energy-hogging analog TV. After some research, I realized we did not need an internet-ready TV, but did need HDMI ports to be able to stream online content. We finally went with a 39” Insignia TV from Best Buy and have been very pleased.
Antennae—We were surprised to learn that not only are over-the-air (OTA) HD signals FREE, they are also better quality than what we had been receiving via paid-for cable. To capture these, we needed an antenna. Some people have success with a very simple, flat antenna such as the one below. We probably would have been fine with this as well.
Because of our concerns about the trees around our house and wanting to have an outdoor antenna tie into our existing wired cable system, we went with the following:
Blu-ray DVD with Built-in Wireless
Initially, we stuck with our regular DVD player with its component cables. The problem was the Nintendo Wii used the same component inputs. We didn’t want the kids digging behind the TV to make the switch. The DVD player we went with is shown below (less than $90). It uses an HDMI cable rather than a component cable, eliminating the switching problem we had. This fancy DVD player "upscales" our existing DVDs and makes them look more HD-ish. We can stream Netflix and Hulu Plus via our home wireless system. All very high tech (the kids are impressed; my hubby is too!).
We looked at Roku, but at $99 and less functionality (at least as far what we needed), it didn't seem like a smart way to go. We could also use the Wii to stream Netflix, but again we really needed a DVD player with an HDMI cable anyway.
Step 3: Check your Internet Speed
While I was perfectly content surfing the web at 2 Mbps, it wasn't that great for streaming videos. We jumped to 6 Mbps for $5 more a month. It definitely made a big difference. Interestingly, the price for 4 Mbps and 6 Mbps was the same. Ask to make sure you're getting the fastest speed for the money.
Step 4: Connect Your Components and Fire the Cable or Satellite Company
Finally, we needed HDMI cables to connect our new DVD player and to be able to stream content from the laptop. HDMI cords can be expensive, ridiculously so. Or they can be cheap, really cheap…and still do the job. Unless you like to needlessly spend money, find the cheapest HDMI male to male cable you can find on Amazon. The sellers there change frequently, so I can’t suggest a link. Just know that if the signal is just traveling a short distance there is no need for anything that costs more than $5. Our $1.50 cable has worked just fine.
Make that Call
When you’re all connected and watching free TV, it’s time to make the call to the cable or satellite company. You’ll probably get a “great offer to stay,” but since it still won’t beat free, you won’t be tempted.
Let me know how much money you save! By the way, if you are penny pinching, I love the new free ibotta savings app (it's a fun and easy way to earn real money just for buying your favorite grocery store items). You can sign up here.