Three years ago, Kyle and I took a look at our budget and our newly formed targeted savings goals and realized that our cable package was holding us back. We had much more pressing applications for the extra $80 per month we were paying to have access to those channels. The issue was that we – especially Kyle – love television. I know that’s not a popular thing to say, but we do! We were actively following many shows at the time as well as just enjoyed zoning out in front of stuff we didn’t care about as much. And of course there was the most common reason for keeping cable – sports. Kyle enjoyed watching pro football and basketball and we both wanted to watch the tennis Grand Slam tournaments. In the last few years we had also become huge fans of our university’s men’s basketball team and regularly hosted watch parties for their games as well as March Madness. We didn’t want to pay for cable any longer but we also didn’t want to be without the programming we loved.
This post details how we watch all the television we want without paying any money to do so. That we don’t spend any money to watch TV (aside from having internet access) is simply a fact of our particular budget. I encourage you to share in the comments how you (legally) watch TV for free or cheap as well! I know there are some options like MLB.TV and NHL Gamecenter Live that we haven’t personally used.
Disclaimer: This is an explanation of how we watch TV and I can’t guarantee that anyone else will be able to implement all of our strategies. Our wants may be different from yours and we may have access to different resources than you do. Also this whole post is US-specific.
1) Hulu and Network Websites
We started watching TV through Hulu and network websites before we even cancelled our cable – it’s just so convenient! There are so many current shows available through those websites that you can fill up on those and don’t need cable at all. Kyle watches The Daily Show every day after it airs, for example, and we always keep up with How I Met Your Mother.
As a perennial gift, our parents gave us a Netflix subscription. Most of the TV we watch is through Netflix streaming. We would definitely pay for Netflix if it weren’t given to us, but thankfully we don’t have to. I love being able to binge-watch shows (particularly The Office). Even though we don’t always have access to current seasons of shows (though Netfix will get them within a few months), I don’t mind because it turns out there’s been a lot of amazing television in previous years. A few series I’ve watched through Netflix streaming that I’m glad I was able to are: The X-Files, Arrested Development, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Saved by the Bell, Numb3rs, plus a few guilty pleasure ABC Family shows! When you’re watching old shows you know how epic they turned out to be, whereas with current shows you’re never sure if they are going to turn out well. That’s not even to mention the available movies!
To watch Netflix streaming on our TV, we used to use our Xbox. But when we received a Roku as a Christmas present, we switch to using that for Netflix and cancelled our Xbox Live subscription, which at the time was $50/year.
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3) Over the Air
The best step we made in this whole process was to buy a digital TV antenna. Did you know that TV is still free over the air? Some people seem to forget that! I didn’t realize this before we bought the antenna, but the switch from analog to digital meant that the broadcast channels you get over the air are even higher quality that what you get through cable. Depending on where you live and how you orient your antenna, you should have access to NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, and PBS.
This addition wasn’t crucial for us in terms of watching TV shows, but it definitely was for watching sports. We watch our university’s men’s basketball games over the air whenever possible. Kyle also likes to lay on the couch and watch football on Sunday afternoons or the NBA playoffs. He doesn’t follow any pro teams in particular so he’s pretty happy to just watch whatever’s on. (I know that some people want to follow specific teams so that not may be a fitting solution for everyone, but as we prioritize watching college basketball we are happy with this solution.)
The big drawback to watching TV over the air instead of through cable is that you have returned to appointment TV. That isn’t a big deal for sports since most people want to watch that live, anyway. If the show you want to watch over the air isn’t available through Hulu or one of the network websites (we haven’t encountered an example of this yet for our choices), you can make your own DVR. You just need a digital antenna and a TV tuner card for your computer.
Our parents still have a cable package and therefore have access to ESPN3 online. They gave us their login and password, so we use it to watch many of our university’s basketball games. ESPN3 is also available for free when you access it through an on-campus network so we could watch at school if we wanted to (or VPN in from home).
5) Watch Parties
For the basketball games we want to watch that are only available through ESPN, we are lucky to have very generous friends within our basketball group who pay for cable. We invite our group over when the games are available over the air or on ESPN3 and in turn are invited over for other games. We just bring a snack to share so we’re not complete mooches.
6) Sponsored Content
We have also been able to watch important sporting events like the Olympics and March Madness over the internet through promotional logins that seem to come available fairly frequently.
After three years using these strategies, we are still completely satisfied with the system we’ve worked out – and to think we’ve not-spent about $3,000 in that time! We are no longer even aware of what we’re missing on cable since we’ve dropped exclusively available shows (or just wait for them) and we don’t watch commercials.
How do you watch TV without paying for it? What a la carte options have you used to access programming?