Cut the Cord, Pocket the Cash
I had tears in my eyes when I cut the cord. Cutting cable meant losing The Walking Dead, and darn it, I was really going to miss Daryl. Or was I?
I soon realized you really can have it all. I didn't have to miss out on The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones just because I'd suddenly become too cheap to pay the extra $70 a month for television I (mostly) didn't watch.
There are finally good alternatives to cable television, so for some families, there's no need to keep shelling out shekels to hold onto a few favorite stations and television shows. Here are some options that make cutting the cord easier.
Sling TV is a killer app for cord cutting. The streaming video service starts at $20 a month, and the basic package includes high-value stations such as ESPN, ESPN2, AMC (The Walking Dead, anyone?), HGTV and Cartoon Network. You can add more channels with $5-a-month themed packages, such as more sports channels or more kid channels. You can also add HBO for $15 a month, so you don't have to miss Game of Thrones. The hitch is, to use Sling, you must have a compatible device, such as a Roku box, Xbox One, Amazon Fire TV or TV Stick, laptop or smart TV.
Amazon Prime is another great alternative to cable television. An Amazon Prime membership, which costs $99 a year, will get you free two-day shipping on eligible Amazon purchases. But it also gives you access to thousands of free streaming movies and televisions shows from networks such as Showtime, CBS, PBS and even HBO. The hitch is that the offerings frequently overlap with what's available on Netflix for $9 a month, so pick one, not both. And the television shows are generally a season or two behind. If you're already paying for Amazon Prime, take advantage of the streaming content.
Hulu Plus is another cheap alternative, coming in at $8 a month, especially if you want to keep up with the Kardashians or Dancing with the Stars. Hulu Plus has shows from Fox, NBC, Comedy Central and some BBC shows. Bear in mind you can watch shows from most broadcast networks for free with a cheap, 1970s-style pair of bunny-ear antennas.
You can also order episodes a la carte. I staved off my Walking Dead withdrawal by buying episodes through Amazon. For many shows, an online streaming version of the latest episode is available online within 24 hours of the original airing. Even at $2.99 a pop, it was cheaper to buy the shows I liked than pay for cable. You can also buy a season pass at a slight discount. Similar options are available on iTunes through the Apple TV.
If you like shows on network television and can resist the lure of spoilers for a few days after a new episode airs, try watching them on network websites. ABC and Fox stream shows on their websites for free, adding new shows within a few days of their original air dates.
Here's another tip: Some of these services have monthly fees, but you don't necessarily have to pay all year. If you really need to know what's happening to John Snow at the wall, don't be scared of the $15 a month fee for HBO's streaming service, HBO Now . You can pay and watch for the three to four months each year when the new season of Game of Thrones is on the air, then cancel it the rest of the year.
In the meantime, call your cable company and ask for a better deal. Tell them you're thinking of breaking up with them, and like any relationship, they just might swear they'll change and make everything better. Before you call, do the math. See if you can get the channels and shows you like without cable, then calculate how much it will cost you. You just might be able to piece together a cheaper entertainment alternative.
-Denise Trowbridge is a self-professed money geek who writes about personal finance, banking and insurance for The Columbus Dispatch, bankrate.com and middlepathfinance.com.