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 do you do when you can’t pay your cable bill anymore?
It can be tempting to charge that to your credit card and worry about it later. If now is later, then those cable bills probably turned into credit card debt. First things first — you gotta cut the cord.
“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. The top six cable companies lost 910,000 subscribers in 2018 and 3.46 million subscribers in the last five years. Meanwhile, internet-delivered services like Sling TV and DirecTV Now added 640,000 subscribers in 2018. It’s very clear which way the market is trending.
“I don’t need cable anymore,” Joynt said.
A 2018 study said nearly a third of cord-cutters never resubscribe to cable. That is about 33 million people and the number keeps growing.
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 live 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 PlayStation or Xbox 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
- 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: $9/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. Netflix spent a whopping $13 billion on original content in 2018.
Hulu: $6/month or $12 for commercial free. Hulu doesn’t have the following Netflix does, but it does have a unique advantage: Hulu adds new episodes of current season 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. They also produce original content — not at the rate of Netflix — but their flagship show “The Handmaid’s Tale” was the first streaming series to win the Golden Globe for Best Television Series — Drama in 2018.
Amazon Prime: $199/year or $13/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. Amazon is ratcheting up its original content as well, spending $5 billion in 2018. The result was award-winning comedy “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
Skinny Bundles (Live TV)
If you’re more into live programming, there are some nice selections in the skinny bundles category.
Sling TV: starting at $25/month. Sling TV was the first to the market, and has the largest share with 2.42 million subscribers. The “orange” package comes with over 30 channels including CNN, ESPN and Comedy Central. The drawback with Sling TV is that the alternative “blue” package adds channels like FX and NFL Network, while eliminating other channels offered in the orange 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 $40/month. The DirecTV Now basic package has a better variety than that of the total package offered by SlingTV. It comes with over 65 channels including Fox News, CNN and MSNBC as well as ESPN, Viacom channels like Comedy Central, MTV, Spike and VH1, and children’s programming like Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Disney Channel. For $50/month you can add MLB Network, FUSE, OWN and Travel Channel, among others.
PlayStation Vue: starting at $45/month. PlayStation Vue might be the least 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 $50/month. Their top-end package comes with HBO and ShowTime for $80/month.
YouTubeTV: $40/month. YouTubeTV comes unlimited cloud DVR (no storage limits) for six unique accounts per subscription. It has a great mix of news and sports with CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and BBC to go along with ESPN networks, Fox Sports Networks, MLB Network, NBATV. It also has Cartoon Network and Disney. But, like PlayStation Vue, it is missing out on Viacom channels like Comedy Central and MTV.
Hulu Live TV: $45/month. Hulu Live TV has a decent selection of channels including the usual news and sports cable stations. What separates Hulu is that its streaming service is bundled into its Live TV subscription. If you were already considering Hulu streaming, this might be your best bet.
AT&T Watch TV: $15/month. AT&T offers the cheapest but skinniest bundle out there. There are no sports channels and very limited news channels (only CNN and BBC), which almost defeats the purpose. Most people watch live TV to stay current on news or see sporting events in real time. Most entertainment television can be picked up on Netflix, Amazon or Hulu months later without missing out on anything.
Our Picks: Each skinny bundle seems to be targeting a different customer, so what suits you best will depend on what you are looking for. If that’s the cheapest option, then Sling TV is great. DirecTV Now has the most variety for the least price. Hulu Live TV would be great if you were already considering adding one of the streaming services. YouTubeTV is the best option for people into sports or cable news, and the unlimited DVR is a bonus.
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.
Max Fay has been writing about personal finance for Debt.org for the past five years. His expertise is in student loans, credit cards and mortgages. Max inherited a genetic predisposition to being tight with his money and free with financial advice. He was published in every major newspaper in Florida while working his way through Florida State University. He can be reached at [email protected].
- Leichtman Research Group (2019, March 6) Press Release – Major Pay-TV Providers Lost About 2,875,000 Subscribers in 2018. Retrieved from https://www.leichtmanresearch.com/major-pay-tv-providers-lost-about-2875000-subscribers-in-2018/
- Sandvine (2016, June) What Are the Latest Trends in North America and Latin America? Retrieved from https://www.sandvine.com/trends/global-internet-phenomena/
- Spangler, T. (2018, July 24) Cord Cutting Keeps Churning: U.S. Pay-TV Cancelers to Hit 33 Million in 2018. Retrieved from https://variety.com/2018/digital/news/cord-cutting-2018-estimates-33-million-us-study-1202881488/