In the evenings and on the weekends, our family enjoys watching television. While not a need, it certainly provides some stress relief and maybe even bonding time as we gather to watch something that helps us grow in knowledge or maybe just giggle over a family classic.
As technology has grown, our options for entertainment have expanded. It’s difficult to know which service to use and decipher what’s the best deal. If you’re considering changing your cable package or weighing which online streaming channel best fits your needs, the following guidelines might help you determine which direction to choose.
This DVD rental service was one of the first to take on the online streaming market. For its $7.99 per month fee, you can have instant access to thousands of TV episodes and movies. It partners well with technology you might already have like a Wii, Xbox, PS3, Google Chromecast, iPad, smartphone or more, allowing you to stream through your device to your television with the aid of an app. The titles do occasionally change, so your favorite shows might not always be available; however, there’s certainly a limitless number of choices. Redbox has recently modeled Netflix’s offering with four DVD rentals per month and a more limited online streaming service. The plan comes in at $8 per month.
Amazon Instant Video
If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you have access to the vast Amazon Instant Video library. It includes many of the same titles as Netflix plus some more popular HBO favorites. The fee of $99 per year allows you not only this service but also special Amazon perks like two-day shipping, a new online music streaming service with access to over a million songs (a bold competitor for Spotify), special discounts and the ability to borrow one Kindle read per month for free.
While slightly more expensive than Netflix ($8.25 per month), the other perks make it a very competitive offer. However, keep in mind you’ll need to be able to pay for the service up front in full, rather than on a monthly basis. You can stream Amazon Instant video through some devices you may already own — iPad, Wii, Xbox, Kindle Fire, Playstation — but not as many as Netflix.
Hulu and Hulu Plus
Online viewing clearinghouse hulu.com offers both free viewing options (typically the five most recent episodes of popular major network shows) and a paid service in the form of Hulu Plus. Like Netflix, Hulu Plus streams through a wide variety of technology pieces that you may already own and comes in at $7.99/month.
Hulu is free but along with its limited catalog, it’s confined to streaming through your laptop or PC and not available to project to your TV. The Plus service also offers HD quality when available.
Often when people seek to scale back their lifestyle, cable is the first cutback they make. I wouldn’t disagree with this choice because of the vast array of much more affordable choices. If you choose to stick with your current cable plan, I’d advise you to do two things to most effectively manage your money. First, call and see if there is any way to reduce the amount you’re being charged.
Over time, cable packages creep up in price. New deals are offered to new customers while existing clients foot the bill. It may take a little while to negotiate a deal, but it will be time well spent. Ask for the retention or loyalty department.
Kindly but firmly express that you’ve been a longtime paying customer and don’t be afraid to question if there could be a better deal. “Is that the best we can do?” is your best question.
Secondly, don’t fall for the bundle trap. For only $10 more, you might have a new phone line, or faster Internet, or access to a robot maid who will come and fold your laundry (OK that one doesn’t sound so bad). But contemplate that $10 per month is $120 per year and we probably all enjoy an extra $100-plus in our pockets. Don’t be afraid to cut the cord. Your life will still go on and you’ll still be able to catch most of your favorite shows or maybe you’ll realize you didn’t need to watch that much TV anyway.
Build own antennae
If you have a digital converter box or a digital-ready TV, you can actually build your antennae for under $5 and pull in all local channels (and a few extra wacky ones to boot). Search for a YouTube tutorial for specific directions but the basic supplies include a 2x4, some washers, screws, wire hangers and a balun (signal converter). Our antennae has served us well for a number of years and ensures we can watch Colts games, the local news and some of our favorite shows.
The good news is that the majority of online streaming choices offer a free month’s trial (or week with Hulu Plus) so you can get a feel for the services before making a financial commitment. Just be careful to unsubscribe from such promotions at the end of the month so that you’re not automatically charged if you don’t want to continue service. Carefully investigate the price, selection of shows, and the amount of time you’ll be spending watching television before making a decision. Entertainment should be fun and relaxing but not occupy the majority of dollars in your budget. It’s an extra, not a need.
Greenwood resident Cherie Lowe and her husband paid off $127,000 in debt in four years and now live debt-free every day with their two kids. Send questions, column ideas and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org