IN THIS CHAPTER
Scaling down your hardware and Internet
Reducing your subscriptions
Getting (a little) money back on streaming fees
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!
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 (
www.tvfool.com) 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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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: