I’ve got to heavily caveat the title of this post.
We enjoy TV in our house, but only in very small doses. Cord-cutting continues to grow. People are ditching cable, but typically only to switch to dish or Sling or streaming services. Wondering how to watch TV without cable or satellite and still get quality high-def without breaking the bank? Read on!
In our household, we’re all about the Apple TV (though since this article was published we’ve switched to using the Amazon Fire Stick). The tiny little box is the only piece of equipment that sits under our flat screen. Minimalism at its finest!
During a single hour of nighttime viewing, Mrs. Cubert and I enjoy a little Netflix and a few segments of late shows via YouTube. It’s a decent amount of entertainment for $14/month (Netflix streaming subscription).
You Can Get Local Channels Without Cable
We occasionally watch network TV too. A handy high-def antenna grabs all the free channels over the air and delivers shows with an amazing picture. Not that we watch just any shows. The antenna in our house is almost exclusively used for viewing Big 10 football in the fall since The Biggest Loser got abruptly canceled a little over a year ago.
What TV Was Like Growing up
Back in my day, TV had its limits. Despite the size and weight of the appliance, the image and sound were pretty crummy. We’re talking 70s and 80s cathode-ray tubes here.
Remember those ginormous TV consoles Grandma and Grandpa used to have? A 19″ screen surrounded by a massive oak wooden cabinet to house all those Jim Nabor’s LPs… Angelic voice. R.I.P., Gomer.
Ahh, nostalgia. As a kid, I’d wake up early on Saturdays to watch a good hour, hour, and a half of cartoons. On weekdays after school, there’d be a daily dose of Warner Bros. and the Flintstones for at least an hour. You could say I took in a lot of repeats over the years.
As bad as 7 hours of boob tube a week for a kid seems, I wasn’t like Jim Carrey’s character in the movie Cable Guy. I had the luxury of living in an era of free-range kids. There was plenty of biking off to here or there or building snow forts with pals in wintertime.
Besides, when you only have four legitimate channels (NBC, ABC, CBS, and PBS) growing up, your options are fairly limited. Once upon a time, your TV time depended on a set schedule. Soaps during the day, cartoons in the afternoon when the kids got home, news, then sitcoms, dramas, Johnny Carson, the national anthem, then static.
Those days were so simple and choices so limited, that you had a reason to pull out the Monopoly board every so often. And that was when you knew you couldn’t stand to sit through another edition of Hee-Haw. Today? Today it’s all on-demand, big screen, and high definition. We’ve been seduced by the Dark Side…
The Benefits of Cord Cutting
With superior viewing technology and a growing library of quality television at our beck and call, it’s even more important to recognize the benefits of pressing the OFF button. There’s more to life than reruns of Gilligan’s Island.
No one would argue that. But take away my The Bachelor or Dancing With the Stars? Just you try to pry this remote from my steely grip, fool!
This is the best unscientific list I could come up with. I encourage you to share any other obvious or hidden benefits I might have missed, in the comments of course.
- You save money! No or low TV means no cable bill. No satellite TV bill. No cable box burning a few dollars (or more) each month in electricity. You might even be able to sell a TV or two on Craigslist!
- You save money indirectly. No or low TV means no or low advertising, which means no temptation to go blow your money on crap you don’t need. And instead, you spend your time reading excellent, informative blogs like THIS ONE. Or reading…
- You enrich your relationships with family, friends, and neighbors.
- You avoid eye strain.
- You sleep better.
- You don’t get stressed out from all the bad news going on in the world. Save that education for browsing while at work.
- Your kids won’t end up like Jim Carrey’s character in Cable Guy
Since we masquerade as a personal finance blog in these parts, let’s consider those hard-earned dollars saved by TV avoidance. Multiple studies have the average household bill hovering right around $100 a month.
Jimminy Crickets! Who has time to watch 238 channels?!? Or put another way, are you willing to pay $1,200 per year or $57,000 in opportunity cost over 20 years?
Not I said the Cable Guy.
All those other benefits are even more substantial than the money. A TV is notorious for commanding our attention away from real human beings all around us.
The exception to this rule is Super Bowl parties, where no one pays attention to the TV until a witty commercial or Janet Jackson comes on at half-time. Give the remote a rest, and play a no-holds-barred round of UNO with the family instead.
Health-wise? I get back pain if I sit too long watching the tube. Not to mention in the evening, after just an hour of Better Call Saul, my eyes start to well up. Those tears aren’t being shed for Hector Salamanca either.
It’s because of the eye strain from watching that hideous blue-light machine without blinking enough. I think I need a lawyer…
How to Watch TV Without Cable or Satellite and Still Enjoy It
I can’t quit you. Dang Netflix and your ever-improving original programming. The good news is that there’s been a massive infusion of original dramas and series from non-traditional sources over the last few years.
This is in response (I think) to the utter dumbing-down of network television with its exhausting reality shows. Big Brother leaves a few cells lighter in the front cortex.
So yeah, the temptation is there to stay plugged in. The key is to moderate as best you can and find creative ways to limit or wean off the mad box entirely. As minimalist as I am personally, I’m not going to advocate you ditch TV altogether.
If you live in Minnesota through 7 months of iffy weather each year, indoor distractions are often hard to come by. Besides, State is taking on Michigan in a few weeks!
Granted, we just signed up for Disney+ and we’re pretty excited about that. We’ll see how much entertainment we can get out of $70 per year. I think it’s a steal.
So in the spirit of SemiFIRE, simply look for ways to cut the viewing time in half. See if you can find the will to cut the screen size down a bit as well, to open up the room for human interactions.
Replace your vapid reality shows with some well-written dramedies or Nova replays. And if you have cable still, think about cord-cutting. You don’t want what happened to Steven M. Kovacs to happen to you…
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We get DVDs from the library and binge watch series. I just watched 3 seasons of Better Call Saul. It’s a lot of fun. Who has time to keep track and tune in every week. It’s so much better to binge watch. 🙂
Maybe we’ll join Netflix someday. It sounds good.
Dude! You picked a good show, but that whole binge watching thing? I just can’t do it like I used to. Last time in fact was about a year before the kids were born. I stayed home sick one day and decided to check out Breaking Bad. It was so good, I suddenly felt sick again the next morning… 😉
One show at a time, Joe. Or at least go do a set of 20 pull ups between episodes. 😉
freddy smidlap says
cubert. you have the big 10, i have the nfl. the dolphins are out of market here in buffalo so i even buy the ticket. i could just not tell this but brutal honesty always gets the best of me. those dramas are fantastic now. the mrs. and i usually watch better call saul and snowfall the next day when we can forward through ads. if the tv was hurting our financial future i would get rid of it and go with that digital antenna. i like that console tv with the ashtray holder.
I love the brutal honesty, Freddy! No one is perfect, except maybe Wayne Gretzky (err, Michael Scott?)
Tell me more about “Snowfall” – wonder if we should add that one to our queue?
We are right there with you on TV consumption, but our gadget of choice has been a Roku. I try to keep it off most of the summer, but every now and then I’m desperate for Elmo to entertain the kids for a bit. And while I usually listen to podcasts while I do housework…sometimes, an NCIS re-run really hits the spot while I’m folding laundry at night!
I agree wholeheartedly with all of your points. In general, it’s better if it’s off. But an hour here and there, or a football game, isn’t going to be your downfall 🙂
But now that winter is coming…I’m grateful that I restricted it pretty heavily all summer for the kids! We’ll still get outside every day, but we just won’t last as long. My three year old has to be dragged off his bike every night, but I think even he will be ready to come in without a tantrum when it’s 20 degrees 🙂
Hi Britt! Roku is a solid choice. We’re just such Apple fanatics in this house (well, we used to be anyhow. Magic of Jobs has abated some…)
And yes, you do sometimes need to occupy the kiddos when things get really helter-skelter. Ours used to get about 20 mins a day, but with full time school they’ll go most of the week without any tube, which I don’t mind at all. Still, it’s nice to have PJ Masks on standby if we need it!
It is really cool to read about kids having to be pulled off their bikes to come indoors. You’re definitely doing something right on that front!
Bernz JP says
Not sure my family is ready to give up TV yet, but I may really start looking into APPLE TV. One thing I like about our TV is it keeps our family healthy. I have a treadmill and an exercise bike in front of the family room TV and it makes working out much easier for the whole family with a TV in front of us. Watching our favorite shows while exercising is awesome. Go bears!
Watching TV while in pursuit of something else is good, but I hope you get outside to run and bike while the weather permits, BJP! No substitute for fresh air and giving your eyes some long-horizon breaks.
Go Lions? lol…
Bernz JP says
I’m a golfer, so I get my share of sun and fresh air. My wife doesn’t get home until about 7 pm and end up getting on the treadmill at about 9 pm. We sometimes go out for an hour walk on Saturday mornings around the neighborhood. Thanks for your advice.
Believe me, there are worse things than golf in this world. But for me personally, I’d rather be on a run or bike ride to burn calories. Maybe there is a place for golf in my future, but probably not anything more than a round every few weeks in the summer with a group of friends or Mrs. Cubert. It is better than a treadmill – 100% agree!
Mr. r2e says
Hey Cubert. Cord cutting is kinda funny in a way. I know many who proudly say they cut the cord. When I probe some more all they really did was drop cable tv and replace it with online streaming – so they technically still have the cord. Plus, they still have almost (or more) of the same cost they used to pay!
I studied this a year or so ago and from a cost perspective it came close to the same with online streaming vs. cable. Maybe specific to my options (being wants or needs) in our area.
Hi Mr. R2E! I would agree that when all you do is switch to streaming, your just substituting. But then, it can be a frugal substitute if you’re accomplishing a few things:
1. Cost reduction. We spend $12/mo. for Netflix plus $8 dollars for any PPV Apple TV movies on movie night. I write-off the Netflix subscription since it’s shared with the Airbnb.
2. Energy savings. An Apple TV unit uses significantly less power than some of the dish and cable boxes out there. Some of which consume $8-$10 a month in electricity!
3. You only get what you need, so you aren’t able to flip through channels mindlessly. This is key for marital bliss. 🙂
Appreciate your comment! Our situation is definitely one of moderation more than anything.
Ben Zabulis says
We gave up TV when we emigrated and have to say we don’t miss it at all – even before that we found we were watching mostly reruns of older programmes as the newer stuff didn’t interest. If anything good comes along, which it doesn’t very often (maybe twice a year), we’ll watch it on catch-up via a computer. Although the quality and clarity of TVs has improved immeasurably, the programmes have not. Yes, glad to be rid !
I figured you would’ve chucked the tube, good sir! Anytime you’ve found something better to occupy your time than TV watching, you’ve made an upgrade in your life. Unless of course you’re sitting around playing video games all day. 🙂
Hope things are well in HK!
Accidental FIRE says
All I have is over the air for football and Amazon Prime, which keeps getting better. I find nowadays there’s so many great short indie films on YouTube and Vimeo that I have more than enough to watch.
I need to dig more into Amazon Prime. We also have an account but rarely do we explore the programming content. Well, not since we ran out of “Ladie’s Man”. Brilliant show…
We don’t have cable or Netflix. I have had people stare at me aghast when I say that, “What do you DO with your time then?” Have conversations and read books? There was life before TV in the Dark Ages and Pioneer Days, you know, and plenty of people survived that.
All that being said, I personally watch a lot of YouTube, and I surf the web a lot (which to me is digital entertainment as well), so it’s not like we’ve completely cut the cord. Dragon Guy tries to get trial subscriptions through Sling, PlayStation View, etc. during key sporting events. Like he recently got a free week through MLB week so he can watch his Cubs play.
Not watching TV has freed up a lot of my time and you’re right in that not watching the news makes me more hopeful that the world isn’t about to end.
Thanks for the awesome post!
Cheers, Dragon Gal
LOL! As if you’d never in a million years pick up a book, play a board game, or simply TALK with your loved ones???
At the end of the day the deal is really about screen time. It’s not any better to have a group of people self-absorbed in their phones, iPads, or laptops in the same living room. At that point, it actually is better to be watching TV to at least relate to the content as a community.
I love the fact you can get the a la carte sports these days. We did the MLB package for a period when my in-laws stayed a few weeks with us.
Appreciate the kind words and hope you stop by often, Dragons! 🙂
I love the idea of getting rid of TV altogether, especially since I think I watch too much of it. But it’s hard to completely disconnect, especially when so much conversation with other people these days seems to revolve around what people are watching.
That being said, I love watching (listening to) BBC documentaries while I’m cleaning or doing chores. There are a bunch on YouTube, so I’m not sure that a complete cord cut is ever going to happen.
I hear ya! It’s got to be a weaning, methinks. So far so good. We used to put in a healthy 2+ hours a day, now down to 1. I credit us having kids and finding our frugal spirit for making that small change happen.
Documentaries are great – but anymore I have to start them early. I catch myself dozing off half way in if it’s too close to bed time. LOL.
Young FIRE Knight says
I just cut the cord a few months ago! Aside from it being football season and missing the Sunday games, I haven’t noticed it at all. I’m filling my time with other, better things now!
I do still have Netflix and amazon prime, but aside from the occasional movie I’ll throw on I don’t have any shows I follow religiously (aside from GOT of course) and thus don’t utilize them much.
Maybe some day when I’m FI I’ll have more time to bring it back into my life but for now it’s just something I really don’t need!
I’m glad I never got hooked on NFL football. Even when dominating a handful of Fantasy leagues years back, I never bothered to tune in. So many better pastimes in the fall – even raking leaves is more fulfilling to me. Course, if it’s a party with grilling (tofu steaks of course) beer and friends, and the game is just background noise, then that’s acceptable. 🙂
GOT = Game of Thrones, for the readers’ benefit. 🙂
Mr. Groovy says
You are one sick bastard, Cubert. And brilliant. I have a lot of fond memories of television. Man walking on the moon (I was in second grade), Evel Knievel jumping Snake River Canyon, and Planet of the Apes week on ABC’s 4:30 Movie. But television is such a time suck. And it’s not good for your sangfroid–especially if you’re a news junkie. Anyway, Mrs. Groovy and cut the cord four years ago and haven’t regretted it at all. YouTube and Netflix are all you need for a little mindless diversion. Great freakin’ post, my friend. Grease for peace.
I take that as a compliment, Mr. G.! 🙂
Those were quality events. I’m old enough to remember Kneval’s antics. And Planet of the Apes? Classic. Remember the show hosted by Leonard Nimoy call “In Search of…”? That one creeped me out.
Oh, and indeed what a time suck TV is! Thanks for the nice words, and let’s agree that those old consoles are best for setting down some fine cocktails.
Angela @ Tread Lightly Retire Early says
I’ve just filled my life up to the brim with things I would rather do than watch tv, so while there are a few things I’d like to watch eventually, I just can’t find myself giving up something else in trade. Though I do expect this will change a bit as the kiddo gets older.
If you had the time, which show (or shows) would you watch?
The only issue with this less (or no) TV discussion is, as pointed out by some, it is being replaced by other screens!
When I read about people cancelling their cable or Netflix or whatever package, and then spend the same amount of time on their tablet, phone or computer, I really don’t see the point!
Except for the savings, whether you are watching a show on cable TV or browsing your computer (or even blogging), it’s still screen time.
As a side note, until my kids were about 10 years old, they only watched TV once a week for a couple of hours , it was a treat. They survived it, and so did we:) All their friends seemed to be watching TV 24/7 when at home.
Indeed – a screen is a screen is a screen. The only thing worse than a TV absorbing us is personal devices doing the same, fragmenting those in the room even more. It’s a regression!
I miss calls and am late replying to texts all the time, because I keep my phone on the kitchen bar with the ringer off, away from the living room and dining room.
I’m glad your kiddos survived. Ours are following a very similar path.
Shane Long says
The idea is really amazing and fruitful but simultaneously it’s so difficult because we are so addicted to television that we cannot eliminate it from our lives. However, it’s worth trying and experience the benefits.
Addicted indeed! I think I could survive if I had to though. I love reading, but at night I choose to watch an hour of TV to share an experience with the Mrs. We’re too tired to even attempt a game of cards, so TV seems to have a place for us at this stage of life. Eventually, I hope to get more reading time and ween off that durn box!
I don’t watch TV as well since the news is always filled with negativity. Let me confess here, I don’t have a Television at all in my room. I prefer watching youtube videos on my laptop and it mostly happens when I type in the search.
This is my 2 cent-
Thanks for sharing, Kabie!