Legal Alternatives to Cable TV

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Cable alternatives for lower bills

Let’s talk about cable alternatives I use to lower my TV bill and give you several ideas to help you lower yours.

Has your new HDTV been more like a money drain than an entertainment unit?  I feel your pain.  There seems to be no end to the accessory products & services you have to buy to “complete your HD experience.”

I’m at a place in life where I’m ready to sacrifice my wants for the greater good of becoming debt free.  I’m not sure where you are in your journey, but one thing’s for sure – the more you separate yourself from the plague of consumerism, the more freedom you stand to gain.  It may seem like you are sacrificing at first, but as time passes you will undoubtedly see your “sacrifices” turn into blessings!  Not only financially, but also in many other areas of your life.

There are a few things to consider before you can start saving on your TV bills.  Here are the highs & lows my wife & I had to go through before we ended up finally lowering ours for good.

Alternatives to cable TV – Our situation

Regarding television sets, things were going just fine for my wife & I.  We had two TVs in the house, everything a nice young couple could ask for really.  In the living room there was a very nice (& heavy) 27″ Samsung cathode ray tube set that did everything a good TV should.  In the bedroom we had a little 13″ cathode ray tube TV perfect for watching on 30 minute sleep timer while dozing off for the night.  No, we didn’t have the latest & greatest, but did have exactly what we needed.  Until…

I’m not sure exactly when Bizarro Matt kicked in, but before I knew it I found myself on the way to ABC Warehouse to “check out” the new flat panel HD television sets.  In my mind I knew I wanted a flat HD plasma or LCD TV, but honestly had very little intention of actually buying one that day!  As I was walking through the store the idea of going home with a brand new $1,900 Panasonic seemed like less & less of a bad idea.  Before I knew it, I had one in the back of my Jeep Cherokee and was heading home to “surprise” the wife!

After hashing out the pros & cons of the purchase we were on the phone with Comcast to cancel the basic cable package to make way for a brand new HD/DVR service from DirecTV.  The existing basic cable/Internet package with Comcast was costing us around $85/month.  After canceling the cable TV, keeping the Comcast Internet, and signing up with DirecTV the total amount we were paying reached a peak of $150 in January of 2009.  The high amount was due in part to the extra costs I needed to incur to enjoy the HD & DVR capabilities my new TV offered.  In early February I contemplated the option to cancel my TV service but never pulled the trigger.  In late March I decided to call DirecTV to lower my TV bill and ended up shaving off $20, which was better than nothing.  After a few bad experiences with DirecTV I canceled and went back to the Comcast basic package.  Then – finally – in October of 2010 I canceled our service altogether and began my quest for cable alternatives.

Our chosen alternative to cable TV

Finances were not the only reason that led us to rid our lives of television service.  Both my wife & I were fed up with the incessant commercials and endless materialism being shoved down our throats.  Since canceling, we can more clearly see how the rampant consumerism was affecting our daily lives.  We are happy we canceled, and encourage you to do the same.  You’ll get more done and you’ll save more money.

I kept the Comcast Internet service to run my websites, but am saving $76 every month by no longer paying for television service.

Alternatives to cable TV for you

I will order these solutions by levels of effectiveness:

  • Cancel your television service altogether – C’mon…just do it!  You won’t regret it.  This is your best option for the highest reduction in costs.  Shutting of our DirecTV saved my wife & I $76/month.  Besides saving you money, canceling your TV service will also free up enough time for you to develop a few money making hobbies you are passionate about!  You will not believe how productive you can be until you shut off your TV service.  The next few solutions are things that my wife & I also do in lieu of a television service.
  • Buy a digital antenna – With the digital switch coming soon you must use a digital antenna to receive a signal.  You can purchase either an indoor or an outdoor antenna that enables you to receive free local “over the air” digital programming.  Indoor antennas are cheaper and seem to work fine, this is the route my wife & I took.  They usually range between $15 and $60.  Here is the indoor digital antenna I recommend, it’s only $36 and has been highly rated by nearly 400 on Amazon.
  • Purchase a Netflix streaming video plan – I would only advise this if you have an XBox 360 with an active XBox Live subscription, or some other Netflix Watch Instantly plan.  We subscribe to the $16/month plan, but Netflix has cheaper options yet.
  • Watch TV over the Internet – We now watch some of our favorite shows on the same laptop I’m typing up this blog post.  NBC.com offers all its shows over the Internet as soon as they have aired.  Other network sites include: ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, A&E, Discovery Channel, HGTV, Lifetime, MTV, and even PBS.  Other sites offering up free view are:  Hulu.com, Boxee.com, YouTube.com, along with lesser knowns like ChannelChooser.com, TVChannelsFree.com, and WatchTVChannels.net.
  • Call your service providers – Use my tips on speaking to Customer Service Reps to get your bill lowered.  This has saved me a lot of money over the last 5 months.  One Comcast rep even told me that I can continually take advantage of their 6 month promotion prices by simply calling every 6 months.  With this tip, a lot of your success rides on how well you get along with the CSR so make sure you use my tips
  • Lower your television plan to the lowest they offer – Make sure you figure out the “after tax” and “after features added” price though, for example.  DirecTV offered a plan for $29.99/month that turned out to cost $45/month after HD & DVR capabilities along with taxes were added.  I know Comcast offers a plan my wife & I call “welfare cable” that gives you a few basic channels for around $15/month.
  • Bundle your services – We did this for the first six months we lived in our new home, but after awhile I grew tired of Comcast’s TV service, so I switched to DirecTV.  Doing this cost me in the long run.  Bundled service will lower the cost of your television, Internet, and now even your phone services.

A few extra tips to make/save some money

  • Sell your HDTV – if you do cancel our TV service you may want to get rid that HDTV altogether.  If you are to go this route make sure you don’t sell it for pennies on the dollar; if you’re going to do that you may be better off just keeping it.
  • If you must purchase an HDTV go with LCD – LCD TVs use way way way way way way way less power to run them, which will save you a lot of money over the long haul

Using all or any combination of the above techniques will help you lower your TV bills!



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1 Mom

Wow, this post has my mind churning with different thoughts!

One of the theories I have developed over my lifetime is the idea of the devolution of the human race. I am not even certain of the true definition of that term, but to me it expresses the opposite idea to evolution. Evolution implies progression and development in a positive sense. Even though devolution, by definition, (I just looked it up in my thesaurus) means transference or delegation; to me it expresses the idea of decay or weakening. In a sense, devolution works for my idea because it implies “passing the buck” or transferring of responsibility. I believe that television is the largest single modern contributor to the “devolution” of the human race.

I read recently that the average American wastes nine years of his life watching the tube. Think of all you could accomplish if you were handed an extra nine years of life as a gift on your deathbed! The wasting of time engaging in the passive activity of TV watching is not even the worst sin attributed to the medium.

The powers implicit in the programming content to condition the human mind are staggering! One does not even realize one is being hypnotized to accept certain ideas or products or whatever is the agenda of the purveyors behind the flickering screen. One comes to believe that one really does need that product to look more beautiful, or to become thinner, or to cure depression or some other disease of modern humanity, or to “keep up with the Joneses” as they say.

We are trained to transfer responsibility for our own health and well being and financial solvency because all of our problems can be solved by a product advertised on TV. That is not to mention the violent content of a lot of the “prime time” programming. A person becomes desensitized to what is happening onscreen and has a tendency to accept the perversion and violence portrayed onscreen as “normal” human behavior.

Television could be and is used to good purpose as well. But, the potential for harm is great.

I must also comment on the fact that it is a passive activity. One could learn the game of golf and go out on the links to get fresh air and exercise instead of lounging on the sofa watching someone else play. To illustrate my point, look at the number of obese children in our society. Part of the problem is that children are involved more in the virtual reality of the TV and video worlds than real life. Therefore, they do not exercise their bodies or their minds. They tend to passively accept the entertainment presented through the medium, so there is no need to exercise one’s imagination.

Through this conditioning, we become passive acceptors of whatever is presented to us. We become less and less able to think for ourselves, problem solve, engage in productive activity….on and on. We also become physically weak because there is no need to exercise our bodies. All we need is there on the screen, or so we may have come to believe.

2 Baker @ ManVsDebt

Wow, I’m not sure if I can compete with the above comment, so I won’t even try.

For me there are two major things at play here.

First, is that you and your wife are slowly becoming more and more intense. You aren’t going crazy, but are rather evaluating needs/wants on a regular basis with an open mind for testing out which is which. Knowing you from twitter and blogging, I can tell that this will only increase your guys’ commitment and passion for your cause.

Second, I think you will start to feel more liberated just from not ahving that distraction in your home. This speaks to things slightly outside the financial realm. Any shows, movies, or special events that you want to watch together you can find online if you look hard enough. My wife and I lived without cable through the last olympics, but huddled around the computer to watch Team USA in several events. It was a fun time that we will always remember.

Your open-mind and passion is addictive. It spills over to everyone else including myself. Keep it up, man!

3 Matthew @SoundMindInvest

We can attest to the “call your service providers” option. Here’s what two of our employees recently did:

JOSEPH: This is good advice. I am saving $30 a month (for a year) on my DISH Network bill, all because I called and said I was going to jump ship to Direct TV (which I fully intended to do).

“Wait,” said the operator. “Let me talk with my manager and see what we can do.”

Eventually, they offered me a higher tier of programming for the price of the cheapest tier.

One bit of advice: Make a note of the date and time of your call, and get the name and ID number of the operator you speak to.

DISH apparently tried to renege on the deal a couple of times by sending me bills that were not consistent with the lower price I was offered? (Simply a computer error? Or were they hoping I would pay the higher cost and not call them again?)

I called and politely pressed my case: “On such-and-such a date, operator 123-xyz offered me this specific deal and I agreed to stay a customer only because of that offer.”

Ultimately, they honored the offer that had been made.

What happens when my discount year is up? I may dump satellite TV altogether. These days you can find a lot of TV programs (and films) free online.

ANDREW: It motivated me to check on the various things I receive, and what I found surprised me so much I decided to repost his original entry with my findings. One thing I found was an online special for my home telephone service. I will continue to get the same basic package for $19/mo less than what I was paying. Additionally, I found an extra $4 monthly charge for a billing fee I was able to get removed. So, all-in-all I’m saving $276 a year! That’s a lot of cash back in this Pryor household for merely checking in on my phone company. So, invest the time to review your services. You may be surprised at the kind of return you get.

4 Bible Money Matters

Great post! I can really relate to the post because I at one time or another always seem to catch that “new tv fever” and just can’t get it out of my head that I “NEED” a new TV. Of course we already have a nice big 37″ LCD tv, but apparently it’s not big enough for me :). The problem is that the amount of time you waste watching TV/etc when you have that new TV is just insane.

If you’re going to watch Tv, you may as well make it a bit more frugal. My wife and I have no cable TV service whatsoever, and haven’t since we’ve been married. We get all the TV we can watch, or care to through several different sources:

1. Netflix Streaming: we stream movies/tv shows from netflix through our Xbox 360. Tons of great content you can stream, even on the lowest package (which we are on). Downgrade to the 1 DVD at a time package, you won’t notice! $8.99/month

2. Streaming TV shows through the Xbox 360 via Playon software (http://www.themediamall.com/playon): The software streams tv shows from most of the major networks and quite a few cable networks. Hulu.com has the most shows available, and we use Hulu via playon/xbox to watch shows just about every night. 1 time fee of $39.99 for the playon software.

3. Digital TV Antenna: With the new Digital tvs or converter boxes there are a ton of free digital quality TV channels available in most homes. Free.

So there’s our frugal alternative – we pay for netflix, and that’s pretty much it. No cable, no large movie packages – and to be honest we watch way too much TV even with this setup! Now if we could just take that next step and cut out the TV altogether!

5 Matt Jabs

Awesome Pete, I’m going to look into this Playon software right now! Also, I think I’m going to go ahead & pull the trigger on the 1 DVD out-at-a-time plan for Netflix. We don’t watch enough of the DVDs now so, like you said, we shouldn’t miss it.

6 MLR

Matt –

Just to build upon what Pete said, I actually wrote 3 posts on using technology to slash cable bills (one of the ways being PlayOn).

Link: @ my site

7 Steve Rhode

In my world of helping people with money troubles, past studies show that the more financial troubles someone is having, the higher the average cable/dish bill is. People tend to stay home for entertainment.

Cutting expenses just means you have to work less to pay for your life. If breaking the digital connection is something you are motivated to do, go for it. It seems to make cents (dollars too).

8 Jeff@StretchyDollar

I love it – we go in somewhere planning to ‘just look’ and walk out $2,000 later with something we weren’t planning on buying. This is a great presentation of all of the different options that we can use to avoid paying for TV service. Personally I think satellite and cable with be non-existent in the next 10-15 years, everything will just be beamed over the internet.

9 Matt SF

Your mom is quite right with her idea that TV devolves our species.

Look at us… we’re getting dumber (IQ rates falling), we’re getting fatter (that’s why I invest in diabetes drugs), and Hulu’s popularity has taken off because we get carry our laptops around still craving more content.

If I didn’t rely on TV for up to the minute news, I would have killed off my cable long ago.

10 Mom

What the heck is Hulu? New one on me! Also, what news do you watch? To me, the modern attempt at reporting is a parody of the old style. It is not so much reporting facts as a knee jerk parroting of an interpretation of the facts that is colored by whatever political agenda the particular network is trying to ram down our throats at the moment. Modern news reporting tends to focus on sensationalism to titillate rather than inform us.

11 Matt SF

Hulu is a website where you can watch some of your favorite TV programs and movies. It’s a great site, but as their hilarious ads even joke about… TV turns your brain to mush and we still watch it. I rather like it b/c I can take a half hour program and distill it down to 21-22 minutes thanks to shorter commercials.

I’m a (stock) trader, so I’m constantly tuned into live business news like CNBC or Bloomberg. Later at night, I’ll watch BBC or something like that.

Rarely will I watch news sources like MSNBC or Fox News due to the political slants in their message. Personally, I think it’s a load of crap meant to stir up a reaction just so they can stay on the air.

12 Mom

I see, news is a tool of the trade. I cant agree with you more about MSNBC and Fox. Thanks for explaining Hulu, I will have to check it out.

13 Mrs. Micah

One thing I love about Hulu is that there are only short, themed commercials. It’s not quite as good as none…and sometimes I feel the pull from them…but I spend a lot less time watching commercials or having them playing when I’m not watching.

We cut our cable tv entirely and have been very happy with the new digital broadcasting in our area. Using the digital antenna, we get more channels in better focus (though we have an “old” tv that still seems like a luxury compared to my childhood tv).

It’s fantastic there are so many options. As a kid, we just didn’t watch tv at all, only videos. Probably very good for us in limiting our commercial exposure.

14 Frugal Dad

We’ve gone back and forth on this one over the last two years. Last year we decided to drop our expanded cable plan to basic ($46 to $12/month). After the one year was up we talked it over as a family and decided we missed the expanded channels (particularly things like Discover, The History Channel, TLC, Home and Garden, etc.). These weren’t things we could easily watch online.

So, we agreed to resume expanded cable service the first of this year, and we instantly realized we didn’t miss it all that much – funny how that works! I think we will soon drop cable altogether and go with the indoor antennae option presented here, but for now the monthly cost of cable for a family of four makes for a relatively cheap entertainment option.

15 Matt Jabs

Thanks for bringing up the point that this is a relatively cheap entertainment option for a decent sized family such as yours.

Having no idea what your home entertainment system looks like I have a question for you. Considering how much you have invested in your entire entertainment system is it still a decently priced option? Because one surefire thing I noticed after buying my HDTV is that the accessories on both products & services seemed never ending.

16 Kelly Whalen

We’re cable free as well.
Like you we need internet for hubby’s work and my blogging, but hoping we can switch to Verizon soon (they have to install those FIOS cables first!).

We have a TiVo which we use with Netflix, and we’re looking at getting a rooftop antennae. We had an indoor one and while the quality was 1000 times better than what we had paid for in the past, we live in an area where rooftop will get us the clearest, “cleanest” signal.

We also use Hulu to watch some shows.

I’m still watching way less TV, and we’re very selective about what we watch so it makes for more time efficient viewing.

Comcast said they’d charge us $150 for cancelling, but they never did.

We have a 4 year old TV that is so outdated now, but since hubby bought it the same way you did it’ll be awhile before he purchases another one! ;)

17 Kevinms

great post, i especially found it useful…thank you

18 Olivia

We’ve never had cable/dish and are too cheap to start. We’ve never actually paid for aTV set either. People give us their old ones. We use a digital box with moderate results. (We tried hooking it up with the large outside antenna with poor results.) The signal is not consistant, we get “no signal” messages on the screen intermitantly, with certain channels are no longer available at all. But then again it’s only TV, and not real life. If we had it, I’d rather drop that kind of cash on a vacation.

19 Matt Jabs

“But then again it’s only TV, and not real life.” Exactly Olivia!

20 Emily

Have a super-active baby, who turns into a super-active toddler, who becomes a super-active preschooler. No prob kicking the TV addiction then.

21 Jason L

Great post Baker… forwarded to all of my friends so they can take advantage of this as well.

22 Matt Jabs

Thanks Jason, but this is Matt. :)

23 Jason L

Doh! Lol, sorry about that Matt! Now how do you buy someone a virtual drink? :)

24 Matt Jabs

Ha ha… no worries man – thanks for the vote of confidence and for sharing the article.

25 ross

I would definitely agree with the netflix recommendation. I think i pay $9 per month and i canceled showtime because of it. I would gladly pay double, since i get so much use out of it.
For me i really like the instant streaming. They don’t have the latest releases, but you can always find a really good obscure movie that you’ve never heard of.

26 Matt Jabs

Exactly… the limited new releases facilitates the searching of older movies that are just as good and usually better!

27 Kevin @ Debteye

These are really great tips and can really help lower your expenses. When I first moved into my condo, I completely forgot to order Cable TV. After a month or so, I realized that I didn’t need it. I have netflix (which I pay $7.99/month for), and use a lot of the resources that you put on here.

I think everyone needs to try and challenge themselves to cancel their cable for just ONE month, and I think most people will realize that they don’t really need cable.

28 Matt Jabs

Great idea Kevin, anyone reading this should challenge themselves to a 30-day TV service cancellation to experience the benefits first hand.

29 Doug

I also prefer not to watch any television at all (what a waste of time and money!) but I recently discovered Roku. It’s an easy way to watch TV online so you have control of what you watch and when – and it’s much more affordable. If you’re like me and fall into the trap of watching once in a while, Roku is a good choice.

30 Dave

I’ve too have pulled the plug on cable TV (Comcast). We found we were mostly watching shows that we can get for free over the air with an antenna and movies we can stream. And we were not watching enough to justify the cable bill. We kept the internet service.

Two money savings hints: (1) No need to buy an expensive antenna for free over the air TV. You could try cheap rabbit ears for $5-10, or it’s simple to build your own for practically free. I made two for our two TVs at a cost of about $3-$4 each that are far superior to rabbit ears in reception. The materials were scrap wood, wire, TV cable, and screws, all stuff that I had on hand, plus the necessary transformer gizmo (called a balun) that cost a little over $3. (Get from Amazon, Radio Shack, etc.) I used bare copper electrical wire , but metal coat hangers will work as well. There lots of instructions and YouTube videos on the internet for how to do this. I made a “fractal” antenna which is smaller (4″ by 8″) than most and sits next to the TV monitor. (Google for the plans.) Very simple to do and works perfectly. We get as good or better pictures than with cable. All of course depends on your distance, direction and obstructions re the TV transmitting towers. (2) If you have a laptop computer connected to your wireless router/internet service, no need to buy a special device to stream Netflix or other video content. Just use your TV as a monitor for your computer. I actually use an older desktop computer I have hooked up next to the TV. I did need to get a wireless keyboard/mouse so I can sit on my couch to surf the web for movies, TV shows and videos. There are some small keyboards with built in mouse that suits this setup well.

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