How To

Cord-Cutters Guide: The Best Alternatives to Cable TV

Maybe you first heard the term whispered in hushed corridors at work or in a back-alley near your house, but now there’s no escaping the fact that “cord cutting” has gone mainstream. And it’s no wonder why. The monthly cost of cable TV in this country now averages more than ever before: a whopping $123 per household. But thanks to à la carte streaming services and the disruptive technology that’s taken over the living room in recent years, it’s easier than ever to save serious cash. Cancel your cable subscription, and join the growing ranks of cord-cutters streaming their shows.

Four out of five Americans still pay cable companies for hundreds of channels they’ll never watch. You don’t need to be one of them. Here’s what you need to know about seeing the shows you love without paying an arm and leg.

Cord cutting 101

Although millennials are leading the charge in the cord-cutting movement, anyone with a decent Wi-Fi connection can take advantage of the many available cable TV alternatives. And the soaring number of streaming services on the market means you can watch just about any TV show and sporting event in existence without going through a cable company.

If you watch a lot of shows on your local stations—think ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX—you can tune into them for free. These channels are publicly broadcast and the signals are easy to pick up in most metropolitan areas. All you need is a good HD antenna, which you can score for under $40 on Amazon. Depending on the terrain in your area and your proximity to TV towers, one type of antenna might be better for you than another. But once you’re set up, you’ll be able to enjoy the latest episode of Modern Family with the same crisp picture you were getting through your cable company, minus the monthly bill.

"À la carte streaming services and the disruptive technology taking over the living room make it easier than ever to save serious cash." MintLife Blog

Living the stream

Unless you’ve been held captive in an Indiana bunker for the past 15 years, you likely already know about the three biggest names in streaming: Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. Each of these services lets you watch hundreds of movies and television shows plus tons of original content you won’t find anywhere else. Both Hulu and Amazon offer a large selection of TV shows—with new episodes available a day after they air on cable—while Netflix has a vast library of movies and binge-worthy original series awaiting your eager eyeballs.

Aside from those streaming behemoths, an increasing number of cable channels have launched their own independent services. HBO Now is at the high-end of this category, but many stations offer the ability to stream their shows for free, albeit with a few commercial breaks. And then there’s Dish Network’s newly launched Sling TV service, which streams a variety of live cable channels, including ESPN, for $20 per month.

Plus, there are more niche streaming services, such as MUBI, which focuses on independent and foreign films, and the forthcoming FilmStruck platform, which will soon showcase an extensive library of cult-classics and art-house flicks.

With the exception of Sling TV and HBO Now, the latter of which is available for $15 per month, prices for these services start at under $10 apiece. It’s easy to mix-and-match providers as none of these companies require contracts. You can even share login info with a friend down the block or sibling on the other side of the country, without worrying about anyone getting on your case.

Think outside the (cable) box

A ton of devices are available to help you cut the cable, with more tools debuting all the time. As of now, there are basically two routes you can choose: streaming sticks or streaming boxes.

Streaming sticks, which include the Chromecast, Amazon Fire Stick and Roku Streaming Stick, aren’t much bigger than a pack of gum, and they plug right into your TV’s HDMI port. You can then use your smartphone, laptop or—in Roku’s case—a remote control to launch hundreds of steaming apps. These devices are available for well under $50 apiece, and, on their own, don’t require a monthly fee.

Streaming boxes, on the other hand, such as Apple TV, Android TV and the Roku Player, as well as newer Xbox and PlayStation video game consoles, offer all of the advantages of the streaming sticks, plus the ability to install more apps. These boxes vary in price, but again, aren’t tied to any monthly fees. For serious TV watchers interested in cutting the cord, these boxes are the way to go.

Breaking the news

When you’re ready to cut the cable, invest the money you save on boosting your internet speed. To get the highest quality picture with the least amount of buffering, you need a connection that’s at least 10 Mbps.

Another way to shave a few bucks off your monthly bill is to shell out some money for a modem of your own. Many cable companies charge a monthly fee for renting a modem, but in the long run, it’s far more economical to buy one outright.

Are your utility bills bogging you down? Embrace the cord-cutter lifestyle and never pay for cable again. Not sure where you stand financially? Sign up for a free Mint.com account and get an instant overview of your money. See you on the couch!

List of cable TV alternatives

 

Streaming service

Monthly fee

Known for

Netflix

$7.99

TV shows, movies, and Netflix exclusives
Hulu

$7.99

New TV episodes a day after they air on cable
Amazon Instant Video

$8.99

Hundreds of old and new movies and shows
HBO Now

$14.99

First-run films, Game of Thrones
Showtime

$10.99

Original series (Homeland, Masters of Sex)
STARZ

$8.99

Modern movie library and exclusive originals
CBS All Access

$5.99

7,500 episodes of classic and new CBS shows
MUBI

$5.99

Cult-classics, foreign and independent films
Sling.TV

$20

Dozens of live cable channels, including ESPN
Crackle

FREE

Funny, feel-good shows and movies
FilmStruck

TBD

Turner Classic Movies and Criterion Collection

Streaming sticks and boxes

 

Device

Price

Known for

Chromecast

$30

Stream video from your laptop or smartphone
Roku Streaming Stick

$50

Portable tool with tons of popular apps
Roku Player

$50-$100

Enhanced picture quality, solid remote control
Amazon Fire Stick

$40

Best for users in the Amazon ecosystem
Apple TV

$149

Easiest way to play iTunes purchases on your TV
Android TV

$100

Access Android apps, Chromecast built-in
XBOX One or PlayStation 4

$200-$400

Play games, some streaming services built-in