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9 Cost-Effective Alternatives to Cable

4 Minute Read

Cable isn’t the only way to watch TV anymore. Not by half.

So why pay for premium channels you never use when, for a fraction of the cost, Netflix, Hulu Plus or Amazon Prime can fulfill all your binge-watching needs?

Good question.

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If you’re trying to pay down debts or save up some cash, it may finally be time to cut the cord. Make the switch even easier with these cost-effective alternatives to cable. Chances are you won’t even miss it.

1. Online Network Channels (free)

Most major networks are now posting recently aired episodes to their websites for a limited amount of time. CBS even offers online viewers an additional paid subscription option ($6 per month) to unlock more than 8,500 episodes of everything from The Brady Bunch to The Good Wife.

2. YouTube/Vimeo (free)

YouTube is well known for its viral videos. But it’s also a great place to get an education. In the span of a few minutes, you can learn everything from how to put on eyeliner to how to build a bookshelf. Check out Vimeo for indie films and documentaries.

3. Hulu ($8 per month)

Hulu is a great option if you want to watch currently airing shows soon after they broadcast (along with many past seasons). The only catch? Unless you want to upgrade to the commercial-free version ($12), you’ll have to sit through some repetitive ads. So if you’d rather not suspend disbelief for 30-90 seconds at a time, maybe cough up the extra four bucks.

4. Netflix ($8 per month)

Since Netflix posts entire seasons all at once, it’s a great place for binge-watching. You’ll just have to wait until a season ends to even get started. But hey, no commercials. Accessing the service shouldn’t be a problem either. You probably have 10 devices in your house right now that came preloaded with the Netflix app. But if you want to use Netflix on several of them at once, you’ll have to upgrade to the Standard ($10) or Premium ($12) versions.

5. Amazon Prime Video ($99 per year)

What initially began as a way to get discounted shipping is now a major contender in the online streaming market. The selection of included shows isn’t as big as Netflix, but the free two-day shipping on most Amazon products makes this a great option if you’re a regular Amazon customer anyway. And if Amazon Prime doesn’t include the show you want, you can usually buy a season pass or pay per episode.

6. Sling TV ($20 per month)

With Sling, there’s no more waiting on a show to air—you can watch it live! The basic package includes 25+ live channels like AMC, CNN, ESPN, ESPN2, HGTV and Disney. (For more channels, you can pay between $25-40.) There are also $5-10 add-on packages for sports fans, movie buffs and your little ones. If ESPN has been the only reason you’ve clung to your cable box, you may be out of excuses now.

7. HBO NOW/Showtime/Starz ($9–15 per month)

After HBO launched its own streaming service a few years ago, Showtime and Starz wised up and followed suit. You can either subscribe to each as standalone services, or you add them to your Amazon Prime, Hulu or Netflix accounts for an extra fee.

8. HDTV Antenna (prices vary)

If you really want to cut back, all it takes is an antenna. Luckily they’ve come a long way since your grandmother’s bunny ears. Not only do they look better than the finicky metal rods, but the HD quality is even better than what you get over a cable line. Plug this into a TiVo box, and you can also get full DVR scheduling and recording on all available over-the-air channels. See what stations are available in your area before you buy at antennaweb.org.

9. Library (free)

Here’s a shocker: You can find everything from contemporary TV shows to workout videos at your local public library. The only downside is that you have to drive to a physical location, but at least you can keep your rentals for a week or two.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of alternatives to cable, but it’s a great mix-and-match way to get started. And you can usually get a free trial on almost any of these before you commit. Or if you’re not quite ready to give up your favorite sports or movie channels, you can always call your cable provider and try to negotiate a better deal. Knowing your options usually works to your advantage.

Regardless of whether you keep cable or you decide to replace it with something else, make sure that you budget for it! Find tips, tricks and more on budgeting here.

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