Ditch Cable and Still Enjoy TV

A cutaway diagram of a coaxial cable
Image via Wikipedia

Cable is expensive. If you have more than just basic cable, you are probably paying at least $65 per month or more, just for TV.   How can you save on television, without stealing cable?

The good news is that, in the internet age, it is possible to fully enjoy TV without having to pay exorbitant fees to the cable company.

Basic Cable

Basic cable generally runs about $15 per month, but it usually comes with a $10 per month discount on internet access if you use cable for that.   For $5 per month, you can get all of the local broadcast channels, including the news and weather, which we use in the morning while getting ready for work.


We watch movies.  We watch lots of movies.  Spending $14 per month for an unlimited 2-at-a-time plan is a no-brainer for us.  It has also enabled us to scratch the movie itch without resorting to HBO or incessant movie purchases, which used to run $100+ each month.   When you include Netflix instant in the equation, which gives us a ton of older movies to choose from at a moment’s notice, we are more than covered for our movie obsession.


Hulu.com has a metric crapload of TV shows and movies available for free.   They are moving towards a partial pay model, but most of their content will still be free.  But, you don’t want to crowd your family around a 15-inch laptop screen to watch something, you say?  Fine. We went to our local computer parts store and bought cables and converters to go from the video-out and headphone jacks on the laptop to the inputs on our VCR.    That cost about $30 for 2 extension cords and 2 converters.   We use the analog outputs, which allows for cheaper converters.  The quality after conversion is no worse than watching a movie in the VCR.


TiVo comes with a Video-On-Demand(VOD) section, if you connect it to the internet.   It’s mostly free, with hundreds of channels to choose from, ranging from trailers to full shows and movies.   I have a season pass to TEDTalks, which are always impressive and usually inspirational.   There are many more channels to choose from.


I’m kidding.  I’m not advocate piracy.  This is just search-engine bait.

As you can see, it’s entirely possible to save money on cable, without missing out on anything you care about.  How do you save money on TV and movies?

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Free Tivo

Vintage TV set, pt. 2
Image by Marcin Wichary via Flickr

TV is causing problems in my life.

We watch too much TV. Often, we’re only watching because there’s a crappy show in between two shows we do want to watch.   In the winter–during the new seasons–my son has wrestling practice 4 or 5 nights per week, which means I miss the new shows I like.     We recently downgraded our service provider, so there’s no functional guide button in the house.

That all makes me sad.

Then I found out that Tivo’s lifetime service is attached to the unit.  If you sell a unit with lifetime service, you can transfer the service to the buyer.   You can’t, however, transfer the service to a new box.   That means that everyone who upgrades and sells their old box is selling the lifetime service with it.  If you don’t mind having older equipment, you can pick up a used box with full lifetime service for less than the cost of a new box.

After reading Erica’s method of finding 750 extra hours per year, we decided to give it a shot.  We are taking back control of our TV. No more rushing home to catch a new episode.   No more mindlessly channel-surfing to kill time between good shows.  No more commercials.   And a guide!  I like having a guide button.

I started shopping.  My goal was to get a Series 2 Tivo with full lifetime service for about $100 before shipping.  I came close a few times, but always lost the auction, in the end.  I wasn’t in a hurry, and I didn’t actually have the money budgeted, so it was good to lose.

Then, a friend found himself in a situation that didn’t work with a Tivo and decided to sell his heavily upgraded, heavily accessorized Tivo HD for $100 + shipping.  A quick call to my wife resulted in just one objection:  Where were we getting the money? We don’t have an opportunity fund, yet and I needed to take advantage of this quick if we were going to get it.

I decided to make it free.

When I automated all of our bills, I rounded up. If a bill was for $63.50, I paid $64.   If a bill wasn’t exactly consistent, I paid enough to cover the higher amount.   For example, I didn’t have a text messaging plan on my cell phone until December.  Before that, I’d get about a dozen texts each month, so I budgeted for paying for the texts.   If I didn’t get the texts, I’d get a credit on my bill.   I never lowered the automated payment.   All of my bills were set up like that.   My insurance company dropped my rates, but I left the payment alone.   I slowly started accumulating a credit on a number of bills. My intention was to skip a month when the billed amount got to $0, and apply the money to debt.  It was just a mind-game to play with myself to make the debt easier to pay.

I flipped through the bills, looking at the credits.   I adjusted the payments to match the bills this month and found more than enough to buy the Tivo.   This is a purchase that doesn’t influence my budget in any way.   Almost.   This unit doesn’t have lifetime service, so I will be paying for the monthly fee, but that’s been more than balanced out by  reducing our television service.

This is a recently-high-end model for free, as far as my budget is concerned.   I used money that wasn’t even on the table before I went looking for it.  It’s like searching the couch cushions for money to catch a movie.

Now,  I’ll have control of my TV–with a strong measure of convenience to boot–for $13 per month.  The time savings is yet-to-be-determined.

A free Tivo simply because I rounded my bills up when I automated last year.   That’s a pain-free opportunity fund.

Update: After I wrote this, I found out that I dropped the ball in budgeting for child-care now that summer is here and my oldest won’t be in school.   These costs are going up $350 per month.   I spent an hour scavenging the couch cushions of my budget this week.   I had to adjust some savings and repayment goals, but I’ve effectively paid for a summer worth of care for my boy the same way.  Free.

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