On the Choice to Live Without Cable

Should you cut the cord?


I’ll let you decide after sharing our experience and offering some of the benefits and drawbacks to life without cable.

We have lived without cable since 2004. Before that time I never thought that I could. I was obsessed with shows that were only available via cable like Sex and the City and Sopranos. My friends and I used to have viewing parties that my roommate and I hosted. It was a late-90s kind of fabulous.

When I moved in with a new roommate, we noticed that we were working so hard that we didn’t have time to watch TV. Well, except we still made time to watch our favorite HBO shows mentioned above.

Somehow, and I still don’t know how she did it, my roommate was able to negotiate with our cable company for 2 things: (1) basic local channels; (2) HBO. We watched what we wanted, and we didn’t get caught channel surfing hundreds of channels for hours. It was perfect.

And then my roommate moved. Unfortunately, the cable subscription was in her name. This meant that I had to contact the cable company.

When I called  to change the service over to my name, they balked. “Sorry ma’am. I don’t know how she got that deal. That’s not even one of our plans. Purchasing HBO separately simply isn’t possible” (It was.)

After several conversations up the chain of command, I declared defeat. My beloved HBO plan was going away. Yet I couldn’t completely give in and subscribe to a multiple channel plan. I cut the cord.

This occurred before Netflix online streaming debuted. Like always, we made trips to Blockbuster for movie night, but overall, we watched a lot less TV.

It has been 11 years and we are still living without cable.

We watch very little TV. There are so many streaming options these days that I often feel paralyzed searching Netflix when trying to find something to watch. It’s often too much choice for this gal.

Of course, the benefits of living without cable or a satellite equivalent will differ slightly from person to person, but some benefits are fairly universal. Here are the biggest gains I’ve realized:

  • Gain hours in your day. Less TV time means that you will have more time to do other things. Have you been putting off digitizing your old photos? Now you’ve got time. Want to learn how to Lindy Hop? Sign up for a class.
  • Say yes to more plans with friends. Less connection with TV means that you have less of a need to watch the latest game on ESPN. And if you really want to watch the game, you will travel to a bar or a friend’s house. It gets you off your couch and adds to your social calendar. Win-win.
  • You save A LOT of money. Cable is expensive. Sometimes really expensive. Just recently my Mom told me that she was spending nearly $200 on cable. $200! When I asked her why, she said that she signed up for a special offer that included a lot of free channels and she forgot to cancel when the offer ended. (Results not typical, but it does show how sneaky cable companies can be.) This brings me to the next point.
  • You don’t have to deal with the cable company. Local cable companies are notoriously hard to deal with. Many people spend hours on hold waiting to negotiate packages, dispute charges or schedule installations. You don’t need that stress.

So what do you give up when you cut the cable cord?

In my experience the only negative effect is that I am often out of the loop on TV-related cultural events. I miss out on “Did you see that episode last night…” conversations around the water cooler at work. And sometimes friends or family will provide spoilers of shows that I plan to stream later at my own pace. That is never fun.

However, with the rise of the drop-the-entire-season tactic started by Netflix, I’m noticing a cultural shift. Less spoilers. People now ask if you have seen a show before talking about the series finale. It seems the drawback to being behind on TV shows is slowly disappearing, which is a good thing for us non-cable watching folk.

Ultimately, it’s a personal decision. My Mom used to talk about giving up cable and finally decided that she loved it too much to let it go. And that is OK. In fact, I think it is great. I go to her house when I really want to watch something that simply can’t wait.

99% of the time I can wait. For our family, the benefits of a cable-free life definitely outweigh the drawbacks. How about for you?

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