How To Cancel Cable and Not Die of Boredom

It’s been a month since we stopped paying $100+ a month for our TV habit (two months since we first talked about it) and no one has died. It’s a miracle. There haven’t even been any hissy fits or screaming arguments over who gets to watch Their Show and who has to Wait. Look at us! Compromising! Give and take! General awesomeness! Exclamation point!

I’ve had more conversations about that decision than almost anything else I’ve ever written about, so clearly we’re not the only ones who think cable companies are owned and run by the devil himself sort of a rip-off. Since we take our TV very seriously, E put a LOT of ridiculously dorky time into planning how we would watch various shows even without the Super Awesome Cable Plan of Amazing Awesomeness and Thousands of Dollars A Year.

First, let me clarify that we ended up NOT canceling all of our cable. We currently pay $16.80 for basic cable service and $49.95 for the second fastest internet package Comcast offers. We USED to pay $149.99 for TV, $15 for HBO, $7 for the HD DVR plus the $49.95 for internet and a totally unidentifiable amount for a home phone only used to talk to telemarketers. Although the bill claimed our “package” cost only $119, our monthly amount due ranged from $180 to $210 based on…I have no idea. How many nice things I said about Comcast on Twitter that week? How many times we rewound So You Think You Can Dance while saying “Did you SEE THAT?!?!?!”  So losing the “package”, the DVR and the home phone equals a savings of approximately $120 a month.

Second, we have the advantage of already owning a desktop computer with a TV tuner card. Actually, two TV tuner cards. Basically, that means we can watch all our TV through the computer with the added benefit of being able to *GASP* pause, rewind, and record live TV. Finding out I could do that without a fancy cable box or Tivo subscription was like finding out I was secretly adopted. The cards cost anywhere from about $40 to $150 depending on where you shop/what you want/how tech savvy you are when it comes to installing that kind of stuff yourself, but since that’s less than 1 month’s cable cost they are DEFINITELY worth it.

So with basic cable (which in our area includes all the major networks plus USA, Discovery, Spike, TCM, and about a dozen shopping and Spanish language channels) plus the computer card we can watch/record two broadcast shows at once or record one and watch another. I also still get my morning news and lunchtime Price is Right. We have it hooked up actually through the computer so turning on the TV takes an extra step but it’s worth it for the DVR and channel guide the tuner card provides.

“But I don’t have a fancy computer!” you say, “I want to watch broadcast shows! And also, I will DIE if I can’t watch Teen Mom!”

To you I present: Hulu.com. Not only did they have really funny commercials about Alec Baldwin eating your brain, they’re actually a REALLY good way to watch TV. E made a spreadsheet showing when shows air vs. when shows are available online and the answer is almost always the next day. Here’s just part of it (click on it if you can’t read the tiny writing):

If for some insane reason you want the whole thing, I can email it to you. I just couldn't get the whole 50 show spreadsheet into one screenshot. Oh and it was for the summer lineup so some shows are listed as airing on "0" because they weren't on.

There are a few shows I have to track down online (Project Runway and Army Wives on Lifetime, anything on TNT, CW shows, which are especially hard to find – I STILL haven’t seen the premiere of ANTM) and I don’t get to see non-network award shows (like the VMA’s Sunday night) but EVERYTHING ELSE – including Teen Mom – is on Hulu. The best part is you can go through and add all the shows to your queue so when you log in it shows you the new episodes you have to watch. There isn’t a limit on how many shows from each time slot you can watch either, so even though I’ve missed several seasons of Dancing With the Stars because too many things I watched were on at that time I will definitely get to watch it this season (for the record, Jennifer Gray is going to win. NOBODY PUTS BABY IN THE CORNER WITHOUT A SPARKLY DISCO BALL TROPHY).

Which means I may actually be watching MORE TV than I was with the fancy cable package. I’m humming “Ironic” in my head. Not because this is the perfect definition of irony, but neither is rain on your wedding day so I feel justified.

Throw in a Netflix – now streaming movies straight to your tv! and computer! and XBox! and Wii! all of which we have! – subscription for $18 a month and we’ve got seasons and seasons of shows we might not have watched the first time around (Dear Joss Whedon, please please please forgive me) plus enough HBO and Showtime series to tie up entire weekends of time. Even if the very newest seasons aren’t available instantly you can get them in the mail as soon as they’re released on DVD. (Sort of. Some movies seem to be released on Netflix later than they’re actually released on regular DVD at the store.)

So, there you go: the least concise and most confusing explanation of how to watch TV on a budget ever.

(It helps that I am not the sort of person who gets upset at spoilers. If who wins Top Chef is REALLY important to you you’re going to have to make sure you watch the finale live at a friend’s house. Or if you don’t want to know that at the end of season 4 of Dexter *blank* is *blank* in the *blank* OMG!!!!! you’ll have to avoid not only the whole internet, but clip shows, talk shows, and most of your friends. Or you can just forget that someone already told you the ending. Like I did.)

(Disclaimer: Hulu, Netflix, Comcast and anyone else mentioned in this post have no idea who I am and would probably rather I NOT mention them on this blog. I wasn’t smart enough to ask them for compensation before writing about any of the companies so I’m plugging them all for free. Except for Comcast, who I’m sort of UNplugging, although now that I don’t curse their name every time I pay the bill I have to say we actually love their internet service.)

(This next part is written by E.  You’ve been warned.)

The computer we use is an Acer that we got from TigerDirect. com.  The dual band TV tuner card we also got from TigerDirect.com.   Another source of programming for us Comcast users is their Fancast site.  Really it is just a portal to all of the streaming services already available for free (like hulu), but it does allow you to watch shows online if you currently have a subscription to that channel.  I won’t bore you anymore, unless of course you want some more information, then tell Suzanne and I’ll write something much more lengthy.

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14 Responses to “How To Cancel Cable and Not Die of Boredom”

  1. Amanda says:

    I am so happy I am not the only weirdo that has a spreadsheet of TV shows! I always feel like a big ole geek when I write it up every season but its the only way to figure our where to tape what.

  2. Audrey says:

    I would like to solve all of your reality tv show problems by directing you to my current crack supplier….www.realitytvfan.org You can get Next Top Model for several countries (right now they are showing Australia, New Zealand, Britain and America), they have Project Runway, they have Top Chef, when it’s airing they have Survivor, Amazing Race, Work of Art, Shear Genius, etc etc etc and all of the Big Brother you can stomach..if you can stomach it, which I can not.

    This is how I have entertained myself when bored or sewing or laid up recovering from c-section while hunched over a breast pump. We haven’t had any form of cable in the 5.5 years we’ve lived together, which was a lot easier before the kiddo because I was working and going to school. But since the kiddo Hulu and this reality website have saved my sanity. I’m not ashamed to admit that. Okay, I am, but still. Consider this me paying it forward.

  3. So the only thing I miss about not having cable is HGTV….Do you know a place to find that online??……anyone??……

  4. Audrey says:

    I believe if you pay the $10 a month subscription to Hulu you get all of the HGTV shows. I think. It’s worth looking into, anyway.

  5. Christy says:

    I haven’t had cable in years. I LOVE hulu and I use fancast a bit too even thought I”m not a comcast customer. I really wish I could see foodnetwork shows. :(

  6. becca says:

    um, i don’t understand half of what you wrote, but i sent it to my husband asking if we can do this! a few years ago we had no cable at all and we managed, but seeing the possibilities here have my interest again. would love to cut that $100 bill out. and we currently have no internet at home, so i think i’d make that trade happily!

  7. Stephanie says:

    This has nothing to do with cable… well, unless you count knitting cables! (Ha… see how I did that?) Anyways, I saw this and totally thought of you and wanted to share: http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/dc/inspiration/furniture-accessories-knit-knacks-for-the-home-trend-watch-127006

  8. Laura says:

    This is AWESOME! My husband is totally addicted to TV and refuses to cancel it, but I hardly watch it all and HATE paying so much money! We’re locked into a DirecTV contract until later this fall, but after that, I intend to implement a solution like yours. P.S. I hate Comcast, too, which is why we now have DirecTV, but it’s really not any better.

  9. TMae says:

    I can’t ever show this to my husband. Since we cancelled the cable, we now watch TV with an antenna (like it’s 1950, yo!) and supplement with Netflix and Hulu. And we spend so much time doing other things, like taking the dog for much needed walks, and cooking instead of ordering out. If he knew about the TV card, and how to find Food Network shows, we’d be doomed.

    I will also say, apparently we should have just asked you and E prior to dumping cable if there was a way to record onto a computer, because we spent DAYS trying to figure out how to do it without a massive outlay of cash, or a TiVo subscription and came up with bupkiss. Ask the internet people! Ask the internet! Wins every time.

  10. Merin says:

    I think this is so great-cable is such a money suck. I don’t even know why we have it-I turn on the tv once a day IF I remember for sesame street. Can E or someone chime in on how to watch live sports?

  11. jill says:

    so i just made my husband read this and he replied with, “hmm, glad its working for them. are you trying to get me to get rid of cable?” me: shakes head yes. “not gonna happen” he replied! hmph!

  12. I actually just cancelled cable in March. Comcast finally raised my rates one too many times. The final straw was when they tacked on a $2.50 fee for the “free” digital adapters we got when the switch to analog to digital happened. I actually downgraded my internet too because when you unbundle the internet rate goes up. I’m at the 6 mpbs “performance starter” package because that’s all you need to stream Netflix and Hulu in hd

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