Cutting the Cord: How to Live a Cable-Free Life

IMG_9057 (1)When we moved into our house 6 years ago, we went about the usual tasks of forwarding our mail, setting up garbage pick-up, and transferring our gas/electrical/water bills.  One thing we DIDN’T do, however, was purchase a cable package.  Yes, that’s right: we haven’t had cable TV in six years.  Now, before you stop reading, let me just say: this is NOT a post telling you to stop watching TV.  We watch plenty of TV in our house, myself in particular.  I’m up to date on all the scandals (no pun intended) with Olivia Pope and Mr. President, I’m voting for my favorite contestant on The Voice, and I’m still mourning the absence of Don Draper and the team.  In fact, Anissa’s “confessions of a TV connoisseur” post this week could have easily been a post of my own.  The only thing that might set me apart from all of you other TV connoisseurs? I don’t pay a monthly cable bill.

Now, after living without cable for so long, we’ve heard lots of comments from friends and family, and questions too.  So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share how I watch all of my shows “on a budget”, and to challenge you to try the same.  Obviously you would need to adjust your “custom package” to include the channels and shows that you prefer, but I’m guessing that many of you could get by with paying a little bit (or a lot) less on a monthly basis.  Here are my five tips for becoming a cable-free household:

1. Buy a smart TV.  They have already gone down in price, and the initial investment is so worth it in the end.  We have two TVs in our house; one big smart TV in our living room and one smaller Roku TV (more on that in a minute) in our bedroom.  In the living room, we do have a pair of “bunny ears” that enable us to watch the four or six basic channels, although the reception isn’t the best and we rarely sit down to watch TV in real time anyway.  So, when the kids want to watch a show on Hulu, or a movie on Netflix, or some silly videos on YouTube, we just turn on the smart TVs and it’s all right there at our fingertips!

2. Pick your streaming services.  I’m sure I don’t need to explain to you the brilliance of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and the like.  Pure brilliance.  We used to wait and watch the mailbox for that little red envelope with five or six episodes of our show (about 2 years after the original air date), and now it’s all right there on our devices.  Speaking of devices, that is the true beauty of these services for me personally; as a mom of four kids, I am always on the go, and when I have a free minute here and there, I can easily watch my shows on my iPhone or my laptop.  There’s no need to be in the room where the TVs are, because I can watch my stuff anywhere! Ranging from $8-$10/month, all of these services have their perks: Netflix has amazing original content (Orange Is The New Black, House of Cards, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, to name a few…), Hulu offers many shows with brand new episodes the very next day, and Amazon Prime obviously includes numerous perks alongside their streaming shows and movies.

3. Share the love.  If your friends and family members are fellow TV connoisseurs, consider sharing a service or two.  We have my parents and my in-laws on our Netflix account; just a tiny way to say thank you for all of the free babysitting! With three available screens at all times, it is hardly ever a conflict to have that many people on the account.  If it is, maybe consider sharing with just one other household instead of two.  We also have Hulu on our devices, thanks to my BFF and her hubby, who shared their password with me when I was pregnant and grouchy and searching for shows to watch.  What a blessing!  Once again, if you just HAVE to have both Netflix and Hulu, seriously consider swapping with a friend!  You pay for one service, they pay for the other, and everyone benefits from both!  Also, you just never know what type of inside jokes will come from sharing…a few weeks ago, my best friend texts me and says “Hey, I think I need to change my Hulu password. Someone has hacked our account and is watching Bob Ross paint.”  To which I replied, “Nope, that’s Nora (my three year old).  She was having a meltdown and we turned on Bob Ross to calm her down.”

4. There’s an app for that. Now I know what you’re thinking…lots of love for Netflix and Hulu, but what about all of the network television that I watch? Well, there’s an app for that!  All of the major network stations have their own streaming apps, and they all have a free option.  Many of them will only show free episodes 8 days after they have aired, but some will actually do next-day free episodes like Hulu, you just have to check.  For me, I just go into a new season with the mindset of being one week “behind”.  In other words, I still get to watch my show on a weekly basis and stay 90% up-to-date, but without paying for a cable service to watch it on.  (And being able to watch it on my phone and laptop as well!)  I highly recommend checking out these network channel apps and searching for your favorite shows; you might be surprised to see how many free episodes are actually available!  Many will keep the last three episodes free, so if you miss a week it’s still there waiting for you.

5. Unfriend the spoilers. This is probably the trickiest tip I have.  We all have those friends.  The ones who told you Ross and Rachel got back together before you had time to rewind the VCR tape.  The ones who binge-watch House of Cards on the first day of the new season and start posting plot-ruining statements all over the internet.  If you have friends like this, you need to a. ask them to give a heads up (“spoiler alert”) if they are going to talk about who Adam and Pharrell turned their chair around for last night, or what new predicament miss Olivia Pope found herself in. or b. completely unfriend them altogether (or at least until the season is over).  I don’t have any other magic fixes for this hiccup in our no-cable plan.  Apologies for that.


So there you have it.  I realize all of these apps and streaming services (and the internet required to have them) can add up, and you may be thinking it would end up being just as much as what you already pay.  But I challenge you to do the math for what works in your household.  If you share with a friend or family member, and you sacrifice watching the shows at their “actual time” (which I bet a lot of you do anyway, with your DVRs), there is the possibility of saving some money in there, and we all love that possibility, don’t we?!


Sara and her husband Matt (sweethearts since they were just 16) got married in 2007, and since then have welcomed four beautiful children (Sam in 2008, Cooper in 2010, Nora in 2012, and Adam James in December 2015). A born-and-raised Iowan, Sara received both her Bachelor's and Master's Degrees (in Spanish Literature) from the University of Iowa. She's still teaching Spanish wherever and whenever she can, but her true passion is owning Iowa City Moms and building this community alongside her amazing team. Sara is also the Community Engagement Coordinator for City Mom Collective, and the owner of Cowork Collective downtown Iowa City. Common denominator in all of these jobs: community, community, community.


    • Jill, I use Big Ten Network 2 Go app for Hawkeye sports! There are lots of options for professional sports as well (fox sports, ESPN, etc..)

    • Jill, we used ESPN Live to livestream the Iowa football games last fall… it requires a paid cable log in but you can use a friend/family members account.

  1. I want to “cut the cord” but do not climb, crawl, squat, bend, and need glasses to read and re-read instructions. Help is needed in all those areas, particularly system design and install. Any suggestions?


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