How to cut the cord and never pay for cable TV again

|
How to cut the cord and never pay for cable TV again
Image Credit: Dreamstime
Team Clark is adamant that we will never write content influenced by or paid for by an advertiser. To support our work, we do make money from some links to companies and deals on our site. Learn more about our guarantee here.
Advertisement

If you’re paying more than $100 a month for cable or satellite TV, switching to an internet-based streaming service could save you up to $1,000 a year!

This beginner’s guide to cutting the cord will explain how to stream TV for $40, $20 and even as low as $0 a month.

How to cut the cord and save up to $1,000 a year

Where do you begin? If you already know that you want a live TV streaming service like YouTube TV, Sling TV, DirecTV Now or Hulu with Live TV — we have a separate guide with the best plans and deals!

Otherwise, think about your TV viewing habits and choose one of the three cord-cutting tracks that Team Clark has identified: Extreme Saver, Big Saver and Great Saver.

  • Extreme Saver: I am mostly satisfied with just my local stations.
  • Big Saver: I primarily watch TV for entertainment networks and can give up sports and news channels.
  • Great Saver: I have my favorite cable TV channels (including sports), but I don’t need 100 of them.

All three options require a high-speed internet connection. You’ll also need either a smart TV or a streaming device like a Roku Express, Google Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV Stick. (Read below for our Quick Tips for First-Time Streamers.)

Extreme Saver: $0/month

  1. Digital antenna
  2. Free streaming
    • Pluto TV
    • Sony Crackle
    • The Roku Channel

Big Saver: $20/month

  1. Digital antenna
  2. Live TV streaming
    • Philo
    • AT&T WatchTV
  3. On-demand streaming
    • Netflix
    • Hulu
    • Amazon Prime Video

Great Saver: $40/month

  1. Live TV streaming
    • YouTube TV
    • Hulu with Live TV
    • Sling TV
    • DirecTV Now

Extreme Saver 

KEY TAKEAWAY: Those who follow our Extreme Saver track pay low start-up costs and no monthly charges, but the TV experience doesn’t come close to cable.

  • Monthly cost: $0 per month, plus high-speed internet
  • Start-up costs: $10 to $40 for a digital antenna and $30 for an entry-level streaming device
  • Potential savings: $1,200 a year (based on $100/month cable TV bill)

For cord-cutters on a tight budget, start with the Extreme Saver track. Purchasing a digital antenna will provide free over-the-air TV for around $10 to $40 and no additional monthly fees.

Forget about old-fashioned rabbit ears, modern indoor HDTV antennas are flat and can be hidden behind your TV.

I have a Mohu Leaf antenna with a 30-mile range. You just connect it to your TV, scan for channels and start watching local news, sports and entertainment on networks like ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and PBS.

You can enter your address on their website to see a list of the channels you’ll get with an indoor antenna.

Mohu Leaf antenna
Mohu Leaf antenna

For those who live far away from broadcast towers, money expert Clark Howard has recommended AntennaWeb.org over the years to help you find an outdoor antenna with good reception.

If all you care about is the channels you can pick up with an antenna, then you may not even need to pay for internet.

Download free streaming services

To supplement the content that you get with a digital antenna, there are several free ad-supported Netflix alternatives that you can use to stream movies and TV shows.

You won’t find every episode of “Friends” on any of the free streaming services, but there’s usually something good to watch.

Pluto TV, Sony Crackle and The Roku Channel are three of the most popular free options. They offer a mix of TV shows, movies and even live news in some cases, but much of the content is dated.

Team Clark reviews: 

Roku has come up with a way to highlight the best free streaming options with its Featured Free section.

Available on the Roku home screen, you can now see the latest in-season episodes, classic series, hit movies and more from multiple content partners — not just what’s available on The Roku Channel.

Roku's "Featured Free" section
Roku’s “Featured Free” section

Learn more about these free streaming services in Team Clark’s guide to free Netflix alternatives!

Since we’re talking about streaming, remember that you’ll need an internet connection and either a smart TV or a compatible streaming device to watch shows and movies on the big screen.

I recommend the $30 Roku Express so that you can easily find free content with Roku’s Featured Free navigation.

Big Saver 

KEY TAKEAWAY: For $20 a month or less, Big Savers can watch local channels with a digital antenna and get lots of entertainment networks with either a live TV or on-demand streaming service.

  • Monthly cost: $20 per month or less, plus high-speed internet
  • Start-up costs: $10 to $40 for a digital antenna and $30 for an entry-level streaming device
  • Potential savings: $960 a year (based on $100/month cable TV bill)

If our Extreme Saver track is a little too extreme for you, there are several ways to access a lot more content for less than $20 a month with our Big Saver options.

You’ll still need a digital antenna, but then you have a choice to make: live TV or on-demand streaming.

For $20 a month or less, Philo and AT&T WatchTV are your only live TV streaming options. They have a mix of entertainment networks like HGTV, Hallmark, Investigation Discovery, TLC and more — but no sports or local channels.

If ESPN or other sports networks are on your family’s must-have list of channels, skip ahead to our Great Saver track.

Live TV streaming

Philo 

  • 43 channels for $16/month and 56 channels for $20/month (Channel lineups)
  • Unlimited cloud DVR
  • Stream on up to three devices at a time
  • Roku and Amazon Fire TV supported; not compatible with Google Chromecast

Read more: Philo review 

AT&T WatchTV

  • More than 30 channels for $15/month (Channel lineup)
  • Free for eligible AT&T Unlimited wireless subscribers
  • No cloud DVR or option to add it
  • Stream on only one device at a time
  • Not compatible with Roku; Amazon Fire TV and Google Chromecast supported

Read more: AT&T WatchTV review

RELATED: Philo vs. AT&T WatchTV: Which cheap live TV streaming service is best?

Don’t need live TV beyond the stations that you pick up with an antenna? Subscribe to one or more on-demand streaming services like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime Video and stay under $20 a month.

If you’re already paying for Amazon Prime, check out Prime Video first. It’s included in your membership!

These on-demand streaming services have their pros and cons. Netflix has the best overall selection of content, including original programming, while Hulu is great to catch up on the current season of many hit TV shows.

On-demand streaming

Netflix

  • $7.99/month to $13.99/month
  • $10.99/month for its Standard plan (most popular)
  • One month free trial

Hulu

  • $7.99/month for Limited Commercials plan and $11.99/month for No Commercials plan
  • Frequent discounts on Limited Commercials plan
  • One month free trial

Amazon Prime Video

  • Included with an Amazon Prime subscription
  • Prime costs $119/year or $12.99/month
  • One month free trial

Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video aren’t your only options. A number of networks have standalone apps like the $15/month HBO NOW, which lets subscribers stream HBO without a cable TV package.

Of course, if you decide to go the Big Saver route, you can also use the free streaming services that I mentioned earlier.

Great Saver 

KEY TAKEAWAY: The Great Saver track will provide a live TV streaming experience that closely resembles cable, with a mix of sports, news and entertainment options. 

  • Monthly cost: $40 per month or less, plus high-speed internet
  • Start-up costs: $30 for an entry-level streaming device
  • Potential savings: $720 a year (based on $100/month cable TV bill)

Our Great Saver track is the best route for people who like everything about their existing cable or satellite TV service — except the expensive bill.

YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV, Sling TV and DirecTV Now all have packages around $40 a month or less.

What does that get you? The live TV streaming services offer different channel lineups (see our comparison chart), but you’ll get about 50 to 60 networks at that price point — sports, entertainment and cable news.

Depending on where you live, these services may also carry your local ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC stations.

Team Clark has been testing various streaming TV options over the past year or so. Some of the key differences are price, channel lineup, cloud DVR, supported devices and the ability to watch multiple streams at once.

  • Price: How much will I pay to get everything I want?
  • Channel lineup: Does this service offer the channels that I watch the most?
  • Cloud DVR: Can I record my favorite shows to stream later?
  • Supported devices: Can I use my existing smart TV or streaming device with this service?
  • Multiple streams: Does this service let me watch on multiple screens at once?

The list of channels is probably the most important factor for the majority of streamers, so we can’t pick a single service and say that it’s the best for everyone.

However, many sports fans like money expert Clark Howard prefer YouTube TV over the competition:

“My favorite of all the streaming products is YouTube TV. It has a pretty wide array of television programming, but what’s really neat is that multiple people could be watching different things at the same time and everybody has an unlimited DVR.”

Live TV streaming

YouTube TV 

Pros 
  • One simple plan for $40/month
  • Lots of sports: ESPN, FS1, FS2, MLB Network, NBA TV and more
  • Unlimited DVR

Cons

  • Missing channels: A&E, Discovery, Food Network, History, HGTV, TLC, OWN and more
  • Amazon Fire TV not a supported device

Read more: YouTube TV review

Hulu with Live TV

Pros 
  • One simple plan for $40/month
  • Hulu’s on-demand streaming library included
  • 50 hours of cloud DVR storage

Cons 

  • Expensive add-ons
  • Must upgrade DVR to fast-forward through commercials
  • Only two screens at once

Read more: Hulu with Live TV review

Sling TV 

Pros 
  • Packages start at $25 per month; cheapest way to get ESPN
  • Lots of compatible devices
  • Affordable add-on channel options starting at $5/month

Cons

  • Limited local channels
  • Cloud DVR costs extra
  • Only one stream at a time with Sling Orange plan

Read more: Sling TV review

DirecTV Now 

Pros 
  • Great channel lineup for $40 base package
  • Many supported devices

Cons

  • Only 20 hours of free cloud DVR storage
  • Only two streams at the same time

Read more: DirecTV Now review

The nice thing about all of these live TV streaming services is that they offer free trials, typically for a week. If you don’t like one service, just try another.

And once you become a paying subscriber, there are no contracts or long-term commitments. You can cancel anytime!

RELATED: The best live TV streaming services for cord-cutters

Team Clark’s quick tips for first-time streamers 

If you want to cut the cable cord and switch to streaming TV, you may think the process is overwhelming — but it doesn’t have to be so complicated.

The picture below shows a very basic setup that’s ideal for first-time streamers: Internet, TV and a streaming device.

Basic setup: Internet, TV and Roku Express streaming device
Basic setup: Internet, TV and Roku Express streaming device

High-speed internet

You must have a fast internet connection to stream TV. The streaming services mentioned in this guide all have their own requirements, but a minimum download speed of 10 Mbps or higher is generally recommended.

Start by reviewing your internet bill to see what you’re paying for and learn how to test your internet speed here.

Television set

If you have a smart TV, which is a television set that can connect to the internet, the most popular streaming apps like Netflix and Hulu are pre-installed — so you may not need to buy a streaming device.

However, many smart TV users end up purchasing streaming media players because they’re so easy to use.

Streaming device 

For those who don’t have a smart TV, a streaming media player is required to stream. Roku Express, Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV Stick all cost about $40.

The Roku Express is our pick for first-time streamers because it’s cheap, user-friendly and has lots of free content.

Most streaming services will work with Roku, but not all of them. Always check your streaming service’s website to see a list of compatible devices.

Optional: Digital antenna 

You may be able to get a lifetime of free over-the-air TV for a one-time cost of about $40.

If you live in an urban or suburban area that’s not too far from broadcast towers, an indoor HDTV antenna like the Mohu Leaf will help you pick up local stations. See if this is an option for you on Mohu’s website.

An outdoor antenna may be a better choice if you live in a rural area. Find the best one for you at AntennaWeb.org.

Final thought 

With so many live TV and on-demand streaming options, there has never been a better time to cut the cord.

My advice is to take advantage of the free trial offers and test them out while you’re still paying for cable or satellite TV. Once you find a streaming plan that you like, go ahead and cancel your traditional pay TV service.

More Clark.com TV and streaming content you may like: 

Advertisement
Michael Timmermann paid off his mortgage in two years. Now, he shares his money-saving tips on his blog, MichaelSaves.com.
View More Articles
  • Show Comments Hide Comments