- Personal Finance
How To Save Money By Ditching Your Cable Company And Get Free TV Shows
About 6 months ago a friend of mine posted something on Facebook about how they ditched their cable company and saved over $75 a month (Thanks Sharron!). At first I thought she was crazy! No TV? No Cable? How in the world would she keep her sanity!? I asked her what in the world she was doing with her recently purchased humbugs flat screen TV, and in the same sentence somehow managed to offer to take it off her hands. Heck I would even come over and take it off the wall for her at no charge! After a few brief chuckles, she told me she still uses the TV, and that although she got rid of her cable company she still watches tons of TV. I still thought she was crazy, but I was intrigued enough to give it a closer look. My cable bill was over $110 monthly, and was thinking that at $1320 annually that was actually quite a bit of my paycheck going to s faceless corporation. So with her help I started on my journey of savings! Check out all the cable and satellite alternatives I have had personal experience with and hopefully you can save some cash too!
Over The Air TV - The Obvious Choice
Did you know that television stations actually broadcast their programming for free over the air? I'm not meaning to be scarcastic, but some folks don't even realize this is an option any more. Last year the FCC mandated that all TV stations over a certain power rating change their equipment to all digital broadcasts. Although there was a huge marketing campaign to help consumers understand that FREE TV wasn't going away, many people thought the end of an era was quickly approaching and actually got rid of their older television sets. That's a bit of a drastic step, but I see tons of analog TVs in thrift shops nowadays. If you have an older TV set, to pickup the new digital broadcasts you need a converted box. Usually under $30 or so online, this "set top box" actually takes the digital broadcasts and converts them to something your older TV can display through RCA jacks, or even still through your old coax connection. Any new television purchased has a digital tuner already installed and you're almost ready to grab those free signals from the air! But don't you need a fancy expensive antenna to receive these new high tech signals? The answer is it depends on where you live. When I lived in Orlando, I was very close to many local TV stations and literally hung a piece of wire out of the antenna port of my set top box! Ok, so my TV looked a bit like the Simpson's setup with home made "rabbit ears" but it worked! When we moved over to the coast of Florida, we were still within range of the TV stations, but we needed a small antenna to pickup the signal. I actually purchased an antenna from a local thrift shop for under $10 and it works great! You don't need anything fancy, but I recommend one that has an amplifier built in. It basically draw in the weaker signals. Now I get not only all of my local channels like FOX, NBC, ABC, and CBS, but there are actually more channels being broadcast! For example, my local CBS affiliate operates channel 9, which is their regular programming, 9-1 which is a local weather channel, and 9-2 which gives live traffic reports! As if it couldn't get any better, since these channels are all pure digital feeds, they look better than the analog broadcasts from my old cable company! That's right I get better quality HD programming for FREE over the air.
Hulu & Hulu Plus
Who what? Pronounced "Who-Lou", this site has become our go to site for our everyday entertainment. Although we do watch over the air broadcasts, we missed the functionality of our DVR from the cable company. Hulu helped us out with this and the best part is that you never have to worry about how many shows you can record at once, it's all automatic! Now that I have peaked your interest, let me tell you a bit more about my TV setup. I actually have a big ole' flat panel TV screen that has a VGA input. I have an old computer that I moth-balled a few years ago hooked up to it now. It;s nothing fancy, but it gets the job done. By using the computer, not only can we do Hulu, but we can also surf the web from our couch. Alright back to the main point. You can register for a Hulu account which is absolutely free of charge. Once registered you can go directly to the Hulu site and watch TV shows from any computer, or you can download the Hulu Desktop application. This is what we use and once again it's FREE. Do you see a pattern here? Through the site you can subscribe to popular television shows from all the major and even not so major networks. When they become available to watch through Hulu, you'll get an email that it has been added to your queue. Now I'll admit the free Hulu service isn't without flaws. For example, you can only watch in regular standard definition with no HD, and usually only the last 5 shows of a particular series are available. Still not too bad for something that doesn't cost a thing! My wife even gets her soap operas through this service and can watch them whenever she wants just like she did with our DVR.
After a few weeks of Hulu, we opted to subscribe to Hulu plus. This service gives a few benefits over the regular free service and costs as little at $7.99 per month. With a plus subscription, HD content is available, so if you have a big fancy TV like I do, you can really show it off! In addition, with your subscription you actually unlock more content. For example, you can watch every episode of Bones, or House with a plus account, where as the free account will only let you watch the last five episodes or so.
I know what you're thinking..... You have followed my suggestions so far to the letter, but your mom just called you to chat about the latest episode of American Idol, or Top Chef and you can't find it on Hulu or Hulu Plus! Unfortunately some shows are just not available like American Idol or Survivor. In other cases, shows become available the day after they air on television, so you may need to wait a bit before chatting with your friends about it. Think though, how many programs did you watch live when you had a cable DVR? The most extreme example of the shifting I could find was Stargate Universe. The first 4 episodes of the season were available the next day after air, but after that there was a whole month lag between new episodes. Still I could handle it though for only a few bucks a month.
Other benefits of Hulu Plus include the ability to play content without a computer. That's right, you can watch Hulu Plus on iPads, iPhones, Roku players, as well as newer DVD players and now even new TVs that are web enabled are starting to come with the Hulu Plus app. No computer necessary! Currently Hulu is even offering a free 1 week trial of the Hulu Plus service!
- Detailed Explanation of Netflix Streaming
Netflix: DVDs by mail plus instantly watch some movies on your PC, Mac, or right on your TV via an Internet connected Netflix ready device.
With so many options for quality programming why would I need anything else? The simple answer is availability. Not everything is available through every service. I'll be honest, I have had a Netflix account for quite awhile but until I ditched cable I hardly used it. Now I can get Movie DVDs shipped to me regularly so I can keep up with newer releases as well as see some old time classics like Wayne's World whenever I want. Netflix has a streaming option as well that works much like Hulu. You can search for particular TV shows or movies and watch them through Netflix on a computer or any other Netflix enabled device, and it's all included with our membership. I tend to watch streaming Netflix on my iPad and iPhone as well! For example, when I need my nerdy sci-fi fix, I can go to Netflix and watch Babylon 5 all without needing to get DVDs in the mail. Not all Netflix programs are available streaming though. For example Smallville and Star Trek programs still need to be shipped via DVD. I pay $9.99 monthly for both the DVD and streaming service. If no DVD strike your fancy, you can opt for a streaming only account for only $7.99 monthly. Want to try it out to see if this is the right option for you? Netflix offers a free 1 month trial.
Video on Demand
What if there is something you want to watch but isn't available from any of the mentioned sources? Odds are you can get it on demand! The wife and I have used both the iTunes and Amazon services for video on demand. The Amazon service tends to have new releases the day after the DVD release available for purchase or rental. You can buy the right to watch the program or movie at any time or simply rent it for a day or so at a cheaper rate. These services shouldn't be confused with streaming media though. Usually since they are very high quality, you would need to download the files. Both iTunes and Amazon make this an easy process and sounds more complicated than it really is, but depending on your Internet speed you may need to wait a bit before you can start watching it. My wife and I recently did a spontaneous date night where I downloaded a movie with iTunes straight to my iPad. We threw some blankets and pillows in the back of her SUV and drove down to the river. When we got there we popped the hatch and watched a movie! It did take about 45 minutes with my DSL connection to download the whole movie, so you may want to plan ahead for that type of event. The rental was only $3.99 and we were able to watch the movie for 2 or 3 days.
If I Can't Watch Big Brother Forget It!
I realize that fans of some shows might be a bit upset that they can't get their show with any of the above options. Maybe you live too far away from a TV station, or you just aren't home when your favorite TV show is on. Don't underestimate the power of the Internet! My wife and I are fans of the CSI series, and missing these shows was almost a deal breaker. That is until we checked the CBS website. That's right, many of your favorite shows are available streaming directly from the website of their producing network. Other options include purchasing access directly from the shows website. Big Brother for example on CBS has an all access pass option for a few bucks a month that allows you to watch the entire house LIVE through the web on any computer. Are you a big fan of the UCF fights? You can do the same this through their site.
But Wait, I Don't Have A Computer Or A New TV?!?
That's OK! There are many inexpensive options to view streaming content. Some you might already have! Streaming Netflix is available through multiple devices that connect to your TV. You don't need any fancy HD or anything like that. In fact, there are free applications to allow you to steam from a Nintendo Wii, XBox360, or a PS3. Many DVD players that are now web enabled have both Netflix and Hulu apps built right in. Do you have an iPod Touch, iPhone, or iPad? You can actually purchase a cable that will connect these devices to your TV for easy viewing. Available in both component and composite options, this could be an inexpensive way to get you started.
OK, so you have no newer technology. You might want to invest in a Roku player. This is an option I'm recommending to my parents where they live. They live out in the boondocks and only have a DSL connection, no cable options, and trees block out any satellite reception. A Roku player is basically a small box with wifi built in that connects to both of these streaming services and even Amazon for VOD. They start out at $69.99 for a basic model, but only go up to $99 if you want high quality HD options. If your TV is very far away from your wireless router, go for the $99 model, the wifi is a bit better. The price of the equipment will pay for itself within a month or two of cancelling your cable service.
Without Cable How Do I Access The Internet For All This Stuff?
Great Question! As part of our cable bundle we also paid for Internet access. We actually switched to DSL direct from our local telephone provider. Since we have no home phone, we pay $19.95 a month for DSL 6.0 MB service with no contract, and we actually improved the speed of our connection for less money! I found an unadvertised special buried within the phone company's website. The deals are out there you just have to research for them. We also purchased our DSL equipment on eBay. Spent about $15 for a wireless router and the phone company wanted to charge us $114.95! Another tip I discovered is that you can actually purchase DSL equipment at stores like Best Buy or even Walmart. It's the same EXACT model that the phone company will ship to you, and in many cases even in the same box! For example, I saw a regular DSL modem at Walmart with the same phone company logo and everything for $49.99. The same EXACT model would have cost $75 plus $14.94 shipping had I ordered it online when I setup the DSL service.
There are however other Internet options. If you aren't ready to cut all ties with the cable company, you could go data only and just pay for Internet access. Our local company has an option called "Road Runner Light" for $14.95 monthly. Its very slow compared to our $19.95 DSL, but it could get the job done, just don't try to stream too much at once. If you want to go wireless, there are companies like Clearwire that offer wireless broadband as well.
STAY AWAY FROM CELLULAR DATA OPTIONS!
Because streaming does consume tons of data, I recommend staying away from cellular carriers. Even though they may advertise "Unlimited Data" or your iPhone has an unlimited data plan, there really is a catch. In the fine print there is actually a limit, and you could wind up paying an arm and a leg!
So What's Your Excuse?
Well it certainly took a bit to explain everything, but lets face it, I'm saving over $72 a month! I can honestly say that I have a better experience and actually spend less time watching TV and I'm watching the same programming that I always have! The Netflix streaming has no commercial breaks, and the Hulu options have very limited interruptions. I'm actually spending less time watching the same shows I love! So what's your excuse. Please let me know because I may have an option for you. Although your savings may vary based on what you are paying now you will save something that's assured. My annual savings will be over $800! This is more than many people get back form their tax returns. Thanks Sharon for showing me that I can in fact still enjoy TV at a fraction of the cost!