Recurring costs eat away at your wealth stealthily, in bite-sized chunks that you don’t always notice. A cable and streaming TV bill of $100 a month could add up to around $130,000 across 25 years if it were invested in the stock market instead.
“Cutting the cord” is a solid move, but rather than substituting paid streaming services for cable to save money like most people do, I propose going hardcore and getting all of your TV and movies for free, propelling you toward financial independence way faster. Using these seven tricks, we haven’t paid a penny for any TV subscriptions — ever.
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1. Get a Digital HDTV Antenna
Long ago, ancient human civilizations received their television signals from distant towers using devices called “radio antennas.” Unbeknownst to most of modern mankind, these strange signals still exist in the air today…for free.
By plugging an antenna into the back of your TV, you’ll instantly get access to a bunch of broadcast stations in your town. In most cities, you’ll get major networks like ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, and PBS, plus a bunch of other channels that vary depending on where you live. That means you’ll be able to watch local news, popular shows, and even sports (including NFL, NBA, MLB, and college games), all for free.
At our house in Gainesville, Florida, we get around 20 different channels over the air. When I plugged our antenna into my dad’s TV near Tampa, he had access to almost 70 unique channels. You can check what stations are available to you by typing in your zip code at antennaweb.org. When you’re reading the results, note that stations represent broadcast towers, but each one of those towers usually broadcasts several different channels, each with its own programming!
These RF channels aren’t the staticky analog TV signals your parents had to deal with in the 80s, either. Modern antenna stations broadcast digital signals in high definition. Actually, some of the best antenna channels have a better picture than cable or Netflix, because antenna broadcast towers often use less compression than other platforms.
On the other hand, digital channels with poor signal strength tend to cut in and out rather than just degrading in quality, so distant stations will be pretty unwatchable. You’ll want to stick to the ones that are strongly received.
So which antenna should you buy? There are about a million different models to choose from on both Amazon and eBay, but if you’re not serious about it yet, just try dabbling with a simple, inexpensive antenna first.
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The flat, indoor antennas are the most popular because they’re cheap and easy to set up. For best results, stick your indoor antenna to a window. If that’s not possible, at least try to mount it as high as you can in your house. The closer to the outside walls, the better. Plug it in and tell your TV to scan for “air” stations. It should automatically program itself.
Unfortunately, no matter what you do, you’re probably gonna miss out on some channels with an indoor antenna. They all kinda suck. If you decide to get more serious, you can buy the outdoor ClearStream antenna that we use ourselves from a company called Antennas Direct. It’s bulkier, but you never actually have to look at it because it’ll be mounted in your attic or on top of your roof and wired discreetly through your wall. And it definitely pulls in more channels, way more clearly. If you’re lucky, you can find them used on eBay for about half price sometimes, too.
2. Use Your Local Library
Assuming you still own a VCR or a DVD/Bluray player (or a computer with a DVD drive), you can make use of the fact that your neighborhood library is filled with movies, TV series, and documentaries just waiting to be borrowed for free. Oh, and books. They still have those, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Aside from being a free version of RedBox or Blockbuster, the library is a pretty cool place to learn something, and it’s a good excuse to get out of the house, too. Take a walk around and see what sparks your interest. Just remember to be quiet while you’re there, or else some old ladies will probably yell at you.
3. Rediscover Your Personal Library
Chances are pretty good that you have some old movies laying around in your house. Dust ’em off and put them on a shelf next to your TV. Nobody is expecting you to watch the same twelve DVDs over and over again, but having a few on hand for when the mood strikes just adds to your options.
Speaking of physical media, you might also know a nerd who has a 3 TB external hard drive full of content they’d be willing to share with you too, so ask around. Just, uh…don’t break any laws.
Note: The next three tricks assume that your TV is connected to the internet somehow. If you have a “smart TV,” it’ll be able to do most of these things out of the box. If you have an old, dumb TV like us, you may want to try a Fire TV Stick or Roku Stick. But our personal favorite option is a good old-fashioned laptop plugged directly into the TV, which allows it to do just about anything imaginable. Just make sure you get a wireless mouse and keyboard with some good rechargeable batteries. These one-time costs are minuscule compared to an ongoing cable bill!
4. Watch YouTube
You probably think I’m talking about YouTube TV, the cable competitor that has a monthly cost. But remember, the goal here is to get rich by having no recurring television bill at all for the rest of your life.
Regular ol’ free YouTube has an expanding amount of quality shows nowadays, including some that actually originate on paid platforms like Netflix and cable. For example, the following TV programs are free to watch on YouTube, without so much as even logging in:
- Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (full episodes)
- Saturday Night Live (clips)
- Comedy Central Originals (clips)
- The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (clips)
- The Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj (full episodes)
- Late Night With Seth Meyers (clips)
- A Little Late With Lilly Singh (clips)
- The Daily Show With Trevor Noah (clips)
- …and more
YouTube has a bunch of feature films, too, with entire channels dedicated to free movies.
Aside from legit TV shows and movies, you can watch a lot of independently produced shorts and series, along with things like concerts and music videos, all for free. There are also a ton of full TV episodes that are available on YouTube unofficially. Just try searching for any show, and you’ll see what I mean. YouTube is a pretty cool place.
If you’re looking for some good content to subscribe to, try poking around our own YouTube channel while you’re at it!
5. Access Popular Streaming Services Without Paying for Them
Look, I didn’t say we’ve never watched Netflix. I just said we’ve never paid for Netflix. Most of the major streaming services straightforwardly allow customers to share their accounts with a certain number of other people. A lot of paid cable subscriptions come with a web streaming option that can be used outside of the subscriber’s house, too. If you know someone who will let you bum an account, buy them a nice dinner or something.
If everyone you know is stingy with their password (or has read this article and canceled their service too), there’s another option. It won’t last forever, but almost every streaming platform offers some sort of free trial. For example, you can get Amazon Prime Video free for 30 days. I recommend doing these various free trials serially, to keep the free ride rolling longer.
6. Use Free TV Streaming Websites and Apps
Some TV networks offer completely free streaming online! For example, you can watch on-demand episodes of over 40 different shows on The CW’s website (like some of the DC Comics shows, sitcoms such as Schitt’s Creek, and more) without even signing up for an account. NBC offers a lot of its content for free though Peacock, but you have to register first.
Outside of traditional TV networks, there are also some free third-party streaming services, each with its own smart TV app in addition to traditional web access. The best ones I know of are Pluto TV and Tubi. Both offer live-streaming channels in addition to on-demand shows and movies, without any login required.
7. Choose to Waste Less of Your Life in Front of a Screen
I like TV as much as the next guy, but when I’m honest with myself, it’s easy to see that some of my least fulfilling days are the ones I spend sitting on my ass. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the cinematic arts, but even staring passively at a screen for one hour a day costs you over 6% of your waking hours on this planet. That’s kinda depressing.
Instead of just focusing on ways to get TV without paying for it, I’d like to point out that you really don’t need much of it in the first place. Cutting cable and paid streaming services out of your life is a pretty solid way to force yourself to watch less television overall, and that’s almost certainly a good thing, not even counting the fact that it fattens your wallet.
If you find yourself bored out of your mind, wishing you had your cable subscription back, try going outside. Go find a hidden gem in your own area. Make a friend. Talk to your family. Everything we enjoy so much about television — comedy, romance, drama, action — it’s all available in real life, too.
Cutting back on small expenses one by one can add up to a life-changing effect. Check out Step 2 of our Financial Roadmap for more money-saving tips.