I’m not a fan of Charter, AT&T, Direct TV, Comcast, or anyone else who sells television packages. We don’t get along. They are Voldemort to my Harry Potter, Lex Luthor to my Clark Kent. Why? Because I consider myself a “casual watcher” and they don’t like people like me.
Casual television watchers are being squeezed out. I recently called Charter to cancel my cable for the summer. I had the lowest-priced package that they offer (basic cable) for $19.99 per month. It was a promotional price and the promotion was expiring the following month. My plan was to cancel our cable for the summer since I should really be outside anyway and then come back for a promotional price in the fall. I’ve done it before and it’s always very simple.
However, this time was different. During the cancelation conversation (when they try to convince you to stay), the gentleman informed me that basic cable – the local channels, PBS, and a handful of others – is no longer being offered. The extended package is now as low as you can go.
This frustrates me on two levels.
First, there always used to be a relatively inexpensive option for those who wanted to live frugally or couldn’t afford anything more, but that option is quickly disappearing. They’re trying to force me to spend more money when I already feel like I spend too much.
I remember when I paid only $9.99/month for basic cable. This isn’t one of those “when I was your age…” stories your grandpa tells you. That was only 3 years ago! Now they want me to spend at least 3 or 4 times that amount.
However, my second issue isn’t just financial. The other reason that I don’t choose the extended package is because I have very little willpower when it comes to networks like the Food Network and Travel Channel. It’s like putting a giant plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies in front of me – I will not stop unless you take them away by force.
I don’t want to spend all my time watching TV, and with that many channels one hour turns into two hours, which turns into three hours, etc. Therefore, I refuse to tempt myself.
But, this time they’re not leaving me an option. I’m being forced into the next largest package.
I planned on only quitting for the summer, but now my plans have changed. I’ve decided not to go back. No more packages, bundles, or promotional prices that skyrocket 6 months later. Not in the summer, not in the fall, never.
However, here’s the thing…I like TV.
I don’t watch a lot of it anymore, and I don’t want it to rule my life, but I like the option of sitting down and letting my mind turn to mush here and there. I’m a casual watcher, not a non-watcher.
So, what choices does the casual watcher have left?
How can we slice and dice our television bills to live a more frugal life?
How to watch TV for less than $10 per month
1. Free online episodes
The vast majority of the shows on network television are now available to watch online. ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX each offer full episodes free on their websites. However, if you’re looking for the full catalog of NCIS episodes, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Currently, there are 6 episodes available and they’re not necessarily the most recent 6.
On the other hand, if you’re looking to catch up with the new Bachelorette, each and every episode from this season is waiting for you. So, the selection can be a little hit or miss. The trick to moving from $50/month to free TV is not being too desperate to watch certain shows. If you’re willing to be content with what you can find, there’s plenty out there that won’t cost you a nickel.
Here are a few of the ways to find FREE TV:
The network’s website – The simplest way to find a specific show. The major networks are the most reliable, but just about every network has something to offer now. My wife and I regularly watch old House Hunters International episodes on HGTV’s site. They offer probably 40 – 50 episodes from the hundreds that have aired.
Hulu (the free version) – The selection leaves a lot to be desired if you ask me.
Xfinity or Spreety – Xfinity and Spreety are websites that compile everything into one spot. Good one-stop shopping. Xfinity has the better design, but Spreety seems to have a larger selection. These sites are also a good way to go shopping for a new show to watch if you’re bored and don’t have something specific in mind.
Youtube – Though it’s even less reliable than Hulu, occasionally you can find shows on Youtube that you can’t find anywhere else.
ESPN 3 – ESPN airs most of its content live online now. It’s how I’ve been watching the NBA Finals this week.
2. An Antenna
Remember the good ol’ days when antennas were the norm? Yeah, me neither, but my parents tell me about it all the time. Seen as a relic now-a-days, antennas are still a viable option for those who are looking for live TV, but aren’t concerned about getting more than a handful of channels. With the right antenna you may be able to get a few of the major networks and PBS. If you’re considering it, make sure you check how receptive your particular area is to antennas, so you don’t go through all of the work of installation only to find out that your area only picks up CSPAN. Here’s are two websites (FCC and AntennaWeb) that will help you find what channels will be found with each type of antenna. If you live in an urban area with better reception, you may even be able to try some “rabbit ears” and pick up a few channels.
No matter what kind you choose, the upfront cost is minimal, and there aren’t any monthly payments to be made. Once it’s paid for and installed properly, you should have free TV from that point on.
3. Hulu Plus or Netflix
Hulu Plus and Netflix are the “premium” options for escaping cable. They’re premium simply because you have to pay $7.99/month, for which you get a more complete catalog of shows, seasons, and episodes. Each can be watched instantly from your couch using a Wii or Playstation 3, along with a handful of other devices.
Hulu Plus vs Netflix – A quick comparison
Free Trial Period – Netflix offers a one month trial compared to only one week for Hulu.
Timeliness – Hulu makes new shows available 24 hours after they air. Netflix only makes episodes available once the entire season is available and offered on DVD.
Current Shows – Hulu carries just about every major show from ABC, NBC, FOX, CW, MTV, VH1, and Comedy Central. However, almost anything outside those networks will be absent (like History, TLC, Food Network, etc.). Netflix offers some current shows from most networks, but don’t carry near the catalog that Hulu does in current hits.
Classic Shows – Netflix offers shows like Cheers, Leave it to Beaver, Saved by the Bell, and my personal favorite, The Wonder Years. Hulu’s selection appears pretty sparse. It does have the Cosby Show and Dick Van Dyke, but I couldn’t find too much more.
Number of Episodes Per Show – This ranges all over the board with Hulu. Some shows like Saturday Night Live allow you to watch all 37 seasons! On the other hand, you can only watch the most recent season of Modern Family – the first two aren’t available. I would say that the majority of the time, episodes and seasons are missing from Hulu, whereas if Netflix offers a show, the likelihood is that all of the episodes are there (besides the current season’s).
Movies – Though this has little to do with the subject at hand (TV), the movies are a nice bonus. Honestly, neither selection is all that great, but it’s almost impossible to find a decent movie on Hulu. At least Netflix has a few choices.
Though the platforms and prices are very similar, Netflix and Hulu Plus couldn’t be more different.
If you’re looking for current episodes of today’s hottest shows, Hulu Plus is the obvious choice.
If you’re just looking for something to watch, want to relive some of your past favorites, or tend to favor documentaries and Discovery Channel shows like Dirty Jobs or Survivorman, Netflix may make more sense.
Here’s what I do
Again, I consider myself a casual watcher, so keep that in mind. I tend to be a scavenger of sorts. I’ll find as many of my favorite shows online for free. If it’s not there, it’s not there.
Other than that, if my wife and I just want to relax and make butt marks on the couch, we’ll find something on Netflix. I’ve found plenty of interesting shows to fill up my queue.
Sprinkle in some ESPN 3 occasionally and you have my TV life at a glance.
I’ve become a scavenger, but it’s fulfilling because of how much money and time I’m saving. TV is important to me, but it’s not THAT important to me, so I’m willing to sacrifice a little bit here and there.
Maybe one of these days we’ll come crawling back to the TV companies and ask for a fat package, but, for now, we’ve discovered that most of the entertainment we crave is right at our finger tips, and for a whole lot less than Charter is trying to charge us.
And if it doesn’t work out…I guess we’ll just turn the boob tube off for good.
How do you watch TV? What other frugal methods do you use to save money on your TV bill?
TV image provided by Imbecillsallad