Here at CMO central, we haven’t had cable TV in about a decade.
In fact, in my adult life, I can count on one hand the number of years we have had cable TV.
Not having cable has freed up considerable time – and money – over the years. But it’s not a cure-all.
Recent articles on cord-cutting and the rise in costs of alternatives have gotten me thinking a lot about this topic.
The rise of alternatives has cut into the time and money savings you can achieve by cutting out cable. And the availability of the wonders of the internet in our pockets has given rise to a new form of time and money suck.
Today I’ve been giving some thought to how TV alternatives have changed over the years, now that nearly one out of four households has cut the cord. I’ve also been pondering what most people who still have cable could do with the money – and time – they’d save by cutting cable and consuming less.
And I’ve been thinking about my own content consumption versus creation ratio, and what I’m doing with my own time. I’m setting a week-long challenge for myself to cut down on consumption and work on improving my life.
Our Family’s History With Cutting The Cord
When I first moved into the condo I bought, I originally got a very basic cable package. But the cost/benefit just wasn’t working. I was barely home, because at the time I was working full time and going to school full-time evenings and weekends.
When I was home, there was nothing on I wanted to watch. So we cut the cable cord for the first time. Now, this is back in the very early 2000’s, well before streaming services existed. We watched over the air TV, and various VHS tapes we owned and/or got out of the library.
Even when my oldest son was born, we still didn’t get cable. I can remember him spending a lot of time watching his favorite Miffy video tape.
Sometime after moving into this house in 2006, we got a great deal on a new AT&T service that came with a cable-like product. We had it for a year or two, until the price went way up and our middle son started to get too hooked on content.
So we cut the cable cord again, back when few people did so, and have never looked back. You can read more about it in some older articles I wrote about how we’d been cable free for years (with three kids), and some tips I’d developed for overcoming objections to cord-cutting.
But over the years, alternative options to suck both our time and money have risen up.
The Rise Of Alternatives
Since I’ve spend various points in time from 2000 through today without cable, I’m deeply familiar with how the landscape of alternatives has shifted.
At first, it was essentially over the air free TV (basic channels) plus whatever you could get from a limited library selection of VHS tapes. Or you could rent something from Blockbuster back before it went bankrupt. If you owned some VHS tapes, you could also watch your personal library of content.
But that was pretty much it.
Then there was Netflix DVD by mail delivery. DVD’s were released and became much less expensive than VHS tapes. The selection of movies at the library (mine anyway), went way up as the costs went way down.
The explosion of streaming content, not to mention YouTube content, has only really happened in the past five or so years. But it’s been amazing to watch.
At first, you could only get something like Netflix streaming, and there wasn’t much on YouTube. Then there came Amazon prime streaming and Hulu. YouTube offerings went from guys doing dance moves to professionally shot and edited footage.
Now it seems every company that’s currently a channel on TV is offering (or plans to offer) its own paid service, so you can finally create the TV a la carte so many of us wanted all along. Just look at Disney (6.99 a month) and HBO ($14.99 a month).
Alternative options to cable have exploded, causing more and more people to take the leap into cord cutting.
$1,200 A Year?
Cable TV doesn’t come for free. The average cable bill is now $107 per month.
That’s $1,200 a year.
You could do a lot with $1,200 a year. You could put that towards an emergency fund, retirement, getting out of debt, or a dream fund.
Over ten years, if you just stuck this into a savings account, you would have over twelve grand. What kind of dream vacation could you take with that amount of money?
When you’re cutting out cable you do need to watch your overall expenses. If you replace cable with more expensive internet, “cable alternatives” (that are almost the same thing as cable, and add one streaming service on top of another, you can easily end up with a cable-like bill.
So when you’re going for streaming alternatives, make sure you’re really saving money. Keep an eye on price increases. Think critically about how much you’re really using the service, and don’t be afraid to cancel if you’re not getting value from it.
Not watching TV is one of my greatest productivity hacks. Somehow, the average American watches TV for an average of nearly eight hours a day. They basically spend an entire work week in front of the television.
If this was even cut in half, and the time freed up used to create the life you wanted – think of how much you could accomplish!
- You could get a part-time job, and get paid for the time you’re currently spending in front of the television.
- You could use the time to create a budget, track your net worth, track your spending, and learn about smart money management.
- You could take free online courses from EdX, learning new skills from top universities around the world.
- You could take up exercise, and go for a walk or hike with your family every day.
- You could look for a new job. Increase your skill set for your existing job. Read some non-fiction books on topics that will help you better your life.
- You can work on an art project. Learn to paint. Sew a quilt.
- You could start a side hustle. Create online courses. Start a blog. Heck, you could write a non-fiction book in less than four months by cutting TV watching in half.
The possibilities are endless.
Interestingly, the eight hours a day doesn’t include the amount of time spent online. Since the year 2000, time online has increased from an average of nine hours a week to twenty-four hours a week.
I have to assume that some of that online time is spent also watching TV. Otherwise the “average” person is spending over sixty hours a week consuming various types of content. Which seems like a lot.
Cutting Cable Isn’t A Cure All
So if you cut cable, then your life will auto-magically improve – is that right?
No, it’s not so simple.
Yes, you can save money by cancelling cable. But you can end up paying the same amount you do now – if not more! – by adding on streaming service after streaming service.
Yes, you can save time by not watching TV eight hours a day. But if you instead use that time to scroll social media, read entertaining websites, or watch YouTube, you really haven’t used the time you got back to change your life.
We can’t be content to pat ourselves on the back for not having cable and think that because we’ve cut the cord, we’ve taken back our money and our time.
No, we need to be honest with ourselves, and constantly challenge our own beliefs. And constantly strive for improvement.
That’s why I’m setting…
A Challenge For Myself
Lately I’ve been consuming much more content than I feel I should.
I’ve been spending more time watching my phone – pretty much YouTube, or scrolling social media – and not enough doing the other things I love.
I’m online, on my phone, way too much for my taste. Consuming content created by others, whether on social media, YouTube, or cable is taking up much more of my time than I like.
Frankly my weekly iPhone pop-up telling me how much time I spend on my phone horrifies me. I regularly dismiss it as quickly as I can.
And I’m sick of it.
I don’t like it when I get stuck in that kind of rut. I don’t like feeling like I’m not accomplishing things.
I have plenty of excuses. I’m tired. I’m busy. I don’t feel well. It’s a good way to unwind. I need to be on social media for this site, to keep up with friends, etc. etc.
But I’m tired of my own excuses.
So this week, I’m going to pretend it’s the year 2008 again, the pre-smartphone era. My phone’s internet has been disabled, so I’ll be forced to access the online world only on my computer.
Turning the WiFi and cellular data off on my phone has essentially turned it into a dumb phone that can take pictures.
The only video content I’ll watch is for family movie night, on our one TV. Otherwise, it’ll be nothing for me.
And I’m going to use the time I gain to do some of the more productive activities I love.
I’ll report back at the end of next week how this experiment went. Want to join in? Let me know!