With the average American household paying around $80 a month for cable television, the temptation to cut the cord with Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA), Time Warner Cable (UNKNOWN:TWC.DL), Cablevision (UNKNOWN:CVC.DL), or any of the other providers is great.
The problem is that while cable is expensive, the cost for a la carte alternatives can pile up as well. On their own Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon's Prime Instant Video are all under $10 a month. Services like DISH Networks' Sling, which offers live TV and ESPN starting at $20 a month and HBO's just-announced stand-alone service at $15 monthly, cost a little more. Add in Major League Baseball's digital package, or perhaps WWE's streaming network, and the bill can surpass the cost of traditional cable.
If the goal of cutting the cord is saving money, then perhaps it's best to actually cut it and not just find other ways to pay. It's possible to eliminate your entire cable bill and still have some entertainment choices. You, of course, won't have access to every program or every live sporting event, but you can still get access to quite a bit of programming without having a monthly bill.
Get an HDTV antenna
Today's TV antenna is not the rabbit ears of old where a combination of just the right weather, tin foil, and luck was needed to bring in a fuzzy picture. Assuming you live near a major TV market with local network affiliates, you are entitled to pick up those signals for free.
To do that, all you need is a TV with a digital tuner (all televisions made since 2007 have them built in) and an antenna. Even if you have an older TV, you can simply add a digital converter box and you will be able to pick up ABC, CBS, FOX, PBS, and Telemundo -- if you have affiliates for those networks where you live. You might even be able to pick up some local independents though those are becoming more rare around the country.
HDTV antennas are small, go inside the house, and can be purchased for less than $30.
The Internet has a lot of legal, free content
While Hulu Plus gives subscribers access to deep archives of recent shows, the free version of the service has plenty to offer. Hulu has the most recent episodes of a number of shows from its partners including Fox, NBC, and ABC. These free shows are only up for a short window, but Hulu visitors can watch the newest episode of popular programs, including FOX's Empire, NBC's The Voice, and ABC's Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., among others. The site also has a selection of free movies, albeit mostly older and obscure ones.
Hulu users and YouTube visitors can also access legal clips posted by cable shows including Comedy Central's late-night block which includes The Daily Show. These aren't stolen videos -- these are legal clips of comedy bits, interviews, and show segments, posted for free for anyone to watch -- no cable subscription required.
These aren't the only sites offering free television. Crackle.com is mostly known for its originals like Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, but it also has free archives of older shows including FX's The Shield.
Free movie streaming
In addition to offering free television shows, Crackle has a selection of free movies. It's a mix of older films, indie releases, and movies with big names in them you never knew existed, but there are some decent flicks if you sort through all the lousy ones. (And, Crackle offers the answer to the question, "What has Wesley Snipes been doing since he got out of jail?" It's called The Contractor and it's worth watching, albeit likely not for the reasons its producers intended.)
Crackle is not the only site offering free movies and older television shows. PopcornFlix.com has everything from the recent big budget Jack and the Beanstalk to Meet Bill, a movie I have never heard of depite it starring Aaron Eckhart, Jessica Alba, and Elizabeth Banks. This site also offers some older television shows, including Cheaters and programs from the National Geographic Network.
The value of free
Living without a paid cable subscription will absolutely leave holes in your viewing options. You won't, for example, be able to watch Monday Night Football or any other live sports programming on ESPN. You will however have access to the rest of the NFL games, assuming you live in a market with local FOX, NBC, and ABC affiliates.
Forgoing paid television is definitely a trade-off, but it's one that comes with huge savings. It may not be easy and there are some sacrifices, but it's possible and it may be worth it.