Most of us rely on some form of TV to entertain us during our downtime. But you’ve probably noticed your cable bill creeping upward every few months, leaving you with less money at the end of the month.
You may have heard a lot of talk about folks “cutting the cord” — the cable cord, that is. And those high costs are part of the cause.
But if you’re not quite ready to give up cable entirely, you can implement a few other money-saving strategies first.
Ways to Save Money on Cable TV
If you’d like to keep cable TV but just can’t stomach the price you’re currently paying, you can save with a bit of creativity, willingness to pressure your cable provider, or even just prioritizing the entertainment you want or need. These strategies can help you lower your cable TV bill for good.
1. Downgrade Your Cable Package
Cable companies usually create several membership tiers so customers can choose what they want and avoid overpaying.
Perhaps you currently have the deluxe package from your cable company. You’re likely paying two to three times the amount of the basic cable package. Although you probably get access to some of the cooler channels, you have to consider whether you’re really getting your money’s worth.
If you only watch a few stations or have minimal leisure time, the lowest-tier package might suffice. Yes, you’d likely lose access to several dozen — if not over a hundred — channels and only get 10 or 20 of them, but do you really watch that many channels anyway?
In particular, if you gravitate toward just a few channels, figure out the lowest-cost plan that offers your favorites. More TV shows or channels aren’t necessarily better. They also take money out of your budget (along with your precious time).
2. Ditch the DVR
Having a DVR can increase your cable costs each month quite a bit as well. As convenient as it is to use the DVR when you just can’t be home to watch the big game or the finale of your favorite TV drama, it isn’t necessary for everyone.
The DVR typically adds between $10 and $30 per month to your cable bill. For example, Xfinity adds $10 per month for DVR storage, a $7.50 service fee, and a $9.95 monthly technology fee.
Plus, you might even be on the hook to pay a TV box rental fee — which could be around $5 monthly for the first one and $10 for each additional box, though it could be higher. Remember that if this is in addition to your monthly cable fees, you’re paying a lot of money for your at-home entertainment.
You may find you’re just as content with a bare-bones cable package and no DVR. That way, you don’t feel pressured by a backlog of shows you might never have time to watch.
Chances are good you’ll have enough channels to binge-watch all your favorite shows without using a DVR. Your credit card company might be mad about the money you’ll save, but you’ll be thankful.
3. Review Your Cable Bill for Fees
Cable providers are prohibited from charging customers for services or add-ons they didn’t request, but it still happens.
By scrutinizing your cable bill each month, you could catch any suspicious fees before too much time passes. Look over your bill to ensure the amount the company charges you matches what you expected to pay.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) warns that some customers experience unwanted charges when cable companies practice what’s called “negative option billing.” You’ve probably run into this in your life. It’s when companies charge customers without their permission, putting the burden on the customer to dispute the charges.
Companies are likely operating on the philosophy of it being easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. They know many customers won’t notice the increase or bother calling to fix their bill if they do.
Generally, cable providers are prohibited from adding new services unless you request the change. However, if the company skirts that rule and tries to charge you for extra channels or subscriptions you didn’t affirmatively request, you need to fix it as soon as possible.
That’s why monitoring your cable bill is essential. Not all companies are honest, so you want to find out quickly if your cable provider is trying to squeeze more money out of your bank account. Plus, you may be entitled to file a complaint with the FCC.
4. Negotiate With Your Cable Company
Negotiation is an important strategy for saving on all kinds of costs, including cable fees. You can call your current company and use standard negotiation techniques to get a reduced rate.
One of the easiest ways to score a lower cost from your cable company is to tell them you’re canceling the service. Whether you ask them outright for a lower price or simply say you’d like to cancel, chances are the person on the phone will be in the mood to negotiate.
It’s a good idea to compare prices before making this phone call too. After all, you might have to switch companies if your current cable provider won’t budge on price. And if you’re hoping to stay with the same cable company but pay less, it can’t hurt to be armed with price information from the competition.
Knowing that many services don’t have fixed prices can give you confidence going into a negotiation phone call. Cable companies want to keep your business, so they’ll likely be willing to consider offering you a deal, even if it’s only for a limited time.
Your company may prefer to offer you an upgrade rather than a price reduction. Decide whether that’s an incentive that works for you.
5. Use a Bill Negotiation Service
While you can call your cable company directly, these phone calls can take an inordinate amount of time. That may not be time you’re willing to invest in negotiating your bill.
For a relatively low cost, you can hire a bill negotiation service like Truebill or BillShark. These companies have trained experts who can speak directly to your service providers, including your cable company, and convince them to cut you a deal. They can be especially helpful if you have multiple recurring subscriptions you’d like to reduce.
Bill negotiation companies often charge a percentage of the amount they’re able to save you on your bills. Some also charge for regular memberships, which could be worth the money if you often find yourself disputing charges on your bills.
6. Switch Cable Providers
If you attempt to negotiate and come back with no reduction in cost, it may be time to switch cable providers.
Doing some research into the cable offerings near you could save you a lot every month, which will add up over the year. Cable providers often run promotional pricing for new customers to entice them to sign up.
If you’re also dissatisfied with your cable company for reasons other than cost, like poor customer service, that’s even more incentive to switch.
But before you switch, ensure you know whether you’d incur a fee for early contract termination. Your cable provider may have you locked into a contract. Check with the company to find out what they’ll charge you if you back out early.
In some cases, the only way to avoid an early termination fee is by moving out of the service area. If that’s not happening, do the math to determine whether hefty cancellation fees would void your savings. You might be better off downgrading to the lowest tier until the end of your contract.
7. Bundle Your Services
If you want to stick with some level of cable and also need services like internet or phone, bundling may be the way to go. Many cable deals are significantly lower when you combine cable in a package with other services.
But be aware of what you actually need. If you pay more for a bundle of cable TV plus a home phone line, but you only use a cellphone to make calls, you’re not really saving anything.
Do your research by looking up all the cable and internet providers that service your area to see whether there are any bundling deals available. Look into what your cable and internet bills would be on their own versus as a part of a package.
You could simplify some of your bill-paying and cut your overall costs. Check the company websites for up-to-date pricing information that’s available in your service area.
But ensure a bundle will truly save you money. Sometimes, people are drawn into contracts by too-good-to-be-true-sounding deals only to realize they’re paying more than before and not getting any additional benefit for the money.
8. Switch to Streaming Services
One popular way people are saving money on cable is by switching to streaming services. Live TV streaming services enable you to instantly watch a wide variety of programming with ease, making cord-cutting a breeze.
If you’re unsure about a particular streaming service’s offerings, look for a free trial period. During that time, you can get a feel for how you like the platform and whether the shows are worth it. Just remember to cancel the account if and when you decide it’s not for you.
While it can be overwhelming with so many live streaming options, the variety means customers can pick the types of shows they want. Many streaming options are only a few dollars per month, so you could select a couple of your favorites for less than a basic cable package elsewhere.
For example, if you’re a sports fan, you could try free streaming options for viewing sports or a subscription to a streaming service like ESPN+ or CBS Sports. If you’re already an Amazon Prime subscriber, you have access to their library of programming on Prime Video.
YouTube TV might be the perfect fit for a wide range of interests. Disney+ is great for families, though there’s plenty of programming for all ages.
A few other streaming options you might consider are fuboTV, Sling TV, Paramount Plus, and HBO Max. And there are plenty of niche services, like BritBox (by the BBC) and The Criterion Channel (for movie buffs). You can also look into free options like Pluto and Crackle.
There are far too many options to name, but you can get a complete list at cord-cutting site Flixed.
One caveat of free streaming services: the Federal Trade Commission warns that the potential for viruses infecting your computer is high among illegal websites. Only use legitimate websites and ensure your antivirus software is updated to protect yourself and your data.
You may need to buy a streaming device like a Roku or Apple TV to operate them on your television, though you can watch them on your computer with no special equipment.
To save even more money, you can sign up for one streaming service for a few months, watch the main shows you like there, then pause the service to try a different streaming platform. Just keep track of which programs stream on which platform, and after you’ve cycled through them, you can start over to catch up on new seasons.
It could grow complicated (and costly if you forget to cancel) but can work to save money. And before you try this tip, look into each platform’s pricing options and whether there are cancellation fees.
You need high-quality internet service if planning to rely on streaming services. Unlimited data is also a plus.
9. Buy a TV Antenna
One strategy that’s making a comeback is the TV antenna. People can buy an antenna to receive local TV channels for free without the monthly cost you’d pay to a cable network.
You can access free, over-the-air HD TV by purchasing an antenna that’s compatible with your television. You mount some antennas outdoors, while you can place others in your home by the TV.
If you have a flat-screen, it’s probably capable of receiving digital TV signals. However, if you have an old-school TV, you may need to buy a converter box to use an antenna. You can find these for around $20 to $40 at retailers like Walmart and Amazon.
The possible downfall of an antenna is that in some regions, the quality of the TV signal may be inferior, especially if you live far from a broadcast tower. You’re also likely limited to the TV the antenna is attached to instead of being able to broadcast from your phone or another device.
While there are benefits to not watching TV at all, many of us are perfectly happy to continue watching our favorite shows and channels during our downtime. Since there are many ways to save money on cable TV, whether through negotiating your bills or changing companies, you can still access the cable channels you love without overspending.