Did you know there are ways to get out of paying for the $50, $100 or $200 cable bill and start getting your basic cable channels absolutely free?
My husband and I decided to try life without cable TV when we moved from our suburban home to a small hobby farm out in the country back in 2012.
We were sure we wouldn’t have the need or want for cable TV in our new, blissful country home. Who would want to watch TV when there is a whole bounty of nature waiting right outside your doorstep?
Well, as with all things we eventually got used to having nature right outside our doorstep. Spring, summer and fall are wonderful here, but nature or no nature these long Midwestern winter still take their toll on our brains, and even more so when getting to fun destinations takes forty-five minutes.
Soon enough after moving to the farm, we realized that we still enjoyed spending some time in front of the TV. Winding down during the evening, or having a frugal movie night at home meant good TV viewing options were still important to us, albeit less so.
The four or five channels we were getting without any assistance got boring pretty quickly, so we decided to look into some cable alternatives that might allow us to pick up some cable channels without paying the $50 a month for a cable TV subscription we were paying before we moved.
It’s now been just over five years since we moved to the country and got rid of cable, and we couldn’t be happier.
We have over 50 channels to choose from for our television viewing, and it’s costing us little to nothing. Although we do pay for other alternatives, we no longer pay for cable and it’s a wonderful feeling.
If you’re interested in getting free basic cable and saving money on your TV viewing options, check out this list of legit ways to get basic cable without paying for overpriced cable subscriptions.
Ways to Get Basic Cable for Free or Cheap
When we first decided not to transfer our cable TV subscription up to the farm, I have to admit I was a bit worried.
We’re not huge television watchers by industry averages (the average American spends roughly five hours a day watching TV) but we do thoroughly enjoy winding down our days by sitting in front of some television entertainment, especially during the winter months when it’s much too cold to be outside.
However, since we’re also staunchly in favor of saving money where we can in order to reach our financial goals, we just can’t stomach paying for a cable subscription, so we’ve learned to use some other options for getting basic cable channels for free.
Here are some of our favorites.
1. HDTV Antenna
You might be surprised to learn just how many cable and other channels you can access with a decent HDTV antenna.
No, I’m not talking about that old pair of rabbit ears sitting in your parents’ basement. Today’s TV antennas have amazing broadcasting abilities that can substantially increase your TV viewing choices.
In major metropolitan areas, you may be able to get upwards of one hundred channels simply by using a decent antenna.
I’ll start with the basics to share how today’s TV antennas work. Although many of you probably already know this information, there are some out there (like me) who may not be versed on how the pretty screen pictures get from point A to point B and that there are options for increasing TV viewing channels.
For instance, do you choose an indoor antenna or an outdoor antenna? Directional or multi-directional? Which type of antenna you choose for your home will be based on a couple of different things.
Start with Antenna Web
Antenna Web is a cool site that shows you where broadcasting stations are located in your area. When you visit the site, it’ll ask you to punch in your address or ZIP code.
The site will also ask you to check a box if your antenna will be installed more than thirty feet off the ground.
When I punched in my own ZIP code using the site, I didn’t check the 30-feet-or-higher box the first go-around and it said a basic in-house antenna should give me 47 channels from 11 different over-the-air stations.
Fox, ION and Daystar were some of the available cable channels that came up with this option. However, when I went back and checked the 30-feet-or-higher option, the available channels went up to 56 from 14 different over-the-air stations and included TBN and a few others.
So, an HDTV antenna could definitely be the way to go for if you want free basic cable channels, especially if you live in a major metropolitan city or nearby suburb.
In fact, when I checked Antenna Web again and searched under the ZIP code of our former city, my viewing options went up to 73 channels from twenty different over-the-air stations, all because I typed in an address closer to the cities.
The point is that an HDTV antenna can do wonders for your cable channel viewing options, but you’ve got to know what types of antennas are best for where you live.
Using Antenna Web to get the broadcasting stations that are available in your area will be a great first start as it will give you more information so that you can make an informed decision about what type of antenna to buy.
There Are Different Types of Antennas
There are three main types of antennas that can help you boost your television viewing options:
- Directional antenna
- Multi-directional antenna
- Omni-directional antenna
The type of antenna that will work best for you depends on a variety of factors. After we talk about what the three main types of antennas do, I can help you in how to decide which one is best for your individual TV viewing situation. A directional antenna focuses all its power in one general direction. If all or the majority of the broadcasting towers are located in the same direction from your house, a directional antenna should work fine.
A multi-directional antenna is best when your area’s broadcasting towers are located in different areas in the same general direction.
For instance, if all of the towers are located in a southeasterly direction from your house, but they’re not in the same exact area, you may be better off choosing a multi-directional antenna.
If you have broadcasting towers located in different directions from your house like we do, you’ll probably get the best results by purchasing an omni-directional antenna, which can harness signals from multiple directions.
In our case the majority of towers are to the southwest, but we’ve also got a few to the northwest, so we use an omni-directional antenna in order to get as many free viewing channels as are available.
Distance makes a difference too; if you live more than twenty miles outside of a major metropolitan area you’ll want to purchase a more powerful antenna in order to get the best viewing results.
Indoor or Outdoor?
The next question you will want to ask yourself is whether you want an indoor antenna or an outdoor antenna.
Indoor antennas are installed inside of your house or apartment somewhere, while outdoor antennas are installed (obviously) outdoors, usually on the roof of a house.
The answer to this antenna question, unfortunately, may not be entirely in your control.
For instance, if you rent your home or apartment as opposed to owning, you’ll need to check with management to see what the rules are for installing antennas.
Your management association may have a rule that you can only have an indoor antenna or some type of antenna that isn’t permanently attached to the dwelling. Similarly, even if you do own your townhome, condominium or apartment, you may have to check HOA rules regarding installing an antenna outside of your home.
Some developments with Homeowners associations may have rules about what can or cannot be installed outside of your dwelling – even if you own a single-family home. For this reason, it’s important to check with the proper powers-that-be before you make your antenna purchasing decision.
It’s important to know too that outdoor antennas are more powerful (generally) than indoor antennas. While this knowledge can influence your purchasing decision, you may want to know that if you live close to or inside of a major city you might not get any more channels with an outdoor antenna than you would with an indoor antenna simply because of the close proximity to broadcasting stations.
Those living further out, however, will almost certainly be able to access more broadcasting channels with an outdoor antenna.
When further distances from the broadcasting stations come into play, you’ll have clearer signals as you work to eliminate barriers such as walls and trees from your broadcasting signal.
I’ve done some research on the various types of antennas and how they are rated from Amazon purchasers in order to give you some tried and true options to look at as you choose which type of HD antenna will work best for you in your pursuit of free cable channels.
Here are some of my favorite antennas on Amazon. These antenna options have some of the highest ratings from customer reviews.
Indoor/Outdoor Combination Antenna
All of these antenna options get largely good reviews from purchasers. Personally, I depend on user reviews a lot before making a purchase, but it’s important to remember to pay special attention to the “verified purchase” reviews on Amazon, as there are some companies who pay reviewers to share their opinion on Amazon and other sites.
Those reviewers who have actually purchased the product they’re reviewing directly from Amazon will be marked with a “verified purchase” tag at the beginning of the review.
One of my favorite things about using an HD antenna to watch basic cable channels for free is that it’s a once-and-done type of a purchase.
As soon as you’ve bought and paid for your antenna you no longer have any outgoing expenses for television viewing, unless your indoor antenna gets tossed around by the family dog or your outdoor antenna gets carried away by a windstorm.
However, there are some other options for getting basic cable channels for free as well. Let’s talk about some of those options and see if they can be an addition to your antenna purchase or a replacement idea if having an antenna won’t work for your current living situation.
Although some of these other options do have a cost, it’s a cost a lot of TV viewers pay anyway, and they come with the bonus option of having access to many free basic cable shows as well.
2. Amazon Prime
Amazon Prime memberships continue to grow in popularity as people love the fact that Prime members get free two-day shipping on every order.
This is an especially awesome benefit for people doing last minute Christmas or other gift shopping.
However, as an Amazon Prime member you can also get Amazon Prime Video for free. Amazon Prime Video has an amazing selection of TV shows and movies – including cable show episodes, etc. – that you can watch for free if you become an Amazon Prime Member.
Some of Amazon Prime’s cable classic episodes include The Sopranos and The Wire. Amazon Prime boasts over 40,000 movies and TV show episodes to choose from – you can’t beat their selection.
One of Amazon Prime Video’s biggest benefits is their large selection of HBO original series episodes. You can watch episodes of popular HBO classics such as
- Game of Thrones
- True Detective
- Curb Your Enthusiasm
They also feature other cable TV show episodes such as Showtime’s Ray Donovan, Homeland and Shameless.
Shows and movies from other cable channels such as Starz, Cinemax, UMC, UP Faith and Family, Dove, Comedy Central and more also make the lineup here.
Amazon Prime Video offers many other cable TV channel episodes as well. No shortage of choices here if you’re looking for free cable TV episodes.
While it’s fair to say that many of the TV show and movie choices on Amazon (and other similar streaming services) are rather blasé’, there are enough great choices to keep you busy for weeks on end if you like your TV viewing time and have a special affinity for cable channel TV shows and movies.
Hulu is similar to other streaming plans in that it offers thousands of TV show episodes and movies for members. They’ve essentially got three different streaming plans.
Basic Hulu is $7.99 per month for full access to streaming movies and shows, but this plan does include commercials.
Hulu’s $11.99 plan is the same as the $7.99 plan with one exception: no commercials. For many people (me included) it would be worth an extra four bucks a month to cut out the ads. We get enough of those on regular TV.
Warning: there’s a short list of certain series episodes that comes with a commercial before and after each episode, even when you have the “no commercials” plan. Something to do with streaming copyright rules, I hear.
Hulu has a wide variety of shows and movies to choose from, along with free access to cable TV series from popular cable channels such as Bravo, Cartoon Network, A&E and more.
It also has access to shows from one of my personal favorites, The Food Network. You can watch episodes of Cake Wars, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, The Great Food Truck Race and others. Lots of choices here for basic cable TV shows.
Hulu also has a third plan – Hulu with Live TV – for $39.99 a month. The main benefit to this plan is that you get to watch your cable TV channel and other shows live instead of having to wait until they come out on the regular lineup.
If you have trouble waiting for the season episodes to come out on the streaming avenues you could get Hulu Live, however you’re getting close to paying basic cable package prices at this point.
Netflix is the service we currently use in our family to have access to a large selection of TV show episodes and movies. As a bonus, they offer access to many basic cable channel shows as well.
We’ve had Netflix for about four years now and don’t have any plans to discontinue using it at this time. I have thought about switching over to Amazon Prime several times, but there are a few episode series that my kids insist we need access to that aren’t on Prime Video.
So basically, I’ve been outnumbered four to one in favor of some semi-entertaining kid shows.
Netflix offers three different plans for TV viewers: the Basic Plan, the Standard Plan and the Premium Plan. Here’s a rundown on what each plan offers.
Netflix Basic Plan
This plan costs $7.99 per month and offers unlimited movie and TV viewing, however you can only watch on one screen at a time.
So, if you’re watching Netflix in the living room, don’t expect your kid to be able to watch it on his laptop.
Good plan if you live alone or it’s just you and a spouse as long as you like watching the same things. However, if either of you like to stream different shows at the same time you may want to step up to the next biggest plan.
I should mention too that the Basic plan doesn’t come with High Definition viewing.
Netflix Standard Plan
This is the Netflix plan we have. The Standard Plan costs $10.99 per month and you can watch unlimited shows and movies on up to two screens at a time with this plan.
For a family of six that might be stretching it, but it works for us because we usually watch shows in movies as a group.
The only time we really watch TV separately is if the over-13 kids want to watch something that the under-13 kids can’t.
This plan has worked well for us – big family and all – for several years. I can see how bigger families might prefer the Premium plan, however, as the Standard plan is pretty limited with access to two screens.
The Standard plan comes with High Definition viewing but not with Ultra High Definition viewing.
Netflix Premium Plan
Netflix’s Premium plan offers the same benefits as the other two plans, and costs $13.99 per month, but has a couple of other bonus features.
First, the Premium plan offers both High Definition and Ultra High Definition viewing. Second, you can watch unlimited shows and movies on up to four screens at any given time with this plan. Great for the family that really likes their shows and movies.
Netflix offers cable TV shows such as IFC’s Documentary Now, AMC’s The Killing, and one of our personal favorites: Mystery Science Theater 3000 as well as shows from the new MST3K reboot.
Although their total selection isn’t nearly as big as Amazon Prime (Amazon Prime boasts over three times as many shows and movies as Netflix), Netflix holds its own and has plenty of titles to choose from – over 6,000 at the time of this writing.
Personally, we find Netflix more than sufficient for our television viewing needs, but serious TV watchers might like something with a bigger selection better.
TV.com is a free web site that offers information about different TV shows (such as release date, cast, episode guides, etc.), breaking entertainment news, and community forums for certain TV shows as well.
What TV.com also offers is free online viewing of many cable television channel episodes. In my search through their TV show list, I found free online viewing of episodes for a variety of shows in many genres.
Beware, however, as many of their links to show episodes will direct you to Amazon Prime or some other streaming network to pay for episodes or sign up for their service.
6. Free Online Viewing
One of the more popular ways to get free basic cable is to watch your favorite cable television show episodes free directly from your favorite cable channel.
For instance, if you visit the Home and Garden TV channel web site, you can find free, full episodes of such cable TV hits as The Property Brothers, Flip or Flop and Fixer Upper.
If you visit the Food Network web site, you’ll find free episodes of popular shows such as Iron Chef America, Barefoot Contessa and Good Eats.
Even HBO has gotten into the game, offering free episodes on its web site of popular shows such as Game of Thrones and Six Feet Under.
Some documentaries are available for free on the site as well, including War Dog: A Soldier’s Best Friend.
Although you won’t find every single episode of your favorite cable TV channels for free, you can find a large variety of free episodes on each cable channel web site – enough to keep you busy for weeks on end.
A Word About Sports Channels and Cable TV
One of the very biggest complaints I get when I mention ditching the cable TV package for a free or cheap alternative is that guys (and gals) won’t have access to the large selection of sports channels that come with cable TV packages.
If you’re a die-hard sports fan like my little brother is, this is a valid argument. The NHL, NFL MLB and other sports organizations have taken advantage of the opportunity to make a little (or a lot) extra cash by limiting sports viewing to those who subscribe to cable TV packages.
Although you may not be able to watch much in the way of professional sports for free, there are a couple of streaming options that have pretty heavy sports channel selections and often cost less than many basic cable TV packages.
Here are two of the most popular.
Sling TV offers three different packages that you may find cheaper than cable TV. The Sling Orange package costs just $20 per month and offers a sports channel lineup that includes ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN3.
We all know that ESPN is one of the leaders in sports broadcasting, so this could be a great alternative to an expensive cable package that includes sports offerings.
Sling TV also carries another package called Sling Blue. For just $25 per month you can have access to different sports channels including:
- NBC Sports Network
- Fox Sports 1
- Fox Sports 2
- Fox and NBC Regional Sports Networks
- NFL Network
Both Sling Orange and Sling Blue offer other sports channels too for a minimal add-on cost. Channels available with add-on include NHL Network, EPSNU, Motorsport TV, Stadium, ESPN Bases Loaded, The Golf Channel, ESPN Goal Line and several more options as well.
Also, if you’re a big fan of Fox Sports and ESPN, you can save $5 a month by getting an Orange/Blue combination package for just $40 per month.
This is a much cheaper cost than many cable TV packages that include sports channels. Check your local cable company offerings to find out whether it’s better to get cable or to go with Sling for your sports channel fix.
Much of the answer will depending on which sports channels you like to watch. Bonus: Sling TV viewing options come with many other cable channels as well to offer television entertainment to those in your family who might not be serious sports fans.
The Sling TV channel options offer something for everyone, including kid-friendly channels such as The Disney Channel, Cartoon Network and Nick Jr., and other popular favorites such as HGTV, AMC, TNT, The History Channel and more.
FuboTV was originally founded as a way to cater to soccer fans looking for game viewing options. The current cost for the FuboTV Premier package is $39.99 per month, with a current special that allows you to pay only $19.99 for the first two months.
FuboTV carries a substantial number of sports channels, including:
- Fox Sports North
- Fox Sports North Plus
- NFL Network
- NBA TV
- BEIN Sports
- CBS Sports Network
- BIG TEN Network (BTN)
- NBC Golf
- Fox Soccer Plus
And dozens of other sports viewing channels. This is by far the most comprehensive service I found when researching streaming services that cater specifically to sports fans.
Although the price is up there with the Sling TV combo package, you may still find it cheaper than many cable packages offered in your area.
When I researched cable packages in our major metropolitan area, I found that I would have to spend at least $70.00 a month for anything that comes close to offering what the Sling Combo package and the FuboTV package offer in terms of sports channels.
So, even if you spend $40 a month on cable alternatives, you can likely still save a decent amount of cash every month by making the switch.
If you are one of those people that gets serious enjoyment from your sports viewing options, alternatives such as Sling and FuboTV could bring you some financial relief while still giving you access to your favorite sports shows and games.
As mentioned above, there are plenty of options for getting access to cable TV’s basic channels without having to pay for a cable TV package subscription.
Having been without cable TV for several years now, I estimate we’ve saved in the range of three to four thousand dollars just by cutting the cord and signing up for streaming services that happen to come with the bonus of free access to many popular cable show channels.
If you are big into saving money, you just can’t pass up that kind of extra cash in your bank account. If you’re still holding on to your cable pack, consider switching to a streaming service that offers free access to many of the cable channel shows.
Or consider watching online directly from your favorite cable TV channel web sites. I’m guessing you’ll find one or more of these cable alternatives more than sufficient for your TV viewing needs, and a nice way to add more cash to your bank account as well.
Have you cut the cord yet and/or moved onto a cheaper cable TV alternative?
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