Living room television

Nick Pennebaker cut the cord three years ago when he moved into a new condo. The results? He’s saved a bit of money but hates to endure the frustrations that come with streaming, most notably the frequent buffering, those annoying interruptions that come when you rely on alternatives like Roku, Amazon Fire TV or Google Chromecast to stream TV.

In the final analysis? Pennebaker, digital marketing manager for Denver-based Northstar Commercial Partners, isn’t sure the savings he’s realized, about $30 a month, is worth it.

“Cutting the cord has been fine,” Pennebaker said. “It’s completely adequate. But I’m not sure the savings have been worth the frustration of a constantly buffering TV, especially when it comes to watching sports.”

Cutting the cord and going cable-free sounds like a good financial move. Consumer Reports earlier this year reported that most cable providers were raising their rates again in 2018, usually in the 3% – 4% range. And that doesn’t include the add-on charges these companies are levying, such as regional sports fees, that further boost the cost of cable.

But as Pennebaker says, cutting the cord isn’t quite that simple. Yes, there are more streaming options than ever. You can find most of the shows and other content you want through services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu.

How much you can truly save, though, and how much you’ll enjoy watching TV after going all-streaming, will vary depending on your viewing habits. If you love live sports, the buffering that comes with streaming might outweigh the cost savings. If you spend too much on additional channels such as HBO or Showtime, your savings after cutting the cord might shrink.

That’s why you need to consider everything from the cost of high-speed internet in your area to your viewing habits before making the decision to cut the cord.

J.R. Duren, personal finance expert at HighYa.com, says that it’s more difficult for people to truly cut the cable cord today because so many of us rely on high-speed internet, and we usually get this service directly from cable companies.

“You aren’t really cutting the cord because you’re still paying those greedy cable companies to get your internet,” Duren said.

What might work, though, is to pay your cable company for Internet access and the most basic of TV packages that it offers. You can then rely on the streaming sites such as Netflix and Hulu for the programming that you can’t access through your basic cable package. Those streaming sites, of course, will be powered by the internet service you order from your cable provider.

Whether this approach is the best move financially depends on how expensive your cable provider’s more advanced TV packages are and whether you’ll blow your TV budget each month by ordering too many new-release movies through services such as Amazon Prime.

Duren goes this more limited route, getting his internet from his cable provider along with its most basic cable package. This has, he says, saved him the most money, but only because he doesn’t care about most of the channels that his cable provider offers in its premium viewing packages.

“Cutting the cord became a thing because people were making poor financial decisions and paying hundreds of dollars a month for bloated cable plans that offered hundreds of channels, of which subscribers only watched a handful,” Duren said.

Duren recommends that consumers make a list of their five must-have TV stations and then find out which streaming services offer them. You’ll have to consider, too, whether your cable provider offers free Showtime or HBO when you sign up for a cable/internet package and whether you need to watch live sports.

Once you’ve considered this, add up the cost of all the streaming services you’d need then add that number to the cost of a basic cable/internet package.

“Is it more expensive than what you’d pay to get all those channels via a cable package? If so, cutting the cord isn’t the best choice.”

If cutting the cord after this analysis does make financial sense, it’s time to do your research.

Alex Haslam, streaming expert for Salt Lake City, Utah-based HowToWatch.com, says cord-cutters need to know exactly what they need to access the content they watch on a regular basis. They then shouldn’t pay for anything more than that basic minimum. Otherwise, they won’t realize enough savings to make cutting the cord worthwhile.

Haslam recommends, too, that those who want to completely sever their relationship with their cable provider invest in a digital antenna. These will provide cord-cutters with access to plenty of local and regional channels.

“It’s one of the best ways to save money because you can get tons of channels for free every month,” Haslam said.

Cord-cutters will have to factor in the cost of high-speed Internet, too. You can’t stream without it, and you’ll have to pay someone for internet service. If internet service costs you, say, $40 a month, include that figure in any cost-savings calculation you make.

Haslam recommends, too, that consumers not try to replicate their cable package when cutting the cord. Doing this will result in consumers buying so many streaming services that they won’t realize the savings they expected.

“Only get what you need and will use,” Haslam said.

And if cutting the cord isn’t the smartest move now? That doesn’t mean it won’t be in the future.

Makenzi Wood, author of the Picky Pinchers money-saving blog, said that she expects more consumers to move toward streaming in the future.

“It’s no secret that cable companies provide horrible customer service and try to bleed customers dry,” Wood said. “Why would anyone stay in a bad relationship like that? Tech-forward streaming is the way of the future unless cable companies wise up.”

Finally, if you do cut the cord and realize savings each month, be careful not to blow them. That’s the mistake that April Caldwell, a financial planner based in Jacksonville, Florida, said she sees all too often.

“The biggest mistake I see when people do this is not assigning that money saved to something else,” Caldwell said. “It gets rolled back into the checking account and spent without thought. People need to give the saved money a job such as debt repayment or building an emergency fund.”

Have you cut the cord? What’s been your experience? Let us know in the comments below.

Related Posts

This Post Has 40 Comments

  1. We canceled our Comcast cable because the programming is filth, the news is boring and the sports is over-priced. We hooked up an antenna and use the existing Comcast wiring . We watch the local news for weather.

  2. I cut the cord in Feb when my husband lost his job. I only saved 30.00 off my 175.00 cable bill. Used that 30.00 and bought a Roku. We already had Netflix for the 8.00 a month streaming. Then I found out that basic channels like ABC and CBS cost a fee every month to get their shows. Same thing with most of the cable channels. In order to get their content, a monthly fee is required. The Roku channel is ok but most of the free channels offer B movies and straight to video movies. Not worth my time or brain cells. Also a lot of the free channels on Roku have the same movies. I have 3 free channels and the movies are all the same. I could order HULU for around 13.00 a month with no adds but at 21.00 for it and Netflix, I’m actually better off going back to cable as a new TV customer, getting all 500+ channels AND every movie channel (HBO, Cinamax etc.) that we had before.

    1. Hi Victoria:

      Everybody is different, so it doesn’t always work. You can get the broadcast channels for free, but you need a DVR if you won’t be around to watch live. Thanks for providing your perspective!

      Kevin

  3. Our problem is, we live @ 6500 feet, mountain range, what is the best way to cut the cable cord.

    1. Hi Carole:

      It depends on whether you can get decent high-speed internet where you are. If you can, it shouldn’t be a big issue. In fact, I would think the increased elevation might actually help you get more over-the-air channels. If you don’t get your internet through the cable company or some other wired service, it might be harder. Satellite internet can be too slow to do sustained video streaming and the monthly bandwidth caps can be much lower. If you were to cut the cord at that point, you might be limiting yourself to write you could get on broadcast TV. Hope this helps!

      Thanks,
      Kevin

  4. This Pennebaker guy seems pretty entitled. I’m so sorry that your 65 channels of HD television have to buffer for a half second every week or two. Give me a break.

  5. I cut the cord five years ago. I have saved $45 a month. I have used the savings to pad my emergency fund. I use a digital antenna and also stream just a few channels on my Roku.

  6. I haven’t cut the cord yet, but did give up a few things like HBO and my extra cable box. Streaming works really good with the Roku I bought. One streaming service to get to obtain more recent episodes of shows would be Hulu.

    1. I would agree that’s a generalization, Erika. Still, everyone is entitled to their opinion and maybe they’ve had a bad experience with their cable company.

  7. Cut the cord awhile ago, unfortunately the cable company is the only internet provider. But even with paying them and having Netflix and sling we save 80.00 a month. If you get a good router you will not have a buffering problem

  8. I cut the cord November of 2017 and haven’t looked back. I already had Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime anyway and watched those more than cable. Saved about $120 and that goes towards paying my mortgage down. Win – win for me.

  9. My savings by ditching my satellite TV provider was $130 a month. That’s $1,560 per year! Cutting the cord is definitely the way to go. Now I watch TV on my terms – better content, on demand, higher quality picture, and no obnoxious commercials.

  10. We cut the cord 7 years ago. My husband was fed up with the constant increasing price but I wasn’t so sure I wanted to go that route. Once I reminded myself that it would be easy to get “reattached” if we decided it was a mistake, I let him cut the cord. Absolutely no regrets.

    We have a Netflix account (which we had prior to the cord cutting) and Amazon Prime (which I would have anyways for the shipping). We got a digital antenna and get a bunch of free channels. We do have high speed internet but even if we did have cable, we would still have high speed internet.

    My husband is the big TV watcher and he likes to watch sports but he can see plenty of games on the local channels we get over the antenna, he doesn’t need to stream them.

    I rarely watch TV now. Before I had so many shows saved on the DVR that I felt obligated to watch to get rid of some of the back log.

    My words of wisdom, if you are thinking about cutting the cord. Remember, your TV viewing habits can change. The less time you spend watching the more time you can spend on other things.

  11. I cut the cable 3 mos ago and love it… on fixed income and I save $100. per month and still have high speed internet and stream. buffering can be annoying at time but i get to choose what i watch anytime. The cable companies should not have the monopoly on us that we do not have a choice but one in our area. Comcast…. With advertising and wireless connections the cable should be getting cheaper not more expensive. My 2 cents.

  12. My son and I have set up two TVs to test this– one is on our cable channel and the other is only streaming.

    So far, it’s a wash. As your article says, how much you save depends on how much you spend now and how much replacing that would cost.

    Still, my biggest problem is that the streaming TV has no DVR. I don’t actually ever watch ANYTHING live because I don’t want to waste time on the ads. I record everything I want to watch and then watch it as little as an hour later. I have, so far, not figured out how I might record the streaming services in the almost painless way I can record from my cable DVR.

    1. Hi David:

      It depends on what service you use, but I know YouTube TV has some painless recording. You can just select the program and choose to record the entire series if you want. Thanks for sharing!

      Kevin

  13. Cutting the cord is more than just eliminating the television package from your bill.
    Buy our own cable modem and router, saving at least $10 a month ($120+ a year)
    Buy a good powered indoor antenna and you’ll pick up 13-40 channels, including ABC, NBC and FOX to get the live sports fix.
    Internet-only packages generally have no extra taxes and fees. The shown price is the price you pay. Between the sports-fee and other fees, it’ll be $14-29 a month ($168-348 a year). These fees are not applied to streaming service providers like YouTube TV, Playstation Vue or Sling TV.
    Lastly, a 720p stream should use LESS than 5 mbps per stream. If the internet connection you’re *paying for* buffers for *that*, when you’re probably paying for a 60-1000 mbps internet connection, you need to take up the service problem with your ISP. That’s unacceptable service and if it’s a ploy to get people to pay the extra $15 for basic channels, plus the $14 “extra fees”, just to watch live television that doesn’t buffer, then they need to be reported to the FCC and the BBB.
    I’m wagering on the buffering experienced by this “digital marketing manager” speaks more to the poor service and hardware *rented out* by the service provider than what most people are going to experience.
    With a minimal investment, and decent research, the cord cutting experience can absolutely be both enjoyable and money saving.

  14. We cut the cord but we also have an antenna. We have high speed internet but it is less than half of our cable bill. We are glad we cut the cord and we will not go back

  15. I “cut the cable” 3-4 years ago, I have Netflix ($11) and Amazon prime ($9) as well as a digital antenna. Other than not getting to see my baseball games (I’ve remedied that with a subscription to Sling TV during the baseball season) I haven’t missed it at all. I have saved over $100 per month and ridden myself of over100 channels that I don’t watch anyway.
    I don’t factor in the cost of internet because I had that already even while I had cable, as I’m sure most people do!
    Also, I never have an issue with “buffering while streaming.

  16. We cut the cord a year ago when we moved into our new condo. Our internet was $45 a mnoth and then we continued with Netflix, added Sling to get ESPN and HGTV, and HULU (part of a package deal with my college son’s Spotify account). The problem is that now our one year “promotion rate” is up with Spectrum that they want to jack our internet price up $20 a month since we don’t have any other services with them. Such a racket…and unfortunately the only other internet provider in our area is not much cheaper and has less reliable service in our area.

    1. I’m sorry to hear that, Holly! Hopefully competition wins out in the long run. The price should just be the price for this stuff.

  17. The main consideration for many households comes down to live sports, which aren’t the easiest to stream (though not impossible). As long as you’re interested in local sports, though, this is something that can usually be solved with a simple Over-The-Air TV antenna. They look slick now, unlike the bunny ears of our childhood, and will usually give you your local ABC/NBC/CBS/Fox/PBS plus a slew of random others.

    As the article suggests, inventory what your “must have” shows and channels and then see how you can solve that. We gave up a few shows in my house when we cut the cord, but they aren’t missed 8 years later and we have new shows that are available on the streaming platforms we’ve subscribed to.

    With kids, the difference not seeing commercials makes is rather stark, as well.

  18. I seldom have problems with buffering, and I stream everything. I have Playstation Vue which gets me most of the channels I want, and I can add HBO or Showtime month to month through Amazon Prime for some shows and movie, so if there’s something there I want to see, I just add it until I’m done and then I shut it down.

  19. We cut off all cable last year after Suddenlink raised the bill to $200 a month. We went with a local independent high speed internet service and chose Hulu Live and Directv Now with our existing Netflix and Prime subscription for TV.

    If you have AT&T unlimited for your cell service already, the Directv Now is only $10 and HBO GO is free. Hulu Live has a dvr service and it’s $42 a month for tons of channels and three local stations. Our total outlay now is $138 including the internet service. We’re saving $72 a month (with taxes) and literally have every channel we had with cable and our internet service is significantly faster.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *