Lose the Cable TV, Gain Your Life?

The following guest post is from Jerret Turner. Learn more about Jerret at the bottom of this post.

I decided not to renew my cable TV service once I moved my family to take a new job in late 2003. I find it’s easier not to start something if you ever have intentions of stopping later. My family lived in an apartment at the time and cable was included in the rent. So, the decision was a combination of not wanting to fork out money for the service and asking the simple question, “what if?”

However, just so we’re straight, I currently own a TV. And we do watch movies. My son and I are into Star Wars Clone Wars which I download from iTunes (don’t know if that counts as “having cable”). All this to say that I’m not anti-TV. Heck, I’m not anti-cable. But I did make a few observations last week I’ll share here.

My wife and I had family visit us last week. We live out of state so this was a rare occasion. These family members (heretofore known as guest “x” and guest “y”) will remain anonymous because they are the most generous, awesome people I know. This isn’t an exaggeration. And my purpose here isn’t to rant either. It’s simply to point out a few things.

The fact that I didn’t have cable never crossed my mind before they arrived. It didn’t occur to me that someone besides myself might actually have an interest in watching TV. Because that’s what people do when they’re bored, right? Watch TV. This is amusing because not having cable is old hat for me.

I mean, geez, I gave it up over seven years ago. It’s like not wetting my pants. I don’t do it but I don’t think about not doing it either. But my two nice guests did notice my TV deficit.

The first “I can’t believe you don’t have cable” shot across the bow came from guest “y” as mildly humorous comments about favorite TV shows. Followed by comments about DVRs and how, my goodness, without them we would be doomed to miss our must see TV and be subjected to commercials for eternity.

Then the torpedoes came out. Darned if the World Series doesn’t get played sometime every October. And, as usual, the NY Yankees were in the playoffs. A definite must watch for guest “x”. No problem, though. I was willing to pay $10 bucks for the privilege to watch the entire championship series online. I’d hook my laptop to the larger TV and we’d be good to do. Problem solved.

But, before long, the lack of 24 hour news channels nearly sunk guest “x”. I knew from experience that my broadband provider doesn’t do well with, shall I say, non-paid for streaming anything. I found this out after trying to watch college football online a few times via Australia. I know, don’t ask. But, hey, I drool uncontrollably over like college football. I’d reached the end of my “the interwebs and Google will solve world hunger” options.

So, after a mild case of jittery, mid-week TV withdrawal syndrome for guest “x”, I did the only thing I could think of—nothing. And, to be honest, I probably could have found a solution somehow. We could have hit a local restaurant to catch up on the day’s news. But something happened that made me decide not to relieve the situation.

One afternoon, I walked by the guest room and saw guest “x” snuggled on the bed reading a book with my three young children. I don’t know about you but if that’s what I get for giving up cable TV, I’m giving it up forever.

I’ll leave you with a few questions. Instead of thinking about what you’ll have to give up if you ditch your cable TV, what will you gain instead? More time to build relationships? More time to read stories to your kids? Whatever it is you gain, I can tell you first hand…it’s worth it.

Jerret Turner writes about personal finance issues from his own trials and errors. He also believes the best way to improve your personal budget is to earn more money.


  1. Our second hand TV died about five years ago and we never bother to replace it. One enormous advantage is that my children are exposed to much less advertising than their friends who are far more likely to ask for (and get) all kinds of stuff they don’t need. Not having TV won’t make your children perfect (trust me) but it cuts down the “I want” noises to a manageable level.

    • I’ve also noticed that my kids’ attitudes have changed dramatically, especially with my 9 year old son. He asks if he can read before going to bed now. Weird!

  2. My husband and I have been married for almost 26 years. We have six children and we have never paid for cable/satellite. I can’t really give a reason. We just never really felt the need for the expense. There’s just too much to do in life. We do get the “free” channels that are broadcast, with the decision already made that if that ever goes away so will the TV. We were never actively anti-TV until my in-laws lived with us for ten years, bringing their satellite dish with them. Even though the dish was only connected to a TV in their room, it still wreaked havoc in our home. We found the children trying to arrange their schedules to fit the TV, or hearing little snippets of shows and getting hooked for an hour. We would go to bed each night with the sounds of some war playing in the background. It became really apparent then just how much of a time-waster and brain-drainer TV was. Today we try to be careful in our TV viewing, but just having it sitting there is a big temptation. Kudos to you for not caving in, and helping others realize that there is more to do than stare at someone else’s life.

  3. We gave up cable in the mid ’90s when my husband returned to school to finish his degree. We simply did not have the time or the money. He has since graduated and found a job, we’ve added a few kids and we’ve moved. But we never added back cable/satellite. My husband would love it for the sports, but seriously, I’d lose a husband (and my kids) to the almighty TV if we had it. With three kids, there’s plenty to keep us busy. The result, my kids hardly ever watch TV and they have survived (and enjoy reading). I never watch TV, and I’m thankful for the time it allows me to read, study and volunteer. Someday, we’ll probably add it back in to our family equation, but for the last 15 years, we’ve done just fine without it.

  4. We had cut cable for years and it didn’t really affect us since we’re not TV people. At first I used my free time for college and my internship and it really helped.
    We have cable now, but the TV doesn’t consume our time. We got a deal for cable (a little more than $10/month), but if it goes higher, we know we’ll just cancel it.

  5. Giving up cable may work for you, and if so I’m all for whatever helps you (1) be frugal and (2) free up your mindset and lifestyle. But for me, cable is both freedom and frugality. . We didn’t grow up in families that were glued to the TV; our parents showed us about hobbies and got us interested in the world of friends, games, hobbies, reading, and talking together, so I don’t have an addictive habit to give up. I just live alone and like to take a break from work and chores in the evening with some entertainment. I go to movie theaters very occasionally but the cost these days is so high; cable TV is much more economical. But regular TV stations are a wasteland and leave a person and especially children either depressed or cynical or both. But my cable line-up includes the Create channel, which is all travel, cooking, and craft shows, and no commercials! I enjoy the content from dinnertime to bedtime if I’m not reading a good book, and turn off the TV at the end feeling informed, entertained, and not consumerized. Just offering some suggestions for people and families who can not let TV rule their lives – that’s the real culprit. If you can do that, then cable TV is a wonderful augmentation of real value.

    • Oh yeah, there’s definitely some great stuff out there. I didn’t grow up with much TV either but it seems very pervasive today. Even my “guests” above didn’t have cable for years. But now that everything is a reality show, it’s all some people can talk about.

      Thanks for the comment!

  6. Yes, yes, yes. We have never had cable and after TV broadcasting went digital we now get nothing with our antenna (we’re in a poor reception spot). But who needs it? Our teenagers actually read a book when bored! And a few shows that they “must” watch are available on Hulu and other online sources. Sports events that must be watched are also available for a small fee online (as you mentioned). We have probably saved well over $10,000 by not paying for cable for the last 25 years. And we have kept rivers of mindless garbage from coming into our house via the TV!!

    • Great! Yes, I mentioned before that my son now asks to read a book before going to bed. I would have normally had to drag him to the couch from in front of the TV.

  7. We do not have cable. We communicate with each other, read, and go outside more. Do I miss it? Sometimes , like when there are special programs on like the Olympics or Christmas programs. But, I would rather hear our son playing his violin than voices arguing over which program we will watch.

  8. We were discussing getting rid of cable this morning. Thanks for adding to the discussion.
    We lived without it for many years overseas. It is a time waster- even those wonderful “creative” channels.

    • What surprised me most when we decided to go without was how much we DIDN’T miss it. I really balked at first. Moving to a new house actually made it easier. We didn’t know any different so there was nothing to miss.

  9. We gave up our cable mainly because there was so little on tv that we felt was worth our time to watch. Haven’t looked back and don’t miss it.

  10. There is not enough precious time in the day as it is.
    Why would I want to waste any of it when I could be communicating instead, or sharing, or getting something done, or entertaining myself with my idea of fun, and not someone else’s filled with commercials ??

  11. I gave up cable in the mid ’95’s. Switched to an antenna which cost $500 (Payback 1 year based on $40/mo cable bill). I receive 25 channels. Most co-workers I talk to pay at least $100/mo and watch programming on local channels!

  12. I never could justify getting a television. Graduate school, working out, two sideline jobs, authentic handmade lace for dozens of relatives every year, compiling a family cookbook… none of it would be possible if I had to sit in front of an idiot box two or three hours a day.

  13. While we have cable at home, we don’t at our family’s cabin in Big Bear, Ca. I love going up there, as the tv gets nothing as far as reception and can only be used for videos, which it rarely does.

  14. We are also cable free. Our kids do watch movies on our TV (love having a DVD player!) but the few TV channels that we do get are worthless. I do occasionally wish that we got cable as there is good programming out there, but it comes at a cost that is more than financial. While we would watch hockey (it’s not available here unless you get cable) and History channel programs, we’d probably also end up watching junk also. I don’t want that risk – esp for my children. So, we will continue to remain cable-free. No regrets here.

    • A lot of the history channel programs are on iTunes. I bought the entire “Story of US” series. It’s wonderful. And no commercials!

  15. My wife and I just recently dropped the satellite dish after escalating fees became ridiculous and programming poor. I put a relatively small antenna ($45) in it’s place and ran that to my tivo. The HD channels are even better and we get about 20 good quality, over the air stations and stream Netflix via the tivo with access to web broadcasts as well. My wife said she wouldn’t go back as we are much more selective about what we do watch and it certainly saves money. I like seeing that antenna, knowing it’s free t.v..

    • That’s awesome. I also like the Netflix idea. I’m looking at getting a Mac TV box.

      It’s just a matter of time until all programming goes online. As much as the dish and cable companies will fight it.

  16. When i went to grad school years ago we didn’t have much money. But we found a great apartment in a secluded area that didn’t have a cable TV connection. At first i was distraught, I love TV. But after living without it for about 2 years, I realized just how easy it is to give up TV, and also addictive and wasteful it really is. We have it now, but I long for the days without TV, listening to sports on TV and just getting a few (fuzzy) network stations.

  17. We’ve been cable free since I was twelve, so… nine years now. Sometimes it’s a bit of a thrill if I stay over anywhere where there IS cable. It’s exciting the first day (animal planet!) ..but then I’m bored with it, since there always manages to be nothing on with a hundred channels. We do have netflix, though, which is a more than suitable replacement. Neither of us even like sports, so we’re not missing out on much.

  18. Just before our first son was born we gave up the movie channels, the paid HD channels, and the DVR. Dropped all the way down to basic cable. No ESPN, no FOX New, no CNN, etc.

    Not too long ago we considered dropping cable all together, so I called Charter. The bottom line is that our internet service fee is discounted because we also subscribe to cable TV. It is discounted by the exact same cost of the cable TV. So if I dropped cable, my internet cost would go up by the same amount. So we just left it.

    So from a financial stand point it was a wash.

    • That’s what happens to me. Not having cable (and now not having phone service), I don’t get any package discounts. If I were to get the basic cable, my bill would go down by $10. Go figure.

    • We ran into the same deal with comcast. My wife and I were going to drop cable altogether but we were offered the same deal to bundle our internet service with it. We are saving $100 a month and not missing a thing. In fact we kick ourselves for not doing it sooner! I get ESPN3 and Netflix streamed through my xbox 360 and I hook my laptop to my TV to watch the Thursday NBA games on TNT online.

  19. Unfortunately my partner is a TV addict. He cancelled the cable service a few months ago in an effort to reduce expenses and reduce his viewing time, but it hasn’t worked at all – he now just sits in front of the TV all evening watching mindless network crap. He claims that he needs it to relax and not think after his day at work. I can’t think of anything more aggravating and wasteful than to spend my evenings in front of a TV, so I read or play with the dogs or do stuff around the house while he sits in there listening to his crap TV. Yes, it does bug me but there is nothing I can do about it short of leaving him.

    • Try inviting him on walks or other stuff. The best way to encourage him is to show him how much fun you’re having doing other things and not to give him a hard time about what he’s already doing.

  20. I wish one could get cable by the channel. We are also cable free and have the network channels via the digital antenna. I would pay for HGTV and the History Channel but the draw is not strong enough to merit the cost of the whole bundle.

      • Agreed. I’m a huge Premiere League fan and Fox Soccer Channel is only offered on the most expensive bundles of every cable/satellite/phone provider available where we are. I just saw where I can get a subscription on-line. Hopefully, that will work and we can go back to basic.

        I also wonder how many channels would go under if everyone wasn’t forced to pay for them.

  21. judging by many of these comments, tv isn’t the problem, self-control and discipline are. “we got rid of cable, and now we read books!” “we don’t have cable, because then we’d watch reality tv!” i don’t get it. you want to read a book? read one. want to go for a walk? put on your shoes and go. why is it one or the other?

    we got rid of directv a few months ago to save money, and because, quite frankly, we just didn’t watch it much. but i don’t think either of us has a philosophical problem with television. and if there was something we wanted to watch, we did. and we still do. hulu, netflix streaming, OTA, ps3…there are options, and we get what we want.

    what about sports? we got that covered by buying a slingbox and installing it on my parents’ tv. now, my father records all the new york sports i want to watch, and i watch it in los angeles, on my computer (or any computer), or on my tv via my computer. at roughly $100 a month for directv, we’ve already paid for the $200 slingbox in savings.

    • I think it’s kind of like having credit cards. Some people just have zero self control. And, having it kind of makes you feel like you’re obligated to watch it, since you’re paying.

      For some people, yes, having it is just too much. For myself, it was “TV creep”. I started watching a few things and it escalated into more things.

  22. Brian:
    Thank you for injecting some reality and sanity and fairness into this discussion.

    It’s true that many people spend far too much time watching tv (whether sporting games (which it seems most american families do in enormous numbers, during all seasons!) or regular programming.

    But this whole either/or bit drives me crazy. Point one: TV itself is not inherently bad. It’s your choices about what you watch and how much time you spend. Nobody makes you watch TV.

    Our family is not into sports, so we already save many hours a week that everyone else we know spends on watching games (doesn’t matter if you watch online or via cable, or go to the game, you’re still watching) or attending games.

    We do watch news, but our work requires us to have 24/7 access to it. (By the way, when I say watch, I really mean “listen” as we are doing other things while monitoring breaking news.) We also, due to work, have to periodically watch certain types of programming (it involves our clients).

    Given where we live, and having tried unsuccessfully to use just an antenna, we do have cable. And because the companies are greedy, and they break out channels deliberately to ensure you have to get the max tiers to see certain things (again, because of clients we need to monitor/watch some shows for biz reasons; we’re talking specialized shows and cable channels) we do pay more than we’d like each month. (And no, it is not deductible)

    We, too, have seen our actual TV viewing for pleasure decline now that we use Netflix streaming and watch shows online, at our convenience. But we still need the cable.

    2. Just because one watches tv does NOT mean you do not read and/or spend time interacting with people and doing other things.

    So many people who opt out of cable seem defensive (as the writer of this article does). Hey, it’s your choice and it’s OK. But when you start implying/saying that those who have TV don’t read or communicate, you’re off-base. (That would assume that all of you non-cable or TV people are out there reading, hanging with friends and attending cultural events. NOT.)

    I read an average of three books a week. I attend an average of two cultural events (theater, museum, classical music concert) with friends a week. I also watch a few TV shows, and while I’m doing htat, I’m often multi-tasking and doing some paperwork or housework. Actually sitting and doing nothing else? Maybe ONE hour a week.

    We also watch what I call educational TV (discovery channel, national geo) and PBS on topics we’re interested in. On Sunday, in between reading several newspapers and magazines (YES, we read print and we read online), we watch the morning political shows to educate ourselves on current issues.

    True, there are no children in our home, so we do have time that parents do not have. But honestly, very few parents that we know allow more than an hour of TV a day at best.

    Here’s what we’ve observed about people who give up TVs and cable: THeir kids spend lots of time at other kids places watching TV. And not shows you want them to be watching.

    Those families also spend a fortune on sporting events (attending) or paying other friends to get on THEIR cable so they can watch. Or worse, going to bars to watch and spending tons on food, drinks.

    TV and cable are not the enemy. It doesn’t have to be either/or. It’s about choices, balance and HOW you do it. (We know friends on very tight budgets who can’t afford to go out. Several times a month, they have friends over and watch streaming shows together (Computer hooked up to their TV via HDMI) from online. IT’s a way of socializing and they have a meal before or after and chat. These same people also have a bookclub for the same group of people!)

    FYI: Brian, your use of slingbox is great. We have slingbox because we travel and must keep up with stuff. But most importantly, in our apartment, it allows us to watch TV in another room WITHOUT the cost of a TV or a cable box. The savings per month on that? $12 in electricity (Seriously), and $12 for a cable box. (We use an old computer and monitor and slingbox.)

    Do we hate paying our cable bill? Yes. Yes. Yes. And if we could get even the basic channels via antenna, we’d adjust. But given where we live, we cannot. So we cut down on other stuff.

    • sarah, why isn’t your cable deductible if it’s essential to your work? shouldn’t at least part of your bill be considered a business expense? (note: i am not an accountant and know about as much about taxes as i do about thermodynamics). i’m an actor, and i know my tax guy used to put my directv bills (or part of them) in there as a business expense.

      yeah, the slingbox is a godsend. i can’t believe it’s legal to use.

    • Thanks for the comments, Sarah. Well, from my experience last week, I did feel like I had to be on the defensive. In reality, it caught me off guard because we just don’t watch TV.

      But, when you’re around people who claim they don’t watch much TV, yet ponder why they can’t plant themselves on the couch every chance they get, it made me feel like I was somehow responsible for a grown adult’s happiness. It was an odd situation that I didn’t enjoy at all.

      Here’s the statistic that got me thinking:

      “According to the A.C. Nielsen Co., the average American watches more than 4 hours of TV each day (or 28 hours/week, or 2 months of nonstop TV-watching per year).”

      If the average American is watching 4 hours of TV every day, there’s not much else going on (reading, playing with the kids, or otherwise).

      But, you and your husband definitely need it for your jobs. And, you’re right, it comes down to choices.


  23. Among my friends, owning a TV is kind of strange. I know a few people who have one but they are the exception. Those of us who enjoy TV shows want to watch them on our schedule, so we just watch on Hulu on the computer. Shorter commercials, available whenever you want.

  24. I’d definitely have a lot more time if I gave up cable TV. I got it only fairly recently (a little over a year ago) and I’ve been totally sucked into a bunch of shows I wouldn’t have gotten to watch otherwise. But, I indulge in very few “vices” and TV is one of them.

  25. Even when my wife and I first had cable, one thing we agreed on was NOT to put a TV in the bedroom.

    I’ve had to give up a lot of football but it’s been much easier than I expected. I was tired of it dictating my moods.

    • I said no TV in the bedroom also when we were married. I cannot sleep with a TV going in the background, it seriously affects my dreams. Weird, I know, but very true.

  26. Hey Jerret, this was a great post. I’ve been trying to convince my bf that we don’t need cable. Especially with the Internet and so many different services, it’s a money sink AND a time sink. Recently I’ve been reading and just spending quality time as opposed to watching tv. I think if you calculated it, the tv watches US more than we watch IT. It’s definitely filler if your favorite show isn’t on. I’m going to keep pushing the argument

    • Find stuff you guys can do outside of TV. Many people make the argument that watching TV as a family is quality time.

      When I was growing up, that’s all my family did. Yes, we were together but we never knew each other.

  27. My journey to living without TV started around 8 years ago while living in Boston. I had bought a nice LCD TV to hook up to my satellite connection and the day after the warranty on the TV expired it blew up (smoke coming out of it). I found that it was going to cost almost twice its original price to get fixed. I was in the middle of remodeling my house so I decided not to replace it for 6 months and instead to just listen to music. After 6 months I found that I didn’t miss it at all. Instead I was doing more reading, walking my dog around the neighborhood and getting making friends with folks I had never talked to before. It was great. When I picked up and moved back home to Ohio I bought another TV but hooked it up to a plain antenna only. Again, after about a year it started to die so I just said the heck with it, got rid of the thing and went back to reading and listening to music. I find now that I absolutely love the peace and quiet of a silent house. My stress levels are much less and life seems better.

    So … no more TV for me and family who comes to visit are told before they arrive that I have no TV but if their kids absolutely need to watch something they can watch a DVD on the computer. So far no one has had a problem with it (although I do think they talk about their “weird” uncle .. laugh).

    • Funny you mention your TV blowing up. My wife and I dropped our first TV and destroyed it. I think we ran around for a week looking for someone to repair it. And all we had were the rabbit ears! Don’t know why we felt like we needed to get it repaired.

  28. I have three old tvs that we got for free (non HD) so without paying for cable we do not get any channels. Cable is not in my budget. So we just watch dvd’s and vhs’s that we get for free from the library.

    I am considering removing the tv in the living room, but I like to watch a movie when I fold laundry or sew.

    It is so much better not having cable. No commercials. No mindless watching at night.

    I have no self control and will watch cable tv until about 2 am. So even if I could afford cable I would not get it.

    My kids read daily, especially before bed, and they enjoy it.

    My parents did not pay for cable. We had 1 tv growing up, and it had basic channels (the free ones.) We played outside most of the day anyway, so didn’t really care. We only really watched tv Sat. mornings for cartoons before chores. And Full House one night a week as a family.

    I occasionally wish I could only buy history or discovery channel, but get lots of good DVD’s like this at library so we still get to learn cool stuff visually.

  29. I’ve been without cable for two and a half years. The cable company would not allow me to pay for just the 7 channels I used to watch so I canceled it altogether despite their effort to keep me hooked up to “basic”.

    CNN and C-SPAN can be had online for free. Miss my cooking shows but do a lot more cooking now.

    I’d never go back to paid TV, even if it were free!

  30. Years ago, I bought my first condo. The mortgage payment was over half of my take-home pay. (I live in a very high COLA and had no other debt.) Therefore, the $88/mo. monthly cable fee was not an option. At the end of three years, I took a trip to France. When I did the final trip tally, the total cost was the equivalent of three years of cable fees. That total even included expensive new luggage, which I still use very regularly. (It’s sitting next to me as I write this from the airport.) I love to travel w-a-a-a-a-y more than any need for television. My “cable fund” has paid for lots of trips since then. After all these years, I don’t even miss it!

  31. Interesting that you brought this up. We haven’t had cable for years. We do watch some TV online, specific shows and also have netflix. But we don’t have it on all the time.
    Hubby and I were invited this past week to a simple lake house. We’ve actually been given a key to come and go anytime we like! One of the first things he said was “we don’t have direcTV or nothing”. Apologizing to us. And then when we went to town for some supplies, when we came back, he had both TVs on with a DVD playing in them, just background noise. Amazing to me. I mean, here you are on a lake and you are worried about us not having TV?
    Now… I do have to admit, I will struggle with no internet there, BUT, that is part of my reasoning for going. To disconnect!