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Cable TV Too Expensive? Why Not try Cheap Alternatives to Cable?

by Ryan Guina

Cable television is expensive. Sure, those big cable packages give you several hundred channels to choose from, but are you watching enough of them to justify the cost each month? For the majority of us, there are a handful of television shows or channels that we watch regularly. There may even be a few shows that you think you “can’t miss.”

I used to have “can’t miss” shows, but then my wife and I started talking about cable TV and whether or not we really need it. We were getting ready to move to a new state, so we did what many people would think is impossible – we cut cable and sold our TVs. That might be a bit extreme for some people, and I’m not saying you should do that. We have since bought a new TV (we have one in our home), but we have not subscribed to cable TV again, and we have no plans to do so.

If you thought about canceling cable to save money each month, then try these steps in this article. You can ditch cable and still watch TV!

How to Ditch Cable and Still Watch TV

The first thing to do is think about your TV watching habits. Do you have any specific “must see” shows? Write down the name of the show, and the network it is on. Do you watch a lot of sports. If so, see if there is a season pass you can buy for the Internet (you can stream these on many newer TV sets). Write down your TV watching habits – are you a channel surfer, do you TIVO or record everything, etc. Your responses will give you a good idea of whether or not you can drop your cable TV subscription.

What you need: You need two things to replace your cable TV – 1) a digital antenna, and 2) an Internet connection.

Digital antennas are awesome. You can get an inexpensive digital antenna at any electronics store for less than $40. Here is the cool thing about digital TV – you get a perfect signal, or you get nothing. You don’t have to deal with the fuzzy picture and static sounds of yesterday’s rabbit ears. The best part is that many TV stations now broadcast in HD. So you can get HD quality television over the air – which believe it or not, is often better quality than what you would get through a cable TV connection because of signal degradation and compression.

The Internet is your friend. As long as you have an internet connection, you can still watch some television. Many of the TV networks post videos of their shows on their websites which are available to watch for free. There are a number of other websites which provide hundreds of television series links, and allow you to browse the shows and watch all from their website. Some of the sites provide the service for free, while others charge a few bucks a month to users but either way, you’re going to save a lot of money compared to your existing cable bill.

Cheap Cable TV Alternatives

You can watch television series and movies on your computer monitor or laptop, but if you’re laughing at the thought of giving up your 47” television in favor of watching your shows on a small computer screen – don’t worry. You can still use your television when using the internet to watch TV.

Many of the newer televisions have connection options for hooking your television screen to your computer as the monitor. Once connected, you can navigate the internet, find and select your shows and hit play all while using your TV as the monitor. It’s a little more complicated with older televisions, but it can still be done.

Companies like Boxee.tv have a box that you set up with your TV to connect to the internet, while others have learned how to use S Video cables and a DVD or Blue-Ray player to get the connection established. If you have an Xbox 360 or Nintendo Wii console – you can stream movies and television series directly from Netflix or other online companies.

One of my personal favorites is Amazon Prime, which gives you access to thousands of free TV shows, movies, and documentaries, and there are thousands of other movies and shows available on a pay per view basis. There is a monthly fee to use Amazon Prime, but it is much more than just a TV subscription as you can also get free 2-day shipping from Amazon, borrow Kindle books for free, and more – all for less than $8 a month (Amazon Prime is one of the best deals in the tech world, in my opinion!).

More Alternatives to Cable TV

Websites Providing Individual Show Links:

Network Websites:

You can also find many television shows on Youtube.com. The video sharing site is not actually intended for television shows, but many people take the time to record and upload their favorite television series. You will have to watch more than one video to get a complete episode, but they’re typically labeled with the name of the show, the episode number, and then “video 1” or “video 2”, so you can piece together the various videos you need to watch to see the whole show. While a little inconvenient, if the goal is to save money, even Youtube.com is a good option for cutting your $60 or $130 cable bill!

Don’t forget your local library! Most libraries stock a wide range of videos and DVDs of movies and television series. You can borrow them for free just as you would books.

Reducing your fixed expenses is one of the best ways to reach financial freedom, and dropping your cable TV costs is a great way to free up $30, $40, $50, or more every month. Even dropping cable and adding a service like Hulu, Amazon Prime, Netflix or Blockbuster can save you several hundred dollars per year.

Have you dropped your cable TV subscription?

photo credit: horrortaxi.


Published or updated December 6, 2012.
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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 basicmoneytips

Interesting article. I think in some ways that cable may go the route the land phones. However, there is so much advertising money I do not think it will continue to be free. However, I think you will see lower costs in the next 5 years as cable and dish networks compete for internet business.

I travel some internationally for work, and I know I catch up with a lot of TV that I like over the internet now, provided I can get a decent internet connection.

It will certainly impact TV down the road, that is for sure.

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2 Ryan

BMT, many of the networks are actually raising the prices they charge cable companies because their revenues are down. It is having he opposite affect of your prediction, and many basic cable plans are becoming more expensive. The competition between the major providers is the only thing currently keeping pricing in check. We still have our cable for the time being, but I wouldn’t be opposed to dropping cable at some point – we rarely watch much TV. Unfortunately, the channels we watch most often are cable only channels! :)

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3 Hank

I’m a big fan of the instant tv shows and movies that are available on Netflix. I recently bought a Roku box so I can watch those instantly on my TV. You can also do the same with an Xbox 360 or Nintendo Wii, etc. This is a great free option if you already use Netflix and have an internet connection.

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4 Kimberly @ Card Hub

Hulu is the way to go! I hardly ever watch TV shows on TV anymore, too many commercials. Even if I want to watch a network show I wait until the next day to watch it on their website – the quality is good and they only run a 30 second commercial during the breaks, versus the typical 20 minutes of commercials during an hour long program.

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5 K.C.

We haven’t had cable for over twenty-five years. When we travel, we channel surf cable in the motel. Despite the number of channels, we rarely find anything that really grabs our attention.

We bought the adapter boxes for our old analog TV’s and watch broadcast digital. Our favorite channel is Retro TV. They broadcast old TV series (we’re old, too). Some good stuff. We have been disappointed in the quality of broadcast digital, however. The picture is constantly breaking up. We get “No Signal” way too often. Maybe it’s the cheap adapter or cheap antenna. Anyway, “not as advertised” by the government. The quality and reliability of broadcast analog was much better.

We supplement our entertainment with old movies on VHS tapes we buy at Goodwill for a buck a piece.

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6 Ryan

K.C. That’s a great way to save money, especially if you aren’t much of a TV watcher. I don’t personally watch much TV, but the shows my wife and I watch tend to be on cable – often the Travel Channel, Food Network, Discover, History, ESPN, and The Disney Channel for our little one. That said, I don’t think we would be heartbroken to cut the cord and go without – just as long as I can keep my fast internet connection! ;-)

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7 Dan

My wife and I recently dropped our premium cable channels and kept basic cable and internet service. We are saving $100 a month and not missing a thing! Between PBS and Netflix the kids can watch their favorite shows and I still get ESPN through my Xbox 360. I wonder why more people don’t do this?

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8 Bryan

Good tips i want to add that you can get a digital tv antenna that will allow you to watch tv for free from stations that broadcast over the air. They are digital rabbit ears and you can watch tv in high definition

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9 Ryan Guina

Thanks, Bryan. I updated the article to reflect this. My wife and I use a combination of a digital antenna and Amazon Prime as our main means of watching TV. It saves us hundreds of dollars every year compared to a monthly cable TV subscription!

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10 Adam

It’s been quite a few years since I’ve used cable TV. I have a 40″ Samsung LCD in my bedroom that I use a monitor for my computer, and I watch videos on.

For the technical neophyte, I recommend picking up the Sony NSZ-GS7. A slightly cheaper option is the Vizio Co-Star, but the remote for the Sony is better, and I think most people will appreciate that.

For the technically competent, I’d recommend setting up a Home Theater PC. A $70 AMD A6-5400K should handle all of your HTPC needs. If you’d like to game as well, consider a more expensive A8 or A10. Of course, you need to couple this with a case, PSU, motherboard, RAM, HDD, wireless 802.11n adapter, wireless keyboard/mouse, and OS. Most people who go this route aren’t starting from scratch, but if you are, it’s a significantly more expensive option than a set top box.

So why recommend an HTPC over a set-top box? Full keyboard/mouse lets you actually use the device as a computer, allowing you to type and navigate comfortably. You can play games on it (a PC has always been a better gaming device than consoles, for my money). You can view Hulu on it without paying for Hulu+ (which, in addition to unlocking certain content and providing HD streams, allows you to view Hulu content on mobile and set-top devices). Bringing full computer functionality to your big screen is a big win.

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11 Adriana

I understood none of this. What does the SONY do? Is it helpful if I connect my MAC laptop to my TV? I want to cancel my cable service.

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12 Nensi

Funny, I just resurrected my blog and was writing a post on ditching cable when I went out to look for some stats and ran across your post! We have similar ideas, only I think Netflix is a much better deal. I look forward to reading more. Perhaps, if I can get my blog off the ground we can do some work together.

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13 Adriana

Do you have any recommendation on fast Internet providers if I do cancel cable TV?

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14 Robert

I just bought a couple roku boxes ($20 off on Cyber Monday). I will be buidling an antenna (very easy, very inexpensive, better quality than you can buy in the store). We will be cutting the cord before the end of December and going with the tons of free roku channels, Hulu Plus ($7.99/month) and Amazon Prime ($79/year).

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15 Adriana

Robert, can you comment on that? Do you need a roku box per TV? Also, typically how much does one run?

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16 Helena

I found the article interesting. After I lost my job, I spent time looking for cable alternatives. I ended up buying a e-book entitled “Remote Control: Stop Losing Money And Easily Take Control Over What You Watch on lulu.com. I saw someone talking about it on the Breaking Bad facebook page (I am a Fan). It cost me $6.37 and basically taught me how to put a program on my laptop that allows me to access movies, TV shows, anytime I like. I now only pay for my Internet charge. No more cable for us. My kids love it when we have movie night and I love that I don’t spend $160/month any more. Oh, and it also had a money back guarantee, so I figured what the heck. Anyway, hope that helps someone too.

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17 Jana

Yes, I dropped my cable many years ago. The cost was outrageous and also wanted to hurt the biased Leftist media. I still have a flat panel and I can hook up to local channels which includes the three major channels and all their tv shows. I just don’t though. I turn it on and think I’ll just have it as background noise like I used to. I can’t stand it. And I’ve watched some of the tv shows and they’re truly just horrible. I watch some things on YouTube, like the old Unsolved Mysteries, but generally I just don’t need tv.

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18 Cesar

If you cancel cable, what Internet connection is recommended . Amazon prime needs Internet ?

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19 Ryan Guina

Yes, Amazon Prime requires an internet connection to stream video. I recommend getting cable internet vs. dial up or DSL. DSL may be fast enough, but dial up will not be. A basic cable internet package should be enough for streaming video. Try the minimum plan, but if it isn’t fast enough, then bump up the service one level, try that, and repeat if necessary. But you should be fine with the basic package. Also be sure to check how much data streaming you have to be sure you don’t go over the plan limits, as that may be expensive, depending on your internet provider (many plans offer unlimited downloads, but it’s still a good idea to check).

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