Apr 152012

Or…how I saved 55% on our cable bill, and made our lives better in the process.

This post has been a long time coming. Back in October 2011, I mentioned that I was planning to drop our cable, and our landline phone when our contract was up (in August of this year), because I’d discovered something called a Roku. Many people are familiar with Roku, but for those who aren’t, I’ll give you a little information.

A Roku is a streaming player, which allows you to stream programming from the internet to your TV, via a subscription service such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, or Amazon Instant Video. It’s small (about the size of a hockey puck), lightweight, and uses only about as much power as a nightlight. It looks like this:

See how tiny it is, compared to our dinosaur VCR?

There are other devices with streaming capabilities, such as Blu-ray players, and video game consoles like Playstation 3, Wii, and Xbox. We don’t own any of these, and don’t plan to in the future, but if you do, this is a useful feature. I was eager to try this alternative to overpriced cable, so I signed up for a free one-month trial of Netflix streaming, and bought a Roku on Amazon.

However, I didn’t cancel our cable, because I wanted to see how well the Roku/Netflix plan would work, and I have to say, we just couldn’t be happier with it.

Roku comes with several free channels, including Pandora Internet Radio, and Crackle (which offers free, on demand movies), and there are many more available in The Channel Store, but we use NetFlix most often.

Netflix is intuitive, so after you’ve watched and rated programs and movies, it begins to get a feel for what you like, and offers programming suggestions, which you can add to your Instant Queue.

However, if you’re looking for something specific, you can just do a search for it.

It’s hard to imagine ever being at a loss for something to watch. The kids love that they can watch episodes of their favorite series, such as iCarly, The Mighty B, Super Why, Shake it Up, Thomas the Tank Engine, Dora, and Diego. My husband and I enjoy a huge movie selection, plus Hoarders, Storage Wars, Pawn Stars, The Wonder Years, The Twilight Zone…and the best part? Everything on NetFlix is 100% commercial-free!

Did you know that if you watch even one hour of network TV a day, you’ll waste 97 hours a year watching commercials? This is because the average one-hour program has about 16 minutes of commercials, and 16 minutes x 365 days per year = 5,840 minutes. I don’t know about you, but I can think of lots of better ways to spend 97 hours.

The only disadvantage of this setup is that you can’t watch your local channels. This is a drawback if the local news is important to you, or if you like to follow current seasons of certain TV programs (for example, The Middle, which is one of our favorites). That’s where the digital antenna comes in.

For a $10 investment, you can receive your local networks for FREE over the air.

We bought our antenna on the advice of a friend (Thanks Allie!), and we now receive CBS, ABC, PBS, Fox, WB, Ion, and Qubo, and the digital picture is crystal clear. As an example, here’s an episode of Arthur being received from PBS, through the antenna.

This antenna is lightweight and compact – it folds up and lays flat when not in use. It might seem silly to have rabbit ears with a 40-inch flat screen TV, but who cares, right? It’s free TV!

The only station we can’t pick up is our local NBC station, and I haven’t figured out why. Even so, we have a greater variety of programming than we did before, when we only had basic cable, more control over what our children can watch, and we waste very little time watching commercials, with the added benefit that our kids aren’t exposed to a barrage of advertising, so we have to deal with very few bouts of “the gimmees.”

And I haven’t even gotten to the best part!

Previously, our bundled cable bill, which also included internet and landline phone, looked like this:

Monthly charges
Basic cable – $39.95
High speed internet – $45.95
Digital phone – $29.95 (This was a dedicated fax line only – we’ve always used our cell phones instead, and my husband’s work communication is now done via email)
Bundled service discount – ($16.00)
Subtotal – $99.85

Taxes, Fees & Surcharges
Franchise Fees – $2.01
State Sales Tax – $2.52
Regulatory Fee – $.09
County Sales Tax – $.42
Regulatory Recovery Fee – $.08
State and Local Sales Tax – $1.55
Federal Universal Service Fund – $1.40
Local E911 – .25
Subtotal – $8.32

Total – $108.17

Now, our bill looks like this:

Monthly Charges
High speed basic – $10.00
Online HSI – $24.95
Online modem – $5.00

Total – $39.95 (Note that there are no taxes, fees or surcharges. In most states, because of the Internet Tax Freedom act, internet access alone – without cable or phone service – is tax free).

When you add the $8/month Netflix subscription, our total bill is lowered from $108.17 to $47.95 – a savings of 55 percent!

I cancelled our cable and landline phone on March 12th, and I did have to pay a $60 cancellation fee for terminating our 2-year contract early, as well as a $15.99 field change service fee, because they had to come to our house and disconnect the cable. However, I did the math before I cancelled, and I determined that if we waited until August to terminate, in order to avoid paying these fees, our total cost for the remaining 5 months of the contract would be $540.85. Including the fees, and the cost of the antenna (I got the Roku for free with a combination of Amazon Affiliates earnings, and Swagbucks, which I redeemed for Amazon gift cards), the total cost for our new service for this same period is $325.70 – so we’re still $215.15 ahead. Even if I had paid $80 for the Roku, it would still have been in our best interest to terminate early. I think many people shy away from making beneficial changes like this because they fear the service fees, but make sure to always do the math. You might be better off in the long run.

So, if high cable bills have got you down, take the time to look into the alternatives. It always pays to do your research, and make educated choices. Remember what I always say….knowledge is power!