Best ways to save money cutting the cord

Let’s get real. How long did everyone expect commercial-free, unlimited streaming of any and all movies and TV shows would be the cheapest option? For years cord-cutting has been the future. Stop paying for what you don’t watch, pay to get full seasons without ads and binge-watch the best TV for pennies. Its been a fun ride, I hope you got in on it while you could.

No matter what other people say streaming costs, its still the golden era of streaming options and if you’re really trying to save money over cable you still have a plethora of options. The only difference is you have actually watch less TV. Its simple.

Where we are

Cable TV before streaming (and still today) offers a fire hose of content for a flat rate. More TV than you could ever watch and it had all your favorites. You get local channels, network TV, all the cable channels and maybe even HBO. The problem was, what streaming was supposed to solve, you ended up paying for more TV than you wanted and therefore wasting money! We’re all good capitalists here, the solution was let me pick and choose what TV I want and then I’ll pay less.

As the options grew for streaming after the birth of Netflix (streaming) to get traction providers offered the Holy Grail. You could go commercial free plus huge back catalogs of TV shows and some even offered new episodes as fast as they aired. When you look at it through this perspective, its amazing the cost was ever so low. The entire industry in built on selling ad spots. The point of the show was to get as many viewers to see an ad for Pepsi. All that matters is that more people see that Pepsi and whatever other brands ads during the show. You can’t sell more Pepsi when there’s no ads and therefore can’t charge more for ad spots.

That then passes the cost along to the user, which doesn’t handle price increases well. The response to Netflix’s price increases over the years are a testament how poorly price increases are received. Netflix has announced a couple of $2 price increases over the years and the whole internet was set ablaze.

Streaming grew more popular, new services were born and bills climbed higher. If you really wanted to watch all of the latest and greatest shows you have to subscribe to an ever-growing list of streaming providers. For some that wasn’t enough. They cried, “I want the full back catalog and to be able to watch the show LIVE as well!”. Now new services were created, bills climbed higher.

The problem

For me, the problem with streaming has been that people are trying to wholly recreate cable. On demand plus live and all commercial free was never going to be cheap. When I cut the cord over 10 years ago I did it to save money. At the time we were spending $120/mo. on DirecTV and then also getting the NFL season pass. Add in a couple boxing PPV and our yearly total for TV entertainment was over $2,000. At the time we relied on Netflix DVD plus some streaming through our Wii (we actually ordered the special disc Netflix had to send to make the Wii streaming compatible).

How we were able to save money was actually watching less TV. I stopped watching football (both because of price and the unethical leadership of the league). At some point we canceled Netflix and just stuck to our DVD library, which was now hosted on our local Plex server.

However the world is now in the golden age of TV. Everyday in the office I’m accosted by a fellow co-worker grilling me on why I haven’t watched . Since cost is rising people are more sensitive to the number of streaming services they’re paying but not cutting back the number of shows they’re watching. For those on a real budget have no fear! There are plenty of options if you still are trying to save money by cutting the cord.

The best is free

Netflix raises prices, every channel under the sun launches their own streaming service and the pending Disney and Apple services close in the thought is what am I to do to actually keep my expenses down. Millions of Americans still rely on OTA broadcast TV, which is evidence there are plenty of people strapped for cash.

The first myth I’d like to put to bed is the requirement of specific internet speeds to watch streaming content. You absolutely need 40+ mbps speeds with low latency to stream 1080 HD or 4K content. However it is not a requirement to watch everything in the highest resolution. That matters to many people, but the crux of saving money comes with making sacrifices. For years we’ve had 20 mbps internet and have never had streaming issues 720p to standard definition. This means you’re able to keep your internet bill lower while still being able to stream content. Even Netflix advertises 5 mbps internet for HD content.

Second myth is that ads degrade the experience. Absolutely ads annoying at times. To me content being accessible is more important. In order for people to keep jobs and services to stay available they need to make money. More important to me are honest ads that are clearly marked (unlike how some “influencers” behave) and don’t follow me everywhere I go. Ads are fine given context, but so is privacy.

If you are seriously strapped for cash and still want some entertainment there’s plenty of options that are free. There are just some of the services that have popped up:

Then, these are some of the new services starting or will be coming soon:

Ode to the old school

Even though there are plenty of options don’t forget about your library. Many libraries offer free streaming movies and TV shows through Hoopla Digital, a digital service that has recently expanded to offer video content. This is offered free-of-charge to library patrons and the cost of obtaining a library card is exactly $0.

Every library I’ve visited over the last 10 years (SF Bay Area, Puget Sound and Phoenix Metro) also offers the ability to check out DVD’s and Blu-Rays. Using the libraries website you can easily request movies to be held and then check out for weeks without paying a cent and having access to brand new releases.

We’ve been using the library for years for books, story time, free WiFi and digital downloads of ebooks and audiobooks. Hoopla and RBDigital are recent discoveries for me and so far have worked flawlessly both on OTT devices and in the browser. There have been a few times we’ve been seriously strapped and have gone without internet and the libraries DVD collection has been a godsend. Since DVD’s have fallen out of fashion, being below HD quality, its also easy to purchase cheap used DVD’s from local stores which is much cheaper than internet plus streaming services.

Final Thoughts

The growth of streaming as been both expected and shocking. The public acceptance of streaming using OTT devices and now smart TV’s has grown faster than I ever anticipated and its not a surprise that pricing is finally catching up with its popularity. The current strategy isn’t sustainable however. Getting ad-free unlimited streaming cheaper than a pack of cigarettes (in some states) will have to come to an end.

I’m thankful there are still free services and apparently they’re popular enough that companies continue to rollout options. The world has gone subscription crazy and the pendulum may swing back to owning content rather than renting on a monthly basis. When that does, those of us who recorded their free HBO weekend on Kmart blank cassette tapes will tell you, “We knew you’d be back.”

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