Updated on 01.06.07

Solving The Television Dilemma: Dropping The Cable Bill Without Losing My Favorite Shows

Trent Hamm

Each month for years, my wife and I have dutifully paid a cable television bill that amounted to about $50 (on average). We used to watch quite a bit of television in the evenings, interspersed with reading and writing. When our son was born, however, our television viewing dropped considerably, to the point where we only watch a very small number of shows consistently. For me, the television shows I’m interested in are mostly science fiction dramas (Lost and Doctor Who, though I’m interested in giving Battlestar Galactica a good shake) and a few network sitcoms. There are a few other programs we might be willing to watch, but honestly, we have other things to do with our time than schedule them around television programs.

We discussed purchasing a TiVo to record our programs, but we didn’t want to add another monthly expense to our budget for the opportunity to record programs that we barely have time to watch in the first place. I think TiVo is a wonderful tool, but it simply doesn’t fit well into our lifestyle.

Thus, we are finally coming around to what seems like the best solution for our situation: television programs on DVD. At first glance, this seems like it would be a major expense: a season of a television series on DVD costs about as much as a month of cable, right? Well… not entirely.

Here’s our plan for keeping up with our favorite programs without commercial interruption without spending much money at all – and also enabling us to cancel that pricey monthly television bill.

First, we make a big list of the television programs we would like to watch starting from the first season. We limited this list to series we both enjoy or enjoyed in the past. Here’s a sampling of my list, for giggles: Picket Fences, Northern Exposure, The Sopranos, Arrested Development, Battlestar Galactica, and the reintroduced Doctor Who. Most of these happen to overlap with my wife’s list, too.

We choose about five programs that we want to watch sooner rather than later, and then cross-check them for DVD availability. Unfortunately for us, our mutually “most wanted” series (Picket Fences) isn’t out on DVD yet, so we’re looking at a collection of other series.

We start watching eBay for auctions of the first seasons of these shows – and buy when we see a good deal. We also keep an eye out in stores for new seasons that seem to be heavily discounted as well; I recently found each season of Arrested Development new in the store for about $15 each, for example.

We add some of the other series to our Amazon wishlists and see if we get them as birthday gifts. Television series on DVD make for a great gift for people: they’re easily acquirable and provide a lot of entertainment to the recipient. We add these to our wishlists on Amazon so that people can easily give us these as gifts if they so choose.

When we finish a season of a series, we put it up on eBay and use the proceeds to buy more seasons. This is the key part: we can usually sell the seasons on eBay and make back roughly the price of what we paid for them (and sometimes beat it, if we found a good deal earlier). Thus, our cost for a “new” season is roughly the cost of listing an auction, a padded envelope, and postage. This is an incredible deal for us; even if we watch an episode a day on average, we can usually stretch a season of a series out over most of a month.

We are strongly considering using this process for all of our “television” watching and abandoning cable programming altogether. This scheme is inexpensive and lets us watch our favorite shows without commercial interruption. We lose the option of having the latest episodes, of course, but we gain freedom from a monthly bill for $50.

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  1. Tom Purl says:

    Great idea! I’ve also been thinking about ditching cable for DVD’s, but I hadn’t thought of the E-bay idea.

    Of course, even if you bought the DVD’s new and kept them, you’d still probably be saving money over cable.

    Also, did you hear that AT&T is giving away a free year of satellite TV? That might be another option in the short-run.

  2. Brian says:

    Why not get your shows on DVD through Netflix? If a show is available on DVD, there’s a good chance Netflix carries it. Then you don’t have to worry about buying and selling on eBay. You can even do Netflix’s $14.95/month plan and get two DVDs at a time, unlimited for the month. This might save you even more time and money.

  3. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Unless you watch many different DVDs per week and never have any desire to repeat, Netflix doesn’t save anyone money. I will explain this in a future post; look for it early next week.

  4. Chris says:

    The other thing to consider along these same lines is netflix. They have all the DVD series, but with the hassle of ebay replaced with mailing them back in.

    The 2 disk at a time plan is something like 10 dollars a month, which could be a savings over even ebay.

  5. Tim says:

    I’ve found a lot of the DVD series that I want to view are free through the local public library. I’ve enjoyed the Sopranos, the Shield, 6 Feet Under, Band of Brothers, and others this way. Right now I am on the waitlist for the first installment of Sopranos season 6.

  6. iportion says:

    We decided to get rid of it all even basic cable and just do netflix. We saw manor house which was good and see Monk and mystery shows like law an order on it.
    Sometimes I like the food network and discovery but mostly I find TV unproductive.
    Also I spend less because I see less commercials.

  7. I own a Tivo and don’t have a monthy expense. When I bought it rather then paying the $10 a month forever I payed $300 for a lifetime fee. I have owned it for nine years now, long ago the initial investment paid for itself. Of all sites I would think this one would know that. On DVD’s have you checked your local libraries? Maybe your town’s branch doesn’t have much, but the next town over might. Also local video stores have them now to. Picking up on on their slow night (where they ofter 99 cent rentals or whatnot) is a easy way to try out new shows.

  8. Jason Rehmus says:

    My wife and I have never paid for cable. We had it included in our rent at one apartment, but never signed up on our own.

    We love Netflix! We “saved” money by never ordering cable. But, we also saved money on our movie rentals. The $17.99 per month membership is less than what we were spending each month at the local rental store.

    I’m curious to see your future post, Trent.

  9. Brian says:

    You all have very good points. My only hesitation comes from ESPN. There isn’t a better source for sports events, news, commentary, and statistics.

  10. Ditto on Brian’s comment. The college basketball season helps us get through the cold, dreary winter months. I don’t know what we’d do without ESPN during March Madness!

    I’d like to change our cable subscription to the lowest tier BUT no ESPN.

  11. Brian brings up a good point with things like sports. My local baseball team (80% of what I watch in the summer time) is on cable. ESPN is also a fair percentage.

    The other issue is that no one at the water cooler was talking about Arrested Development last night. By that I mean, there’s something about being socially in the loop. That can be lost without cable sometimes.

  12. david says:

    Well I heard that you can get all those shows on something called torrent, for free. I have no idea what it is, but maybe you should look into it *wink*
    regards,great post

  13. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    The question about why we’re not using Netflix will be answered on Monday, folks.

  14. mary says:

    You can also watch some ABC’s top TV shows like Lost and Greys Anatomy at ABC.com. The shows are available the day after they air on TV and they have the last few shows available for viewing also. You have to watch some commercials during the first half hour (the 2nd half has none) but you can keep up to date with the shows and don’t have to pay anything.

  15. Flexo says:

    Just had to comment to mention I’m also a big long-time Dr. Who fan. When I was young I taped every episode off PBS and built quite a library. Haven’t seen the new series 2 yet, though.

  16. J.D. @ Get Rich Slowly says:

    Ah, you’ve anticipated one of my upcoming entries. I’m waiting for Apple’s announcements on Tuesday before I write mine, though. In essence: I’m hoping to transition from a flat monthly cable fee to a buy-on-demand plan using the iTunes Music Store. There are pros and cons to this approach, of course, but I’ll write about those…

    As it is, we do use Netflix. We watch a two or three DVDs a week and rarely repeat. If we do decide to repeat — as we’re inclined to do with Upstairs, Downstairs, one of the series ever produced for television — then we consider purchasing.

  17. Louie Shamarro says:

    If you take away one thing from this entry, let it be this…

    Arrested Development is the funniest show ever. Period.

  18. Chad S says:

    I recently swicted to digital broadcast TV(using bunny Ears) it is not that bad, when you get a clear channnel it is just as good as cable or maybe even better. I am sure if we get a roof top atenna it will be even better. The new digital TV is nice there are more channels. two thums up for the FCC

  19. Paul Lampe says:

    Also try this simple tactic: Review your cable TV bill and determine the monthly cost. Review alternative services such as Dish Network and research initial monthly costs for the alternatives. Call the cable company and tell them you want a lower rate base on comparable service which can be purchased cheaper somewhere else. I did this and saved $192/year on my cable bill and never had to change anything. All it took was about 15 minutes on the phone. (Hint: This can also be done with credit card interest rates) It doesn’t “drop” the cable bill, but it lowers it significantly.

  20. Susan says:

    We’re in the process of ditching cable all together. We’re talking about buying a relatively inexpensive or refurbished PC with a decent sized flat screen monitor. Then we’re going to use a combination of online resources that let you stream TV, and also sign up for downloadable netflix right to your computer.

    Our idea is to have all our music, TV and media in one place on a single shelf somewhere and eliminate the need for cable costs, wires, and sacrificing space. We live in NY, so space is a precious commodity. We’re thinking we could break even in about a year a year in relation to our current cable costs verses a new computer.

  21. Sicarii says:

    Two words: Hulu and Blockbuster. If you’re paying for internet already Hulu or sites like it are a great choice. See if your shows are listed there. Check out your video rental store, most places rent full seasons of DVD’s, and then it’s on your schedule as well. I know video rental prices vary greatly from place to place, but our local blockbuster’s daily rental price is $1! At that price it just doesn’t make sense to buy most DVD’s. Even if a DVD costs $20, it would take 20 days of rental to reach that cost. How many movies do you really watch 20 times? Probably very few.

  22. Our solution was to start using Hulu and other streaming video services along with Playon and our Xbox 360. Through that we get to watch most of our favorite shows on our TV (not computer) and all it cost us was a one time fee for the playon software. (If you don’t have an xbox/ps3/wii it could cost more).

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