How We Watch All the TV We Want for Free (Including Sports)

Kyle's TV

showing off Kyle’s TV just after he bought it in 2007 – his first piece of furniture.

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.


2) Netflix


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.


4) ESPN3


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?


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36 Responses to "How We Watch All the TV We Want for Free (Including Sports)"

  1. We pay for Hulu, which I access through my iPad and we occasionally plug my computer into the projector and watch movies that way. It’s more than enough tv for our habits.

    Are your parents violating their TOU by sharing their logins with you? I thought some companies like Netflix were starting to crack down on multiple login locations.
    Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies recently posted..Does Your To Do List Define Your Life?

    1. Emily says:

      Do you not have a TV at all, just computers and a projector? Having a projector is pretty sweet for movies but kind of a bother for TV, I guess.

      It’s possible. They never watch ESPN online so we are the only users. 🙂 It’s definitely a gray area – I like to think we are still a bit like the same household, but not really. Anyway now that ESPN3 is available through universities (that wasn’t always the case before – it’s constantly changing) we probably won’t use their login any longer.

      1. No physical tv at all for us. Visually I think they’re big ugly black holes that command attention and don’t like them everywhere. I shuddered inside when Mr PoP mounted two computer screens side by side on the wall in his office. So ugly! But it’s his office. =)
        Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies recently posted..Does Your To Do List Define Your Life?

        1. Emily says:

          Haha, I prefer rooms without TVs, too, and Kyle has two monitors in his office at home. I didn’t have a TV before I married Kyle (and also was not nearly so interested in watching shows). When we have a larger home I’d like to have a TV only in one room that we don’t use for most entertaining.

  2. We Have Netflix streaming plus one DVD at home. We also have basic cable, since we cannot get local channels with an antenna. There is a mountain between us and the main broadcast tower for most local channels. Total cost for Netflix and cable is $42/month, which includes fees and taxes. It’s still quite a bit higher than I would like, but it works for us.
    Bryce @ Save and Conquer recently posted..Create a Will at No Cost

    1. Emily says:

      My parents also lived in a spot where it was impossible to get broadcast TV (that was before the digital upgrade) so they had the most bare cable package I’ve ever heard of – just broadcast TV and TBS. $42/mo for all those services really isn’t much in comparison to what we would pay. Do you still make good use of the cable package even when you have Netflix?

  3. eemusings says:

    Buffy for life!

    T is big on TV and we paid aout the same every month, Internet prices are dropping though and there are geoblockers around so when we return home if we can get a decent price for unlimited internet we might ditch pay TV and watch everything online,
    eemusings recently posted..Italy, aka ‘New Zealand upside down’

    1. Emily says:

      That’s awesome that the prices are dropping. It’s true that if you want to watch your TV online you do need a decent speed, but for us we actually needed less than Kyle wanted for playing video games online anyway.

  4. I love my TV antenna. I’m actually going to write about that very thing shortly myself as I find it so funny that people have forgotten about something that was a common occurrence since TV was broadcast over the air.
    Tara @ Streets Ahead Living recently posted..September goals, a bit delayed

    1. Emily says:

      I think the cable/satellite companies have done a great job in selling us on their product and making us forget that so much programming is still free!!

  5. We still pay for DirecTV but help manage the cost via some negotiation and splitting the bill with our housemate. I think with the NFL package now being available online though, there are fewer excuses for me to continue this long term.

    Thanks for admitting you like tv — we do too! I think in moderation, it’s a great (and generally frugal) way to spend some time.
    Done by Forty recently posted..Budget Porn, Sexy September Edition

    1. Emily says:

      I wasn’t aware there was an NFL package available – that’s really great. So is splitting the cost with a roommate for the time being.

      I like to zone out with the TV on while I cook, do chores, or read blogs. There are a few shows I really pay attention to but most of the time I just like to drift in and out of shows I’m already familiar with, like The Office.

  6. Cash Rebel says:

    Watching sports over the air is an intriguing possibility. I’ve honestly never tried. Do you have a good antenna you’d recommend. This could be a game changer!
    Cash Rebel recently posted..August 2013 Goals Update

    1. Kyle says:

      We use the Terk HDTVa, which is good but maybe getting a little old now. Maybe the one annoyance is that it’s directional, so occasionally I have to re-position the antenna if I want a station I don’t normally watch. I’ve seen very good reviews for the Mohu Leaf and ClearStream2, so those would also be good options.

  7. You say that you watch shows on Hulu the day after they air. Are you paying for a subscription? Because free Hulu makes you weight 8 days unless you log-in with a cable subscriber. A year later, they still haven’t added DirecTV as one of the log-in options, so I’ve stopped using them altogether.
    Edward Antrobus recently posted..Blue Collar Budgeting Basics

    1. Emily says:

      No, we’re not paying for a subscription. Some shows are delayed one day and some up to 8 days. I’m looking at The Daily Show’s page and the most recent available episode is from last Thursday, which is the last one before today.

  8. Jon White says:

    We cut the cable in our house about three years ago and really don’t miss it much. Like you we’ve found other ways to watch the programming we really want to without having to spend any money!
    Jon White recently posted..JW’s Financial Coaching Podcast Lesson #56-Why do we have to get to give?

    1. Emily says:

      What’s your favorite strategy for getting programming for free?

  9. No Waste says:

    Another hack – subscribe for your own personal VPN.

    If you follow a specific team, this allows you to log in and watch online without being blacked out in your local market if you subscribe to that leagues all-access pass.

    This is not free, but much much cheaper than cable.
    No Waste recently posted..Net WorThursday – August 2013

    1. Emily says:

      I had to get Kyle to explain this to me so maybe I’m not getting it fully…

      That sucks that even with the pass you are blocked from watching local games – they shouldn’t assume that you have access to a TV. But wouldn’t it be cheaper to just buy an antenna than pay for the VPN service? Unless you don’t own a TV…

      1. No Waste says:

        We have a TV but our local teams are on cable, no OTA signal for the games unfortunately.
        No Waste recently posted..I Hate Fashion

  10. Lucas says:

    We use amazon prime, so get some stuff through there. Otherwise we use Plex to stream stuff from our computer to our Roku connected to our TV. But that is about it.

    1. Emily says:

      Sounds like you’re not consuming much TV – good for you!

  11. We cut satellite TV in July, and it was a wonderful decision. If you have small kids, the amount of things they are indirectly exposed to during what is supposed to be family programming is alarming. I’m not a prude, and I don’t want to shelter her from the world, but there are just too many erectile dysfunction commercials. We use Netflix and just got an antenna. The picture is amazing, maybe better than the satellite. We keep asking ourselves why we waited so long!
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Should We Buy Another Rental Property?

    1. Emily says:

      I can definitely see what you’re saying about kids’ exposure to commercials and other content. I want to cut down on our TV consumption before we reproduce. I’m glad you’re loving live without satellite!

  12. Kyle says:

    A not-exactly-frugal way I watch sports: at the bar. I would pay for the beer anyway, so it’s like I’m getting the game for free.
    Kyle recently posted..How Do You Know When You’re Financially Ready To Start Investing?

    1. Emily says:

      Very good point! And even if you bought extra beer, if that was the reason you didn’t have cable any longer I’m sure you’re coming out ahead financially.

  13. Old TV series are the best! For some reason no matter how may times you watch them they just don’t get old. Lucky for you to have parents who gifted you with Netflix and access to their cable package. Score!
    Marissa@Financetriggers recently posted..How to Lower Your Car Insurance Fees

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