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If you believe everything you read online, cutting the cord won’t save you money. Articles spin a tale about every consumer paying for Netflix, Hulu, CBS All Access, Disney Plus, Shudder, BritBox, Amazon Prime Video, and more. Sure, it would be easy to add up enough services to equal your bloated cable bill, but the data simply doesn’t back it up. Most people who cut the cord pick and choose carefully, saving money by adding on free or low-cost services to build a complete solution.
Most Americans make tough choices every day to budget their entertainment dollars. They cut the cord to save money. If you cut the cord and you’re spending as much as you did on cable, you’re doing it wrong. Follow these tips to get more bang for your buck.
If you live near a major urban television market, you can access local network broadcasts from ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, PBS, and Telemundo for free with an over-the-air antenna. You’ll also discover better picture and sound quality because over-the-air TV signals aren’t compressed and rebroadcast like those on cable.
There’s more on broadcast than just the big networks. You’ll also have the option to watch OTA channels like Bounce, Comet, and Cozi, which also broadcast free content to anyone within reach of the signal.
Modern antennas are small, easy to install, and high-tech compared to their predecessors. The science of broadcasting a signal hasn’t changed, but improved technology has made it easier to capture high quality over the air signals. You can find a quality antenna for about $50. Find out what channels you’ll receive by entering your street address at www.nocable.org. You’ll get a free report that explains which stations are available via antenna, how far they are from your address, and see what type of antenna best matches your circumstances.
Netflix has less than 1% of the movies and TV shows on the market, leaving a ton of older movies and shows up for grabs by smaller services. Ad-supported streaming services like Pluto, Xumo, and Tubi TV are grabbing up public domain videos and popular reruns that once showed on cable. While Pluto and Xumo curate new content from web sources into channel selections, Tubi TV has a video library of almost 7,000 titles with amusing categories like, “Not on Netflix.”
Another contender in the space is FilmRise, which shows lesser-known movies and popular classic TV shows like Third Rock from the Sun. iMDb Freedive from Amazon streams popular titles like Heroes, The Bachelor, and a wide assortment of old movies.
Crackle mostly features TV shows and movies from the 1980s and 1990s. Vudu boasts a hefty catalog of thousands of older shows and movies.
You can watch every exclusive show on every service with a bit of planning and organization. Streaming services declare new content and pricing on their websites. Take advantage of the competitive nature of the services to add and drop services on your schedule. You can sign up and cancel online instantly, so you can control the billing cycles of multiple streaming services at once. In a year, you might have short-term subscriptions to several streaming services – just not all at once.
Amazon, Roku, and Apple TV make this strategy simple. You can subscribe to premium channels right through their interface. If you want to add HBO, CBS All Access, STARZ, or others, you can do it through your already existing login and payment method. For the most part, the pricing is the same as you would get subscribing monthly as a standalone consumer. The convenience of having a single login, billing, and subscription interface make this method easy to handle for short-term subscriptions.
When it’s time to decide where your subscription dollars should go, weigh how important it is to watch a new series immediately. The idea is to pick the best content that will help you make your monthly decisions. You can subscribe to a streaming channel like CBS All Access for a month, binge all the episodes of Star Trek: Picard, then suspend it. Billing cycles start on the day you sign up, not necessarily at the beginning of the month. Capitalize on this feature to add and drop services each month.
The “Star Trek” spinoff launched in January and is worth watching. If you’re approaching the series from a budget-minded perspective, it’s best to wait until March. Viewers could complete all episodes of the first season within the timeline of a free trial or a one-month commitment.
Take advantage of as many free streaming trials as you can. Disney Plus and Apple TV are eager to build subscriber bases, but almost every service offers a free trial. Most services require a credit card to sign up begin billing immediately after the free trial expires.
Netflix and Hulu both offer a full month for free. Philo and HBO Go will give you seven days, as will Apple TV and YouTube TV. ESPN+ is one of the few that doesn’t offer any days free. Set a calendar reminder to unsubscribe before the end of the trial or pay for the first month and binge everything you want before pulling the plug.
Consumers still report that saving money is the primary reason for cutting the cord. The gap between what cordcutters pay vs. cable bills is narrowing, but the costs are manageable. Since you don’t have unlimited money or unlimited time, it’s best to make a plan.
The average U.S. household has three paid streaming subscriptions, but that doesn’t mean they’re limited to just that content. Consumers can build a complete solution by combining paid subscriptions with free streaming options and fill in the blanks with over-the-air TV. Rotating through paid subscriptions will further expand what you can afford on a budget. Even with all of these options, the average consumer only watches 17 channels 80% of the time.
Don’t believe the hype about cordcutting costing the same as a cable subscription. Approach your entertainment the same way you make any other budget decision, and you’ll easily maximize the available content.
If you don’t know where to start, try a website tool like Suppose. It helps you sort through which channels you need and recommends a service to best match your viewing habits and budget.
Megan Southard is a writer, mom, technology enthusiast, and movie junkie. She dreads the day her kids have to explain gadgets to her and is old enough to say, "I was the remote for our TV growing up."
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