I Can’t Pay My Cable Bill: What To Do

Another month, another budget-crippling cable bill. When will it ever stop?

The average cable bill is now $103.15 a month and is increasing year after year, despite more competition. What to do when you can’t pay your cable bill anymore?

“Cable is just too expensive,” said Joseph Joynt, who cancelled his cable two years ago. “Netflix has so many shows and movies and is reasonably priced, but cable is just too big and too expensive.”

Joynt, a 22-year-old college student, is one of millions of Americans cutting the cord. A 2016 study said 25% of U.S. homes don’t subscribe to cable. That is more than 25 million households and the number keeps growing. The same study said that in households headed by 18-34 year olds, 35% use broadcast-only reception or get TV via the internet.

The top six cable companies lost 280,000 subscribers in 2016 and 1.89 million subscribers in the last three years. Meanwhile, internet-delivered services like Sling TV and DirecTV Now added 845,000 subscribers in 2016. It’s very clear which way the market is trending.

“I don’t need cable anymore,” Joynt said.

It’s clear there are plenty of great options out there for people who can’t afford traditional cable. Let’s take a look at them.

Streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime are great for binge watching TV shows or movies, but if you’re more into news and sports, you need to look at “skinny bundles,” a new way to watch your favorite channels live without having to pay for all the junk you don’t watch. Plus, you can watch on your phone, tablet, computer and of course TV.

New Gear Replaces Cable Box

Regardless of your entertainment preference, you can throw out that clunky cable box. The new age of TV demands new gear and you have a choice based on what kind of entertainment you want.

If you’re a gamer, you probably already have a console with an app store. If you’re an avid TV fan, you might have a smart TV with an app store.

If not, choose one of the five options listed below, all of which will give you access to either streaming services, skinny bundles or both.

Amazon Fire TV Stick – $40

Roku – $30 (DirecTV Now not available)

Apple TV – $200

Sky Stream ONE TV box – $150

HDMI cable – $10

Cheap TV Menu Still Full of Choices

Once you have the gear, it’s time to plug into your favorite entertainment outlet. Here are some of the most attractive streaming services on the market and what they charge.

Netflix: $10/month. Unless you live under a rock, you’ve heard of Netflix. They absolutely dominate the streaming market. Netflix accounts for 35% of internet traffic in North America. They have a huge selection including some Netflix original shows that have drawn rave reviews like Orange is the New Black, House of Cards and Narcos.

Hulu: $8/month or $13 for commercial free. Hulu doesn’t have the following Netflix does, but it does have a unique advantage: Hulu adds new episodes of shows after they air on TV. Netflix uploads entire seasons at a time, which means you won’t get to see them until it’s old news. Hulu is great for those who want to stay current on a lot of popular and current TV shows.

Amazon Prime: $99/year or $11/month. Amazon is a bit of a sleeper pick when it comes to streaming. They may be overlooked because it isn’t their primary business, which is actually a bonus. You’ll get free two-day shipping on Amazon Prime products in their marketplace with a membership. Amazon has a surprisingly good selection including HBO classics shows like The Sopranos and The Wire. The price for an entire year is cheaper than Netflix, and if you’re a student, you can get 50% off your subscription with an .edu email account.

If you’re more into live programming, there are some nice selections in the skinny bundles category.

Sling TV: starting at $20/month. Sling TV was the first to the market, and has  the largest share with  more than a million subscribers. The basic package comes with over 30 channels including CNN, ESPN and Comedy Central. The drawback with Sling TV is that the upgraded $25 choice adds channels like FX and NFL Network, while eliminating other channels offered in the basic package like ESPN and Disney Channel. You’re almost forced into the total $40 package. An added benefit of Sling TV is that you can add on channel packages like sports, comedy, kids or news extras for another $5/month.

DirecTV Now: starting at $35/month. The DirecTV Now basic package has a better variety than that of the total package offered by SlingTV. It comes with over 60 channels including Fox News, CNN and MSNBC as well as ESPN and Viacom channels like Comedy Central, MTV, Spike and VH1. For $50/month you can add  MLB Network, FUSE, OWN and Travel Channel, among others.

PlayStation Vue: starting at $30/month. PlayStation Vue is the best bang for your buck. There are no Viacom channels, which means no Comedy Central and no MTV, but if you’re watching for news and sports, this is your best bet. The basic package comes with local news as well as Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and ESPN. The next level comes with regional and national sports networks like local Fox Sports and NFL network, MLB network and NBA TV for $35/month. Their top-end package comes with HBO and ShowTime for $65/month.

Google wants in on the action and is debuting its own skinny bundle through YouTube sometime in 2017.  The service will include over 40 channels for $35/month. You get six unique accounts with unlimited DVR storage for each account. Hulu is also debuting a live TV option later this year.

How to Watch TV for Free

And don’t forget about good old rabbit ears. These are often overlooked, but are the most cost effective alternative to cable. You could find a good antenna for around $50 and have access to ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, PBS, plus a long list of lesser-known channels that feature vintage comedy, detective and cowboy shows from as far back as the 1950s.

They’ve made quite a few improvements with rabbit ears since your grandparents’ generation, using a digital signal that produces a much-improved picture. Best of all … it’s FREE!

Go to www.nocable.org to find out what channels are available in your area.

Don’t Waste Your Savings

Now that you have rid yourself of that massive cable bill, your wallet should be a little thicker. Let’s say you budget $40 toward a skinny bundle, a streaming service or some combination of the two. You’ll save around $60 per month or about $700 a year.

If you drop everything but rabbit ears, you’re going to have another $1,200 or so to spend each year. To save even more money, share an account — and the cost! — with a friend or relative.

Take your savings and start an emergency fund or re-direct the money to pay down credit card debt. Either one is a better use of your money and time than watching and paying for cable TV.


Max Fay
Staff Writer

Max Fay is an entrepreneurial Millennial whose thoughtful writing shows he has a keen eye on both. Max has a genetic predisposition to being tight with his money and free with financial advice. At 25, he not only knows what an “emergency fund” is, he already has one. He wrote high school and college sports for every major newspaper in Florida while working his way through Florida State University. That experience was motivation to find another way to succeed financially and he has at Debt.org. Max can be reached at mfay@debt.org.

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