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How to Cut the Cord: The Ultimate Guide to Big Savings!

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Don’t know how to cut the cord and still get the shows you like? Here’s a guide to help you cut the cord, with some of the best alternatives to cable.

I’ve written in detail about how we’ve saved serious money since becoming a cable free family. I regularly get asked by readers how to cut the cord and what cable alternatives are best for the shows they watch.

It makes sense for one big reason. We spend way too much on cable TV as a society, with the average monthly bill being north of $105. That’s just insane. At a time when we see people struggling with finances, cutting the cord is one of the simplest ways to save money every month that can be used for other, more important needs.

So, if you want to know how to cut the cord, what channels you can get without cable and the best cable TV alternatives to save money, this guide is for you.

Cut the Cord

 

The first step to canceling cable is the act of cutting the cord. Simple, I know but a necessary first step. This means, in all likelihood, that you’ll need to call your cable provider. They may have an early cancelation fee like we faced when we canceled DirecTV.

My advice is not to give into their pitches of putting you into some special unadvertised package or promises of an extra $5 or $10 off each month. At some point, the “savings” will be gone and your bill will go even higher. I know the cancelation fee may be a tough pill to swallow.

I get it. However, you have to remember that you’ll recoup those savings in a few short months. In our case, we recouped the fee within two months, allowing us to enjoy the savings relatively quickly.

Another thing to watch out for is the bundle pricing, especially if you have cable through your Internet Service Provider. They’ll tell you your rates will go up, which they may. Do the math, and if you’d still save money, then it only makes sense to cut the cord for good. Ultimately, they’re going to do all they can to keep you as a cable customer.

The cable industry is a slowly dying beast, and they’ll use whatever tricks they can to bind you to them – don’t give into their tricks! Instead, just calmly tell them you’re done and that you want to cut the cord.

Get Local Channels Without Cable

 

Buying a digital antenna is the first step to take after you cut the cord. A digital antenna is the best way to get local channels without cable. If you have an image of a massive antenna on top of your roof, those days are thankfully no more.

Most digital antennas are paper thin and can set up next to your television, or adhered to a nearby window – it just depends on what type of antenna you buy. I will mention that you will need one antenna per television. We have two TVs thus we have two antennas, allowing us to get local channels on both televisions.

There are many digital antennas to choose from, and most of them are relatively inexpensive and still allow for TV reception without cable. We have the Mohu Leaf on both TVs, and they’ve been great for us.

The 1byone antenna and Wsky antenna are other popular options with cord cutters.

It is important to remember that a digital antenna will only get you access to local and public access channels. You won’t be able to get cable channels, but thankfully there are options to get them.

Alternatives to Cable – Pick the Best One

 

Assuming you still want access to cable channels after you cut the cord, you’ll want to check out some of the best alternatives to cable. Thankfully, there is a growing number of options to still get cable channels without cable – you just have to find what option works best for your needs and interests. My suggestion is to take advantage of free trials to find the one you like best.

I will also mention that most of these alternatives will not replace all of your channels. Each alternative has its own channel lineup, so you have to decide which one will get you the most of what you want. That being said, here are some of the best alternatives to cable:

DirecTV Now: DirecTV Now is a new offering by, you guessed it, DirecTV…just without the nasty contract. We’ve tried DirecTV Now several times, taking advantage of their free trials, and it is probably our favorite cable alternative. The downside is that their lowest monthly package is $35 and goes to over $60. You can check out my DirecTV Now review for a full breakdown of the service.

Sling TV: Sling TV is more established than DirecTV Now and is offered by the other satellite giant – Dish TV. We’ve tried Sling TV several times, and came back to the same conclusion each time – that it’s not for us. While cheaper, starting at $20 per month, they have too many buffering issues. You can check out my Sling TV review for a full breakdown of the service.

Playstation VUE: We’ve not tried Playstation VUE, but it’s another popular cable TV alternative. You access Playstation VUE through a variety of devices and it starts out at $30 per month, going up to $65 if you get the premium channels. The nice thing about Playstation VUE is that they offer a cloud DVR and allow five simultaneous streams.

Netflix: Everyone knows about Netflix; it is a must if you have young kids like we do. Plans are relatively cheap, at $8, $10 and $12 per month, which is hard to beat. We like their movie options, for the most part, and offer a fair bit of good original content.

Amazon Video: Amazon video is the final cable alternative if you want to cut the cord. You don’t necessarily need to have Amazon Prime to take advantage of their video content, but it does open it up to quite a bit more offerings. Their movies aren’t always the best, but they’ve also got a lot of original content like Netflix. If you choose to get Amazon Prime, it is $99 per year, so works out to $8.25 per month. We did have Amazon Prime before cutting the cord so I don’t count it towards our cost as we’d have it anyway.

Hulu: Hulu is a streaming service, similar to Netflix, that offers access to shows from the networks as well as some cable channels. With plans at $8 or $12 per month, it’s relatively inexpensive. The downside is that you have to wait 24 hours after the show aired to watch your show and many only go five episodes back.

Hulu and YouTube have also recently launched beta trials of live streaming options, so hopefully they’ll provide more options in  the near future.

By taking advantage of different free trials, we’ve found that you can replace a lot of what you might watch with cable. Just remember to do your research before cutting the cord.

Lower Tier Alternatives to Cable

 

The problem with all of the above alternatives to cable is that they come with a monthly cost. It’s easy to choose one and slash your savings and basically, defeat your desire to cut the cord and save big money.

Thankfully, there are some lower cost alternatives to cable that may work for your needs. With all of these alternatives, you have a relatively low one-time cost as opposed to an ongoing monthly bill.

The one thing to keep in mind is that these lower cost options will not replace cable TV channels. They will provide access to a small handful of channels and apps, but they won’t replace everything. If your viewing needs are like ours, then that won’t be an issue. Here are some of the best lower tier cable alternatives:

Amazon Fire TV Stick: The Fire TV Stick is the go-to device in our home. At only $39, it’s relatively cheap and plugs right into our TV. It does provide access to about 25 different apps and channels, not to mention allowing us to stream many other things like Netflix, Amazon or HBO Now. We also like that it’s portable so we can take it with us on vacations. You can check out my Amazon Fire TV Stick review for a full breakdown of the device.

Amazon Fire TV: We recently added the Amazon Fire TV to our home and really like the device. The Fire TV is a more amped up version of the TV stick, operating on the same platform but with a cost of $89. It adds Alexa capabilities and considerably more gaming options. You can check out my Amazon Fire TV review for a full breakdown of the device.

Roku: We’ve not used Roku, but it operates much like the Amazon Fire Stick. The Roku provides access to many of the same apps and channels as the Fire TV Stick does and is currently $29, while also being portable. If you want more of a set-top box, you can get the Roku Streaming Media player for roughly $90.

Again, remember that the above will not replace most of the channels you currently watch. However, if you don’t watch much TV and don’t mind streaming a show or two online, then one of the above can be a great option without a monthly cost.

Buy A DVR

 

I was seriously addicted to our DVR when we had DirecTV. I loved that we could record something, watch it whenever we want and skip through the commercials. Thankfully, I’ve found that divorcing the DirecTV DVR went quite well.

Replacing the DVR is a big challenge when you cut the cord, but there are options available that help you record shows. We’ve not yet bought a standalone  DVR, but there are several good options to consider. A few of those are:

Tivo Roamio: The Tivo Roamio currently runs for $400 and allows you to record up to four shows at once, and stores up to 75 hours of content. It works on many platforms, and has no monthly service fee. The one downside is you can only record shows you receive via digital antenna. There are cheaper options from Tivo but they require a monthly service charge.

Tablo OTA DVR: The Tablo DVR is a bit cheaper, coming in at $200 and it allows you to watch shows as you record them. Tablo does charge a monthly fee, starting at $5 per month, with discounts given for an entire year. From my research, a monthly plan is not required so you may be able to get away without a monthly fee.

I know there are other DVR options out there but I haven’t researched them enough yet to speak to other devices.

Don’t know how to cut the cord and still get the shows you like? Here’s a guide to help you cut the cord, with some of the best alternatives to cable.

Bank the Savings

 

I’ve said this before, but I can’t believe it took us as long as it did to cut the cord. Now that we’ve been cable free for about 18 months, there’s no going back. We’ve saved nearly $2,000 over the course of that time, and that’s money that’s working to grow our wealth and not rot our brains.

We’ve tried a fair number of cord cutting options available and here’s what we’ve narrowed down our costs to:

  • Netflix – $10.54 per month
  • HBO Now – $15.83 per month

This comes out to a savings of over $80 per month versus our old spending of over $105 per month with DirecTV. We do miss some things, but there are just so many cable alternatives today that it makes sense to cut the cord as you can usually get the content on a different platform. We also have a Fire TV Stick, Fire TV and Mohu Leaf but those were all one-time costs that we recouped long ago.

The key to cutting the cord and banking the savings is knowing what you want and keeping the costs to a minimum. It’s easy to lose savings by adding some of the cable TV alternatives, putting you in the same situation as you were before cutting the cord.

Just sit back and think what you can do with an extra $80 per month. That’s nearly $1,000 per year ($960 to be exact). That’s money that can be used to pay off debt, save for retirement, save for a vacation or many other things – all of which are much more satisfying than paying to watch something on a magic box.

 

If you have cable, why do you still have it? If you’ve cut the cord, what are some of the tools you’ve used to get your content? What are you doing with your savings after cutting the cord?

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I'm the founder of Frugal Rules, a Dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry. I'm passionate about helping people learn from my mistakes so that they can enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. I'm also a freelance writer, and regularly contribute to GoBankingRates, Investopedia, Lending Tree and more.

13 Comments

  • This is a great post for those looking to cut the cord.

    I cut the cord almost three years ago when my promotional rate for TV + Internet expired. At that time I also cut my internet service down to a lower speed. When I did that I saved in the neighborhood of $30-40 a month when compared to the promo rate.

    I now use antennas for both my TVs and also have Roku sticks. I love that I can turn my Netflix and Hulu subscriptions off and on to better fit my budget. I can also do the same with Sling TV, but I’ve also had the same issue with the buffering.

    • John Schmoll says:

      Thanks Leah! That’s a great point I hadn’t thought of in turning off your memberships to save money. If you don’t have a need for it over the course of a month that’s a great way to save some money.

  • As you know we cut the cord a few months back and are very happy with the savings. One thing I would add to this article is that the lower cost alternatives like Roku and Fire TV stick appear, to me at least, to be little more than user interfaces to use things like Netflix, Hulu, etc. I think of them as a different category altogether instead of an alternative to Netflix, Hulu, etc.

    • John Schmoll says:

      I see your point DC, but I’d disagree as they allow you access to a good number of services. Different than other alternatives, yes, but still viable alternatives in cutting the cord.

  • Linda Carter says:

    Thanks for this information, I have been trying to figure out for 5 years how to get rid of my high priced cable/internet/phone bill. I am a senior and I get tired of paying to see shows/movies that I watched 25 to 40 years ago. My contract ends 12/15/2017 and I plan to get rid of cable.

    • John Schmoll says:

      Happy to help Linda! Glad to hear that you’ll be cutting the cord, you’ll love the savings. 🙂

    • Dawn Weible says:

      Hi Linda, I might add that I am in the same situation here whereas my contract doesn’t expire until April 2018…I am seriously thinking I’m going to cancel early anyways…cable company will charge me $10.00/mo for cancelling but I figure I’d rather pay the 90.00 than 155.00 every month until April ($1,395.00)!! Quite a savings! You may want to look into/ask exactly how much you’ll be charged if you cancel now as opposed to waiting 🙂

  • Cyn says:

    I have a smart tv that has the cable alternatives like roku, Netflix, hulu, etc and I’m trying to figure out if I cut both cable bundles (cable & internet) will I be able to use these features? I’m aware that I need internet to use these features but I’m trying to find a non-contract internet provider alternative. Any ideas?

    • John Schmoll says:

      Good question Cyn. To my knowledge, you wouldn’t be able to use those features. The one thing to watch out for is if you find a cheaper ISP that they might have slower service – so make sure you check out their speeds before switching.

  • Carol Scott says:

    I’ve had direct TV for less than 48 hours and am such of it already. The sales person at Sam’s did not tell us we don’t get free movies like with Dish. He claimed that we would get all of this and more. They are also hard to reach and disconnected me twice while trying to get help. I want my dish back.

    • John Schmoll says:

      Sorry to hear about the hassle Carol. Unfortunately, I don’t think Dish isn’t a much better option – both like to give you the runaround and charge way too much.

  • Carol Sim says:

    I have read many articles on cord cutters. No one discusses options and speeds required for Internet. I cancelled my cable and my options were up to 75 download for more than Internet plus my cable channels. Or a much cheaper price for up to 10 download speed. I have seen on cord cutters dot com that a good minimum is 20 download speed. What speed Internet is everyone using, who do you use and how much does it cost?

    • John Schmoll says:

      That’s a good question Carol & a lot of it goes back to each different option is going to have its own requirements for speed and not something universal, plus other issues. That being said, ours is 42.85 Mbps download speed, 6.13 Mbps upload speed and 90 ms latency which is on the higher end of what is offered by our provider – we need it as we work from home. It runs us about $75 per month and would have it regardless of having or not having cable.

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