Cutting the Cable Cord Has More Than Financial Benefits

by Aaron Crowe on 21 June 2012 19 comments
Photo: jsmjr

Cutting the cable TV cord has benefits that go beyond the financial. Sure, you're saving $50 or so a month by going without cable. But there are other good things that happen when you go without cable, many which may not come to mind when you first start thinking about making the move because you're focused on saving money. (See also: Massive List of Things to Do While Watching TV)

There's the obvious satisfaction of "sticking it to The Man" and not having to support a business that won't let you pay for only the stations you want to watch. Other benefits, however, may not be so obvious. But before I get into those, it's worth pointing out that the expected financial savings might not be as good as you might think.

The Somewhat Surprising Reality of Living Without Cable

My family cut cable at our house in early June, mainly as a test run during the slow summer TV season to see if we could live without it. We also wanted to save some money, which I'm quickly realizing is being eaten up by other costs that Wise Bread has covered. While our cable bill dropped by $50 a month, we still pay for alternatives that don't look like a lot by themselves, but add up.

Here are some of them, some of which are one-time expenses and others monthly:

  • Netflix streaming at $8 per month.
     
  • Hulu Plus at $8 per month. We don't have this yet, but I can see it coming in handy in the fall.
     
  • Occasional TV series purchase such as "Curb Your Enthusiasm," about $20 a month.
     
  • Redbox movie rentals at $1.20 or more each, for maybe five movies a month at $6 total.
     
  • Roku box to watch shows, a one-time cost of $100.
     
  • Antenna for TV, a one-time cost of $25, though much more can be spent.
     
  • HDMI cable and adapter to hook up computer to TV so online shows can be viewed. A one-time cost of $50.

After spending about $42 a month on shows, I'm only spending $8 less each month than I did with cable. (It's worth noting that we had Netflix streaming when we had cable, and I'm not including our monthly Internet fee because it's an expense we'd have with or without a TV.) Add in the $175 for equipment, and the $8 monthly savings will take almost 22 months (two years!) to pay for it. Then I'll really start saving money.

Benefits of Cutting Cable

Since I'm not saving any money for two years, what do I gain by not having cable TV? A lot, in my view. Here are some benefits.

Less Channel Surfing

Since we no longer have hundreds of channels to scan, there's less mindless channel surfing and wasting time looking for something to watch. There's something hypnotic about scrolling through channels that's sort of relaxing, but it's also a waste of time that leaves you wondering why you're paying for cable TV if there's nothing on.

Paying for What You Want to Watch

There's plenty of extra stuff on Netflix and elsewhere in the non-cable world, but it's nice knowing that I'm not paying for a channel that I'll never watch and can instead buy a season of a show I really want to watch. I may not come across a great show by accident, but I'll take that chance.

Free Time

If we don't know ahead of time what we're going to watch, we're unlikely to turn the TV on. I don't want to make it sound like my family has turned Amish and we're not watching TV at all, or that we've discovered more family time and are playing more board games together and reading more books. But we are finding time to do other things, and my library card is being used more.

These are things you can't put a price on, though I suspect that even these may not be enough to prevent us from calling the cable company back in six months when we get tired of missing pro sports.

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Guest's picture
Adam Skinner

An HDMI cable is $5, not $50.

An antenna hasn't proved useful to me. I played around with it for a bit, but it's simply not a video paradigm I'm interested in. I don't think it brings value to the table in the present age.

I've been without cable for years. If your TV has a VGA port in the back, you'll do fine without HDMI. I have both, and I use VGA rather than HDMI. When you've got a TV attached to your computer, it's simply a big monitor.

If you feel the need to spend $20/mo on TV series purchases while still using Netflix and Hulu, you're doing something wrong.

There is an overwhelming amount of video content available online. I can't fathom why you'd feel the need to spend $6/mo on Redbox video rentals. I imagine that someone who does that without cable was doing it with cable as well.

So long as you have a computer for each TV you want to use, then there's very little in the way of monthly costs. It certainly isn't as expensive as you make it out to be.

Guest's picture
Kevin

If you are paying $50 for an HDMI cable, you are severely overpaying. Unlike an analog signal, where quality of the cable can make a difference, HDMI is a digital signal. It either works, or it doesn't. There is no difference in picture quality between a $50 and a $5 cable. Places like Best Buy get you with expensive accessories. Stick to websites like Monoprice.com for cheap accessories.

Guest's picture
dave

NOT TRUE, WHEN WE GOT A SECOND CABLE FOR A SECOND TV, THE CHEAP HDMI CABLE THAT CAME WITH THE BOX WOULD NOT WORK NOT ENOUGH TRANSFER RATE OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT. BOUGHT ONE FOR 25 DOLLARS AND IT WORKS GREAT.
sorry not shouting my cap lock was on.

Guest's picture
linda turske

I guess my question is, why do you pay for all the extras? There are so many shows that are available via the internet on major networks and on other networks that one really should not have to pay for all the "alternatives". We have not had cable for 7 or 8 years. The best decision EVER! We do pay for Netflix streaming but other than that we utilize online viewing IF we choose to view at all.

We have VERY limited viewing time. Winter we might see 2 hours in the evening. Summer? Maybe 3-4 hours total a week....... we spend the time outside, swimming, playing, etc.

I guess I am struggling with why cancel cable if you are going to have all these other expenses? But then again, maybe losing an unnecessary expense was not the goal. It was part of our goal those many years ago but the main goal for us was to get rid of the smut coming into our home.

Good article. Thanks!

Guest's picture
Guest

The flipside of this is, for some people that are in the home nearly 24/7, cable and TiVo can be quite a value. I'd never go without a DVR again. I save quite enough in other areas.

Guest's picture

Very interesting post. I never thought about the fact that your financial savings, however I think that there are many other reasons to cut cable. My family has never had cable to begin with, so living without it is not a huge adjustment for us. However, we do tend to collect DVDs and TV series on DVD, so we actually get to watch what we want to watch, rather than whatever happens to be on. Also, there is much less pressure to watch TV just because we pay for it. In fact, during the summer months our television is barely ever on.

Guest's picture
Razorbacks92

My husband and I tried the no cable experiment. We use the antenna and netflix streaming instead. While that has been perfectly adequate for most of our habits, we found we aren't saving any money. I am a huge sports fan, so during football season, when I could not get Monday Night Football, we went to a sports bar. Turns out we spent for more on going out to watch sports than what we saved on cable. We will go back to cable in the fall just because of sports programming.

Guest's picture

Sports are the big killer because you usually have to have cable or satellite to get games now.

Other ways to save - if you already have Amazon Prime, you have access to quite a few movies and TV shows for free. Also, if you already have an XBox or PS3 or you have an Internet capable TV, you don't need the Roku box. That's been the main reason I've not gotten one. My XBox handles Netflix and Hulu and my Internet cable TV ($130 Vizio model) handles Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Guest's picture
Sarah

We just cut cable out of our house as well, but we are sticking with Netflix (no commercials!) and Hulu Plus (newer shows! more seasons!). If we want to rent a new movie we just put a hold on it at the library and wait until it comes out way.

I see everyone talking about pro-sports being an issue, and while I know there is more to life than the NFL, that was a HUGE reason of why we were paying to have a certain provider.

Turns out though, that because we have a PS3 (which we use as a gaming console, blu-ray player, and internet streamer) we can purchase the Ticket (for the entire NFL season) for one set price up front. Of course, it's a lot, but it's much nicer paying it in one massive bill than having it as a constant drain on our pocketbooks. (Not only that, but you can purchase MLBtv on the PS3 for the entire season as well, and it's pretty inexpensive!)

Just had to throw in my two cents!

Guest's picture

When I was a kid it baffled me that some homes didn't have cable because I treasured my nighttime shows like Rugrats or All That. But now that I think about it, kids these days would actually benefit from not having cable. My younger brother who is 12 years my junior-9 years old- spends way more time indoors on the TV or video games than I ever did. Especially during summer months when there is no excuse to be inside all day long, I think its a good idea to cut the cable chord if not only for your bank account, but for the well-being of the kids!

Guest's picture
Guest

i'd be willing to cancel if I could still get my college football games, NBA, and NFL games

Guest's picture
Guest

We cut our cable cord last year. I was really skeptical that we would be able to stick to it, but I never missed it at all. We also cancelled our netflix subscription at the same time. We do have an antenna, so the kids can watch the occasional PBS shows, and we can watch shows on the big networks.

I am a huge NFL fan, so we got NFL rewind and we watch the game we are interested in at night, once the kids go to bed. $40 for the whole season.

I watch shows on Hulu (not Hulu plus), and those available online at the networks. We borrow movies from the library. The library rocks. I would highly recommend checking out the entertainment options from your library.

We ended up saving over $100/month last year. That is huge. And I rarely feel deprived. The kids have never complained either.

Guest's picture

We also cut ditched our cable tv about a year ago. We bought a roku box and an antenna. Now we only pay for Hulu ($8 per month) and Netflix ($8 per month). We rarely watch anything on Hulu so I think we're going to cancel it.

Sure, we are saving money...but we have so much more free time. We read, we talk, we watch documentaries that interest us. This amazing amount of free time also led to the birth of our financial blog.

Watching less tv has made me a much more productive person. I also feel that I spend less because I am not constantly being forced to watch advertising in the form of commercials. I don't know what brands are popular. I don't know what the new trendy item is for my kids. I have no idea and I like it that way.

Guest's picture

Canceling cable was one of the best decisions I have ever made. It will allow you to work on creative projects and get outside more. Not to mention avoid watching the (mostly) pointless news all afternoon.

Guest's picture
bukzin

HDMI (and all other cables) can be bought much cheaper online.
Try Monoprice.com or Blue Jeans.com

A rooftop, or good indoor antenna can bring local HD programming
of excellent picture quality with no ongoing cost.
Make sure you use RG-6 (or better) connecting cabling.

Love my Tivo DVR box; well worth the cost to watch my programs
on my schedule.

Guest's picture
Adam

Great article! Though it pains me to rid myself of watching tv, I have to agree that getting rid of cable does not only benefit one's wallet, but benefits one's life. Television privatizes leisure time, and makes what was once a shared activity--bowling leagues, softball teams, etc..--into private activity. Not having a tv forces one to seek more social and therefore more rewarding ways of organizing leisure time.

Guest's picture

Great article. Although, I'm not sure you would need anything beyond Netflix, Hulu and the HDMI cable to connect computer to TV. I think the greatest benefit of not having cable is that you have to be more creative with your downtime. It's shocking how much time we waste sitting in front of a TV. It's become the great filler when you don't have work to do or you have people over and there are lulls in conversation. As many have said, the only thing you really miss out on is sports.

Guest's picture
$nap

A combination of netflix and hulu should do the trick. Just the time spend on commercials is worth the month

Guest's picture

I stopped watching TV 10 years ago and there is still not enough time. There is never enough of it...
Whether you are watching it or running your 10 miles a day.. ;-)