Should I Pay For Cable TV?

Should I pay for cable TV?It seems like everytime I move to a new apartment, I end up agonizing about whether I should pay for cable TV. Have you had that experience? There’s just something about the moment when you’re unpacking all your boxes and looking around your half-empty living room that makes you think about calling the cable company.

Which always makes me wonder…

Is Life Better With Cable TV or Without Cable TV?

If you’re like me, you have two competing visions of your future life in your new apartment – and both are dancing around in your head as you survey your new digs. In the first vision, you’re sitting on your couch, remote control in your hand, watching your favorite show, or an epic football game, or perhaps a classic movie, enjoying the sense of leisure that comes from kicking back and taking in some great entertainment.

It’s a very tempting vision.

But in the second vision, you’re just getting home from the grocery store, excited to try cooking up a brand new recipe you found online, or you’re out and about, taking a Salsa Dancing class, biking 30 miles every day, learning Chinese, and countless other things you’ve wanted to do for as long as you can remember.

And you’re doing all of that because the time and money you saved by not having cable television opened up these amazing opportunities to fit more into your daily life.

Both of these visions look grand. So which one should you choose?

Alternatives to Cable TV

Hmm, what if there is a middle ground? Perhaps you can find a low-cost alternative to cable TV and have the best of both worlds? That’s what I had in mind when I started doing some research to find out what were the best cable alternatives. Here’s what I found… (And tell me in the comments if you have tried any of these)

Satellite TV: Some people swear by this cable alternative, with the most well-known providers being DirecTV and Dish Network. And I have to admit, it seems to have some great advantages. For one thing, I’ve seen quotes for $30 per month, which is cheaper than cable in my area. But it sounds like there will be extra fees and charges on top of that. Plus, satellite installation is not allowed at some apartment complexes.

Netflix: I have to admit, I’m tempted by Netflix’s streaming service. It’s got the buzz, and it seems to be relatively cheap compared to other alternatives. How much does Netflix cost? Well, for $7.99 per month you can get unlimited movies and shows streaming on your computer. If you have a large enough monitor to fully enjoy those, then this might be the perfect option for you.

Hulu Plus: Also costs $7.99 per month and allows you to watch any episode of shows like The Office and Family Guy. One major problem: you still have to watch commercials. Doh! There are also consumer complaints about the fact that Hulu Plus subscribers can’t stream certain shows to their televisions using devices like the Roku (see below).

Roku: If you haven’t heard of Roku, it’s a digital media receiver that allows you to access internet streamed video on your television. It can be a great compliment to a Netflix or Hulu Plus subscription, and it costs about $50.

Those are some of the main cable alternatives to consider before you decide whether to pay for a monthly cable TV subscription.

Ways to Save Money on Cable TV

But what if you do decide to pay for cable? You should still save money if possible. Here are a few tricks you can use to save a significant amount on your cable service:

Use online discounts: Like most other things, you can occasionally find good online discounts for cable TV services. You might have to do some digging and/or wait around until you’re able to find a good one, though.

Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate: Always keep in mind that your plan is negotiable. That means you should call your cable provider every few months to see if there are any discounts available. Also use the fact that there are legitimate cable TV alternatives, like the ones mentioned above, to give you some leverage when talking with the cable company. Tell them that you are considering canceling your service because it’s too costly. Many times they’ll give you a discount of some kind, even if it’s a temporary one.

Switch providers: As a last resort, you can always switch to another provider that is offering some kind of discount for new customers. It’s true that can be a hassle, but if you’re saving upwards of $30 a month, it might be worth it.

So… should I pay for cable TV?

After all this, I’m still torn about my decision. The two visions are both looking equally compelling right now. Now that I’ve researched some of the alternatives to cable, I am seriously considering those options.

What should I do? Tell me in the comments and share your experience using any of the options above – I need some advice!

Image credit: Mr. T in DC

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  • I wouldn’t. I only have cable service because it is included in my rent, but if that wasn’t the case- I would stick with Netflix streaming (and maybe the DVD mail service). When cable wasn’t included in our rent (in a different apt) it cost almost $100/month. We tried switching providers but their prices weren’t competitive either. Yes that included more channels and DVR, but it was still a pretty penny- about $1200/year. Yes it’s nice to watch Breaking Bad with everyone else on Sunday night, but really- what else could you be doing other than saving yourself around $80. Plus there is always the public library!!

    • I love your suggestion of using the library! I’ve gotten DVDs from the library before and it feels great to get that kind of entertainment for free rather than paying through the nose for it. And you’re absolutely right about the yearly cost – if you can save $1200 per year and then invest it in a way that you’ll earn 5-10% interest, it could make a huge difference in your nest egg 20 years from now.

  • trinalina

    Hey Ben 🙂 I ditched the cable about 4 years ago – best decision ever! Up until recently I would setup a small netbook that wasn’t being used and connect it to my tv to stream Hulu and Netflix. The best part about using your computer, is you don’t have to have Hulu Plus, and you get more content, as well as network websites. The downside was it did not look as pretty in my new apartment. With that I recently purchased a refurbished Roku, and a refurbished Sony streaming device for much cheaper than the normal price (they were at target) and had the bonus of getting 3 months of Hulu Plus for free with the sony device! It pretty much paid for itself right there 🙂 If you have a Wii or an Xbox you can also use those devices to watch Hulu Plus and Netflix through (I use my wii in one room). -Katrina

    • Congratulations on being cable-free for 4 years already! I like the idea of connecting my laptop to my TV and simply streaming shows from Netflix or Hulu. That is something I’m really considering trying for awhile. But I hadn’t thought about looking for refurbished streaming devices. I may look into that in a few months as well. Thanks for these ideas!

  • This is a tough one for me. I don;t think I would be able to live without having ESPN and making the switch to DirectTV probably would only be temporary relief for me. I do need to call and negotiate my rate because my 12 month promotional period just ended

    • As a fellow ESPN addict who hasn’t had cable for the past few months, I can verify that it’s not easy but it can be done. 🙂 But I am interested in getting ESPN in my new apartment if possible, which is one reason I’m researching all these options. Let me know how the rate negotiation goes – I hope it’s successful!

  • I have to first admit that I am a big fan of watching television. I love movies, documentaries, television programs etc, but I don’t think I will ever again buy and pay for cable television.

    To me, the price you pay is not equal to the service you get. Whenever I have paid for cable in the past I always went in thinking the same things. Maybe it’s gotten better. There are more channels now. Okay I’ll give it a try. Only to come to the same conclusion I ended up at after less than a month of having it. Cable television is not worth what I’m paying. Satellite television is even worse!

    You get countless channels that you’ll never watch and even on the channels that have shows I do like they repeat the same shows over and over again leaving me very disappointed. I always felt like I spent more time flipping the channels in search of something new and interesting but never seemed to never find something worth watching.

    I know guys are big into ESPN but not me. I can’t stand watching sports on television — BORING! But even if I did I don’t think it would make any difference in my decision to pay for cable or not.

    Perhaps if cable companies were able to offer a basic plan, with a basic rate, that allowed me to PICK up to a certain amount of channels to have based on what I like the most (pay per channel kind of deal), MAYBE I would consider paying for cable again. As long as they give me (because they are so kind) a bunch of crap channels I’ll never watch or like, I’ll pass. It’s a waste of my hard earned money.

    For now, paying $8 a month for streaming movies and television works just fine for us. If you want to GO-ALL-OUT though you can spend another $8 (total $16) and have streaming and get newer releases mailed to your door. The price for that is BOTH worth it and much better than paying for cable.

    Now, I can usually always find something new to watch and worse case scenario — I can go rent a new release from RedBox for $1.

    • Brad, I can tell you that if you tried cable again you would definitely come to the same conclusion. It’s just not very cost effective, as you mentioned. Especially with the rise of other options like Netflix. Now that you’ve steered me toward Netflix I may have to try it. I like your idea of “pay per channel” cable service. It would be great to be able to choose a few channels and pay $3.99 per month for each one – or something like that. Hopefully they’ll eventually experiment with pricing models like that.

    • A lot of networks bundle their less popular channels on to a cable provider that wants their big money channel (think AMC), as it’s the only way to get new channels out to people, and enhance their ad revenue. If you could pick your own channels, those new channels would never get exposure, because most people would not be willing to pay a la carte for a channel that they aren’t sure they want to watch. Ad revenue goes down, and the channels you DO like lose budgets, drop shows, and eventually go under. A la carte pricing is a great idea short term, but long term it doesn’t fit the model that most networks use to generate revenue.


    Benny! I wish I could quit TV but football isn’t shown on Netflix or Hulu. The World Series isn’t streaming on If sports were readily accessible, I might be more open to the idea of getting rid of cable. ESPN is my drug and just not ready to quit cold turkey yet. Then again, ESPN3 is online…maybe there is some hope for me yet.

    • You know, I wonder what percentage of cable subscriptions are initiated solely because of ESPN? If they could somehow separate that one channel and sell it for like $5-10 per month, they could save a lot of us a lot of money, haha. I actually didn’t know about ESPN3 being online – now I’m going to have to check that out. Who knows, maybe it will all be available online one day? Then we’ll never get anything done!

  • GRS did this as an “ask the readers” not too long ago. There were tons of suggestions in the comment for how people cut the cord while maintaining access to sports and other special programming.
    Personally we have never paid for cable – we buy HULU which I watch shows on the laptop or ipad with, but that’s about it since we don’t have a tv, just a projector to watch DVDs with.

    • Cool! I didn’t know about the GRS post, but I’ll have to check it out. How do you like using the projector for DVDs and the iPad for shows? That seems like it could be a nice balance between not having a TV but still with the ability to have that television and movie experience when you want it.

      • We love the projector for movie nights. Ours was a $300-ish projector when we got it in 2008 – and I’m sure prices and quality have moved in the direction for consumers since then so a decent one isn’t crazy expensive.
        As for HULU on the iPad – it’s great for what I use it for, which is mostly putting shows on to watch/listen to while I do chores around the house like cooking or cleaning or laundry. I would think it’d be awkward if you were trying to watch a show with someone else, though. Luckily Mr. PoP’s not much of a show person, and likes movies with the projector much better.

  • This is one thing we decided not to get rid of when we were going through the budget. Really, it’s our only form of entertainment since we’re not going out much! We did get rid of all the movie channels and all the channels we weren’t watching much. We also called our provider and asked them if there were any promotions, which did help lower our bill.

    • I tend to look at it that way too – if you are planning to save money on other forms of entertainment, then cable may be a worthwhile cost for you. Glad to hear you were able to lower your bill by asking for a promotion!

  • I thought about canceling cable, but I watch too many sports to make it work.

    Also, for anyone who has Comcast, they no longer let you negotiate. This is what the rep told me and I have found articles on Forbes and other sites confirming this. Apparently, Comcast claims that customers are upset with the fact that their monthly bill varies after the promotion ends. So, to clear up the confusion, they are getting rid of “rolling” promotions where they put you in a new promotion after your current one ends.

    I’ve talked to regular reps as well as the retention department. I’ve even pulled out the FiOS and DirecTV offers such and such to no dice. I’ve been negotiating my bill for over 5 years without issue.

    • Yeah, sports are one of my addictions, too! That is really good info about Comcast – and in fact, they would be the company I would be using if I decide to get cable so I’m glad you mentioned that. In the past, I had always called up every few months (like you) to ask for new discounts. If that is not going to be possible anymore, then that certainly affects my decision. Thanks, Don!

  • I was one of those people who would NEVER cut off my cable TV service. But when I found the Roku and signed up for Hulu/Netflix I had no problem cutting the cable (pun Being the PF geek that I am, it’s hard not to turn down the $80+ per month I’m saving by cancelling my TV service.

    And now I don’t even miss the TV because I get to watch all the shows and more using the Roku. Even if there are a few shows I miss, I don’t care because I’m off doing better things with my time (like making money!).

    • Wow, that sounds pretty darn good! Another vote for the Roku/Hulu/Netflix combo…

  • NEVER pay for cable tv. use quality indoor antenna and get BETTER picture, true high def TV for free.

    • Interesting idea, Rubin. I thought they had switched everything over to digital now, though?

      • benjamin:
        indoor antenna will pick up digital signal. so if you already have a plasma or lcd tv, you can pick up UNCOMPRESSED hi def signal.

        • Okay, cool! Maybe I’ll try it out. Thanks for the tip!

          • TailorMade

            It’s even better than that! Each station can now broadcast four programs on a channel. AND digital is a much more robust signal, so even if you used to get interference using analog, chances are good that you will get a clear, crisp, FREE over-the-air signal. Bear in mind that most stations went from VHF (2-13) to UHF (Ch 14 and above), so your antenna has to receive at least UHF and depending on your market, maybe VHF. VHF is the traditional “rabbit ears,” UHF is typically a wire loop about 6 – 8″ in diameter.

          • Wow, thanks for this info!

  • VTGal

    I made several calls to my cable company asking for their basic digital service. First call the guy kept telling me I had the basic service and wanted to up-sell. So I called back and kept repeating my question, eventually he did admit that they had a very basic service for $20 per month. Had that for a while.

    Then took the plunge and discontinued cable completely.

    I’ve been surviving by streaming shows via Hulu, on the network websites or by going to disable my cable. Initially I felt I was missing out on life, lol, now I spend very little time watching any shows on my TV or computer, I finally feel engaged in life.

    When i do want to watch i choose when and what for FREE

    I use that savings and cell phone service savings to pay down a Parent Plus loan, I’m 3 months ahead of my goal, it’ll be paid off MAY 1st, woo whooo
    Then on to the next debt

    • Awesome! This is really great to hear. Congratulations on the progress you’re making.

  • Mr. Practical

    Do both: how? Don’t get cable for now do all the things you want to. Once you’ve done that for a while get cable. I don’t pay for TV anymore period! But I ended up getting cable during winter months November through march, then I’d be outdoors April through October.

    Ultimately I just manage w the 30 plus channels I get from antenna mainly cuz I don’t want to be watching too much tv anyways.

    And IF I were to pay for TV again I’d get dish pay cheapest plan $50/month.

  • Well, television is the cheapest way of communication thorough which people get aware.