In order to save money on your television or cable bill, there are a number of actions you can take:
- You can reduce your television service (by choosing a plan with less channels)
- You can shop around for better rates from other providers (such as by switching to satellite)
- You can cancel your cable or satellite TV subscription and instead:
- Use an over-the-air antenna to receive local channels (and optionally use an antenna DVR to record those channels)
- Use online services (such as Netflix or Sling TV) to receive your favorite TV shows, movies, and sports
- You can seasonally subscribe to premium channels (when your favorite show is airing)
- You can stop renting additional set-top boxes for additional rooms. Instead, stream the signal to other rooms.
- You can make sure to get a promotional ‘new customer’ rate (even if you’re not a new customer)
- You can call your provider and ask to cancel because the service is too expensive. Generally this will prompt them to offer you a discount.
Before we go into detail on how you can save money on your monthly television bill, let’s look at some of the options and prices that I have in my area for television and internet combined:
As you can see, depending on the providers and options you select, you could be paying nothing each month for TV and internet (if you’re hardcore and can give up internet at home and only watch local channels) or you could be paying over $200 each month (if you’re hardcore and watch every channel under the sun and need the fastest internet possible).
Below is a description of the different strategies you can use to end up on the top of that chart (with a low-cost television solution) or on the bottom of the chart (with a high-cost television problem).
1. Use an over-the-air antenna for television
Believe it or not, you can still watch television with an old fashioned antenna. You can even receive a high definition signal with an antenna (and the signal is a higher quality than cable due to less compression). The downside to using an antenna is that you can only receive local channels, which will limit you to the major networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, CW, PBS and Univision).
In order to use an antenna, you’ll first need to confirm that you can receive a signal at your location. If you’re near a broadcast tower, you’ll be able to use an indoor antenna to receive a signal. An indoor antenna requires no installation (other than finding a place to put it in your house) but only has a 25 mile radius. If you are far away from a broadcast tower, you will need to look into using an outdoor antenna mounted on the exterior of your home to receive a signal.
Fortunately, if you decide to switch to antenna TV you can still utilize a DVR to record your favorite shows and watch them whenever you want. If you decide to go this route, you can read our separately written article entitled “What is the best over-the-air antenna DVR?” Long story short, over-the-air antenna DVRs offer a way to record television from antenna signals. They generally also support online services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. You can use online services in place of cable or satellite TV to get your television fix and save money( which is what our next section is about).
2. Use an internet service to watch on-demand TV shows or movies (without a full satellite or cable television subscription)
Nowadays, there are a lot of online services available that provide television over an internet connection. You can subscribe to online services that provide full series of TV shows, newly released movies, and even sports channels like ESPN. A description of the available options is below.
Netflix ($10 a month) – Netflix is the most popular streaming option by far. They offer on-demand television shows and movies. Their catalog doesn’t consist of every show or movie from a certain channel or studio. Instead, Netflix makes deals with companies to show a selection of content on-demand for a period of time. This means that the content available on Netflix is ever-changing. The positives in a Netflix subscription are as follows: most content of any streaming service, best user-interface, best video quality, lots of children’s content, and the most original content. The negatives in a Netflix subscription include: content can be old (new blockbusters are rarely available and new seasons of current television shows can take a year to be available after airing) and the amount of content available has been shrinking as Netflix has become more profitable and studios have wanted a greater piece of the pie. Still, Netflix is the best available streaming option and if you’re a cord cutter, it’s a must-have at this point.
Hulu ($8 a month [with commercials] or $12 [with no commercials]) – Hulu is Netflix’s closest competitor. Hulu does a better job of having more up-to-date content since it has content available for currently-airing television shows. However, it also has commercials for some of its content. Even if you pay for the “no commercial” premium package, there is still certain content on this service that is required to show you commercials. Hulu has a smaller library than Netflix, but it does have some quality content. Although Hulu started off as mainly a television streaming service, Hulu has started to add more movies to its service to help compete with Netflix. Hulu is still in Netflix’s shadow though. If you’re interested in this service, you may want to browse their website to see if any shows on their are must-sees for you.
Amazon Prime ($99 a year) – Amazon Prime is another service trying to compete with Netflix. Amazon Prime comes with some ancillory benefits though: you also get free two-day shipping from Amazon (among other fringe benefits from Amazon). This service is smaller compared to Netflix and Hulu at the moment. The user interface is pretty awful. They try to push purchasable content alongside their free Amazon Prime content. Still, this service does has some value. There are seasons of some hot television shows available on through Amazon Prime. Amazon has been pushing hard to expand this service and purchase content for its users lately. I don’t believe this streaming service is worth it on its own currently, but if you use Amazon Prime for other things, this streaming service adds some value to your Amazon Prime subscription.
HBO Now ($15 a month) – HBO Now offers on-demand content for everything available on the regular HBO channels. This means that you have access to all of the movies currently being showed on HBO, plus all of the original content that HBO has to offer (such as The Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, etc.).
Showtime ($11 a month) – Showtime offers an online subscription service (without cable) that offers everything available on the regular Showtime channels. This means that you have access to all of the movies currently being showed on Showtime , plus all of the original content that Showtime has to offer (such as Homeland, Dexter, Shameless, etc.).
Sling TV ($20 a month for blue package, $25 a month for orange package) – Sling TV operates differently than the other online service. Instead of offering on-demand content, Sling TV offers streaming of many of the regular television shows that you would get with cable or satellite. The orange package includes channels such as ESPN, AMC, TNT, TBS, Comedy Central, Cartoon Network and the Disney Channel. The blue package has all of the channels available in the orange package, plus it adds channels like FX, USA, and possibly regional sports channels (if they are available) so you can catch local games of your favorite sports teams without a cable subscription. You’ll have to check your area to see if Sling TV has the local sports networks though.
Crackle ($0 a month) – Crackle is a free television service that is owned by Sony and has commercials on its content. At this point, it’s a very limited platform. Its most famous piece of original content is probably Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Generally they also rotate some old movies for streaming. For instant, as of the time of writing this piece, they are advertising streaming of the original Police Academy on their front page. Still, since this service is free, it’s worth checking out for content.
3. Switch from cable to satellite TV
Depending on the area you’re in, switching to a satellite TV provider could be cheaper than cable TV. However, one thing to take into account is that if you’re currently getting both internet and cable from your cable company, they will start to charge you more for your internet service if you cancel your cable service (since you won’t be on a package plan anymore). The cable companies try to price their internet packages in a way that forces you to buy their TV service.
4. Cancel (or seasonally subscribe to) premium channels on your cable subscription
If you’re currently paying for premium channels, evaluate the amount of time you are utilizing the channels. Are they worth the extra $10-20 that you are paying for them? You can also seasonally subscribe to certain channels. For instance, maybe you’re a big basketball fan, and therefore you only need to sports package during basketball season. Or maybe you’re a big Game of Thrones fan and only need an HBO subscription while new episodes are airing. If you’re only subscribing to a premium channel for one show, you can also evaluate whether you should just purchase the show through the Apple Store or Amazon, instead of paying for the channel for the whole year. One show can cost $40 through Amazon Instant Video, whereas a premium channel could cost $60-$180 for an entire year.
5. Instead of renting additional cable boxes, stream your television signal to another room – Additional cable or satellite boxes can cost between $5-$15 per month. However, you can also choose to stream your television signal wirelessly from one room to another. The devices to use a wireless television stream can be costly though, up to $180. In addition, the devices don’t always work for everyone’s setup. The two rooms can’t be too far apart or else the signal will be too weak. Plus, they can be glitchy with the signal cutting in-and-out from time-to-time. If you want to go this route, I’d suggest buying a device from a store which allows for easy returns, and giving the device a 30-day trial run. One thing to realize about these devices is that they are only meant to stream a signal, so you will only be able to watch whatever is playing on your main device. However, one nice thing about these devices is that they usually come with a remote control signal repeater, which means that you can use the remote in one room to control the device in a completely other room, even if your remote isn’t designed to work in a separate room. The remote repeater will take the signal from the remote in Room A, and repeat it in Room B.
6. Get on a promotional rate for your television service
When purchasing an television plan, there are promotional rates to consider. Most providers provide promotional rates to new customers and if your company provides this promotional rate, you should always be on a promotional rate. Promotional rates are only supposed to last for 12-24 months, but when one ends, you should call your television provider and ask to cancel your service. When they ask you why you are cancelling, tell them it is because the service is too expensive. They will then work with you to give you a new promotional rate.
7. Call your provider and ask to cancel because the service is too expensive.
In the tip above, we suggested that you get a promotional billing rate by calling your provider and asking to cancel. But even if you used the tip above to get a promotional rate (or if you’re already on a promotional rate), you should continue to use this tip.
Believe it or not, the promotional rates that you get as a new customer aren’t even the best rates that your provider can offer you. Call your television provider to cancel your service before your promotional rate is up, so that you can try to double-dip on a ‘new customer’ promotional rate and a ‘call-to-cancel’ promotional rate. This can potentially lower your bill by $30-$60 without any effect on your actual service.
When you call to cancel your television, it’s best to be aware of what other providers are offering in your area. If another provider is providing a lower cost service, your television provider will very likely match their competitor’s rate to keep you. Television providers are very aware of what competitors are offering and try to match them. In addition, television providers have a lot of competition from online services these days as well, so they are starting to offer very low rates for service.
If for some reason you call to cancel your television service, and they do not offer a discount, you can always back out of the cancellation. Calling your provider to cancel the account in hopes of a discount is really a no-lose situation.