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3 steps to cut your cable bill by 90%

Technology has provided other cheap, easy options to get your favorite shows. Here's what to do.

By Stacy Johnson Oct 5, 2011 12:33PM

This post comes from Brandon Ballenger at partner site Money Talks News.


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 vice president 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, Dan found a cheaper way to watch -- and you can do the same. In the video below, he explains how he cut cable. Then read on to learn more.

Technology has 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 no need to pay for big packages that include channels you don’t watch. Here's how you can keep the good stuff:


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 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 high definition. 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/or 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-per-month Hulu Plus subscription. Netflix has a streaming subscription rate of $8 a month. 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. Mmembership for a season runs about $80.
Get the hookup.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 a 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 computer 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.

Check and cancel. Make sure you have 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? Also, 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 or buy or rent the discs. Everything else you can hopefully live without.


Look at the math: That nearly $1,000-a-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 $8 a month and your new setup is costing 10% of what it did, and still getting you pretty much everything you care about.


Anyone out there using some of these techniques? Take a second to tell us how it's going.


More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

54Comments
Oct 5, 2011 3:38PM
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We dumped our cable when we moved. We spent $60 for an HDTV amplified antenna and get all the channels we need. The internet provides any shows we want to see but can't get over the air. We have Clear internet for around $50 per month. We've had it for almost a year and lost connection all of two or three minutes the entire time.  Since we don't go around with our cell phones plastered to our ears, we use a pay as you go plan, hence no need for a landline or a pricey monthly cell plan.  I like the idea that I have more time for hobbies or spending time with family, rather than mindlessly glued to 200 costly channels of nothing to watch.
Oct 5, 2011 1:33PM
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The problem is that the same companies that own cable own internet so they are now jacking up the prices for high-speed access everywhere!  I just canceled my cable and still got a new bill for over 75$ just for 5/15 internet (verizon).  It was 49 with the cable.  I hate cable companies but they got us by the short hairs!
Oct 5, 2011 3:59PM
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I spent $19.00 on an interior antenna. I receive 32 channels from that little thing. The majority of the channels are in HD, now, thanks to digital broadcast. Haven't paid for Television in over 10 years. All of my friends who do pay (cable, satellite) are always complaining about nothing good ever being on TV. So why pay? 
Oct 5, 2011 4:15PM
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i ditched it all and i live in a cave. i have dirt for my entertainment. rocks are pretty fun too. other than the costco trip to keep the cave stocked, i'm living large.
Oct 5, 2011 3:12PM
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As gregory stated below, ditching cable is good for your kids, too.  Got 4 myself & they all have grown up on the PBSKids channel instead of Nick, Disney and Cartoon Network.  The result: polite, well-behaved children with some semblence of an attention span (even my ADD son) that I can actually take out in public. PBSKids programs are life-paced, not ESPN-commercial-pace​d, and I am certain that has had a positive effect on their intellect, too.  Sure, the older ones can Netflix Spongebob, Avatar, Beyblade and other older-age programming, but the extra step also gives us more control as well.
Oct 5, 2011 1:53PM
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I custom built a home theater computer with a good processor, HD graphics card w/ sound output thru HDMI, BluRay reader, and wireless keyboard and mouse all hooked to my 55' tv thru 1 HDMI cable. I now have a 55" computer monitor, stream online content in lovely High definition, Hulu, Netflix, Full internet, Office, Bluray, digital photos and home video, all in one machine! I only use cable for internet service @10 mb/s $26.00 mo, Netflix $8.00 mo, Hulu Plus $8.00 mo, ESPN 360 free.

 

Also, If you add a TV tuner card to the computer and hook it to an over the air antenna, you will get local stations,ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, and more in uncompressed digital H.D. for free. Windows Media Center will download a program guide based on your zip code and use the computers hard drive as a DVR. Just select from the guide what programs to record. It works great!

 

There are several websites to help select your antenna and orientation for your area such as tvantenna.com or antennaweb.org

Oct 5, 2011 5:10PM
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We ditched cable 10 years ago.  Why would anyone pay $100 a month to watch commercials, the same movies on pay channels for 6 months straight, and reality tv?  Seriously people!  For $7.99 a month we can watch a bunch of tv shows (whenever we feel like it instead of on their schedule) and tons of movies on Netflix.  And the great thing?  I'm not paying to flip through 100 channels of garbage or waiting for months for the season premiere.  And for $25 we bought a cable that hooks our computer directly to our flat screen tv.  Plus, go to Fox.com, cbs.com, nbc.com, abc.com, etc.  Even the Sports channel has it's own website and you can watch shows for free.  We watched the pilot to Terra Nova on Hulu.com 8 days after it first aired- for free. So we are delayed a week and we save $100 a month.  Worth the wait!
Oct 5, 2011 6:57PM
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The problem is the cable companies figured this out a long time ago. In most places the cable still provides the best internet so the cable companies charge through the nose for basic internet. If you don't buy their TV package they will limit your downloads to the point that you cant use your internet for TV without paying through the nose for it. Its pure racketeering. The cable companies know it. The government knows it but hey aren't doing a thing about it.
Oct 5, 2011 5:43PM
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i agree with many of the posts.  why would anyone want to pay to watch tv commercials.   i remember that cable was approved by the ftc because as a paid service, people would not have to watch commercials.   but this was a load of crap and the regulators didn't intervene.

nowadays, they want to provide the service cheaply (at first).  but then they gradually raise the rates and with no price cap in place, they will charge as much as people are willing to pay for the service.   in fact, that is why they want a signed "contract" from its customers.

for all i care, cable tv can go screw themselves, since that's what they're in the business of doing to us.

Oct 5, 2011 3:04PM
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We turned off our cable the beginning of the summer. We also changed internet providers and dropped our home phone.  Honestly we havent missed it and we are saving over $100.00 a month! We do have netflicks streaming, and have been utlizing websites for shows we have been missing otherwise. My husband was using Hulu, but then they wanted to charge for his series so we stopped using that. Now all we have to figure out is how to lower our cell phone bill.......
Oct 5, 2011 7:45PM
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After analyzing many hours of cable TV, cable phone, and cable internet, I have come up with a way to save 100% on my cable bill.  Can you guess what it is?
Oct 5, 2011 4:58PM
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I don't have cable, because i can download all my movies (so far i have over 700 movies past and present) tv series, football games, etc. for free.  Plus, i also have "Magicjack" to make all my phone calls for free as well.   I remember way back when before cable came out, it was suppose to eliminate commercials, but as you can see, that did not happen.  You just have to be a fool to have cable these days.  I have wireless internet access and i have my laptop connected to my flat screen 37 inch HDMI TV and i "LOVE IT".
Oct 5, 2011 4:25PM
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My husband and I haven't had cable in over 6 years and we still enjoy the programs we are interested in.  We use X-box for Netflix and web videos (absolutely LOVE The Guild) and thanks to ESPN3 we can catch some of our favorite NBA team's games (course, with the lock-out in place, that'll be a while).  We took the money we'd been spending in cable costs and rolled that into our Debt Snowball (thanks Dave Ramsey!) and we've been debt free for over 4 years.  Take that Ted Turner!!!
Oct 5, 2011 3:04PM
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I will continue to spread the great news that free TV is still out there and worth every penny I don't spend on cable.  We get ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, PBS and My TV.  Only our NBC affiliate doesn't broadcast additional channels.  All in all, we have 14 English-language channels I can watch for free.  Netflix, Youtube and Hulu round out our needs nicely.  If you haven't purchased a PC (or built one - the true economy route) to hook up to your HDTV, you are overpaying.  You can build a good media PC for under $400 - or 3 months of cable.  Unless you REALLY need ESPN, ESPN2 & all the other sports channels that can't be had over the air or net, you can't not be satisfied this way.
Oct 5, 2011 3:47PM
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I ditched DirecTV about 2 yrs ago and haven't missed it.  Netflix and Hulu supply my shows now.  I'll be even happier once BBC iPlayer is available in the US.
Oct 5, 2011 6:11PM
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Or better yet, cut it 100%, Get rid of cable and your TV and actually spend your time doing something productive, or at least get off the couch and avoid obesity.
Oct 5, 2011 2:44PM
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Due to my vast DVD collection. I do not need cable.  All I have is internet.  Any news story I just play the  video. Plus I run my own network.  its commercial free.

Oct 5, 2011 2:06PM
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We ditched cable about three months ago and haven't missed it.  We initially thought we might because of certain shows on cable we enjoyed.  Our resolve unchanged, we dropped off our cable box after purchasing an HD antenna and Roku 2 XS from our local electronics store and went home.  First impressions are everything and I was amazed at the clarity of the antenna.  We signed up for Netflix through the Roku and have enjoyed the two every since. 


What are the savings you might ask.  We have already saved about 250.00 since we dropped our cable subscription and left high speed interenet and phone on our monthly bill.  The real savings is in time spent with the family together and educational shows that are broadcast for our children. 

 

In my opinion, it is not worth paying the companies big bucks every year considering the amount of garbage programming on cable, to include the "kids" channels.  You might say, "you could simply change the channel".  My response to you is that I no longer need to.  I hope this helps anyone on the fence about the topic.

Oct 5, 2011 1:48PM
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This is a great article I use Antennae Tv , The biggest benefit has been my 7 year old has been weaned from

obnoxious "kid" channels & the commercials that come with them. I was paying over a hundred dollars for cable tried satellite can't wait to look into roku. really good article. I have 3 dishes on my roof yards of cable from these companies they don't retrieve this garbage ?

Oct 5, 2011 2:14PM
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The lowest priced way to get content from your computer to your TV is with an HDMI cable, but if you have a wireless network, the next lowest priced way is with a ROKU box. 

I have a ROKU box, plus a program called Play On, which you can look up on your own to see what they cost and what they offer.  For either a one time fee or a low monthly fee there is additional programming available on Play On.  Most of the newer set top boxes set up for watching internet TV on a computer probably for most people will be most enjoyed with Netflix and Hulu Plus which together will still keep you under $20 a month for television....

Roku alone can connect with your TV while not requiring you to have your computer on while watching.

Using PlayOn requires that your computer is also on while watching.  Play On does work with some gaming devices also.

All of the newest set top boxes, wifi enabled blue ray players and game consoles are made to require paid monthly subscriptions to either Netflix or Hulu Plus for any of their content.

Newer PC's with i-3, i-5, i-7 processors will work directly transferring even Free Hulu direct to your computer with one media adapting device, however even though these devices are being sold in stores now (October 2011) I find that the people working there are not yet aware of the limitations of those devices.

The more complicated methods of connecting your computer to your TV can get you free Hulu.  Adding that to over the air broadcasts, and what is available for free on ROKU is enough for me, and my reward is a zero cable TV bill.

I do however, pay for internet and phone.  It works for me!!  I don't mind paying for internet, because I use it for work and it affects my income.  This is why I have an issue with paying for TV... 

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