In a prior article I wrote about my story in cutting cable for the past seven years despite having three kids and a TV loving husband. Is this something you’re interested in doing too? Well here’s my promised 11 easy steps to cutting the cord:
- Determine your reasons. You’ll want to keep these in mind when you’re making the adjustment to life without cable. Do you want to save money, to put the funds towards a more important goal? Or do you want to save time, and pick up an old hobby again with the time you’re currently wasting in front of the TV? Do you want your family to spend more time together and less in front of the television? Figure out what’s important to you and why, and write it down (or pop it in your phone).
- Take stock of your viewing habits. Put a notebook near the TV’s and have your family members record what they are watching when. After a month take a look at the log and make note of what shows and channels are favorites
- Research alternatives that will let you keep your favorite shows. My family decided a combination of library/Roku/Hulu/Netflix/Redbox worked well for us. Total cost is under $25 a month.
- Visit your local library and check out what DVD’s they have. Ours has an extensive collection of not only movies, but also TV shows for adults and kids. When I’m missing Food Network I just pop over and grab a DVD collection of Good Eats. If you haven’t been to the library in a while you should check it out – and don’t be afraid to look at neighboring larger towns as well. A good library with a great selection can be worth a bit of a drive every few weeks.
- Test drive alternatives. If you haven’t subscribed to Netflix or Hulu, or you’ve never used a Roku, you may be hesitant to give it a try. Ask friends on Facebook or in person whether they have a Roku or fire stick and see if you can check it out. You can subscribe to Netflix and Hulu for a free month.
- Determine your startup costs and the payback period. Decide which alternatives you’re going to try and figure out the startup costs. Our family already had a PS3, so we were able to get Netflix and Hulu to stream right on the TV. The Roku hooked up to the TV as well. You may need to get an antenna or buy a Roku or fire stick. After the free trial both Netflix and Hulu will have a cost ($7.99 a month each). Don’t run out and get a new TV or a new video game system just yet – you’ll want to make sure you’re going to stick with this before investing a ton a money. I recommend keeping your startup costs under $100. If there’s something that you want – say, a smart TV or a PS3 – set a goal to pick that up after your monthly savings adds up to enough to get one.
- Tell the family. You’ll want to make this part sound exciting, instead of a dreary sacrifice. Let them know you’re planning to cut cable and what you’re replacing it with. Tell them about an exciting goal you’re setting with all the savings – maybe after three months you’ll pick up a new smart TV or a video game system, or every month the kids get to pick out a new DVD with the money that was going to the cable company. Use the log to check their favorite show/movie and let them know what alternative is available (oh you don’t want to miss Lab Rats? Luckily it’s on Netflix!)
- Call the cable company. This is the fun part, where you get to stick it to the man. Once you’re certain of your selected alternatives, and you’ve let your family know, it’s time to call the cable company and cancel. They’ll try to keep you by offering you some great (temporary) deals, in hopes that you’ll give up this silly idea of cutting the cord. They’ll try to scare you into getting a higher level of internet service, or tell you just how much more your home telephone will cost (if you’re getting phone through your cable company, check out my article on how switching to Ooma will bring your cost down to $4 a month [add link]). Don’t let them scare you – I work from home through VPN at times, stream movies, use multiple computers/smartphones, and use Ooma VOIP for the phone at the lowest tier of internet service. Just try it and see how it works for you- you can always increase the internet speed if needed. Make sure to return the cable companies equipment to avoid it charging you for the set top boxes.
- Set aside your savings. If you’ve been paying the cable bill of $99, $150, or $200 every month for cable, you’ll be amazed at how quickly the savings will add up. Open a special new savings account and pay your “cable bill” to yourself. Don’t forget to subtract out the cost of any new subscriptions.
- For example, let’s say you currently spend $100 a month on cable. You decide to pick up subscriptions to Netflix and Hulu instead, and set aside $5 a month to rent movies from the Redbox every weekend. Total new costs are $21 a month.
- Take the other $79 and set up a special savings account (somewhere like Capital One 360, Ally, Goldman Sachs, or somewhere else you might find on Magnify Money). Have the savings automatically transferred into this new account.
- After three months that account will have over $200 in it-more than enough to pick up a used video game system, an inexpensive smart TV, several DVD collections of your favorite shows, a Roku, and/or an Amazon Fire stick. Wait six months and there will be almost $500 in the account. With that, you can plan a weekend getaway for the family, buy a higher end TV, or pick up a top of the line Wii U/PS4/Xbox One plus games. Make sure you’ve set a goal as a family and get everyone excited about meeting it.
- Try new things. The world of streaming TV is changing fast. Now there are options like Sling TV, a $20 a month subscription that lets you get sports networks and many other channels. You can even pick up extra packages for $5 a month. HBO has started a subscription service that stands apart from a cable subscription for $15 a month – so you never need to miss Game of Thrones. Pay attention to your habits – if you find that you’re not watching Hulu and you’re sticking to Netflix, cancel Hulu (or vice versa). As more people cut the cable cord there will be more companies offering alternatives, so pay attention to announcements from both cable companies and networks of their new offering. Is your favorite channel sticking to their guns and refusing to offer what you want? Write them a letter to let them know how much you want to see another option – and you’re willing to pay for it. Companies want your business and would much rather get $5 or $10 a month from you than the $0 they’re getting by you cutting cable.
- Give it time. Especially if you’ve subscribed to cable for your entire childhood and adulthood, going without it can be a big adjustment. You probably have a certain routine of a channel or show that you watch regularly at certain times, and you’re going to miss it. Keep in mind the reasons you want to cut the cord as you figured out in Step 1 – whether they be to save money toward a more important short or long term goal, save time to pick up an old hobby again (or start a new one!), or spend more time together as a family. Make sure you’re taking advantage of the extra time – and/or money – to do the things that you want to do instead. You need to give yourself enough time to make the adjustment and develop new habits. I recommend giving it at least six months – and preferably a year. Worst case, if you decide after a year this isn’t for you the cable companies will likely offer you awesome deals to come back, you’ll have a ton of money saved to use toward something fun, and you’ll have developed fun new habits that don’t involve sitting in front of the TV.
Common Cable Cutting Objections and How to Counter Them
Whenever someone finds out I don’t have cable, I get to hear about how they wish they could do it too but they just caaaaaan’t. I smile and nod, empathizing about how hard it is, while silently thinking of this story from Money Boss where JD Roth makes the point that I’ve heard so often in my life. It’s not that you can’t – it’s that you won’t. Or you don’t really want to (and guess what? That’s OK, I’m not judging you because you want to have cable. We all have different priorities. All right, maybe I’m judging -a little bit! – the guy who “can’t afford” to get the 401k match on his six figure salary but still has cable. But only him!).
Now you might hear some objections as well if this is something you bring to your family. Maybe you’ll be thinking these, or hear them from friends or family. I’m here to give you some information on common objections you may hear to cutting the cord:
- I can’t give up sports!
- Guess what? You don’t need to! I have a friend who’s a single early 30-something without cable, and he goes to sports bars to watch certain games. Also Sling TV (remember the $20 a month option above?) offers ESPN and a sports package for only $5 more a month. So for $25 you can have more sports than you can watch.
- I can’t do it because of the kids.
- First of all, too much TV is bad for kids. Yes there are beneficial shows, but you can get plenty of those from PBS either online or over the air for free. Most shows kids – especially older kids – watch are for fun, not for learning. Hundreds of studies show that programs have negative influences – from inciting aggressive behavior, to sleep deprivation, to just plain whining about wanting the latest thing. Cutting the cord either drastically reduces or eliminates commercials (with the right options). Now in terms of content you can have bad content on streaming just as easily as on cable. So you still need to supervise your children and approve what they’re watching – but you should do that anyway.
- I won’t be able to watch what I want!
- Likely you can, it will just take some research. Look into not only the streaming services, Roku/Fire Stick, and Sling TV, but don’t forget about the library and buying DVD’s. Even if you buy a new DVD of your favorite show every month you’re probably coming out ahead financially.
Five Family Financial Lessons from Cutting Cable
Now we’re not cutting out cable just for the fun of it – there’s a reason, and this is a teachable moment for the kids. So what can your family learn financially from cutting cable?
Prioritization – If you pay for cable every month and then tell your kids they’re on their own for college, you’re really telling them that your highest priority is watching television. Or if your family watches the average of 6-8 hours of TV a day you’re really saying that watching TV is more important than doing activities together as a family. As Paula Pant, one of my favorite bloggers/podcasters says, “You can afford anything – just not everything”. Being clear on your financial and time priorities, and explaining them to your kids in an age-appropriate way, helps show your family the choices you’re really making with your time and your money.
Meeting financial goals – As I mentioned in the cable cutting tips above, it’s important to set short and/or long term financial goals as part of your cable cutting journey. This helps cutting the cord become not a sacrifice, but part of something better. Create a little chart with a thermometer showing your goal, and every month have your kids color in the progress you’re making. This shows them that not only do you need to sometimes give up one thing for something you want more, but gives them a visual of just how much you’re saving and how close you are to reaching the goal.
Say you’re saving $75 every month and you want to buy a new Wii U for the family when you’ve saved enough. This type of goal reinforces your habit (which, according to Gretchen Rubin, is the kind of exception in rewarding yourself for developing a new habit) by making it easier to watch streaming content on your existing TV. A Wii U costs $299 plus tax, so it will take around four months to save for this goal. Grab a piece of printer paper and write the name of the goal on the top. Make a thermometer showing the total amount you need, and how much you’re saving every month. Have your kids color it in at the end of each month and get them excited about how much closer you are to reaching it!
Using time wisely – The average American watches over four hours of TV a day – five hours if you include DVR time (source – Nielsen). Kids under 6 watch two hours a day, and those ages 8-18 spend four hours a day on TV and another two on the computer (source – Kids Health). Cutting down the options for shows that are available can naturally cut down on the amount of TV you all watch. Decide on what you want your family to do instead – should you go to the library and pick up books to read? Work on art projects? Go on a hike to explore? Head to a nearby park? Experiment with baking cool new recipes you find online together? Learn to play a musical instrument? The options are endless. And yes you don’t have to cut out cable to cut down on TV watching, but it helps immensely. You’re also more intentional about what you do watch, because you have to search for it and pop it on, making you much less likely to just turn on the TV and watch any old thing.
The importance of research – Show your kids through your actions the importance of doing research. You’ll be researching alternatives to cable and what options are available, how much TV you all actually watch every week, what shows everyone likes best, and how much you’ll save. Talk to your kids as you do this research, and why its important. You’ll show them that you need to be intentional about making choices rather than just letting old habits run your life, and the importance of preparing correctly for successfully making changes.
Not Keeping Up with the Jones’s – Peer pressure is an ugly thing. You feel awkward when your coworkers are asking if you’ve seen this or that new show. Your kids feel left out when their friends are all discussing that cool new episode of whatever’s hot today. Talk to your kids and help them understand that you’re making different choices because other things are more important to you. If they want to check out a new TV show, find some information online about it. Teach yourself and your kids that it doesn’t matter what other people do – it matters what your family wants to do. Everyone makes different choices with their time and their money, and that’s OK.
Other Awesome Sites
Today there are many great sites that give lots of tips on cutting the cord. I only wish these had been around when I was 20 and first getting rid of my cable! Check these out:
Cut Cable Today
Tom’s Guide to Cutting the Cable TV Cord
The Ultimate Cord Cutters Guide from PC magazine
Best Ways to Cut the Cord and Slash your Cable Bill from Forbes
Back when I first cut cable in 2000, there were no internet sites on how to do it, no streaming services- and just sacrifice and determination that I didn’t want to waste my time and money in front of the TV. Today there are so many alternatives that I don’t understand why anyone pays for cable anymore. As more people cut the cord, the costs for the remaining cable subscribers are going to go through the roof, just like happened with landline telephones. So what are you waiting for? Start your cord cutting journey today
Has your family cut out cable, and what do you like best/worst about it? What are you most worried about? Are you excited to try it? Let me know in the comments or send me an email.
Want to learn more about teaching kids about money? Check out this great page with my top articles and resources I’ve found from around the web.
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