So you’ve done it! You’ve cut the cord and canceled cable. According to USA Today, you can expect to save around $60/month. That’s money you can save for a vacation or fund whatever adventures make you happiest. And not to worry, you haven’t condemned yourself to a life without great television and cozy movie nights. Many families without cable still watch sporting events, reality shows, and new movies. The only catch to coping without cable? It’s easy to spend just as much on cable replacements! Here are some ways to save stay entertained without cable, and without breaking the budget.
Buy an HD Antenna
The best way to get regular television channels for basically free (well, minus the startup fees)? Go old school and get an antenna. Don’t worry; it’s not the UFO antenna on the roof or the rabbit ears wrapped in aluminum you might remember from your grandparents’ house. You are also going to get more than the 3-6 channels those old rabbit ears picked up. Check your address at AntennaWeb and find out how many stations you can pick up with an HD antenna, and find out how far you are from transmission antennas. There are many HD antennas on the market, available from specialty retailers and big box stores alike. Here are the features you want to look for in an antenna:
- Omnidirectional (this means they can pick up signals from any direction; some antennas on the market only pick up signals from one or two directions)
- Easily mountable
- The reception range matches how far you are from any antenna from which you need to receive signal
- The antenna picks up both UHF and VHF channels
- Decide if you would rather have an indoor or outdoor antenna. Indoor antennas work well for most people; if you live in a rural area an outdoor antenna might improve your chances at pulling in all the channels you want
Choose the Right Streaming Player
If you’re going to use a streaming service (and more about picking the right one for you next), you will need a streaming player. You have four primary options.
- Apple TV: Do you already have an extensive library of films and television episodes on iTunes or on the Apple TV app? Apple TV is the only streaming player on the market which will allow you to stream these files to your television. Apple TV might also be the best bet for you if you use other parts of the Apple HomeKit or are a heavy user in general of the Apple ecosystem. Be warned, although most streaming services work on Apple TV, Google Play does not.
- Amazon Fire TV Stick: You can buy an Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa voice control for around $30. If you are using Alexa and want your Fire TV Stick to integrate, this is a great, affordable choice. Although the other big streaming services are accessible through the Fire TV Stick, some like Now TV are not. The dongle-style players are all capable of being hooked into your television’s USB port for power. Fire Sticks also tend to buffer more than other streaming players.
- Google Chromecast: Google Chromecast is a little different from the other players, in that you don’t have a remote for it. Instead, you open the streaming service you want to use and click on the Chromecast icon (check out the setup instructions). Note, though, that you can’t cast Amazon Prime through apps, but only through a computer browser. Again, if you use other Google Home products, you’ll appreciate the simplicity of the Chromecast, which you can pick up for about $35.
- Roku: Roku offers a variety of streaming devices, starting at $30. Roku treats all of the other primary streaming services equally, so you can stream everything except for things purchased on iTunes/AppleTV. The Roku devices stream quickly and work well. Although there is some integration with Google Home products, Roku’s biggest drawback is that it is not a natural fit in a smart home ecosystem.
Choose the Right Streaming Service
There are so many streaming services! How do you decide which is right for you?
- Free Is Great: Do you have a library card? Then you probably have access to at least one free streaming service. Kanopy is perhaps the best and most commonly offered. It has a rich kids’ selection, films from the Criterion Collection, and plenty of recent releases. Bookflix is only for kids, and offers a well-curated selection of kid films and educational programming.
- Are You Already Paying for Streaming?: Are you an Amazon Prime customer? Then you get Amazon Prime Video. Amazon has either produced (or acquired exclusive streaming rights to) shows like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Fleabag. They also have a rich library of movies, classic television shows, and exclusively stream many PBS shows.
- The Big Ones: Hulu and Netflix are probably the two best-known streaming services. They both produce their own content (Netflix has Stranger Things; Hulu has The Handmaid’s Tale). Netflix offers past seasons of other television shows and films; Hulu has current season episodes for some shows, full seasons of other shows, and movies.
- Single Channel Streaming: Now more and more entertainment entities are offering their own streaming services. Disney launched Disney Plus in late 2019. HBONow has been around for a while, and CBSAllAccess is making a significant push with exclusive content like the new Twilight Zone and a new show featuring Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Captain Picard.
What’s a Live-TV Streaming Service?
Do you have a sports fanatic in your household? You might need a live-TV streaming service. These services function like cable and allow you to watch live television through an app on your streaming stick or Smart TV. They range in price from $15-$50 dollars. The major players are AT&T Watch, Sling TV, Hulu+Live TV, PlayStation VUE, DirecTV Now, and YouTube TV. Much like cable packages, each service offers a different mix of channels so you’ll want to know what channels you want and decide from there. All of these services offer free trial periods.
Remember DVD Players?
Dig yours back out! Many films and television shows aren’t currently available on any streaming service, and you can enjoy them via DVD at a minimal cost. This is another time your library card will save you money. Most libraries offer DVDs, have exciting collections, and it’s all for free! Thrift stores and used bookstores are often overflowing with DVDs for very little money. And Netflix still offers DVDs by mail starting at $7.99 a month.
Save Money on Streaming
So… don’t all of these add up? Absolutely. If you signed up for every service which catches your interest, you could quickly outspend your cord-cutting savings. To save money, try rotating one or two paid services at a time. Is there a new season of Westworld? Pay for HBONow and catch up on other HBO series and movies. Stranger Things time? Reactivate your Netflix subscription and binge Grace and Frankie while you’re at it.
We already covered how your Amazon Prime subscription and your library card offer streaming benefits, but so do other services you might already use. Some cell phone companies may include streaming subscriptions as part of a limited time promotion. Spotify and Hulu sometimes offer buy one get one deals, and it’s always in effect for students, sometimes with added benefits like Showtime subscriptions. So yes, you can save significant cash by cutting the cord and still watch all your favorite shows!
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