How to Cut the Cord and Never Pay for Cable TV Again

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How to Cut the Cable TV Cord
Image Credit: Dreamstime/Clark.com

If you’re paying more than $100 a month for cable or satellite TV, switching to an internet-based streaming service could save you hundreds of dollars a year.

In this article, I’ll help you cut the cord by sharing a range of cable TV alternatives that cost from $0 to $75 per month.

How to Cut the Cable TV Cord and Save Money 

Where do you begin? If you already know that you want a live TV streaming service like YouTube TV, Hulu Live, Sling TV, AT&T TV Now or fuboTVwe 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.

3 Ways to Save Money by Cutting Cable and Switching to Streaming

All three cord-cutting options require a high-speed internet connection. You’ll also need either a smart TV or a streaming device like a Roku. (Read below for our Quick Tips for First-Time Streamers.)

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 an indoor 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 an antenna will provide free over-the-air TV for around $10 to $40 and no additional monthly fees.

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.

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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 you can get by with only the channels your antenna picks up, you may not even need to pay for internet service.


ANOTHER OPTION: If you don’t want to set up an antenna, Locast is a free app that provides local stations in parts of the country. Learn more about Locast and other ways to watch local channels without cable.


Download Free Streaming Services

To supplement the content that you get with an antenna, there are many 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, 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.

One of the newer options is NBC’s Peacock, which has both free and paid versions.


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.

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

Learn more about your options in Team Clark’s guide to the best free streaming services!

Big Saver

KEY TAKEAWAY: For $25 to $50 a month, Big Savers can watch local channels with an antenna and get lots of entertainment with a live TV or on-demand streaming service.

  • Monthly cost: $25 to $50 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: $600 to 900 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 $50 a month with our Big Saver options.

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

Live TV Streaming

For live TV streaming, Sling TV and Philo have plans in this price range. Philo’s $20 a month plan offers 60+ networks like HGTV, Hallmark, Investigation Discovery and TLC — but no sports or local channels.

Philo Fast Facts

  • 60+ channels for $20/month (Channel lineup)
  • Unlimited cloud DVR
  • Stream on up to three devices at a time
  • Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Google Chromecast supported

Read More: Philo Review 

If ESPN or other sports networks are on your family’s must-have list of channels, check out Sling TV’s base plans. They’re cheaper than YouTube TV and Hulu Live.

On-Demand Streaming

In addition to streaming live TV, you may be able to subscribe to one or more on-demand streaming services like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime Video and stay under $50 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 your favorite TV show.

On-Demand Streaming

Netflix

  • $8.99/month to $17.99/month
  • $13.99/month for its Standard plan (most popular)

Hulu

  • $5.99/month or $59.99/year for Limited Commercials plan
  • $11.99/month for No Commercials plan

Amazon Prime Video

  • Amazon Prime costs $119/year or $12.99/month
  • Standalone Prime Video: $8.99/month

Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video aren’t your only options. I really like the Disney Bundle that includes Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+ for $12.99 per month.

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Of course, if you choose 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 from the best cable TV alternatives, with a mix of sports, news and entertainment options. No antenna or Locast required. 

  • Monthly cost: $75 a month or less, plus high-speed internet
  • Start-up costs: $30 for an entry-level streaming device
  • Potential savings: $300 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 monthly bill.

YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV and Sling TV are my three favorite alternatives to cable TV. The most expensive is $65/month.

What does that get you? These services offer different channel lineups (see our comparison chart), but you’ll get dozens of networks at that price point — sports, entertainment and cable news.

Depending on where you live, these services may also carry ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC stations. That means you won’t need to rely on an antenna or Locast to watch your local stations.

I’ve been testing various streaming TV options over the past few years. 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 my household 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.

The good news is that they offer free trials, typically for a week. If you don’t like one service, just try another!

Live TV Streaming

YouTube TV 

Pros
  • Great overall channel lineup
  • Lots of sports: ESPN, FS1, FS2, NFL Network, MLB Network, NBA TV and more
  • Unlimited DVR storage

Cons

  • Expensive: $15 price hike in summer of 2020

Read More: YouTube TV Review

Hulu + Live TV

Pros 
  • Good mix of sports, news and entertainment networks
  • 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 with the base plan

Read More: Hulu + Live TV Review

Sling TV 

 

Pros 
  • Packages start at $30 per month
  • Lots of compatible devices
  • Affordable add-on channel options

Cons

  • Limited local channels
  • Only 10 hours of cloud DVR in base plan
  • Only one stream at a time with Sling Orange plan

Read More: Sling TV Review

With the Great Saver track, you want to stay under $75 a month. Depending on the live TV streaming plan that you choose, you may be able to add one or more on-demand services and stay under your budget.

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If you’re cutting it too close, you can always supplement your live TV package with free streaming options.

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:

  1. Internet connection
  2. Television set
  3. Streaming device
  4. Antenna

Before you cut the cord and start streaming you'll need 4 items: Internet, TV or Smart TV, a streaming device like Roku/Amazon Fire Stick/Apple Tv etc. and an indoor digital antenna

1. Internet Connection

You must have a high-speed 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.

2. 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 owners buy a streaming media player because it offers a superior user experience.

3. Streaming Device 

For those who don’t have a smart TV, a streaming media player is required to stream. You can pick up a Roku, Google Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV Stick for $30 to $50. Look for sales around Black Friday.

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 their compatible devices.

4. 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: 

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