Cable TV Is Cheap Entertainment


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Our cable company has been advertising new packages and lower prices, so this weekend Vonnie and I stopped into the nearby office to investigate our options, and see if we could lower our bill. Thirty minutes later we walked out the door having been upgraded to their new gold package that includes 4 DVRs, almost every channel they have, and a broadband speed double what we had previously.

AND a lower bill.

Driving home with the new DVRs in the trunk, I thought about our decision and wondered if we had made the right choice.  The TV portion of our bundle package will be running us about $130 a month, down from $150.  Sure, our bill was lower, but we could have reduced it even more had we reduced instead of increased our services.  I started listing to myself all the positive reasons of why we went with such a big cable TV package:

Family Togetherness: From American Idol, to The Biggest Loser, to Hell’s Kitchen we snuggle up on the couch as a family and cheer on our favorite contestants. We also laugh together by watching sitcoms such as Modern Family, or movies on the movie channels.

Cheaper Than Concerts: There’s a channel offered that plays recorded concerts, and I find several each month of bands that I enjoy listening to.  In contrast, concert tickets are crazy expensive these days, around $50 for acts that I would want to see.  If I had to travel, gas, food and accommodations would drive the price through the roof.

Cheaper Than Sporting Events: Last time Vonnie and I went to a Minnesota Vikings game, we dropped a couple hundred bucks and it was a complete hassle with driving, parking, and traffic. I’d rather sit in the comfort of my own home, with my already purchased food and beverages watching the game where I can rewind and watch highlights in slow motion. We also have potluck football parties with our friends and neighbors. It’s a fun, tailgating atmosphere without having to leave the house.

Cheaper Than Going Out: An afternoon out with the guys, and a movie with my family last weekend ended up costing close to $50.  With one day of entertainment spending, I spent more than a third of our monthly cable TV bill.

Educational: Cooking, home improvement, and political commentary are just some of my favorites. There are endless options on cable TV to feed the brain.

There’s several reasons why cable TV gets a bad rap.  When people look for expenses to cut, one of the first things on the chopping block is the cable bill. Cable TV is not a necessity, so if you’re absolutely needing to slash expenses to make ends meet, cutting it is a no brainer.  But as our financial picture has gradually improved, weighed against other activities, cable TV provides entertainment options for everyone in our family.  Cable TV is also commonly accused of being mindless screen time.  I disagree with this, because for us, it promotes family interaction as well as entertainment.

What do you think?  Is cable TV a mindless time suck, or does it have real value?  How much do you spend on cable TV each month?


About Travis

52 Responses to “Cable TV Is Cheap Entertainment”

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  1. We pay $8 for Hulu, but that’s about it and I’ve been considering cutting it lately. It feels like a time suck whenever I sit down with it, and I don’t like that feeling.

    • Travis says:

      It certainly is a personal choice, Mrs. Pop, and there are alternatives out there. We make sure that the kids (and ourselves for that matter) don’t just plop in front of the TV and watch it all day every day – we get outside and stay active too. Watching TV is something to be done in moderation, along side other fun activities.

  2. Mark says:

    We just canceled our satellite TV. At almost $100 per month, it didn’t feel worth it to me at all. With Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and Hulu, we feel like we can get all the content we can possibly stand for a fraction of what we were paying for DirecTV.

    And where on earth are you putting four DVR boxes?? 🙂

    • Travis says:

      That’s a good question, Mark. The direction by our cable company (can’t speak for others) is that they are dumping “normal” cable boxes in favor of having just DVRs. They are even dumping multi-rooom solutions (one DVR with “satellite” boxes that access the main DVR. So we have one in our bedroom, one in our formal living room, one in or family room, and one in the kids’ recreation room.

  3. I know having cable can be taboo in the PF-sphere, though we have DirecTV and our bill is around $55-60 per month. It is a lot cheaper than some other options and a lot of the time that we have the TV on at least one of us is working. We run a very tight ship otherwise, so the expense is not too much in our opinion.

    • Travis says:

      You bring up a great point John – one that I had actually meant to mention in the post – I believe in enjoying life and spending money on the things that make you happy (and not wasting money on the things that don’t). If a family runs a tight ship like you (and I) do, spending a little extra on something like cable TV (or whatever a person enjoys) is perfectly normal and healthy – as long as you have the money to do so!

  4. All of the shows you mentioned are available on Hulu Plus ($7.99/month). Every movie and premium channel TV show is available for purchase on Amazon Instant Video. If you watch them at the rate that they would naturally air, you would save almost $100/month.

    90% of sports are available on non-cable channels. The ones that you receive for free.

    I will never understand why people try to justify the cost of cable. If you turned it off for 1 month, and tried to use the alternative methods (Roku, TVPC, AppleTV, etc) you would realize how much you’re wasting. My wife and I can still curl up on the couch and watch any show we want, at our leisure.

    • Travis says:

      I certainly admire that you are able to find every show that you want on the alternatives, and that it works for you Johnny. I’m not opposed to alternatives – and I’m sure there the answers are out there to my questions – but I have some serious concerns and questions about them such as:

      1.) Cost of equipment. There is a (admittedly one time) start up cost associated with buying a Roku, or appleTV player.

      2.) Bandwidth. Many (if not all) of these products require broadband access. When we’re all watching the same thing, that’s fine. What about those times when my wife is watching her soap opera, my daughter is watching a movie, I’m watching sports, and my son is watching HD Youtube videos? Will my bandwidth be able to handle that without any lag or choppiness?

      3.) “90% of sports are available on non-cable channels. The ones that you receive for free.” Monday Night Football is on ESPN. Lots of college sports are not on free channels. Lots of my favorite baseball team’s games are not nationally televised. Depending upon the airwaves comes with it’s own difficulties as well – Bad weather or any other number of seemingly random reasons the reception can be crappy on any given day.

      4.) Bundled deal from Cable. I require the ability to work from home and need to purchase broadband from the cable company. I get almost 50% off my broadband price because of the bundled deal. I dump cable, my broadband price goes up.

      Are there lots of choices available through alternatives, but it always seems to me that the people that use them (and again, not saying that it’s bad….just a personal choice) seem to live within that 90% rule – they get “most” of what they could get with Cable (or some sort of satellite solution) and deal with it because it’s so much cheaper. Is getting “most” worth the cost reduction?

      I think that’s really a question that each individual person / family has to answer.

  5. Leslie says:

    There is a difference between Educational and Informative.

    • Travis says:

      True, Leslie – personally I would categorize news and political commentary as “informative.” On the “educational” side of the fence I would put the cooking/grilling/smoking shows I watch. If I can learn a new technique that would finally allow me to kick out a tender, juicy brisket every time, that would be worth that month’s cable bill by itself. LOL.

  6. If this works for you then good. There is nothing wrong with that. We dumped cable a few years back because it just wasn’t for us. We watched our money go down the toilet when all we were watching were the major broadcast channels, plus a few more. Since we can get the broadcast channels over the air, it was a no brainer. I don’t mind people paying for cable if you have the means to do so. I do mind when people are struggling to feed themselves yet have the most expensive cable package there is. It is all about priorities.

    • Travis says:

      Or having the latest cell phone, or gambling, or drinking, and the list goes on, right Grayson? There are people that will be continuously behind on their utilities (staying warm in the winter is a necessity of life), but they’ve got the latest freakin’ iPhone. Thanks for the great point, Grayson!

  7. Dona Collins says:

    I don’t think there’s a simple answer to this question. Every family is different and has different needs. I could live without cable, but I’m not that into most programs – and the ones I do enjoy are usually on basic channels. My fiance couldn’t live without cable – he has a list of shows he looks for in his spare time. Families with children have different needs. My grandmother lives on her own and hasn’t had cable as long as I can remember. I don’t think you lost out if you got more for less – as long as the lower bill was to a price you can deal with…

    • Travis says:

      Great examples Dona! One of the reasons I wanted to write this post was because of the ever present opinion that cable TV is evil, and if a person had any financial sense at all they would cut it completely. I wanted to show that there IS a place for cable TV….and that while there may be cheaper alternatives depending upon what sacrifices you’re willing to make, there ARE families and situations where cable TV makes perfect sense as an entertainment option. Thanks for your comment, Dona – great to hear from you!

  8. Kevin Vesga says:

    At first I was bewildered as to how cable can be considered cheap, but then I saw what you were comparing it to. Things get more interesting once you consider alternatives like combining services such as NetFlix and Hulu with a streaming box.

    • Travis says:

      It’s all relative, right Kevin? Cable TV is cheaper than going out on the town with friends, out for dinner, or to the movies (all of which I’d still do from time to time), but there are cheaper alternatives. There is a convenience factor and sacrifices that come with the alternatives – many I listed in a previous comment response. Another one is pointed out by your comment – “combining services.” Cable TV is a one stop shop for many options – if you go the alternate route you have to patchwork your solution together using different pieces. If that works for someone, that’s great – but I don’t think it’s a viable solution for my family’s needs.

  9. Milissa says:

    It is the sporting events and concerts I remember attending as a child with my parents, not the television shows we watched. Besides Star Trek re-runs with my Dad, I don’t remember any shows that I watched with my parents.

    We subscribe to Netflix and have internet access. We haven’t had cable in 4 years we have no complaints. What I love the most, is that my 7 year sons never sees commercials.

    If cable works for you, wonderful, we found it to cost too much and suck up too much time in actually trying to find something want to watch. We like streaming on demand.

    • Travis says:

      Ooooh, great point, Milissa (love how you spell your name, BTW)! I have some great memories with my parents taking our whole family to watch the Minnesota Twins play on a sunny afternoon. Those ARE such great memories…..of course one reason they’re great is because they were indeed special events. For every baseball or football game my parents took us to, we watched a thousand on TV together. One of my favorite memories with my dad is watching “Garfield” – not the movie…..the TV specials that would come on every now and then. We LOVED that orange cat and would laugh ridiculously hard together watching it. I’m not sure I agree that cable sucks up too much time trying to find something to watch. We know what we want to watch, and occasionally we’ll check out something new – other than that we’re doing other activities. About the only time I do mindless channel surfing is late at night when I just can’t sleep. 🙂 Thanks for your sharing your thoughts, Milissa!

  10. Hey Travis, I’m not with you on this one. Of all the regular bills we pay in our household, cable is by far the worst value, imo. We are working toward getting rid of it, forever. Lots of better value alternatives, and more all the time. Exciting! Our favorite fun activities are free (except for some gasoline cost, in some cases): hiking, biking, hanging out with friends (with similar money values), reading (library or online), etc. I recommend unplugging the TV for a month and discover how much more time you have and how much richer life can be!

    • Travis says:

      I don’t disagree in the value of the activities that you listed, Kurt – we do many of those as well. TV is just one more option that we throw in the mix. I could certainly envision a lifestyle that incorporated so many other activities that TV just wouldn’t play much of a part. The point of the post is that cable TV is a viable option – but it certainly doesn’t have to be everybody’s choice. I also admit that in the summer time we watch a whole lot less TV, but in winter in Minnesota, a person can only spend so much time outside before the cheery warmth of the house beckons. 🙂

  11. We have cable although we hardly watch TV as we are always so busy. We will be looking at whether we want to keep it when it comes up for renewal or knock it on the head. The other option is to just get basic cable if the wife still wants to keep it. I don’t mind watching the BBC and the odd programs here and there but it’s not tops on my list. I would rather watch movies or find other forms of entertainment that are easy on the wallet.

    • Travis says:

      As with any expense, Mr. CBB, we’ll want to constantly re-evaluate the value of our cable TV package. If you find yourself too busy to watch TV, then by all means reduce it or cut it – the name of the game is getting the most for your money, right? Great to hear from you Mr. CBB – I always value your thoughts!

  12. Cait says:

    If you watch it, it’s worth it! Simple as that.

  13. Cassi says:

    I personally prefer the internet. I spend…. way too much time on the internet compared to roughly 4 hours a week watching TV. I’d rater spend money on internet than TV, but I find so much more entertainment in the internet.

    In the end, it is personal preference.

  14. When you compare it to going out and to concerts, cable becomes very easy to justify. But also I think a lot of people choose not to have cable (or very basic) is because they want to find other ways to spend family time – games, outdoor time etc. It’s a matter of personal preference and lifestyle as much it is a matter of budget.

    • Travis says:

      I’d go a step further, Timothy and say that some families deliberately get rid of cable to *force* themselves to spend their time in other ways. For our family, I don’t feel we spend an unhealthy time in front of the tube. We also spend family time playing games and outside with friends and neighbors, or going for bike rides or walks. If we ever got to a point where I felt we were spending too much time in front of the TV, and couldn’t pull us away from it I’d totally pull the plug on cable TV.

  15. scarr says:

    After moving out of my parent’s home at 18, I gave up cable tv because I would have had to pay for it haha! It’s like going to the movies . . . for years I worked at a movie theater so I saw movies for free for many years (free soda and popcorn too). Since leaving that job, I rarely go to the theater because I am ruined for life!

    My husband and I only have Netflix and for now that meets all of our entertainment needs. I agree with what you said about paying for things that are useful and make you happy vs. buying things that don’t actually give you enjoyment. If you can afford to budget it, why not? The focus being BUDGET. You and your family have made drastic psychological changes in regard to how you use money. You make responsible, informed decisions when a few years ago that wasn’t the case. Would you have even bothered questioning this decision before you were trying to get out of debt? I don’t think you should feel bad about this choice, and like my mom would say, a little guilt never hurt no one 🙂

    • Travis says:

      Well if it isn’t my friend Sara Carr – great to have you stop by and share your thoughts! An aversion to the movie theater…..I wouldn’t mind that one bit! LOL.

      You’re absolutely correct, a few years ago we’d pick the largest cable package without a second thought, and just pay the bill whether we used it or not. Having that little tickle in the back of my mind that makes me think about it for an extra minute is a GOOD thing!

      “A little guilt never hurt no one” <---- great quote, I'll have to remember that one for sure. 🙂

  16. Kimberly says:

    We gave up cable over 4 years ago when I found out we were paying $150/mo for cable and high speed internet. We cut both. We quickly realized that going without high speed internet was a huge hassle, but we didn’t miss cable nearly as much. We found high speed internet for $40/mo and subscribed to Netflix for their streaming-only price. I do watch some shows for free on Hulu as well. We also have Amazon Prime so I can watch many shows for free (albeit w/o closed captioning, which is something I appreciate as a hearing impaired person.) I was able to watch all episodes I’d missed of The Closer (I missed this show and House Hunters most after giving up cable) on Prime for free, and the final season on Prime for a small price per episode. One final note, I think the reason this has worked so well for us is that my husband built a computer w/dvr attached to our main TV and it records shows for us just as when we had cable. With the crazy hours I work, all of these admittedly cobbled together options have made it possible for me to not feel so “deprived.”

    We also don’t have cell phones in our family. Crazy, I know, but it works for us and I can’t imagine spending $90/mo on a phone. Anyway, each family has to make choices based on their budget and preferences. I recently have made a choice to change my shift at work and will be taking a huge pay cut as a result. I’ll gain a lot in professional skills and opportunity in return, but what I’m most looking forward to is that I’ll be around more to go on bike rides with my family this summer! Different choice than some would make, but more in line with what I want for my life. While I don’t see my family making your choice, if it works for you and you get real value from it, then it’s the right choice.

    • Travis says:

      The thing that caught my eye with your response, Kimberly was “cobbled together options” and “this show and House Hunters most after giving up cable.” One of the things you pay for with cable is convenience (there’s always a price for convenience, right?) of not having to string multiple solutions together to get anywhere near what cable provides.

      That being said, it sounds to me like your husband had definitely put his knowledge to good use in providing a pretty good system for your family, and that’s awesome! You’re right that it IS a personal preference…which is the point of my post. It’s not fair to say that everyone should or should not have cable – it’s a personal choice as to how a family wants to spend their money (within their means of course) on entertainment. Thanks for sharing your family’s perspective!

  17. I knew this one was going to hit some hot buttons when I read the title. :-). I think cable is a total waste of money, personally, but I’m guessing that’s b/c we have a massive DTI right now. I wonder what I’ll think once our debt is paid off. I have a feeling that hubby would be on your side. 🙂

    • Travis says:

      I can understand your perspective, Laurie – even though we are paying down a mountain if debt, I really feel that entertainment is an important aspect of life. I would rather spend $130 a month on cable TV than eating out, drinking, going to a movie theater, etc. It just brings a wider variety of entertainment and value. I realize not everyone will agree with that assessment, but different perspectives make the world interesting, right? 🙂

  18. Preach, brother, preach! We agree wholeheartedly. When we were slaying away at getting out of debt, a good portion of our friends (who were also fresh college grads without a ton of money) killed their cable in an effort to save money. The only problem was those savings (and then some) were consumed by eating out, going to the movies, etc. We ended up saving money by keeping cable as our only splurge.

  19. I seem to be in the minority, as I’m with you! 🙂 We pay around $80, and the main reason for that is football, and of that I think about $10 is just to upgrade to the package that includes the NFL channel. To us, it’s a lifestyle choice. Of the March Madness games, 3 channels out of 4 were on cable.

    So, what I consider sport channels and what other, less fanatic, people consider sport shows may not be the same. I tried at least 3 different suggestions for other sources for sports, but those websites were clogged with ads, and they all required me to download apps that were laden with spyware, obligatory search bars and other filth. We used to have Netflix, but we don’t watch enough movies to justify that. (Right, now there’s logic: spend $80, save $8, and feel like a budget hero! LOL)

    In the end, we all have to live a life that makes us happy. Others go ride their $900 bikes over the weekend, or spend $50 a month on movies. We watch sports and travel shows (oh, by the way, those are also mainly on cable). It’s the WW Principle: Whatever Works. 🙂

    • Travis says:

      “Spend $80, save $8 and feel like a budget hero” <— Love this quote, William! I'm stealing the WW principle too, it's my new motto. LOL. Thanks for reading, William, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts as I could use the support on this post, apparently. 🙂

  20. We’ve been catching slack for years for keeping cable, but we DVR everything and it is our main entertainment expense. And hubby really, really enjoys football…pretty much every night of the week in the fall and winter, hahaha.

    • Travis says:

      Another great example of what I’m talking about Crystal! -> “our main entertainment expense.” <– There are people out there (obviously including my family) that make cable TV an conscious decision for their entertainment option. I think your hubby and I would get a long just great. When I met my brother in law, he said that he could watch football related shows from 8:00am on Sunday until 11pm that night. I doubted his powers……but he was right – from "behind the lines" to "SportsCenter" to "NFL Countdown" to the first game to the second game, to the pre-Sunday night game and finally the Sunday night game it's 100% possible. LOL.

  21. Definitely some real value in moderation, but so difficult to keep to that level of moderation.

    • Travis says:

      It’s hard to think about the cable bill, and not want to use it as much as possible – but you are completely right, Tony – TV (like anything else) must be done in moderation. It’s extremely important to get outside or do something that doesn’t involved staring at a screen. Great to hear your thoughts, Tony!

  22. Most of the shows we like can be seen for free online or on hulu, so we haven’t had it for years. The only drawback is sports. College football season sucks without cable or Direct TV.

  23. Abigail says:

    I have chronic fatigue and struggle with depression. I do work from home but have significant downtime. My husband is on disability and so is home all day. In other words, we spend a lot of time at home. So satellite is a no-brainer for us. We also use Netflix. Between the two, we are just about able to stay entertained during all the hours we have. We don’t really watch sports so our package is $92 after taxes and fees — but that includes $21 a month for my in-laws out in the guest house. We easily get our value from both it and Netflix so I don’t worry too much about the bill.

    • Travis says:

      That’s not a bad price at all, Abigail – and it sounds like it is a great choice in your situation. Thanks for your sharing your thoughts!

  24. Hey, Travis! I’m VERY late to reply to this thread, but I kept it tucked away in the back of my mind, because I am in the process of finding a cheaper solution for my family. So in a nutshell, here’s my situation and why I am agreeing with you wholeheartedly:

    Current cable: $153/mth with HBO and a DVR and a regular HD box in our bedroom. Includes a phone, too, which we never hooked up; was just cheaper to get it included in the package.

    Our viewing habits: Hubby watches (wastes!) 3-4 hours each night watching TV. I use the computer for blogging, so TV is rarely on my agenda. My 3 boys watch it a lot on the weekend mornings while I clean up.

    Cutting costs: I recently ordered two Rokus, streaming players, and decided to switch our high speed internet from the one cable company to another, which had a promotional deal and was faster. I paid $100 for each Roku, and would have paid $8/mth for Hulu Plus. I would have to get phone service because if I fall and bust my head (yikes!) I want a landline for my kids to be able to call for emergencies. Vonage would be about $24/mth. Magic Jack, I’ve heard good and bad things about them.

    No Savings, Less Viewing Options: So $60-$80 a month for a faster internet connection…..$24 a month for Vontage….$8 a month for Hulu Plus….You’re now getting into the cost for what a packaged bundle from the cable company will cost! Plus, hubby loves the Cooking Channel, and MSBC, and I like HGTV and the DIY Network. We love HBO. Those channels aren’t on Hulu plus. Nor can I access them via Roku. HBO GO is accessful through Roku, but you need a TV service provider (i.e. CABLE COMPANY!!) service in order to access HBO GO on Roku. So again, we MUST have cable to access the things we like the most.

    Solution: I decided I’m sending back the Roku’s, and am just switching to the new cable company. My bill for the first year will be $111. The 2nd year will be the same as what I am currently paying (but still get faster ‘net speeds). I will get 290 channels (not that we need that many). And we’ll have all of our favorite shows/channels. And hubby will have his evening TV time.

    Get Your Life Straight

    The reality: Yes, people can cut cable, and yes, there are alternatives. But it’s all about what works for your family and your viewing habits. If totally necessary, people can cut cable. But if it’s something you enjoy and you’re not spending hundreds for entertainment elsewhere, I think cable costs for entertainment is a drop in the bucket.

    • Travis says:

      Love, love, LOVE your comment, Serena!!! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience and cost analysis with the EOD nation – they exemplify perfect the inconvenience and costs of hodgepodging things together to try to get a solution anywhere near cable TV. Other solutions cost less because your GETTING less – not because it’s really a cheaper solution. Find what fits your viewing habits, and your budget.

      Did I mention I LOVE your comment? Great to hear from you!

  25. Hey, Travis! Just now seeing your comment on your post. Thanks so much! Yeah, cable options over the last few days have been CRAZY! Although I am going to do a blog post on my experience (you know how we bloggers do!), I wanted to update you and your readers on what the latest update is.

    UPDATE: We’ve decided we’re going to try the Roku’s and see how we like them. After speaking to both cable companies and them offering me deals to stay/switch, they both were offering me deals, but after talking with my husband, we decided to cut cable and just stick with internet and phone. We’ve going to see how we like just the Roku with Hulu Plus and Netflix. More details in the upcoming blog post, plus a review on how it’s going!

    But I agree with you that “other solutions cost less because you’re GETTING less–not because it’s really a cheaper solution.” You’re right. However, I am coming to accept that LESS is what I want. We don’t need 250 channels. So I’ll pay less and get less, but the “less” that I’m getting is still pretty satisfying. (Or so I hope! Let’s see how this “no cable anymore” experience goes!) LOL

    Thanks! Talk with you soon!

    • Travis says:

      Ooh, this is going to be fun, Serena – looking forward to continuing to follow your TV Adventure! When you post about it, I’ll have to point EOD readers at it so they can read how it worked out for you!

  26. Louise says:

    We have never had cable. You can do lots of things for fun that are free, read, ride bike, play board games, watch movies from the library. People are just used to being entertained so much. We go against the grain, I guess 🙂 While our son was in high school, we watched him play basketball – very cheap and very fun especially when he’s the star. 🙂

    • Travis says:

      I don’t disagree that a family can do without cable TV, Louise, but my point is that if a family is looking for entertainment options, and it’s in the budget, cable TV can be a good option. That being said, kudos to you for finding ways to enjoy life without it. I can identify with you watching your son play basketball….we’re entering baseball season for our son – which I absolutely love watching. I go to every practice and every game unless I have a conflict I just can’t move. LOVE watching him play…..! Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Louise – I hope you’ll continue to do so!

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