Are you stoked about the content streaming services are putting out these days? Are you also not a fan of paying for the seemingly endless subscriptions required to consume them all?
Join the club! This article is for you.
In an effort to help you both tighten the belt on your streaming spending and make sure you can keep up with all your friends the next time a show like Tiger King grips the nation, I have devised a strategy for streaming on a budget in 2021.
If you’re brave enough to join me on this quest, I’ll show you how you can enjoy all the latest and greatest on-demand streaming content and still spend less than $100 all year.
And no, the advice is not to borrow your friend’s login and password!
Table of Contents
- Before You Get Started
- Streaming for Under $100 in 2021: A Month-by-Month Guide
- If You’re Looking for Live TV…
- Some Helpful Tips for the Journey Ahead
- Final Thoughts
Before You Get Started
Before we go any further, let’s set some basic ground rules for this discussion:
- Live television streaming services are not included. If you’re looking for YouTube TV or Sling TV, that’s something completely different. In this article, I’ll be talking about video streaming services that specialize in on-demand content such as Netflix and Disney+. If you came here looking for advice on live TV streaming, I have some more information for you here.
- We’re not including free trials. Most of the services we’ll look at have some sort of free trial option. Those range from as little as seven days to as much as a full month. You may be able to trim even more money off your bill in 2021 by using free trials for the services you haven’t already tried. But for the purposes of this exercise, we’re going to assume you no longer have access to any free trials.
- We aren’t looking for live sports. Most sporting events are not yet broadcast on video streaming services. Because most sports leagues are tied to lucrative television contracts, you’re more likely to find sports on linear TV, cable TV, streaming TV or league-sponsored subscriptions (like MLB Extra Innings). This exercise may not be for you if streaming some new sports content is a deal breaker.
- Remember to account for local taxes. While the plan I’m going to present should keep you comfortably under $100 in subscription fees for the year, I have not included any taxes. These will vary based on where you live, and you can expect each streaming service to charge this on top of the monthly fee.
- All of this is flexible. While my road map should give you a variety of options for less than $100, you obviously can make adjustments as you feel necessary. Create your own experience in the spirit of this journey, which is to stream the most enjoyable content for the lowest amount of money possible!
Streaming for Under $100 in 2021: A Month-by-Month Guide
So here’s how this is going to work: I’m going to take you through a month-by-month menu for streaming in 2021.
I’m going to pick only one streaming service per month. During that time period, you have the opportunity to do a deep dive into all of the content that service offers without the distraction (or cost) of other streaming services.
That’s the beauty of on-demand video streaming services: There is no long-term commitment.
As we move through these options, I’ll give you a rundown of the pricing, reasons why you should care about trying each of my picks, a tip on the hottest content and some suggestions of top shows to binge on each service.
|Month||Streaming Service||Monthly Subscription|
|June||CBS All Access||$5.99|
|July||Amazon Prime Video||$8.99|
|December||Hallmark Channel Collection + Frndly TV||$5.99|
January 2021: NBC’s Peacock
What You Need to Know About NBC’s Peacock: After launching in 2020, this service is now the exclusive streaming home of a bunch of NBCUniversal shows and movies. It’s also where you’ll find new original content that NBC is not putting on its linear TV network. The big news for 2021 is that, starting in January, it is the exclusive streaming home for The Office. So that’s why we’re starting our journey here. You need to check out this new service, and you Michael Scott junkies are going to need your fix.
Original Content Hit Everyone Is Streaming: Saved by the Bell (reboot of the original 90s hit, starring Mario Lopez)
- The Office (Steve Carell and John Krasinski)
- Yellowstone (Kevin Costner)
- Parks and Recreation (Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman)
- 30 Rock (Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin)
- Friday Night Lights (Kyle Chandler)
February 2021: discovery+
What You Need to Know About discovery+: In a streaming market full of new adventures, this is the newest. With a January 4, 2021, launch date, we’re going to be checking this one out in just the second month of its existence. There are high hopes for both the original content and legacy streaming options, as discovery+ promises way more than just the Discovery Channel library. There are smash hits from 13 other networks including HGTV, Food Network, A&E, History and TLC. It’s also the exclusive spot to get a peek at the new Magnolia Network, which is the latest venture of Fixer Upper stars Chip and Joanna Gaines.
Original Content Hit Everyone Is Streaming: Magnolia Network content from Chip and Joanna Gaines
- Fixer Upper (Chip and Joanna Gaines)
- Property Brothers (Jonathan and Drew Scott)
- Diners, Drive-ins and Dives (Guy Fieri)
- Pawn Stars (Rick Harrison)
- Storage Wars
March 2021: HBO Max
What You Need to Know About HBO Max: AT&T’s streaming service is a heavy hitter and has the price tag to prove it. The $15 they’re asking is the most that we’ll pay in any month all year, so we better make it worth it. The good news is that there’s more than enough content here to justify that high price tag. You have access to the entire HBO original content library, and this is the exclusive streaming home for popular shows such as Friends, The Big Bang Theory and South Park. Sesame Street’s library of content also lives here. Oh, and a major bonus for 2021: WarnerMedia announced it will be debuting all new Warner Bros. films on this platform at the same time they premiere in theaters.
Original Content Hit Everyone Is Streaming: The Flight Attendant (starring The Big Bang Theory’s Kaley Cuoco)
- Friends (Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox)
- The Sopranos (James Gandolfini)
- Game of Thrones (Kit Harington)
- The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (Will Smith)
- Boardwalk Empire (Steve Buscemi)
April 2021: Netflix
Monthly Price: $13.99
What You Need to Know About Netflix: Netflix is the “original” on-demand video streaming service by which all others on this list are judged. Here you’ll find the deepest content library available — one that could hook you for much longer than a month. In addition to a wide array of original content, you’ll also find many of your old favorites and a slew of movies as well. For this exercise, my suggestion is that you focus on just two or three shows for the month. Note that you could actually trim your bill for this month to $8.99 if you’re willing to downgrade to the “Basic” plan for Netflix. But that’s going to cost you HD streaming capabilities, and you’ll be able to stream only one screen at a time.
Original Content Hit Everyone Is Streaming: The Queen’s Gambit (starring Anya Taylor-Joy)
- Breaking Bad (Bryan Cranston)
- Ozark (Jason Bateman)
- The West Wing (Martin Sheen and Rob Lowe)
- Stranger Things (Winona Ryder and Millie Bobbie Brown)
- Orange is the New Black (Taylor Schilling and Laura Prepon)
May 2021: Apple TV+
What You Need to Know About Apple TV+: This relatively new addition to the streaming market specializes in original content, so you’re probably best served using your month with Apple TV+ to explore new things. Several of these shows feature big Hollywood stars. There are even original movies on the platform, such as Tom Hanks’ Greyhound. If you have kids or nostalgic adults in the home, you’ll be happy to know this is the streaming home of Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the Peanuts gang. It’s worth noting that you may have received a free year of access to this service with the purchase of a new Apple product (iPhone, iPad or Mac), so you may not have to pay the $4.99 for this content.
Original Content Hit Everyone Is Streaming: The Morning Show (starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell)
- Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis)
- Dickinson (Hailee Steinfeld)
- Oprah’s Book Club (Oprah Winfrey)
- Defending Jacob (Chris Evans)
- For All Mankind (Joel Kinnaman)
June 2021: CBS All Access (soon to be Paramount+)
What You Need to Know About CBS All Access: By the time we start watching this service, it likely will have merged with fellow ViacomCBS property Paramount+. In the meantime, we can focus on what we know CBS All Access will bring to that partnership. In addition to the extensive library of hit CBS shows like NCIS and Survivor, you’ll also find a variety of CBS All Access originals. There are three original Star Trek series including one that stars Sir Patrick Stewart. You will also get some live TV streaming capabilities with this subscription.
Original Content Hit Everyone Is Streaming: Star Trek: Picard (starring Sir Patrick Stewart)
- NCIS (Mark Harmon)
- Star Trek: Discovery (Sonequa Martin-Green)
- The Good Fight (Christine Baranski)
- Blue Bloods (Tom Selleck)
- Survivor (Jeff Probst)
July 2021: Amazon Prime Video
Monthly Price: $8.99
What You Need to Know About Amazon Prime Video: Many people know Amazon as the do-it-all delivery subscription for consumer goods, but it’s also a really big player in the streaming business. Prime Video has a deep library of on-demand content including some originals like Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. You may not need to pay for this: If you’re an Amazon Prime member, access is included in the cost. Just use your Amazon username and password to log in on the Prime Video app.
Original Content Hit Everyone Is Streaming: Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan (starring John Krasinski)
- Mad Men (Jon Hamm)
- The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan)
- Fleabag (Phoebe Waller-Bridge)
- Scrubs (Zach Braff)
- Downton Abbey (Michelle Dockery)
August 2021: Hulu
Monthly Price: $5.99
What You Need to Know About Hulu: As one of the original on-demand content providers, there’s a good chance that you’ve already experienced Hulu at some point. It has shifted some of its focus to the Hulu + Live television model and has battled attrition as newer streaming services have claimed their content back. But Hulu remains one of the top video streaming services at just $5.99 per month. It’s still the streaming home of some very popular TV series such as Seinfeld, Family Guy and Shark Tank. It also has some budding original series. You can get this service in a bundle with ESPN+ and Disney+ for $12.99 per month.
Original Content Hit Everyone Is Streaming: Little Fires Everywhere (starring Reese Witherspoon)
- Seinfeld (Jerry Seinfeld)
- Family Guy (Seth MacFarlane)
- Shark Tank (Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary)
- Justified (Timothy Olyphant)
- Fargo (Billy Bob Thornton and Chris Rock)
September 2021: Showtime
Monthly Price: $8.99
What You Need to Know About Showtime: Pooling some of the top premium content from over the years, Showtime has its own stand-alone streaming product that can more than hold your attention for a month. The hit drama Billions is the centerpiece option for those looking to catch up on their water cooler talk. Beyond the library of dramas, this subscription also gets you access to live streams of the Showtime networks, movies, documentaries and some sports content.
Original Content Hit Everyone Is Streaming: Billions (starring Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis)
- Dexter (Michael C. Hall)
- Homeland (Claire Daines)
- Your Honor (Bryan Cranston)
- Shameless (William H. Macy)
- The Good Lord Bird (Ethan Hawke)
October 2021: Shudder
What You Need to Know About Shudder: October is the month for spooky and frightening things, so you need to make the decision right now: Are you in or are you out? Because Shudder is AMC’s streaming service created specifically for all things horror. If you’re in, you can spend the month hiding under your blanket as you watch a blend of classic horror films and original scary content. If you’re out, this month could be a great time to pocket the $5.99 and instead check out Sony’s Crackle on-demand streaming for free.
Original Content Hit Everyone Is Streaming: Cursed Films (an original series that evaluates horror films)
- Halloween movie series
- House of 1000 Corpses
- Stan Lee’s Lucky Man
- Eli Roth’s History of Horror
- The Maniac Cop series
November 2021: Disney+
What You Need to Know About Disney+: Disney has taken the streaming world by storm in the last year with an extensive library of classics and new original hits. And it appears that’s just the beginning. With access to the content library of Disney, Pixar, Star Wars, Marvel and National Geographic, this one is a slam dunk for the price. There’s almost assuredly something for everyone here. Waiting until after Disney raises the price on this service in March 2021 doesn’t feel like the Clark thing to do, but in this case we think it will be worth the extra dollar to wait for Disney to unveil several key new original releases in 2021.
Original Content Hit Everyone Is Streaming: The Mandalorian (starring Pedro Pascal)
- Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda)
- The entire Star Wars series
- Marvel superhero series
- Classic Disney movies like The Lion King and Cinderella
- Library of Pixar movies, such as Toy Story and Cars
December 2021: Hallmark Channel Everywhere + Frndly TV
Monthly Price: $5.99
What You Need to Know About Hallmark Channel Everywhere: No one quite brings the holiday cheer quite like the Hallmark Channel. And though that’s usually a channel you’d need a cable subscription to access, we have a temporary workaround that should help you get your holiday movie fix for a month. Hallmark Channel Everywhere is a website that unlocks select Christmas movies for free during the holidays. But you need a login for a cable or streaming service that carries the Hallmark Channel to get full access. That’s where Frndly TV comes in: For $5.99 per month, this live streaming service gives you access to all three Hallmark channels. So not only will you get the Hallmark holiday movies live, but you’ll also have access to some via Hallmark Channel Everywhere.
Original Content Hit Everyone Is Streaming: If I Only Had Christmas (starring Candace Cameron Bure)
- Christmas in Conway (Andy Garcia and Mandy Moore)
- The Christmas Train (Kimberly Williams-Paisley)
- Let It Snow (Candace Cameron-Bure)
- Christmas Connection (Brooke Burns)
- Debbie Macomber’s Mrs. Miracle (Doris Roberts and James Van Der Beek)
If You’re Looking for Live TV…
As discussed at the beginning of this article, this plan was devised as a way to enjoy the top on-demand streaming services at the lowest price possible. It’s not intended to be a direct alternative to live television streaming services. Those can be much more expensive. Here’s what you need to know:
Subscription Live TV Services
Services like YouTube TV or Sling TV can be a great way to watch all of the top live television stations, but the costs go well beyond our $100 limit for the year. In fact, YouTube TV’s pricing is now so high that you couldn’t even get two months of its service within our chosen budget.
But if you’re looking for live sports and popular news channels, these services are likely your best alternative to cable TV.
Team Clark’s Michael Timmermann is our resident streaming TV expert. He has you covered with all you need to know about the live streaming TV market here.
Free Live TV Services
If you want live television but don’t want to pay the monthly bill that comes with it, consider free services such as Pluto TV or Tubi. Keep in mind that these services often have dated content and don’t carry many of the name-brand channels you’d expect from one of the paid services.
However, using one or more of these services in conjunction with our $100 video streaming game plan is a great way to supplement your streaming experience with some live content.
Team Clark has a guide for free streaming TV, as well as reviews on individual services, to help you pick the right option.
Some Helpful Tips for the Journey Ahead
Are you now ready to take on the streaming world in 2021? Here are some things you may want to consider for the year ahead:
- Invest in a good streaming device. If you’re going to be committed to 12 different streaming services in 12 months, you’ll want to make sure you have an easy way to watch each of them on your television. Some of you may be covered by your smart TV’s built-in apps, but others may need to consider purchasing a Roku, Amazon Fire or Google streaming device.
- Download all the apps. While watching on your television is probably the ideal streaming experience, there are going to be times that you’re going to want to watch content on the go. By downloading the app for your “streaming service of the month,” you’ll ensure that you’re just a couple of buttons away from watching the shows you’re binging during that particular month.
- Set calendar reminders for cancellation. Since we’re moving in and out of streaming services each month, this is an important step. You’ll want to set a reminder on your phone or calendar to make sure to cancel a subscription at the end of the month. Forgetting to do that could mean you get charged for an extra month of service.
If you haven’t done the math yet, the plan I just went through would cost approximately $93.88 (before taxes) for the entire year.
And for that investment, you should have on-demand access to almost every top television show on the market for at least one month of the year.
But you don’t have to follow this list step-by-step to achieve success.
Instead, I hope that you use it as a sample guide to inspire you to customize your own path to a financially sound streaming plan for 2021.
These streaming companies would gladly take our money each and every month if we let them. It’s up to use to recognize that there’s only so much content we can consume in one month and then plan according to get the biggest bang for the buck.
Good luck and happy streaming!