How cutting the cord can help save you money

On average, Americans spend over $200 a month for cable TV. If you’re one of them, the cost may have you thinking about other ways to watch your favorite TV shows and movies. According to a 2021 survey, 27% of adults in the U.S. have done just that—they’ve become “cord cutters.” Another 17% never subscribed to cable in the first place.

Beyond the cost, consumers may have other issues with cable—like being locked into long-term contracts and paying monthly for equipment rental. If you’re wondering whether you should join the millions of people who’ve cut the cord, it could help to understand what’s involved in making the switch.

Key takeaways

  • Cutting the cord by canceling your cable TV service might help you save money.
  • Alternatives to cable can include everything from free TV to more costly options like subscriptions to streaming services.
  • Streaming services are among today’s most popular cable alternatives. With streaming, content—like TV shows, movies and podcasts—is delivered to computers and mobile devices via an internet connection. 
  • Be aware that adding multiple alternative options—for example, combining several streaming services with pay-as-you-go viewing—might cut into your savings.

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What is cutting the cord?

First things first: What does it mean to cut the cord? It generally means eliminating your cable TV service with the goal of finding one or more alternative viewing options. They could have a lower price, more variety or better-quality content.

Cable TV alternatives
Check out some of today’s most popular alternatives to cable:

  • Free streaming: There are paid streaming services out there—and free streaming services, too. Check out a few and see if you might enjoy what they have to offer.
  • Streaming services free trials: Some streaming services may offer free trials, hoping that you’ll like what you see and subscribe.
  • Antennas: An antenna could help you tap into local TV networks for free. One may cost less than $50 or more than $100, depending on its quality and whether it’s for indoors or outdoors. 
  • Online viewing: TV networks sometimes replay episodes of shows online for a limited time. You could potentially pay nothing to watch those shows through an app or web browser.
  • Platforms for paying as you go: Some streaming services let you pay for what you watch without committing to a subscription. They can include services for watching individual movies, TV shows, sports and more.

Pros and cons of cutting the cord

There’s a lot to think about when it comes to cutting the cord—including the technical aspect of setting up the equipment for a different type of service.

Here are some general pros and cons you may want to consider:

Cost savings:
Cord cutters may be able to save money by switching to another viewing option—for example, watching free TV or switching to a streaming service. Many streaming services offer tiered pricing options.

You could save even more if you share your streaming subscription with family, roommates and even friends outside your household by sharing the costs. In fact, some streaming services are creating sharing plans in response to users sharing their usernames and passwords with others. 

Flexibility: In addition to watching streaming content on a TV or desktop computer, you can take it with you and watch it on a smartphone, tablet or laptop.

Watching a movie on a long flight or at the park is even possible. That’s because some streaming services may let you download content to your mobile devices—for times when you don’t have an internet connection.

Cloud technology: Ever rushed to get home to watch a network or cable TV show? Or been disappointed when your digital video recorder (DVR) failed to record one? 

With cloud technology, timing is less of an issue—and so is the need for a DVR. Today’s video streaming services typically store their content on cloud computing servers accessed over the internet. That means you can generally watch what you want when you want—on demand. 

Little to no advertising: For some people, watching content ad free may justify paying for a cable alternative that offers few or no ad breaks—like certain streaming services. Even if a service does have ad breaks, they can be shorter than those on cable TV.

Account setup: With alternatives to cable, you’ll generally need to go through a setup process—like people do when they set up a monthly cable TV subscription—before you can start viewing. That can include setting up accounts with usernames, passwords, payment methods and more.

Device setup: Smart TVs, streaming devices and other cable alternatives may require time and effort for the setup of equipment you may not be familiar with.

Limited channel lineup: Some cable alternatives may offer fewer channels than cable does. And streaming costs can add up if you subscribe to multiple services in an effort to get all the content you want. Even then, it may be hard to put together a combination of services that matches the variety of cable.

Is cutting the cord worth it?

Wondering if it’s worth the effort to cut cable? You might want to think twice if doing so might create one or more of the following situations:

  • Paying more for phone, internet and other services that were bundled with your cable
  • Spending money on equipment to stream
  • Hiring someone to help you set up streaming
  • Paying more for faster internet service
  • Subscribing to multiple services to access your must-haves
  • Paying for extras like news and sports
  • Buying an antenna to access local network channels

How to cut the cord 

It can sometimes be difficult and expensive to cancel your cable contract before it expires—so you might want to wait if you’re in that situation. 

During that time, you could test out cable alternatives before you make any big changes. Some streaming services may even offer free or discounted trials. If they don’t, it may be fairly easy and inexpensive to sign up for the services and then cancel them whenever you want. And if you’re a Capital One cardholder, you might be able to get help keeping track of free trials.

Step 1: Make sure your internet speed is sufficient for streaming
You might be able to watch streaming content over Wi-Fi, a shared network or a 5G mobile network. To do so, you’ll generally need a fast, dedicated, hard-wired connection. That’s to prevent the video and audio from lagging or stopping altogether as the service downloads more of your show in the background before you see it. That process is called buffering.

You may also want to check your internet bill to see if it includes how many megabits per second (Mbps) your service can stream. You typically may need 1 or fewer Mbps for emailing, browsing the internet and posting on social media. But streaming videos may require:

  • 3-4 Mbps for standard-definition video
  • 5-8 Mbps for high-definition (HD) video
  • 25 Mbps for 4K ultra HD video

Step 2: Choose a streaming device
Before you choose a streaming device, it can help to ask yourself some basic questions: Where are you most comfortable watching your favorite movies and TV shows? Do you prefer a small or large screen? Do you want to move from one place to another while you’re watching?

Your answers could help determine the best streaming devices for your needs. They could include the following:

Smart TVs: A smart TV may be one of the easiest ways to watch streaming content—that’s because it can come with popular apps already downloaded. Then it can be fairly simple to download the apps you want that your smart TV doesn’t offer. 

Digital media players: If you don’t have a smart TV, you could use a digital media player—for example, a box or USB stick. Most boxes plug into a power outlet and the HDMI port on the back of your TV. Sticks plug into a USB port. 

Some common digital media players include:

  • Gaming consoles like Xbox, PlayStation® and Nintendo Switch™
  • DVD and Blu-ray players
  • Roku®, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast With Google TV

Non-smart TVs: Streaming can get more complicated if you have an older TV that doesn’t have an HDMI port. But you may be able to connect your TV to a receiver using an HDMI converter and other types of audio and video cables. 

Step 3: Select your streaming services 
Some streaming services may feature more specialized content than others do. For example, are you looking for documentaries, nature shows, children’s programs or movies—either old, new or original? Are you a sports fan?

Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, YouTubeTV, Sling TV and Disney+ are popular streaming services. And many  TV networks—like HBO MaxTM and Showtime—offer streaming services, too.

Step 4: Consider an antenna for local channels
An antenna could help you access your local TV network channels. But reception can depend on a variety of factors, including:

  • The weather
  • Your antenna’s height
  • The transmitter’s location
  • Things blocking the signal, such as trees, terrain, buildings or other homes 

To find all the stations in your area, you could enter your address in this reception map from the Federal Communications Commission.

Cutting the cord in a nutshell

If you’re ready to cut cable TV, it might be time to compare the many alternatives. Some options may be inexpensive or even free. But keep in mind that signing up for several alternatives—like multiple streaming services, for instance—could add up quickly.

While you're deciding, you could think about how cable fits into your monthly budget expenses. It may also help to check out 13 ways to save money at home to find even more ways to economize. After that, you may want to learn even more by diving into 7 money management tips to improve your finances.

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