How I Cut My Television Bill in Half

I've had several requests lately to update my two-year quest to find cheap alternatives to cable television. In March of 2007, Kris and I were paying $65.82 for a deluxe digital cable package that we rarely used – money that could have been used to pay down debt or increase the balance on my savings account. “$65.82 a month isn't a fortune,” I wrote at the time, “but it's a lot of money to pay for something that doesn't get used. If we were big TV watchers maybe the cost could be justified. But we aren't. And it can't.”

To save money, we cut our cable to just the basic channels, which reduced our bill to $11.30/month. We also began to use the iTunes Music Store to subscribe to the shows that we wanted to watch. And over the past year, I've become a fan of Hulu, an online service that allows users to watch many past and current shows for free.

Here's an overview of the tools we use, and how much money we've managed to save.

The iTunes Store
When we cut our cable bill from $65.82 per month to $11.30, I knew we would save over $50 per month. I also knew that we'd miss a couple of shows we really like. We don't watch a lot of television, but we do like our Battlestar Galactica. So, I made a deal with Kris.

“If you'll let me cut back to basic cable,” I said, “then I'll purchase any shows you want from the iTunes Store.” She was reluctant at the time, but over the past two years, we've found that there really aren't that many shows we want to watch.

Since we started, we've purchased eleven “seasons” from iTunes, totaling $398.42 (or about $36.22 per season). This works out to about $16.60 per month. When added to our $11.30 basic cable bill, we're paying $27.90 each month for television. That's less than half of what we were paying before.

Note: Kris and I also use Netflix to watch television. Over the past year, we've consumed seasons of MASH, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Foyle's War. I'm not including that $16.99/month in these calculations, however, because we were already using Netflix to do the same thing before we cut our cable. Just be aware that we're spending another $200/year for DVDs by mail. (And, yes, we do get our money's worth.)

 

Hulu
We've also found a way to watch certain shows for free. For a short time last year, NBC/Universal and Apple got cranky with each other. NBC/Universal pulled its shows (including Battlestar!) from the iTunes Music Store. What's a geek to do? Answer: watch the shows for free through Hulu, which features content from NBC, Fox, and many other sources. Crisis averted.

Over the past year, I've come to love Hulu. It took some GRS reader encouragement for me to actually explore the site's potential, but now that I know how it works, I'm hooked. Here's the basic premise:

Hulu allows viewers to watch new and classic television programs for free. (The site also includes a small selection of feature films.) Each program includes the normal commercial breaks, just as on television. However, instead of being bombarded by two minutes (or more) of commercials at each break, you're subjected to a single 15- to 60-second ad (that you cannot interrupt). To me, that's a fair trade for free programs.

Most current NBC and Fox programs are available on Hulu, though each show seems to have its own schedule. Older shows offer full seasons. Some shows, like 30 Rock, only offer the “trailing 5 episodes”. That is, you can only watch the most recent 5 episodes from the series. Others, like The Biggest Loser (which I'm now addicted to thanks to readers at Get Fit Slowly) only allow one episode to appear at a time — and it's last week's episode. (So, please — no spoilers about what happened Tuesday night!)

Although Hulu doesn't directly host content from ABC or CBS, it does index these shows, and link to their source pages. So, for example, if you want to use Hulu to watch Lost, you can do so. When you look for the latest episode of Lost, Hulu will redirect you to the ABC website. This is a nice touch.


Hulu offers a nice library of classic television, including Adam-12

 

For me, though, the best part of Hulu is its library of classic television. When I was sick with the flu in early December, I spent two days plowing through old episodes of Adam-12. (Which was much better than I had remembered.) Hulu also includes shows like:

Actually, I just noticed that Gary Vaynerchuk's video wine blog, The Thunder Show, is available on Hulu, too!

My biggest complaint with the site is that navigation is clumsy. It's sometimes difficult for me to find what I'm looking for. (The “browse TV shows alphabetically” view is most useful for me.)

Disclaimer: I know I sound like I'm shilling for Hulu, but I promise you: I'm not being paid to write this. I just think it's a great service, and it's one I would never have fully explored if Get Rich Slowly readers hadn't encouraged me to do so.

 

Other options
Though these are the tools that Kris and I use for our television consumption, there are other options available. For example, I'm a big fan of the public library for books, but I haven't used it for TV on DVD, though I'm sure that's possible. I'm also aware of Veoh and Joost, though I haven't tried either of them.

Those of you in Western Europe may want to explore Zattoo, a free downloadable app that lets you watch certain television content on your computer. (And, via the comments, Jeremiah Bell notes that Canadian readers can find streaming television at CTV and GlobalTV.)

None of these is going to satisfy those who truly enjoy television. If you must see your show right now, or if you are a fan of live sports, you may have to fork over the dough for a deluxe cable package. I'm content to wait. It saves me money, and it lets me watch shows on my terms.

Footnote: After I finished composing this article, I learned that GRS reader Mike Panic has drafted a fantastic list of websites that stream full TV shows and movies. This is a colossal list, and well-worth bookmarking.

 

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JerichoHill
JerichoHill
11 years ago

Score one for GRS Forum Users!

I think we’ll be making this move over the next few years. I really don’t like channel surfing and I feel its kinda wasting time.

katy
katy
11 years ago

Thank you so much for the heads-up on hulu and dave ramsey!

Fran
Fran
11 years ago

I used to love Hulu as well until they announced yesterday that it will no longer stream to Apple TVs via the Boxee application.

It’s a sad TV day for me.

KenLin
KenLin
11 years ago

I would love to do this, if only it wasn’t for sports.

Chad
Chad
11 years ago

We’ve added a media pc (aka home theater pc) so that we could store all of our own media, dvr our basic cable tv (like you’ve switched to), and watch online videos. The computer (including its stylish home theater case, remote, and 1 TB hard drive) cost us ~$350 to build.

Now if we could just figure out how to cut our internet bill…

LMNOP
LMNOP
11 years ago

Do you watch all these tv shows on your computer though? Isnt that uncomfortable, sitting at a desk doing that?

I have a big screen tv and would want to watch on that!

I like the Netflix “watch instantly” feature, but get cramps at my desk doing so.

LMNOP

Gooniette
Gooniette
11 years ago

We don’t have cable TV at all and get our news and shows mainly from Hulu, Netflix, and RSS feeds.
They are great money savers. Escpecially the “Watch Instantly” feature on Netflix.

Beth
Beth
11 years ago

Great ideas:) If I lived the in the States, I would definitely cancel my cable! (Even with basic, it’s still $30 a month!)

Sadly, Hulu and other American broadcasters don’t stream to Canada (yet) and most of the shows I like aren’t available in iTunes either.

We’re totally get hosed up here.

Chiot's Run
Chiot's Run
11 years ago

We are the same way. We cancelled our cable several years ago and bought an antenna for the attic. We get better HD basic channels than our friends that pay for sattelite HD, and ours is FREE!!! (and we live 80 miles from the city we get the channels from). We also get TV shows from netflix (although we have the $9 plan). We also watch shows from Hulu. We have found that we just don’t watch as much TV. We end up working on other things instead. We work more (which makes us more money) and we read a… Read more »

Wise Money Matters
Wise Money Matters
11 years ago

I’ve actually been Cable free for quite some time. We use Hulu and Netflix exclusively. The only thing I miss is the History Channel and Discovery Channel. I get all of my local news via the internet (I only really care about weather anyways). Also, if you are in a metropolitan area, you can stick an antenna on your roof and get NBC, ABC, Fox, etc in HD for free. It’s all over the air. It costs $100-$200 to setup depending on your TV and/or other equipment but it saves a lot of money in the long run. I’m in… Read more »

Terrin
Terrin
11 years ago

I wish this plan worked for everybody. I could easily live without Comcast IF it weren’t for the Internet. In Ann Arbor Michigan (where I live) there is only one Cable Company. If you want high speed internet you only have two choices: 1) Comcast or 2) DSL through AT&T. Comcast doesn’t let you pay for just Internet. When it isn’t on special, it is about $50 on top of whatever cable service you are paying for. Although on the surface DSL seems cheaper, it really isn’t for me. To use DSL you have to have a land line. For… Read more »

Peter Owen
Peter Owen
11 years ago

Hulu is the last thing I thought the networks would put together. It was created (and very well) by Fox and NBC. The key to that model is make it easier for people to access your shows, that way people don’t pirate them. It’s a rock solid plan as long as they keep it up. Not to mention they can make money on old TV shows through commercials too… perfect for everyone as long as you don’t mind a few commercials.

Doug
Doug
11 years ago

I cancelled my cable for the summer and enjoyed it. When I signed up for an online course, I needed internet access. It was cheaper to get cable tv and internet then the internet alone. When this deal is up I will see what options are open.

Chip Hanna
Chip Hanna
11 years ago

Hi,

Great article!

I have been using Boxee to stream videos from Netflix, Hulu and ABC. Sadly, Hulu has been demanded by its “content providers” (CBS and FOX) to be removed on Boxee. I wish it wasn’t so because it allowed a great way to browse shows. Hopefully the media companies will wise up!

Chip Hanna
http://balcomagency.com

Melissa in FL
Melissa in FL
11 years ago

JD, Just a hint on Battlestar Galactica, since I’m a rabid fan as well… SciFi.com loads the full episode to watch at 2 am Eastern on Saturday morning after it airs Friday night.

Since we don’t get Sci Fi on our local cable (com*cast), I usually (GEEK ALERT) read through the forum while the episode airs, then watch the new episode the next morning while getting the laundry started.

I think it’s interesting to see how the commenters on the forum interpreted the episode versus how I see it when I watch for myself.

Mushroom104
Mushroom104
11 years ago

This is a great idea for people who can cancel their cable. I’d cancel my cable if I could. It’s bundled into my condo’s HOA dues and there’s no getting around it. I’d much rather keep my $30.00/mo. The only show I watch on a regular basis is BSG and there are only a few episodes left. I could either download it like you or have a friend DVR it for me.

Steve
Steve
11 years ago

Even better: http://www.boxee.tv/

A desktop app that aggregates your movies/videos/music on your desktop as well as feeds from Hulu, Netflix, Comedy Central, CNN, YouTube, etc. Even works with a remote control. Get an adapter for your mac/pc to your tv and you’ve got some pretty sweet home entertainment.

S
S
11 years ago

Thanks to the digital transition, free over–the-air broadcasts come in crystal clear. My converter box also has a basic “guide” function, which makes the deal even nicer.

Assuming you can pick up the signals, free TV over the air has improved mightily since the “old days” of analog.

Jeremiah Bell (Digital Trainer)
Jeremiah Bell (Digital Trainer)
11 years ago

For you Canadian readers who are upset over lack of international access to Hulu, don’t fret. You can watch TV at http://www.ctv.ca and http://www.globaltv.com. Both work on the same principle as Hulu, just a quick commercial for free TV.

Forget about cutting my television bill in half, I have now hit 6 years without spending a dime on cable!

Great post JD!

Cheers,

Jeremiah

Laura Evans
Laura Evans
11 years ago

I’d love to cancel cable, but the only thing my husband watches is pro football. Is there a way to watch NFL games?

Nick
Nick
11 years ago

I don’t have ANY cable OR broadcast TV channels. I do have a computer hooked up to an LCD TV and use Netflix, DVDs, Hulu, etc just like you.

And watching sports on TV is the reason people invented bars! Or at the very least, I’ll have 5 friends whom will want to watch it and don’t mind me showing up – and I’ll always bring beer/snacks!

Ted Lehman
Ted Lehman
11 years ago

I still pay for cable, because I love watching TV. To me, it’s a quality of life issue. I pay $36 a month for about 80 channels. While I try to be frugal in other areas, it’s worth $432 a year (to me) to be able to flip on the TV when I’d like and just relax. Then again, a big part of my television-watching is sports, and it’s hard to get that that elsewhere.

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

@LMNOP (#6)
We do watch on a computer, but not a desktop computer. We did that once or twice, but it’s not convenient. Instead, we use my laptop, which is very convenient. We can watch in bed or at the dinner table or in the living room. Again, this isn’t going to appeal to true television fans who need their widescreen TVs, but it works for us! 🙂

Mulried
Mulried
11 years ago

Long time reader, first time poster. I don’t have cable, either. Never have. We do have rabbit ears (one time purchase of $15) and a converter box (with coupon, $10) which gets us ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, CW, and several PBS channels, for free. I have lived on a farm in the country, in the suburbs, and in an urban area, and I have always been able to get most (if not all) network stations via my little rabbit ears. I always try to knock some sense into people who say, “I won’t be able to watch Grey’s Anatomy if… Read more »

The Personal Finance Playbook
The Personal Finance Playbook
11 years ago

These are great ideas, as usual. I would agree with the commenter than mentioned sports. I need my sportscenter fix in the morning before work, and I’d hate to miss a StL Cards game if I can help it. I love the idea of getting everything a la carte though. That’s the way to go.

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

I’m ignorant about Boxee, though I realize there’s some sort of Boxee/Hulu hubbub brewing. You can read Marc Hedlund’s take on it here.

Chris G.
Chris G.
11 years ago

I would love to ditch cable, but up here in New England, the only way to watch Red Sox/Bruins games is on NESN and the only way to watch Celtics games is on Comcast SportsNet. Those two channels are only available in the Digital Starter service where I live, which starts around $55 per month. Yes there is MLB.TV for the Red Sox games, but there is currently no way to get it on your TV (solutions like Boxee do not have MLB.TV support yet). MLB.TV though is quite reasonable at $110 for a season for the “HD” version, so… Read more »

t
t
11 years ago

You can sign up for TV rss torrent feeds on
http://www.tvrss.net
using http://www.uTorrent.com.

If you don’t find the show there check out http://www.btjunkie.com.

Great movie/audio player
http://www.videolan.org/

I use miro for all my free video rss feeds.
http://www.getmiro.com/

Phil
Phil
11 years ago
Matt
Matt
11 years ago

Why are you paying for cable at all? Just put an antenna on the roof. I replaced my DirecTV with a MacMini runnign FrontRow and Boxee (together) and now my only monthly expense is the $25 I was paying for netflix anyway.

dave
dave
7 years ago
Reply to  Matt

Do you mean first row sports. where the video quality is about 10 times worse than an old VHS tape?

I cut the cord a couple of years ago and have found one sports live stream that didn’t look horrific. That was a game feed from Opening Day this year.

I would love to find find some live sports streams that weren’t garbage quality.

Outside of the NBC Football stuff last year on nbc.com, I have found nothing.

It’s just easier to download the torrent the next day. Still not much out there for MLB

Anne
Anne
11 years ago

You can connect your laptop to your television and watch streamed content on your TV. The picture won’t be as good as the signal you’d get from cable, but it’ll save your posture. 🙂

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

Matt asked: Why are you paying for cable at all? This is a fine question, and one with a fine answer: Kris loves Antiques Roadshow. It’s her one can’t-miss show each week. When we moved into this house nearly five years ago, we bought a fancy new HD TV. (They were newish back then!) But this fancy TV has lousy reception. I bought a $20 HD antenna in 2004, but it picked up zilch. So, in order for Kris to watch Antiques Roadshow, we needed cable. Now, however, that may no longer be the case. Your comment reminds me that… Read more »

Kurtis
Kurtis
11 years ago

I have decided to go this route and enjoy it very much. Watching shows on my terms and I don’t get sucked into sitting in front of the T.V. all night. I use headphone/RCA cables for audio and an S-Video for picture and hook my laptop up to my TV works sweet. As well I can watch in bed on my laptop. As for Beth. I live in Canada and have found a few ways to get around the US limits. I was using a program called ultra-surf, but this has now been blocked. For the last 2 weeks I… Read more »

Nomad Needles
Nomad Needles
11 years ago

I only subscribe to Netflix, no tv. I have more time to read great blogs like this one, and books and zines.
It’s another way to simplify my life.

elisabeth
elisabeth
11 years ago

my (somewhat luddite!) husband asked me what hulu was the other day. He stopped me the minute I got to the “you can’t skip the commercials” part. He “watches” tv with the remote glued to his hand, for instance, last night it was Lost and something on PBS during the Lost commercials. It’s kind of spooky, how well he judges when to switch back! Would drive me crazy if we watched more TV, but we don’t. I try to rationalize the $60+ cable bill as, well we don’t spend too much on DSL and have a real bare-bones cell phone… Read more »

Kristen @TheFrugalGirl
Kristen @TheFrugalGirl
11 years ago

We don’t have cable at all, which isn’t a big deal. We really don’t watch TV, which saves us money AND time.

We rent DVDs from Redbox every now and again, and we do have rabbit ears on top of our TV which we can use if we really want to watch something(we have a digital converter box too).

Life is a lot better since we got rid of the cable and took the TV out of the living room.

Kevin M
Kevin M
11 years ago

I’m definitely going to look into this once our contract with DirecTV is up this December. We’re paying about $75 a month now and it would be really nice to redirect that money into some investments.

How about a follow up post on how to watch Hulu.com or equivalent on a “real” TV? I assume it’s just a matter of hooking up a couple wires, but is there an HD option? Does it stream from the website or do you actually download the shows first?

Ted Lehman
Ted Lehman
11 years ago

Matt said: “Why are you paying for cable at all? Just put an antenna on the roof.”

Because I live in an apartment. I don’t think the landlords would look kindly on me climbing onto the roof and trying to install an antenna.

Chris
Chris
11 years ago

@Chad (#5) I would love to find out what parts you used and where you got them to make a media PC for $350. How functional is it? Can you do normal PC stuff on it (Word, Excel, games, etc.)? My current PC is on it’s last legs and I could use a cheap upgrade. Maybe J.D. could post the directions or something???

Mike Panic
Mike Panic
11 years ago

@t – The Footer of this site links to nearly every website you can legally stream TV shows from. I’ve covered how to use tvrss.net to watch shows on your time not the networks but it’s still not legal. It also often requires a decent amount of time to wait if there aren’t a lot of seeders out there, whereas streaming is, well streaming and near instant.

Paul
Paul
5 years ago
Reply to  Mike Panic

Dear Mike, do have an updated list or links that will be helpful. The two links referred to below do not work anymore. Thanks for your help. 40 Mike Panic says: 19 February 2009 at 7:37 am @t — The Footer of this site links to nearly every website you can legally stream TV shows from. I’ve covered how to use tvrss.net to watch shows on your time not the networks but it’s still not legal. It also often requires a decent amount of time to wait if there aren’t a lot of seeders out there, whereas streaming is, well… Read more »

jtimberman
jtimberman
11 years ago

We have an HD OTA antenna hooked up to a home theater PC running Media Center, as a DVR. It was a high initial cost at the time, to purchase the computer, but I was due for a new gaming system anyway :). If I take the cost of the whole entertainment system over the last year we’ve had it, the total is about $300/mo – including the PC, HDTV, receiver and speakers. Of course, we paid cash for all that last year, so it falls under ‘sunk cost’. We can also watch hulu and other online methods of TV… Read more »

Aman
Aman
11 years ago

those are great ways to cut your bill down…I used Hulu to actually watch some shows that I probably never would have had time for and am hooked! This has made me hit up Amazon to get the entire series. I agree the navigation is bad and also that many networks are still reluctant to put their content on Hulu.

NBC, CBS, and ABC all have entire episodes on their sites also, along with MTV which has many of its “popular” shows streaming too. These are also good sites as they are easier to navigate IMO.

Wesley
Wesley
11 years ago

One more thing about Netflix…if you want to watch the “Watch Now” movies on your TV, it’s very easy to do so if you have either a Roku device, an Xbox or one of the newer Sony DVD players. These devices allow for a wireless internet connection and support the Netflix API. Once you add a “Watch Now” movie to your queue, it will appear in this interface and you can watch it on your TV whenever, no commercials. I’m sure other interfaces will be added (like the iTunes stuff) soon. I’ve been using a Roku for about 6 months,… Read more »

jtimberman
jtimberman
11 years ago

re: Putting the antenna on the roof –

When we bought our house, it had a DirectTV dish attached to the back of the house, on the wall by the kitchen window – not on the roof. I removed the dish and mounted the antenna on the pole it used. Took me about 30 minutes, and I only needed a short ladder.

We get most local channels just fine. Two of the PBS stations don’t come in very well, but they don’t have anything we watch anyway.

pebble
pebble
11 years ago

if i could find a way to stream the TLC channel, i’d be a happy camper! until then, it’s the first thing i turn on when i babysit at night and the kids are sleeping. but like for some other people who’ve commented, it’s cheaper for me to get internet and cable service in a bundle package. it would have been like 60 bucks for the internet alone or 42 if i added basic cable to bring my bill to 54. and since i don’t plan on buying that converter box, and it’s 6 bucks cheaper for the bundle, it’s… Read more »

Venki from ReadandRise.org
Venki from ReadandRise.org
11 years ago

@J.D
Actually, you can connect your laptop to TV through SVIDEO port and watch the programs in TV itself. You can get the SVIDEO cable for 10$ in any of the electrical stores (I got it from RadioShack). I stream my favorite shows in the web, but I watch it in TV. I always feel watching it over TV is more amusing than watching in laptop. 🙂

Melissa A.
Melissa A.
11 years ago

I don’t have cable. I get the 3 national channels for Canada, and I use the library. I rarely rent movies or buy DVDs. I don’t really watch stuff online either, because I hate sitting at my PC for long times, and have no way to watch things on my tv (no dvd burner and dvd player is too old to play vcd). I do have an Eee PC, but it runs on Linux and nothing seems compatible on it. (ETA: If someone wants to chat with me privately on how I can watch internet content on either my tv… Read more »

Scott
Scott
11 years ago

For the sports fan, you might be able to get by with ESPN 360.

http://sports.espn.go.com/broadband/espn360/index

It is awesome for watching internet sports, although sometimes blackouts apply.

Holly
Holly
11 years ago

I have been cable free since I was a teenager– for awhile I just didn’t watch TV but then stuff like Battlestar Galactica got around to me and I watch it on Hulu or SciFi. I’m also a huge fan of Netflix.

But why doesn’t anyone ever talk about torrents…? If you have moral dilemmas about being a supportive, paying fan to the shows/movies/content you care about, that’s understandable. But you could probably justify using them for rare stuff that probably no one is making money off of anymore, or foreign works while you tell yourself you’re generating free publicity…

CentsInTheCity
CentsInTheCity
11 years ago

I spent my freshman year of college (well before all the online tv) without cable so I know I could do this! Right now, I have 2 roommates, so cable is fairly inexpensive once we split the costs. When I eventually move out on my own, I plan to try a setup similar to this, but one that involves hooking a computer up to my tv. For fun I decided to see if I could lower our cable bill. I have Time Warner Cable and spent 5 minutes doing some research on Direct TV. Once I got a handle of… Read more »

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