Do Netflix and Blockbuster Really Offer a Frugal DVD Rental Service?

Netflix or Blockbuster Total Access?  That is the question.  Or is it?  A new question has emerged in the land of frugal movie watchers.  Are online DVD rental services actually costing more than traditional movie rental services?

If you include late fees from brick and mortar movie renters it probably isn’t even close
, but let’s assume you are a good renter and return those movies well before midnight the day they are due.  Many local movie rental stores now offer 5/$5 deals, like the one mentioned in Debt Defier’s post at The Happy Rock (via MSN Smart Spending).  Debt Defier recently canceled his Netflix plan after analyzing his rental history of the previous months.  Turns out he spent $100 watching 10 movies–that’s $10 a movie!

What is the Lesson Here?

Besides the lesson that often times you can go broke trying to be frugal, there is a lesson in breaking down expenses to individual units.  How much is a “cheap” subscription service really costing you per item of enjoyment?  Would it be cheaper to watch less movies, and buy the ones you really want via eBay?  Maybe.

The lesson from an online DVD rental perspective is that if you are going to sign up for either Netflix or Blockbuster’s Total Access plan, you better be prepared to watch a lot of movies to get your money’s worth.  That’s not a problem in our household, because we cut back to basic cable some months ago and find most television program boring.

One of the benefits of the Blockbuster Total Access plan is that you can return movies to the local store and check out a new one, limiting the wait time to turn around movies.  For every movie you rent each month you are effectively driving down your per movie costsNetflix has started offering movies on demand, a feature that allows you to download movies to your computer as part of your membership.  With this feature, the only additional wait time is the amount of time it takes your internet connection to download the large files.

Online movie rentals can be a frugal entertainment option, but as Debt Defier found out, you certainly have to keep close tabs on your expenses, all the way down to each DVD rented.  For some, the compulsion to get the most out of the deal could lead to increased movie/television viewing, which could be detrimental in other ways.  My advice?  Give one of the services a try, and if you find yourself not taking advantage of the memberships, cancel it or put it on hold for a while.


  1. I had a Netflix account for a while, and I still do, though I put it on hold more than a year ago. We haven’t had a tv for decades, but we have a digital projector and a good screen. So Netflix looked like a “cheap” form of entertainment, and the convenience factor couldn’t be beat. But as a heavy consumer of movies, I got annoyed by the fact that Netflix wouldn’t ship on a Saturday, thereby limiting the turnaround time and the number of dvds I could watch for every month I paid my membership fees. When I got the frugality bug, I put my account on hold and turned to the local library. I’m so happy with the free dvd offerings (among other things) at my library that I doubt I’ll ever restart my account with Netflix. Since the dvds from the library don’t cost me anything, I don’t feel any pressure to turn them around quickly. This is good during the summer when I’m so busy with other things (like the garden) and daylight hours are long, which means I’d have to stay up late to watch a movie via the projector when it gets dark. Winter’s a different story. If I were getting Netflix deliveries during the summer, they’d just be sitting around the house, raising my cost per viewing.

  2. You should also consider Red Box if you’re really into being frugal. You can find codes online for free rentals and they have kiosks everywhere (there’s one outside my grocery store). And even if you don’t have a code, it’s still only $1 a night.

  3. @Writer’s Coin: I’ve seen these Red Box codes floating around the web, but I’ve never really investigated the service. You have piqued my interest…thanks!

  4. We use Red Box all the time, you can rent from the one at your grocery store and return it to a box in any other location. Just make sure you return the movie by 9:00pm the next day.

  5. We have a Netflix account. Personally, I love it because of no late fees. I tend to forget about it, so having a DVD for a few months with no late fees? That works for me, LOL.

    And, Kate, you might want to recheck the no Saturday thing. We’ve gotten ours on Mondays, which means it had to ship on Saturday, for a one-day turn-around. We’ve had it for 2 years, and never had a problem with getting sent things on Saturdays.

  6. If you really want to be frugal, check out the public library in your area. It’s taken a while for libraries to make the switch to DVD’s, but now most urban libraries are there. New releases always are at a premium for availability, but I don’t think you’ll do that much better commercially. Oh, did I forget to mention it’s FREE!

  7. @Bruce: My wife picks up the occasional movie from the library for the kids, but I am not completely checked out on their selection. I personally enjoy watching older films and educational stuff, but I assume you can’t find “New Releases” at the library…or can you?

  8. I know my husband and I have a plan with blockbuster which costs $11 a month. We get one movie at a time, up to three movies a month. We also get a bonus free movie at the time of our choosing in the month and we get 3 more movies when we turn in our blockbuster mail movie for a total of 7 movies a month. We almost always use this to it’s fullest each month and it comes out to $1.57 per movie which seems a fair price to us. If we need more movies than that for some reason we always have the library to fall back on. Works great for us!!

  9. I love netflix too, especially now that I can watch instantly on the internet. That’s great because I catch up on shows (like Heroes) that I saw commercials for, but never managed to watch on tv. But my problem is in keeping it frugal, you have to watch and return quickly, which would mean watching 2-3 movies a week. Holy cow! That’s up to 6 hours of sitting on the couch a week. I don’t have that kind of time. I wish you could pay as you go, as they did when they first started the company. But the convenience is still worth it to me.

  10. I love my Netflix account and get 3 movies at a time for about $18 a month. I watch 10 to 12 that are sent to me, and probably another 10 online so I’m looking at $.90 each. Also you don’t dowload the online movies, they stream 🙂

    I love Netflix because of the HUGE selection. You just can’t beat it, especially if you want to watch stuff that’s not mainstream.

    Here’s another consdideration: I have a Netflix distribution center where I live. If I mail a movie on Monday, I have a new one on Wednesday, which is pretty incredible. When I was with Blockbuster, it took twice as long to turn them around. This really cuts down into how many movies I can watch a month, and reduces the value of the service.

  11. My husband and I just started with Netflix in June, and I am definitely a fan. We don’t have a television at all, and watch our movies on our computers. The “instant” feature with Netflix is great, although doesn’t work with our Apple computers.

    FrugalDad, definitely check out Redbox, too- $1 a night is a great deal- but don’t turn it in late, or the fees will add up quickly.

    For us, the problem with redbox is that it didn’t have nearly as much variety as Netflix does. I, too, live in a city with a distribution center, so I will ship mine out today and get a new one Friday. Pretty quick service.

  12. We currently don’t participate because we don’t watch a lot during school season but have used both Netflix and Blockbuster. I loved Netflix because my movie would be delivered THE NEXT DAY or at most on the 2nd day. I wouldn’t ever even if on a stranded island with a tv hookup- and thats it- ever, never go with Blockbuster again. I tried them in Florida and it took two weeks to get my movie. When I contacted them they told me to add more movies to my queue because they looked at where you were located in comparison to the movie location and sent the one that would arrive quickest. So, I got stupid kid movies from the bottom of my queue and didn’t get anything I really wanted. I gave them another chance when we moved to Alabama. It took 3 weeks to get a movie I ordered. After I cancelled I was charged two more months of subscription and had to work to get it removed. HATE BLOCKBUSTER! Sorry, if anyone works for them.

  13. I definitely recommend Redbox. It has made catching up on movies that I missed in theaters a lot easier. In fact, I think I make about two-three movies in a theater a year, so I only catch movies on DVD or on TV.

    At $1 a night, its an easy thing and I can stop by most any McDonald’s in our areas and a couple of grocery stores in the area to return the movie, so I’m never going out of my way. Also, I signed up on their website and now get text messages for free movies every Mon. and Wed.

    As for Netflix, I’ve found this is best if you have a TV series with multiple seasons not available online that you’d like to watch or catch up on.

  14. Big fan of Netflix here. We’ve been doing it since 2003. I love their huge selection. I’ve been introducing my kids to all the old movies and shows. Granted we do watch more in the winter then in the summer but you can put it on hold for the summer if you want to . We’ve been known to do that.

  15. I love Netflix. When I lived next to a distro center we got our movies with a one-day turn-around. Now, we live in a smaller town in the middle of nowhere. It takes a little longer for my movies to arrive but since I do live in a smaller town, I dont have to fight anyone for the new releases. It is truly a convience factor for me. I dont plan to give it up for a while.

  16. You forgot to add in the price of gas going to and from the rental stores! I’m a huge netflix fan. We have recently, however, canceled our account. We were foolish a while ago and got satellite tv. Once that contract is up we will go back to netflix .. for good! The key is.. don’t keep the movies for too long – watch them.. then return them. The offer tons of tv series – it’s a great alternative to cable/satellite.

  17. I’m with James and Shannon. I love the selection at Netflix, as well as the convenience of it being mailed to my front door- and my plan is $8.99 a month for a one-at-a-time DVD selection. Our local video store offers recent releases at @ 3.99, with older releases at $2.49, and ancient ones at .99; I find that the time value of 5-6 cheap movies is lost on me.

    A recent blog post of mine shows the last few months of my Netflix movie choices if anyone is interested. My cost per movie was $1.59.

    My distribution site is within our state for most of my selections; occasionally, I’ll select a movie or tv show that needs to be sent from a site further away, which is somewhat disappointing, but certainly not enough to

  18. Big Fan of Netflix here. We have enrolled in the cheapest plan that offers one movie at a time unlimited movie streams online. My kid watches movies online and my wife watches the regular DVDs. We typically get the next DVD in about 3 days which works out pretty well for us.

    Used the redbox for a while but given the high gas prices it is such a pain to pick and drop the dvd within 24 hours.. Ended up paying hefty fines few occasions when the dvds were returned late.


  19. My frugal movie plan is the library and Redbox. At our library, you can request items online (place a “hold”) for delivery to the nearest branch. For new releases, I place a request as soon as I know I want to rent it. Sometimes it is in the library catalog before they receive the item. There’s usually a wait, but I like the element of pleasant surprise.

    Redbox can be good too — especially on weekdays, when demand is less. They say you can reserve online and pick up at a kiosk — I haven’t tried that yet. And our return time is 7 p.m. … but luckily, if you forget for a day, it’s only $1 more.

  20. I have to agree with Maha, in order to get my moneys worth from my netflix subscription I would have to spend too much time on the couch, and I just don’t have time for that these days. I had a subscription but I was only watching maybe one movie a week. So it’s canceled now. I think I’ll see what I can find at the library, I stop by there every week anyway. 🙂

  21. I agree with @Dana…with gas prices the way they are combined with in-city driving MPG (low), that can add a huge amount to the per-movie price. Clearly, it depends on many variables, but the cost is there no matter what you drive or how far it is to the store.

  22. Just a question from an Aussie in Melbourne, Australia. With Netflix (or Blockbuster) mail services, do you all return your movies to Netflix via USPS mail pickup? ie do you have to find a post box to pop your return mailer in, or does the postman pick it up from your home (or apartment) letter box?

  23. I use a comination – Library always,(thru the coastal sharing network I have access to 4 counties of libraries-no charge) and Netflix in addition in the winter months – Nov to Feb. The weather here gets dark and rainy and it’s nice to have movies in the mail without having to go out in the nastiness to get them.

    I’m on the $8.99 Netflix plan, and figure I can get 2-3 movies per week if I watch them immediately – or about 9 movies a month in the winter. That’s $1.12/movie. And as I don’t have TV at all, it’s nice in the winter to have the movies. Netflix stays on hold the other 8 months.

    I follow the “new movies” link on my library webpage and can see the new stuff coming in. There are a lot of 2008 movies in the listings. Also a lot of oldies 🙂 If I want to see something the library doesn’t have, I suggest it, and 2 out of 3 times, the library buys it and gives me the first look at it 🙂

  24. I have the 4.99 netflix plan, which has been working really well for me. I’m not a big “sit in front of the tv” person, but I have been loving the ability to catch up on classic and foreign films I’ve been hearing about for years.

  25. I had to quit Netflix back when I was single because watching the latest shipment turned into a “to do” list item instead of pleasurable entertainment.

    We’re back on, though, because the local rental places are out of our way. The time and gas saved wouldn’t be worth the cost of fuel. Oh, and they have terrible selection. A million copies of the lastest slasher flick? Oh yeah! West Wing on DVD? No way. Netflix it is. For our needs right now, it works, but it’s definitely not a cost that’s set in stone.

  26. Redbox. The grocery store a mile away has one, plus I have two McDonald’s locations within a couple of miles, both with Redbox kiosks. So it doesn’t matter much which direction I’m going, odds are I’ll pass one of them on my way out or home, so I can return the movie then (or pick one up).

    We watch 2-3 movies a month, so Redbox makes a lot of sense. We spend less than $5 a month and we don’t feel pressured to watch something just because we have a subscription.

  27. I thought the redbox dvds had to be returned at the same location. I was not too happy with redbox because DVDS were scratched and dirty (like someone had spilled orange something on it. eww!)

    I like Netflix and was getting Little House on the Prarie to watch one episode every few days. (We do not have cable to get any channels here.)

    I thought Netflix was worth the cost, but I am working less hours, so I put my membership on hold.

    We actually had gotten a membership from Netflix for 6 months for Christmas, what a cool gift!!!

    Now we go to the library, but I can only keep my library movies 2 days, so alot I forget and bring them back a day late and owe (it is $1 per day per dvd late fee at our library.)

  28. @Rebecca – maybe you could ask your library to revisit their DVD loan policy… sounds more like they are trying to rent them by having such a short loan duration and thereby collecting late fees.. Our library allows 7 days on the dvds, and if there are no “holds” on it, it can be renewed online for another 7 days, for a 14 day maximum – all free. The late fee is 10 cents per day. And luckily for me, the library is only 6 blocks out of my way to work and has an outside drop box for early morning drive thrus 🙂 Anyway – it couldn’t hurt to ask them why the time frame is so short. Is it the same for vhs videos?

  29. We dropped our cable and switched to Netflix and we didn’t like it at all. I think it is because we don’t typically have the time to sit down and watch a movie for a couple of hours. We went back to cable and now we use Redbox for when we want movies. We switched our family night to Monday night so we can use our free code. I really like it and it is a good balance for our family.

    Before kids though, the Netflix was a WONDERFUL deal because we were movie buffs. Since kids,we prefer half hour shows 🙂

  30. @Rebecca Rivera: Funny you mentioned Little House on the Prarie. My daughter recently the entire set of Wilder’s books as a gift, and we are rewatching the television episodes. They don’t make shows like that anymore.

  31. We just canceled our cable this morning, saving money and trying to watch less drivel-(as my Dad would say)!! So this is something that we’re now discussing. We have a Netflix account (3 at a time), but are not watching enough of them to make it worth the money. We’re now going to keep the Netflix account, it’s worth the money to hold onto a movie for longer than a week, but only for 1 movie at a time. Then if we need to have another movie, we’ll go to Redbox.

    As for the canceled cable, my husbands going to get on the roof and install an antenna, hopefully before The Office starts up again!

  32. Hello! Yes, dvd’s and vhs’s at our library are only a 2 day loan, with $1 late fee per day. I can ask if they would consider a longer loan. That would be great!

    I love Little House on the Prarie. I reread all the books recently, and are reading them to my younger son. My older son will not have it. But all 3 of us watch the episodes on dvd. But now that I cancelled our netflix we will have to wait awhile to watch seasons 5-9. Too bad my library does not have any of these episodes (I checked, not even on loan from another branch.)

    They don’t make shows like that, and they teach good lessons! Even my older son now enjoys the shows.

    Anyone have season 5-9 on dvd, they want to lend us? -Becky in NJ

  33. Suggest to your library that they buy it. 5 out of 6 times I have suggested a purchase, they have purchased it 🙂 Worth a try.

  34. I think those services bank on users not being able to watch a ton of movies. It sort of reminds me of gym memberships you sign up with the best of intentions but a month or so in you find you’re going once or twice a month rather than a couple times a week. Eventually you end up paying for a membership that you’re not using. The gym loves members such as these since they don’t use any services.

    When being able to download movies and tv shows on demand becomes a more mature industry I think this will be the option that saves you the most money (assuming you can pay per download).

  35. I would suggest starting with only the cheapest rental plan. I think it’s $5/mo for 2 movies per month, one at a time. It’s working for us w/o TV and it also builds excitement, something instant gratification can never do.

  36. I guess my husband and I are the exception to the Netflix-lovers’ rule. We don’t have any interest in downloading movies, so the Netflix deal just isn’t as alluring to us. Meanwhile, we live four blocks from one Blockbuster and a mile from another, bigger one.

    So we never have trouble just wandering over to the store to trade in the movies. If I’m not feeling well, my husband will do it for me.

    This and Dish Network (the $40/month plan) are our main forms of entertainment. We may still decrease the plan at some point. This month, I’m keeping track of how many movies we turn in. If it’s not even close to the limit, I’ll probably switch to a cheaper plan. So far, though, we’ve made good use of our 3 movies at a time, unlimited trade-ins.

  37. My husband and I have been members of Bockbuster’s online program for several years. We are grandfathered in and have a pretty sweet deal…we pay 13.01/month (including taxes) and we get one movie at a time, but unlimited rentals and unlimited exchanges in store. We usually watch at least 4 movies a month, but will have months where we watch up to 10…just depends on how much time we are home and it we have company over. Our local movie stores have virtually no selection (including our local Blockbuster) so the online allows us to get movies we would otherwise have to miss (especially due to gas prices).

    One thing I want to comment on is the use of RedBox codes. Peronally, I feel it is unethical for people to exploit RedBox by using codes that they aren’t supposed to use. I’m not saying everyone does this, but it is something that has come to my attention recently. Specifically my sister-in-law will go online and get multiple codes to use in one time and will use her and her husband’s debit/credit cards to use multiple codes. I would like to know what other people think about this situation? Do you feel that it is unethical to utilize mutliple codes?

  38. If you are going to be streaming from the internet you may want to look into websites like hulu that offer lots of great shows and movies. also try going to the major networks to catch up on some of your favorites. all for free.

  39. Trying to become frugal ourselves, we recently canceled Satellite, which was costing us $60 a month. Unfortunately, the shiny new HDTV isn’t quite as fun without channels to watch, so we signed up for Netflix after having been off it for a year.

    Alas, we’re kind of in the same boat. We often go a whole month without even watching our monthly minimum.

    However, we have used RedBox more often. We have them here in our grocery store and most McDonalds. The only drawback is the McDonalds issue…you end up going to McDonalds (not the healthiest thing to do ;o)

    As a consumer, my dream DVD provider would be for NetFlix to buy both RedBox and the Rokr, and offer the whole thing in a nice package.

  40. I liked redbox when I lived elsewhere but, I moved back to my hometown to be closer to family no Redbox.
    Our Pic A Flick video which charged around 2.00 for a movie for one night turned into one of the huge big box movie rental places and charged 5.00-6.00 to rent one movie and a mandatory hold for up to three days.
    Tried the monthly thing and it was such a hassle A few months at a time lapsed where I didn’t even use the service. Movies are on the spot spontaneous thing for me where I look at a visitor and say, “Hey you wanna watch a movie?”