For years, budget gurus and technology experts alike have encouraged families across America to cut the strings on cable TV. Switching to streaming content was an easy way to reduce a bloated cable bill. But the recent hike in subscription prices for streaming services has taken us by surprise.
Can you still save money cutting the cord on cable?
The answer to that question is getting more and more complicated. About 40% of households in the US have turned off pay TV, and experts indicate that percentage could rise above 45% by 2024.
The purpose of cutting the cord is to save money, but many homes now have a patchwork quilt of subscriptions to premium streaming services that can’t be cheaper than their basic cable TV bill. (Frugality fail anyone?)
Cable vs. Streaming Subscriptions: A Cost Comparison
There is clearly a financial tipping point where too much material at your fingertips can get out of hand. Let’s take a closer look at recent price hikes for streaming services and crunch the numbers.
How much do popular streaming services cost?
Streaming Subscription Monthly Cost More Info Netflix $9.99/$15.49/$19.99 Cheap Ad-Supported Membership Coming Soon View Details Amazon Prime $14.99 (Prime Membership) $8.99 (Video Only) Amazon Prime Prices Raised in Early 2022 View Details Disney+ $7.99 (Ads) Ad-Free will jump to $10.99, Ads will be $7.99 View Details HBO Max $9.99 (Ads) …………….. $14.99 (No Ads) Discovery + Some content has been removed prior to merger View Details Discovery + $4.99 (Ads) …………….. $6.99 (No Ads) 6 with Verizon Unlimited Plan Get Month Free View Details Hulu $6.99 (Ads) ……… …….. $12.99 (No Ads) Prices go up to $7.99 and $14.99 on October 10th View Details Apple TV+ $4.99 in subscription Includes Family Sharing View Details Paramount+ $4.99 (Ads) ……… …….. $9.99 (No Ads) One Year Free to T-Mobile and Sprint Customers View Details Peacock $4.99 (Ad) ………………. $9. 99 (No Ads) Peacock Basic Offers Access to Some Free Content View Details Starz $8.99 Amazon and Hulu Offer Seven Days Free Trial View Details ESPN + $9.99 No Ads-Free Option View Details Amazon Prime Students Showtime for $10.9999 Cents per Month See Details
Adding up to the monthly cost of multiple streaming services, especially those without ads, can be expensive. There’s also the cost of upgrading hardware like a router and picking up a streaming device like Amazon’s Fire TV Stick, Roku or a game console like Xbox or PlayStation.
You’ll also have to pay for more bandwidth or upgrade your Internet connection to stream HD content. Do the equipment and services needed to cut the cord now cost more than that hefty cable TV bill?
For example, let’s say you have an Amazon Prime membership for kids (this includes access to their video content), Netflix Premium, and Disney+ with no ads. And you recently added HBO Max and Hulu to get all that watchable TV without commercials. If you add in ESPN+ for sports content, your streaming services budget will top $83.94 monthly – plus the cost of high-speed internet.
The internet connection you’ll need to stream HD content on multiple devices is not your standard bandwidth. Most families find they need fiber and opt for a higher data cap to accommodate cord cutting. This puts the Internet bill closer to $90-$100 per month compared to the standard $60 per month.
Before cutting the cable cord, check your Internet provider’s data cap and what penalties exist if you exceed it. If you can afford it, consider choosing an unlimited data plan or a provider that has no limits. Some Internet service providers give households certain grace periods before charging overage fees, which start at $10 for each GB.
Odds are, it’s still more affordable to cut the cord and continue streaming, even if you upgrade your internet speed. In 2020, the average US cable TV bill topped $217.42 a month, making it one of the most expensive home utility bills. Average monthly costs sometimes include discounted Internet access or phone service as a bundle.
Cut the cord or keep the cable? It depends on what you see.
Cutting the cable TV cord is beneficial for those who enjoy premium content and movies. In short, you’re cutting out the middle man and subscribing only to what you want to see. But a steady stream of streaming subscriptions adds up fast. And live TV, sports programming, and foreign language options can be problematic for cord-cutters.
Cord cutting may not be the best fit if any of the following describes your home.
Paying for ESPN+ doesn’t mean sports enthusiasts get all the games. Most NFL games and Monday Night Football are not available on ESPN+. Live sports remains an area of premium content that is difficult for streaming providers because broadcast TV networks have exclusive agreements with some national teams.
In a recent study, nearly half of families who didn’t cancel cable responded that they did so to watch their favorite local sports team. There are still options but they are valuable. YouTube TV, a popular choice for watching regional sports networks, costs $64.99 per month.
If you prefer to have a menu of live channels to scroll through, a cut-the-cord campaign might not be for you. While you can try live TV streaming services such as Sling TV or YouTube TV, they are more expensive than a standard streaming subscription, with packages topping out at $50 per month.
spanish language programming
It’s more difficult to watch multilingual programming when you cut the cord at your cable company. Sure, lots of streaming apps offer foreign TV, some of them free. However, finding news, sports and other Spanish-language content usually requires a subscription to a live TV service such as YouTube TV.
How to Cut the Cord on Cable TV and Still Save Money
Here are a few ways to keep your cultivated streaming content from growing into a tangled web of expensive subscriptions.
Lean into bundles Prepay for an annual subscription Benefit Promotions Binge and boom Get an antenna for local channels and live TV Insert with some ads Use the Internet Consider DVDs Student or Seniors Look for Discounts Password Sharing Be careful about 1. Bend in bundles
Several streaming providers have banded together to promote affordable bundles. One of the best discounts around is the Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+ bundle, which offers all three subscriptions for $14.99 per month (the current promotional price is $13.99).
2. Prepay for Annual Membership
If you can pay in advance for an annual subscription, you’ll get a small but significant discount. Reserve this approach for your most-watched streaming service, as you can lock in their content for the year to come.
3. Leverage Promotions
Like most services, promotions abound if you know where to find them. For example, one of the more expensive premium channels, HBO Max, has 40% off ads and ad-free subscriptions until October 30.
Keep an eye out for other special promotions in unexpected places. For example, when you bought an iPhone, Apple gave free three months of Apple TV+ in 2021.
4. Binge and Bounce
If there’s a show you’ve been dying to watch on a subscription you don’t have, sign up for a month and binge-watch it. Read the fine print carefully, and make sure you don’t commit to a lengthy subscription.
For example, you can pay $1.99 for Disney+, but it’s a promotional rate that automatically renews at the end of the month at $7.99 per month unless you cancel it.
5. Receive antenna for local channels and live TV
Want to watch some sports and local news but don’t want to pay for a live TV streaming service? Break out an HD antenna, mount it on your TV set and pick up free local broadcasts.
If you’re a little intimidated by remembering the giant TV antenna your parents put up on the roof, take heart. Today’s smart TV antennas are less intrusive and easy to install.
6. Keep Up With Some Ads
Part of the appeal of streaming content is what you want to see when you want to watch it, so most subscriptions used to be ad-free. Many now offer a version with commercials at a reduced cost, and some, like Peacock TV, even have free content if you’re willing to sit through the commercials.
7. Use the Internet
Pop into the websites for the major networks you can find on cable and satellite TV, and you’ll discover all kinds of free content. And if you have a Roku or Fire Stick, there are often free streaming apps like PBS or YouTube TV that you can download.
8. Consider DVDs
Give your library card or old-fashioned Netflix DVD subscription a workout. If you’re willing to wait, you can watch older seasons of some shows and movies on DVD. Having a few DVDs on hand can also deter the impulse to buy content from Amazon or Apple when you’re in the mood for movie night.
9. Look for Student or Senior Discounts
Amazon Prime, Hulu and some other streaming services offer discounts and special pricing for students and in some cases seniors. For an Amazon Prime student membership — which comes with benefits like savings on textbooks, free LinkedIn Premium, discounts on Showtime and more — the cost is about half that of a regular Prime membership.
10. Beware Sharing Passwords
And last but not least, a word of warning about sharing logins on other streaming devices. While Netflix and other streaming services offer family subscriptions to prohibit password sharing, it’s still something that subscribers do often. Netflix said in 2022 that more than 100 million people use shared passwords.
Netflix munching has become such a problem that the provider may pay additional fees for each sub-user on an account. If this approach works, it is likely to start with other streaming services like HBO Max, Hulu and Disney+. So keep password sharing to a minimum so we can all catch up on old episodes of Game of Thrones before the crackdown.
The Bottom Line on Cord Cutting
Cutting the cord on cable TV still makes good financial sense for most households. The trick to finding affordable alternatives to live TV services is thinking outside the cable box, so you don’t have to pay extra to catch big games or local news.
Kaz Vida is the senior author of The Penny Hoarder.
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