Budget Limbo: Alternatives to Cable


Last week we created a budget. This week we’re going to start looking at those monthly expenses to see if we can squeeze out some extra money. Even if you only find an extra $10/month, that’s $120 over a year’s time. If you’re new to this, I bet you’ll find more than that. Cable can be a fun indulgence if you have the money and want to spend it, but it is not a necessity. With all the alternatives to cable; it’s the monthly expense easiest to trim.

Shop around. If you have the money in your budget and it’s important to you to have cable TV, don’t assume you are paying the best available price. In my experience, our local cable company is the worst money drain there is. A few years ago when I upgraded to HD I tried them out for six months. When the six months was up they raised my rate. I contacted them about getting the rate I’d seen advertised. They wouldn’t give it to me; it was for new customers only. When I was with DirecTV for several years, my rates rarely changed.  The few times they did go up, I’d call and say I was considering my options and they’d return my rate to where it was. They always gave me the rate offered to new subscribers. I prefer doing business with a company that appreciates my continued business and works to keep it.

Reassess what you have. Maybe when you signed up for your cable/satellite service five years ago there were only three packages available. Service providers are starting to feel the pinch from cancellations and are offering more options. Look at what’s available and what you really watch. Why pay extra for channels you thought you might watch but never do?

Don’t pay for premium channels year-round. I do not have recent experience with this, but when I had DirecTV, I would only get HBO in the summer, when my favorite original programs were airing. It was really easy to go online and add HBO to my package, after I watched/recorded the season finales, I’d go back online and remove it. Before you do this, double check with your provider to be sure making changes like this won’t cause any unexpected charges (those providers can be a little sneaky).

Ask before you make any changes. My parents had service with the same satellite provider for many years. One weekend when I was visiting them I noticed that they didn’t have any HD channels, even though they had an purchased an HD receiver. I called the company for them and was told they just needed to change a setting on the website. Unknowingly by changing that setting, I think we renewed their contract. This ended up causing problems when they moved last summer. Before you make any changes read all the fine print and talk to a knowledgeable company representative. If you aren’t certain the person you spoke with was knowledgeable call back and quiz a second rep.

Consider giving up cable.  I’ve lived without it for four years and I’m a TV junkie, ask anyone that knows me. If you live in a major city, use an antenna for local over-the-air channels (NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, PBS). If you watch a lot of locally broadcast programming, consider purchasing a Tivo or other DVR. You don’t have to have cable in order to use a DVR. There is a monthly service fee for Tivo, but it’s much less expensive than cable.

Consider streaming services as an alternative to cable. Hulu Plus, Netflix, and Amazon Prime are the leaders; each offer different programming. I alternate between Hulu Plus and Netflix. I like to binge watch TV (watch a full season of a program in a short period of time) so I will subscribe to the service that offers the program I’m interested in watching. Later this month I will re-subscribe to Netflix in order to watch Arrested Development. I’ll probably check out some of the rest of their original programming while I’m there. When I’m done, I’ll cancel. Amazon Prime has also started to add original programming. I will be checking it out too.

Use Hulu’s free service. The episodes aren’t always immediately available and sometimes you only have a short window of time to watch them, but they’re free. I watch USA programming this way. I usually have to wait a month for the episodes to be available on Hulu. Some of this programming is not available on Hulu Plus, only the free Hulu service; make sure you aren’t paying for something you can get for free.

Buy DVD’s of television series and sell them when you’re finished. TV Series DVD’s are frequently on sale at highly discounted prices; I’ve found great deals at Amazon, Target, and Best Buy. I have even purchased the DVD’s on sale, watched them, and sold them on Amazon advertised as “used” for more than I paid for them.

Compare the cost of buying digital content to a subscription service. If you can’t wait for the DVD’s to be released, look into what it would cost to purchase your programming in digital format from iTunes or Amazon. This is not the least expensive route, but it often beats shelling out $75/month or more for cable.

What about sports? If you give up cable TV and you’re into sports, this is where it’s going to hurt. I’m by no means a sports fanatic. I follow my OSU Cowboys and OKC Thunder. If the Cowboys are doing well, the games are often nationally televised on one of the local channels. I’m able to watch a few Thunder games on local TV. And TNT often, but not always, airs their sports programming online. If it’s important to me to see a particular game, I find a way to watch it, whether it’s by actually going to it, watching it at someone else’s house or going to a sports bar and watching it.

By being a little creative and a lot proactive, you should be to recover some extra money from your monthly cable bill. Have you found any other ways to cut your cable or satellite expenses?

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