Cutting The Cable Cord: What They Don’t Tell You

You learn a lot of things when you buy a house. For instance, I learned that the grouchy, snarly dogs next door are no match for a four-foot fence. Which brings me to my second lesson: keep your overhead costs low so that you can invest in your long-term purchases. I keep my electric, gas, and water bills as low as I can so that I can splurge on purchases like, well, a taller fence. To that end, I decided to go cable-free. This is an increasingly popular option, with trend pieces calling millennials a “generation of cord cutters” when they’re not calling us a “generation of garbage people” or a “generation of stoop-necked phone-gazers.” I’m a month in and it’s going pretty well, although I’ve found out a few things those trend pieces didn’t mention.

Math Helps

Most tv and internet providers offer bundled packages, so before you get rid of cable it helps to calculate whether paying for internet and streaming video services individually is really cheaper. I recommend this calculator from Slate, which takes into account the cost difference of internet-only services versus cable-internet bundles.

What they don’t tell you: If you’re moving into a new place, you’re probably being offered an introductory rate from your cable/internet/satellite provider. After a year or two when your rates go up, you’ll see an even steeper savings by going cable-free. Read the fine print. Some contracts lock you in to two years of service, but the introductory rates end after a year. Calculate it both ways: with the new customer discounts, and with the standard bundle cost. Don’t forget to look at the true cost of cable, including rental of a cable box or satellite equipment.

Select Your Streaming Services

There are plenty of articles and websites to help with this, but if you’re new to streaming services you will probably want to compare who offers what. Are there specific shows you want to see, or do you just want a big catalog of shows and movies? Are you willing to sacrifice variety for cost? Netflix is the most expensive, although still a very reasonable $108 per year; it also offers the best variety of programming. Hulu Plus seemed totally unnecessary to me until I cut cable. That’s when I realized that if I missed network shows, I had to watch them on my tiny tablet screen and wait a week – and that’s if I could get the app to work (more on that later). Now I’m thinking I’ll add Hulu in the fall as a replacement for DVR/ On Demand services. Besides, I’ll want to watch The Mindy Project. Amazon Prime is the cheapest but with the smallest selection of shows and movies. But I bought Prime on a one-day sale for about $75 since I knew I’d be ordering a lot of things for the house, and Prime Instant Video was a nice bonus.

What they don’t tell you: When you do your math, don’t forget to factor out the streaming services you would get anyway. Yes, I use Netflix and Amazon Prime to stream shows, but I would still have those services even if I had cable. Since that cost is a constant, I didn’t add those services to the equation.

Another thing: Except for Amazon Prime, which you buy upfront for a year, you can cancel these services at will. I’m not getting Hulu Plus until the fall TV season, and if I had it already I would probably cancel it for June, July, and August. Cable doesn’t let you do that.

And Your … Streamer?

I read a lot of reviews and ended up with the Roku streaming stick, but you can look up the differences between Roku and Amazon Fire and Apple TV, and a myriad of others, and come to your own conclusions. If you’re getting a new TV you might want to look into a Smart TV, too.

Note: Most of them offer “free channels” and many of those free channels are full of cruddy direct-to-video, Lifetime-quality movies that are 15 years old, or weird sitcoms from 1970s Germany.

What they don’t tell you: You might be tempted to go with bare-bones internet since you’ll be paying for standalone service, but make sure you have enough bandwidth to stream with decent video quality.

Fill The Gap

This is crazy-person territory, but we’re serious about TV here. Make a list of which shows are must-watch for you, then figure out what you’ll need to get them. Which are on Hulu, and which will be on the network’s website that week?  Sling gets great reviews, but I hardly watch anything on the channels it provides so it would be a waste of money. For shows on network tv, do they air at times when you’re likely to be home?

What they don’t tell you: This was my initial problem with cord cutting in general. Everyone talks about how many shows are on Netflix and all of the free channels that Roku has, but that assumes that you want to watch any show. Just … anything at all, on your television. Not a particular show, close to when it airs, because otherwise you’ll be that person who makes your friends stop a conversation because you’re a season behind. So if you have any shows that you watch religiously, this step is a big help.

Another thing: Season passes for individual shows. When I moved most network shows had only a few weeks left, and the only cable shows I was watching were Mad Men and Orphan Black. It made more sense to pay $20 for one season of one show than to lock into months of a cable plan or even streaming service if I didn’t really need it.

Get By With A Little Help From Your Friends (Or: The Time Warner App Should Be Ashamed Of Itself)

#thanksmom

My parents have had HBO since I was wearing footie pajamas and watching Babar. That means they have HBO Go, and it’s a pretty common thing to “borrow” an HBO customer’s login information. My parents weren’t even using it. I also used their Time Warner info. I should probably feel guilty, but I don’t because that app doesn’t even work. Honestly, I could never get an episode to play. However, sometimes a network’s website will ask for your cable service login to watch, and that’s when this really comes in handy – that’s how I ultimately was able to watch Mad Men.

What They Don’t Tell You: This might work in a pinch if you miss an episode, but Time Warner (and I think Comcast?) doesn’t stream to your TV if you aren’t in the account holder’s house, so you have to watch on a computer or tablet screen. You also should share one of your streaming accounts with the person whose cable info you’re using. I offered my parents my Netflix account and my mom completed her first binge-watch with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

Don’t Forget The Antenna

You’re going to need one of those. You get great picture quality on HDTVs, and can watch NBC, ABC, FOX, CBS, PBS … and then a bunch of weird channels playing what looks like nothing so much as televised depression. I looked up the best-reviewed indoor antennas, and mine works great.

What They Don’t Tell You: This weird flat paddle makes it look like I’m trying to defibrillate my living room wall:

Yes, I’m blogging from my couch during a Gilmore Girls marathon.

Wait It Out

If you’re at the end of your cable contract or moving to a new place, try a month or so without cable and see how it goes. It took me a bit of time to figure out how to keep up with the shows I wanted to, and I’m glad I didn’t go with cable straight away. Besides, now it’s almost summer, and I really won’t be indoors watching television much until September, anyway. All told, I’m glad that I am saving a bit of money on my cable bills – and every time I step into my backyard without being greeted by two lunging pit bulls, I think that it was worth every penny I saved.

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