Chapter 10

Ten Ways to Save Money in a Cord-Free World


Bullet Scaling down your hardware and Internet

Bullet Reducing your subscriptions

Bullet Getting (a little) money back on streaming fees

Bullet Learning savvy subscription strategies to save big bucks

You might not have many nice things to say about the cable company, but you have to give cable its due when it comes to simplicity: You get a set number of channels for a fixed monthly fee. Done and done. Sure, that so-called fixed fee started high and seemed to get higher all too often, but at least you knew what you were paying month to month.

You can replicate that simplicity when you cut the cord. For example, you can elect to watch just over-the-air TV, which gives you a fixed monthly “fee” of precisely zero dollars. Or you can elect to go with a single subscription, whether it’s a streaming service such as Netflix or a cable replacement service such as Hulu + Live TV.

It's more likely, however, that your cord-free experience is going to be more complex and, in general, the greater the complexity, the greater the monthly expense. Although you're likely saving money compared to what you were paying for cable, you might still want to shave a few dollars from your monthly streaming bill.

In this chapter, you discover a fistful of ways to save money in your post-cord life, from making a savvy antenna purchase to eschewing premium Internet and subscription services to not wasting money on unused services. By the end of this chapter, you'll be making money. Ka-ching!

Get the Smallest OTA Antenna Possible

If you want to watch over-the-air TV as part of your post-cord lifestyle, who can blame you? You get anywhere from a few to a few dozen channels, all broadcasting in beautifully sharp HD and free for the taking.

Many people are tempted to buy the biggest, baddest antenna on the market and then brag about it on social media. Hey, if that floats your OTA boat, go for it. But if you're interested in saving money (and I know you are or you wouldn't be reading this chapter), you almost certainly don't need the Cadillac of antennas.

Instead, use a service such as TV Fool ( to see which over-the-air TV channels are available in your neck of the woods, and then buy an antenna with a range that just exceeds the farthest tower you absolutely must access. Make it an indoor antenna, if possible, because indoor models tend to be less expensive than their outdoor cousins.

Here are a few more ways to save money when putting together an over-the-air TV setup:

  • Don't bother adding an LTE filter. You need one of these only if a cellular antenna is right in your neighborhood.
  • Don't buy multiple antennas. Remember that a single antenna can provide an OTA signal for multiple devices by using a splitter.
  • Most folks don't need a signal amplifier. Note, however, that you might need a distribution amplifier if you want to split your signal and one of those splits has to travel a long way.
  • Double-check that your antenna comes with its own coaxial cable. If it does, great: You don't have to buy your own cable.

Don't Get Too Much Internet

As I discuss in Chapter 7, the specs of your Internet connection can make a big difference in your post-cable life. Fundamentally, the quality of your Internet access can turn your cable-free life from nirvana to nightmare if either (or — yikes! — both) of the following are true:

  • You don't have enough bandwidth. If your Internet plan has a bandwidth cap, bumping up against that ceiling either means no more streaming TV for you until next month (good thing you've got over-the-air TV, right?) or paying a (usually) obscene rate per gigabyte for going beyond that cap.
  • You don't have enough download speed. Streaming video requires a fast Internet connection. (Again, see Chapter 7 to learn how fast.) If your download speeds aren't up to the challenge, your streaming services will either take a very long time to get started or often stop mid-show as your streaming device buffers more content.

So, given those shudder-inducing scenarios, who among us can resist the siren call of unlimited bandwidth and top-of-the-line download speeds? Yes, your streaming problems would be solved, but at what cost? Literally! Internet plans with no bandwidth cap and download speeds measured in the hundreds of megabits per second aren't cheap. Sure, you'll probably still pay less than cable, but with all your other costs for streaming services, your monthly payout could exceed cable without breaking a sweat.

Fortunately, the Internet portion of those costs doesn't have to wreak havoc your budget:

  • Check your bandwidth. To make an informed decision about how much bandwidth you need, check your usage history. Your Internet provider should have an online tool that shows you how much bandwidth you've used each month.
  • Speed kills (your budget). If your provider's top-tier Internet plan offers 800 Mbps, 900 Mbps, or even 1Gbps, forget that. Unless you have people in your house who are serious gamers, these speeds are way faster than you need. A plan that offers 50 Mbps or 100 Mbps will get the job done at probably half the cost.

Take Advantage of Skinny Bundles

I'm certain one of the main reasons you bailed on your cable account was because of the dreaded channel bundle. You know what I'm talking about: Your cable company takes one or two super-popular channels — think HBO, Showtime, ESPN — and combines them with a bunch of mediocre and obscure channels. The company then slaps a fat monthly fee on the resulting bundle, which you pay, of course, to get your favorite show. Cue the steam coming out of your ears.

Cutting the cord means you have the option of taking the opposite approach. That is, you can do a la carte TV, where you subscribe to only the channels you want to watch. (Examples of a la carte TV services are Apple TV Channels, Amazon Prime Video Channels, and Roku Premium Subscriptions.) This approach gives you more freedom, but those monthly subscription fees can add up to a hefty monthly bill as you add more channels.

Some streaming services offer an in-between option called the skinny bundle, which is a relatively small collection of channels for a relatively small monthly fee. Skinny bundles are getting harder to find, but they might be the right option for you if your budget's tight.

Don't Commit Until You're Amazed at Your Luck

The writer Iris Murdock once said that “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” That sage advice also applies to streaming services, believe it or not. Even though so many services are available, many aren't marriage-worthy, as it were. Some are utterly forgettable, most are merely so-so, and a few will seem so right for you that, yes, you'll be amazed at your luck.

Ah, but how will you know which services are dreck and which are gold? The only way to really know is to subscribe and give the service an honest try. Wait a minute, I hear you say, won't that be expensive? Nope, not if you follow these simple steps:

  1. Make sure the service offers a free trial for new subscriptions (almost all do).
  2. Set up a new subscription for the service.
  3. As soon as you get confirmation that your subscription is active, immediately cancel the service. The trick here is that almost all services allow you to complete the free trial, even though you've cancelled your subscription.
  4. Check out the service for the duration of the free trial.
  5. If you're not amazed by the service, let the free trial period expire and move on with your life. Otherwise, reinstate your subscription, if possible, or start a new subscription and keep it this time.

Remember Most streaming services make it relatively easy to cancel a subscription, particularly if you subscribed with the service directly. If you subscribed to a service using a streaming media device, such as Roku or Fire TV, you won't be able to unsubscribe using the same device. Instead, you'll need to surf to the service's website and cancel your subscription there.

Watch New Shows on the Cheap

Here's a scenario that's all too familiar to cord-cutters everywhere: A premium channel for which you have no subscription releases a new show that everyone — friends, family, coworkers, people in the off-leash park, total strangers — is talking about. You desperately want to join in the conversation, but it would mean taking out a premium subscription to watch just one show. What to do? Here are some options:

  • If the service releases an entire season of the show all at once: Subscribe to the service and then immediately cancel your subscription, as I describe in the previous section. Your free trial should be long enough to watch all the available episodes of the show.

    Remember If you find yourself subscribing and cancelling to the same service multiple times, perhaps it's time to be amazed at your luck (see the preceding section) and get an actual subscription.

  • If the service releases only individual episodes each week: Wait until the season is almost over, subscribe, and then cancel the subscription. Again, use the free trial period to catch up with the show.
  • Wait for the new show to be available on one of your existing services: Many shows do a first run on one service and are then made available on other services, such as Netflix or Apple TV. If you know the show will be coming to one of your services, just wait for that release. Similarly, networks often stream new episodes for a limited time after the original broadcast, so check the network website for show availability.

Yep, I know: Only the first of these options lets you get in on the current show buzz right away, but that's life in Cord Cutting City.

Subscribe Strategically

One easy way to save money on a streaming service subscription is to pay for an entire year up front, which gets you a discount compared to a month-to-month subscription. (In most cases, you save approximately one or two months' worth of fees.)

However, if you subscribe to a streaming service mostly to watch just one show, you're wasting money by paying for that subscription when no new episodes of your show are available. Saving money in this scenario requires these steps:

  1. Switch your streaming service account to a monthly subscription instead of an annual subscription.
  2. Watch your favorite show's new episodes.
  3. Cancel your subscription.
  4. When your favorite show drops new episodes, reinstate your subscription.
  5. Repeat Steps 2 through 4 for as long as your show keeps spitting out new seasons.

On a broader level, you can apply a similar strategy to all your streaming subscriptions. That is, you subscribe to one streaming service at a time for, say, a month or two. During that time, you watch everything on that service that appeals to you. When the month (or whatever) is up, cancel your subscription, switch to another service, and repeat.

Keep an Eye on Your Subscriptions

Unless you go the one-service-at-a-time route that I describe in the preceding section, your post-cord life will be characterized by having to deal with lots of subscriptions spread across many different services. And unless you have super organization skills, I can guarantee that the more subscriptions you have, the greater the chance that one or both of the following will happen to you:

  • You'll subscribe to a service for the free trial, and then forget to cancel the subscription when the trial period ends.
  • You'll stop watching a service and then forget not only that the service even exists but also that you're still paying for it.

Either way (or both ways), you're wasting money on services you don't use and don't want. Here are some ways to stop the bleeding:

  • If you're just checking out a service, follow the steps I outline earlier in the “Don't Commit Until You're Amazed at Your Luck” section to cancel your subscription immediately after it's activated. That way, if you don't like the service, there's no chance that you'll pay for a few months (or, worse, a whole year) if you forget to cancel.
  • If you are checking out a service but decide not to cancel immediately, use your favorite calendar or task app to create a reminder to cancel the service just before the end of the free trial.
  • Way back in Chapter 2, I suggested making a cord-cutting budget so that you could see if cutting the cord would save you money. If you went to the trouble of making that budget, be sure to update it each time you set up a new subscription. That way, you always have an up-to-date list of all your streaming service subscriptions.

Get a Credit Card Offering Streaming Cash Back

Did you know that you can get paid to watch streaming media? Well, not paid, exactly, but you can get some of your streaming fees back. The secret here is to pay for your streaming subscriptions using a credit card that offers cash back for such purchases. Here are some examples:

  • Amazon Rewards Visa Signature Card: Offers 5 percent cash back on Amazon Prime Video Channels subscriptions.
  • American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card: Offers 6 percent cash back on select streaming subscriptions, including Netflix, Disney+, and HBO Max. Note that this card has a $95 annual fee, so be sure to do the math.
  • Apple Card: Offers 3 percent cash back on Apple TV Channels subscriptions and streaming subscriptions set up via iTunes.
  • US Bank Cash Plus Visa Signature: Offers 5 percent cash back on select streaming service subscriptions.

Tip Credit cards aren't the only products that offer streaming goodies. For example, many smartphone plans also include discounts on streaming services.

Give Up the Premium Subscription Plan

Some services offer a deluxe version of their streaming subscription. These premium plans usually come with a few nice perks, but almost always those extras aren't essential for enjoying your shows.

For example, Netflix Premium bumps up the streaming quality to 4K from the standard 1080p. Surely that's a necessity, right, particularly if you have a 4K-friendly TV? Not really. Believe me, shows streamed in good old HD (1080p) look amazing on most modern TVs. (The exception is large-screen TVs, which really need 4K; see Chapter 6 for more info.)

And if you do a significant amount of streaming to a mobile device such as a tablet or smartphone, a 4K stream is completely unnecessary. Save your money and ditch the premium plan.

Save on Sports

In Chapter 9, I went through a few options for getting your sports fix via streaming services. The upshot? Streaming sports doesn't come cheap. The sports addict in you might not care, but you should know that there are a few ways to save money when it comes to watching sports. Here are some tips:

  • Go over-the-air. Fortunately, we still live in a world where the major networks broadcast live sports free over-the-air. Yes, your choices are limited to what's showing live on your local affiliate, but did I mention it's free? See Chapter 3, 4, and 5 to get the full scoop on rigging out your entertainment center with over-the-air TV gear.
  • Be strategic. Earlier (see “Subscribe Strategically”) I mentioned that you can subscribe to a service temporarily when it has the content you want. Why not do the same with sports? If you watch only baseball, for example, why pay for an expensive sports package through the winter? If you watch only playoffs for one or more sports, subscribe when the playoffs start, and then cancel your subscription when a winner is crowned.
  • Split the cost with a friend or family member. Most sport subscription plans enable watching on multiple devices. So get a friend or cousin to go in with you on a single account, and then share the password. Wait a second, isn't that illegal? Not technically, but it's probably not something you should brag about, either.
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