Sherpa Money Saving Tip #1: Cut the Cable

Michael Lux Blog, Money Saving Tips 21 Comments

I must confess.  I am guilty of spending far too much time in front of my TV.  On an average day I would estimate that I watch at least two hours of television.  While I’m making my television confessions I should also admit that during Black Friday 2011, I purchased an extremely large TV.  It wasn’t necessary, but I love it.

I share all this information so that it is abundantly clear that when I say cut the cable, I am not saying eliminate TV from your life.  I’m just saying there is a cheaper way to enjoy your favorite shows.

In my house, my girlfriend and I are both trying to pay off our student loans.  As a result we look to cut every penny we can from our budget.  Some of our ideas don’t work so well, such as the single-ply toilet paper experiment.  Other ideas, such as getting rid of cable, go great.  Now that we don’t have cable, we have two main sources for our TV enjoyment.

Source 1: Digital Antenna

If you are going to go without cable or Direct TV (or any satellite service), but still want to watch TV, the first thing you will need is an antenna.  I purchased an RCA Digital Amplified Indoor TV Antenna.  Having dealt with the rabbit ears of my youth, I was very nervous when I bought the antenna.  I’m happy to say that things have greatly improved since that time.  The reception we pick up is as good if not better than the cable signal we used to have (its a 1080i/720p reception) and it comes into our home for free!

(Update: Commenter Grayson from debtroundup.com recommends the Mohu Leaf Paper-Thin AntennaIf you are worried about the footprint of your antenna, this could be the answer.)

My one word of caution: verify that your tv has an internal tuner.  All products sold as TVs should have one (if they don’t by law they are supposed to be called monitors).  Its easy to check: if there is a jack on the back of the TV labeled antenna/cable, you are all set.

Source 2: Internet Programming

Of course, just being able to watch my local broadcast channels (ABC, CBS, PBS, etc.) was not enough for me.  Having treated myself to DVR service during my law school days, I wanted to be able to watch the Daily Show on demand.  I opted for a Hulu Plus subscription.  They have most of the broadcast and cable shows that I watch.  The girlfriend even gets to watch her food network shows.  Admittedly, the $7.99 is not a necessity, but its still pretty cheap compared to what cable cost.  If you prefer movies to television shows you can add Netflix instead or use them both.  Either way, you are still saving a ton each month.

Setting up Hulu or Netflix is very easy.  You can watch from any computer or gaming counsel.  We have a PS3 downstairs for streaming Hulu and upstairs we use the Wii.  Neither gaming counsel gets much use for games, but they are great for watching TV shows.  If you don’t have a gaming counsel, devices such as Roku or Apple TV also will do the job.  They even make blu-ray players that stream Netflix and Hulu.

How much can you save?

The answer depends entirely on how much you are spending each month.  We were spending $49.99 a month on cable, so cutting cable saved us around $42 a month.  For us that money all goes towards paying down student loan debt.  That adds up to over $500 a year.

For me, the thing I miss most is ESPN.  However, I would estimate that with our current setup I am able to watch 90% of the shows I want.  In my experience, its not worth an extra $500 a year.

Do you Hulu?  How much have you saved?

  • We still have cable. We really need to look into switching more!

    • Do it! Your only regret will be having waited so long.

  • I got rid of cable a couple of years ago, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. It saved me the money, of course, but it also got me out of the house. Instead of going home to zone out in front of the tube each week, I started to go to more events and be outside and see real live people.

    Now, I only use Netflix streaming via my Roku and the 1 DVD at a time plan. It covers about all I want and care about.

    Plus that $70 a month thing…

    • Forcing yourself to go out and be social is another great aspect of not having cable! Great point.

  • Cable is really unnecessary these days, maybe it’s just me, but with Internet and Netflix and those $1 DVD Rentals at the market, you really don’t need it. Plus, $30 donation to World Vision will feed one kid for a month. Those who live in wealthy countries need to take some responsibilities for those kids dying of hunger.

    • Thinking about all the different things you can do with the money your normally spend on cable will make your head spin. People just accept it as a normal utility bill, and it doesn’t have to be.

  • I cut the cable long ago. Netflix serves my purposes just fine!

  • I have a Mohu Leaf antenna and it is awesome. It is like a piece of paper and it only cost me about $30. I love it, so I bough one for our upstairs TV. I do use the free Hulu, along with Netflix. This has worked for us for the last 2 years. The savings has been nice.

    • That antenna looks awesome! Its amazing how far along that technology has come in the last decade or so.

  • I have only had cable once when it was included in the condo fees. I had a $15 digital box at my last property to get 20 or so extra channels but don’t watch much TV, I download or stream a lot of tv shows, much better without the ads

    • I really enjoy the streaming content model. I hope that tv streaming catches on and cable becomes a thing of the past.

  • We recently got a Roku and love having Netflix streaming. We are very close to cancelling out satellite TV, but my husband is worried about football season. If that antenna thing works, we’re there.

    • The antenna is great for football season. The only games you will miss are the Monday night games on ESPN and the Thursday games on NFL Network. Unless you root for an out of town team… then your only option is paying a ton of money to DirectTV for Sunday Ticket.

  • I doubt we will ever cut cable. We watch college sports (and other sports) that can only be found on cable. We save in other areas, but this is one we’re stuck on.

    I like movies and run old favorites several hours each day. I’m not really watching them, but I like them on in the background. When I have to actually think about what I’m doing, all distractions are off.

    • I can’t argue your reasoning. Live sports are in my opinion the biggest shortcoming of the streaming setup. Even sites like watchESPN leave much to be desired.

  • My buddy at work cut his cable and just got Comcast streaming (which I didn’t ever even know existed) through his computer. He can still watch all the major TV shows and movies, but he just has to wait a day or two. WAY cheaper ….

    • Is he able to get all this without subscribing to Comcast TV? I checked it out this morning and I could find a few things, but for most of what I was interested in, you had to be a TV subscriber.

  • I actually cancelled my cable in March of this year and I haven’t missed it one bit. It also doesn’t hurt i’m saving $100 a month :p