The Ultimate Cord Cutting Guide and Best Cable Alternatives

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Wire cutters and cordSo you’re ready to cut the cord from Comcast, AT&T U-verse and unbundle your services once and for all! Well, you’re in luck because there are plenty of “cord cutting” options now. We’ve got the ultimate guide that will help you remove the cable handcuffs and break free from the contracts. The best part? You don’t have to give up your latest shows, phone number, or speedy WiFi to save money. So, are you ready to learn how to how to get rid of cable and put hundreds of dollars back in your pocket? Get those scissors out!

Cable Cutting Guide | Cable TV Alternatives |Satellite Internet vs Cable Internet | DIY Home Alarms | Best Cord Cutting Options?

Cable Cutting Guide

There are different cable cutting routes you can go depending on your household’s needs. Before you get snip-happy, take a moment to do these things first to avoid headaches down the road.

Step 1: Make a List

Take note of your family’s current consumption habits, services and what each is used for.

  • Cable TV: Is there a die-hard sports fan in your house? Are you willing to wait to watch reality shows a day after they air? Are you really watching all 200+ channels you pay for? Or are you only watching a handful of shows? Take inventory of your shows (literally write them down) and use this to guide your plan of attack.
  • Home Phone: Do you have a security system or old DVR that requires a landline? Do you get spotty cell phone reception in certain rooms?
  • Internet: How many devices are being used at any given time? Do you work at home and rely on a fast and reliable connection?
  • Home Security: Is your home security through your cable/phone/internet provider? If so, have you considered other unbundled and self-monitored via your smartphone security options?

Step 2: Do the Math

Next, add up your current monthly cost for internet, TV, phone and security. More than likely you signed up for a promo offer originally, but, even if you get it extended, they still increase the price on you slowly over time. On top of that, you might also be paying for equipment you are leasing from the cable company. Throw in taxes, fees and other charges, and it probably is super high, right?

For example, here’s what the bill for an average family of 2 to 4 might cost:

  • Internet 100 MB + TV Basic Cable (no premium channels) = $189/month (includes taxes)
  • Leasing Router + 2 TV boxes = $25/month
  • Security System + Landline Phone = $45/month

TOTAL = $259/month

Now set this figure aside because we’ll come back to it at the end to compare the potential difference after cutting the cord.

Step 3: Come Up With an Exit Strategy

Find out if you are tied into any contracts and if so, if there’s a financial penalty to leave. Depending on how long and how much you have left it might be worth it to wait it out. But if the fee is nominal, then it might not be as big of a factor in the grand scheme of things. You don’t know until you ask! Let’s say you have these three scenarios:

  • Option 1: $150 total to break contracts with 4 months left
  • Option 2: $200 total to break contracts with 20 months left
  • Option 3: $0 total to break contracts

Option 1 is short enough that you should just wait it out a few more months to save the money (basically $37.50 per month left). Option 2 is far enough away where it’s probably better to call it quits now ($10 per month left). And of course, Option 3 is the ideal situation for potential “cord cutters.”

Step 4: Talk It Out

Last, but not least, have a discussion with your spouse and/or other housemates about what they’re willing to compromise or let go of before you pull the plug. Some things might be more critical than others. It’s critical to get on the same page to make decisions and set expectations ahead of time.

Now that you’re prepared, it’s time to put together a game plan!

Cable TV Alternatives

Probably the biggest hurdle to untangle in the cord cutting process is TV. There are a two main cable TV alternatives which we’ll get into below along with the advantages, disadvantages and costs for each.

TV Via Media Players & Streaming Services

Roku PremierMore than likely you are already using and/or paying for streaming media online or via Apps on tablets, phones or your laptop. But did you know there are devices that can stream the content on your TV? These streaming media players basically turn your TV into one big tablet with various streaming services (i.e., Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO) and even basic cable channels (i.e. CBS, ABC, PBS) having their own apps. Just log in once to each, and you can access all your favorite shows and movies on the big screen. It’s not always live, but usually, by the next day, they have it posted (news clips are posted the same day). You only pay up front for the equipment, plus whatever you are paying for the streaming media services you already use (or want to access). See our in-depth review of the media streaming players and best video streaming services to learn more. The biggest con to this route is that it relies on your home’s internet service so you need a solid wireless (or hardwired) connection. (See next section)

Pros: Pay for only what services you use, you own the equipment, works on most TV models
Cons: Not usually live, not all channels or shows available, uses internet data
Price: The lowest priced media player is the Roku Express for $59.99 (Roku is our #1 pick and it includes access to 3,500 channels)

Here’s a quick overview of the various streaming media players including current pricing and which channels and features each offers:

Streaming Media Player Comparison Chart

CompanyWinner: RokuRunner Up: Apple TVThird Place: Amazon Fire TV StickChromecastCloud TV BoxPlayOn (PC Based Service)PS4TVersityWD TV LiveXBox One
Winner: RokuRunner Up: Apple TVThird Place: Amazon Fire TV StickChromecastCloud TV BoxPlayOn (PC Based Service)PS4TVersityWD TV LiveXBox One
Read ReviewReviewReviewReviewReviewReviewReviewReviewReviewReviewReview
Buy NowView on AmazonView at Best BuyView on AmazonView at Best BuyView on AmazonVisit WebsiteView on AmazonVisit WebsiteView on AmazonView on Amazon
Starting Price$59.99$149$29.99$35Unable to find$2.50/month or $59.99 one time$309.00Free Version Available
License Starts at $24.99
Hulu PlusCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmark
HBO GOCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmark
Web BrowserCheckmarkCheckmark
Video CallingCosts Extra
NBA Game TimeCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmark
NHL GameCenterCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmark
Wired ConnectionCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmark
Wireless ConnectionCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmark
Remote ControlCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkVia AppCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmark
VPN (non-native)CheckmarkCheckmark
USBCheckmarkMicro USBCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmark
Ethernet PortCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmark
Optical AudioCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmark
Resolution1080p & 4K HD1080p1080p1080p1080p1080p1080p1080p1080p1080p
Buy NowView on AmazonView at Best BuyView on AmazonView at Best BuyView on AmazonVisit WebsiteView on AmazonVisit WebsiteView on AmazonView on Amazon
Read ReviewReviewReviewReviewReviewReviewReviewReviewReviewReviewReview

Satellite TV

A more traditional way of cutting the cord is signing up for Satellite TV. They provide hundreds of channels (including on demand and recording) for potentially a fraction of the cost of cable TV. The only catch? You’re under contract, so it’s difficult to ditch the dish (keep in mind you’ll be locked in for at least a year (if not longer). We recommend checking out our Satellite TV Providers review article where we dive deeper on comparing the DIRECTV vs DISH including their respective pricing, channels, features, etc. Be sure to compare prices to other options and consider your internet connection before signing on the dotted line. It’s not a perfect solution but it is one step closer to parting ways with your cable provider.

Pros: View and record live TV in High Definition, doesn’t use precious internet data, if you live in a remote area with limited internet, this may be your best bet
Cons: Tied to a contract, may be more expensive than streaming, price may increase after trial/intro period, equipment rental fees
Lowest-Price:  At the time of publishing, your best bet is $49.99/month via DISH for 190+ channels + $5-10 for equipment rental (includes free installation).

Here are a few more options to give you an idea of your satellite package options.

Package StyleBasic PackageBasic PackagePremier PackagePremium Package
Package NameSELECT™America's Top 120 PlusPREMIER™America's Top 250
Price$40/month for 12 months then $78/month$59.99/month for 24 months$115/month for 12 months then $181/month$89.99/month
Number of Channels155+190+330+290+
Contract Length24 Months24 Months24 Months24 Months
Popular Channels IncludedA&E, ABC Family, Animal Planet, BBC, CNBC, CNN, C-Span, Disney, Fox News, Food Network, FX, Hallmark, HGTV, Fox, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, Nickelodeon, TBS, TLC, USACBS Sports, C-Span, Food Network, Fox News, Hallmark, NickelodeonIn addition to Select Package: Cartoon Network, Cinemax, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, Fox Sports 1 & 2, HBO, MLB, NBA TV, NFL Network, NHL, Showtime, StarzIn addition to Smart Pack: A&E, ABC Family, Animal Planet, BBC, Cartoon Network, CNBC, CNN, Disney, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, Fox Sports 1 & 2, FX, MSNBC, NBA TV, NFL Network, TLC, TBS, USA

Satellite Internet vs Cable Internet

If you go with streaming media, then you’ll need the internet. You don’t have to rely on old school, DSL/Ethernet thanks to satellite internet but we don’t recommend it. While you can get satellite internet virtually anywhere (even remote areas), it can be slow and unreliable, especially in dense areas where you are competing with others for bandwidth. Lag times are a pain as well, since the signal has to go into space and back. In this case, you will often notice things have to buffer before they load. Most satellite providers compress their data for this reason, which can result in better performance and less data usage but at the expense of quality. And, at the moment, there are data caps for most satellite internet providers so if you stream a lot of content, you may use up your monthly allotment quickly (however, during off-peak hours, you can use bonus data without dipping into your plan). Another downside is you’ll need a satellite to receive the wireless signal; you need to either buy or lease the equipment (which means you’ll be stuck in a 24-month contract in most cases).

Pros: Available in locations cable can’t reach
Cons: Slower than cable, large lag times (long pings, since the signal goes to space and back), limited data use, must lease/buy satellite
Price: Lowest total monthly fee is $49.99 for internet service + $9.99 for satellite lease

There are three main providers which you can read more about in our Satellite Internet Review and here’s all three so you can compare side by side. Note: all options may not be available in your area.

Satellite Internet Comparison

 Viasat (#1 Winner)HughesNet (#2 Winner)DishNet (#3 Winner)
Viasat (#1 Winner)HughesNet (#2 Winner)DishNet (#3 Winner)
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Visit WebsiteVisit WebsiteVisit Website
Required Contract Length24 months24 months24 months
Number of PlansUp to 3Up to 4Up to 3
Lowest Monthly Service Price$59.99$49.99$49.99
Highest Monthly Service Price$149.99$129.99$79.99
Activation FeeNeed to get a quoteNeed to get a quoteUp to $300
Equipment Leasing Fee$9.99 per month$99 one-time plus $9.99 per month$9.99 per month (free with bundled TV)
Installation FeeFree standardFree standardUnlisted
Early Termination Fee$15 per month for remaining months$400 within first 90 days; after $15 per month for remaining months$17.50 per month for remaining months
Download Speed12 or 25 Mbps5-25 Mbps10-15 Mbps
Upload Speed3 Mbps3 Mbps1 Mbps
Anytime Bandwidth Limits10-30 GB10-50 GB10-50 GB
Late-Night (Off-Peak) BandwidthUnlimited50 GB50 GB
Overage Data AvailableCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmark
Bundled TV OptionCheckmarkCheckmark
Bundled Voice OptionCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmark
Free Email AccountCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmark
Money Back Guarantee
Check Data Usage FeatureCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmark
Visit WebsiteVisit WebsiteVisit Website
Read ReviewRead ReviewRead Review

Bottom line, while Satellite is an option, we feel cable or fiber optic internet is a must for cord-cutting.

DIY Home AlarmsCanary Security

Worried that cutting the cord means no alarm system? Fear not – home security has evolved and most newer systems no longer rely on a cable (i.e. phone landline). In fact, your security system can get even better thanks to do-it-yourself (DIY), self-monitored systems. These new systems consist of sensors and/or cameras throughout your home. There are no monthly contracts and you own all the equipment. You can arm/disarm your alarm and keep an eye on your home from afar with a smartphone App. This mean no monthly fees for someone else to monitor. You do it right from your phone.

Pros: No wiring or drilling, no landline required, no monthly monitoring fees
Cons: Relies on your home’s WiFi connection, so if that goes down so does your alarm
Price: The lowest priced security system is Canary for $127.99

Canary is just one of many DIY home security systems. They range in features and can all be customized to meet your needs. We’ve done extensive research on this category which you can see in our Best DIY Security System Review for details. A quick summary is below.

DIY Home Alarm Comparison Table:

 1st Place: iSmartAlarm2nd Place: Piper NV3rd Place: NoviCanaryRing
1st Place: iSmartAlarm2nd Place: Piper NV3rd Place: NoviCanaryRing
Read ReviewRead ReviewRead ReviewRead ReviewRead ReviewRead Review
View on AmazonView on AmazonView on AmazonNot AvailableView on AmazonView on Amazon
Visit WebsiteVisit WebsiteVisit WebsiteVisit WebsiteVisit WebsiteVisit Website
System PriceOut of stockOut of stock$299.00$128.99$99.99
Power SourceAC/DC Wall AdapterAC/DC Wall AdapterBatteryAC/DC Wall AdapterBattery
Backup SourceNone3AA BatteriesNoneNoneNone
Motion-Activated CameraCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmark
Temperature SensorCheckmarkCheckmark
Air Quality SensorCheckmark
Humidity SensorCheckmarkCheckmark
Light SensorCheckmark
Warranty1 year1 year limited1 year limited1 year1 year
Field of ViewN/A180° Diagonal170°147° wide-angle lens80°
Night VisionCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmark
Siren110 dB105 dB90 dB90+ dBNone
Two-Way TalkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmark
Key FobCheckmark
Extra Motion Detector$24.97
Smoke AlarmCheckmark
Extra Entry Sensor$39.99 (two pack)
Smart Plug$29.99
Video Doorbell$99.99
Z-Wave, Zigbee, Insteon CompatibilityZ-Wave
Read ReviewRead ReviewRead ReviewRead ReviewRead ReviewRead Review
View on AmazonView on AmazonView on AmazonNot AvailableView on AmazonView on Amazon
Visit WebsiteVisit WebsiteVisit WebsiteVisit WebsiteVisit WebsiteVisit Website

What Are Your Best Cord Cutting Options?

Now that you have a better idea of your cord-cutting options, what’s the best alternative to cable? To summarize: Unbundle and go a la carte. That way you can pick and choose what services fit you best and adjust your plans to your preferences (rather than having the cable company dictate your options and lock you in). Although satellite internet isn’t as fast as cable or fiber, you could possibly keep your current provider for internet only (especially after you threaten to leave and negotiate a lower rate) and that way you won’t have to worry about how much data you’re using. Other than internet, your cable-free options are only limited by your imagination.

Total Potential Savings:

Given the same example we used above, this is the lowest-priced option when you look at nationally available solutions in the U.S. today:

Up-Front Costs:

  • $59.99 x 2 (for 2 Rokus)
  • $127.99 for (for Canary home security system)

New Monthly Cost:

  • $49.99 for internet
  • $9.99 for satellite internet lease

New Monthly Total: $59.98 (does not include any streaming video subscriptions you choose)

$259/month (OLD) $59.98/month (NEW) = $199.05 in savings each month
$199.05 x 12 = $2,388.60 saved per year!

So the amount you can save in one month alone can pay for the new equipment. And if you have any early termination fees those can be paid with all the money you’ll save too. While this monthly fee doesn’t include streaming video services, we bet you are already paying for a few of them so now you will just get better use of them! Plus those start around $7.99/month and many have free 1-month trials so you can see which ones you like best and only pay for the ones you enjoy.

The best part? The only thing you’re locked into is the satellite or cable internet, if you went that route. After all, reliable, fast internet is the key to success for the other pieces of this new world of possibilities to work.

Ready to Make the Switch?

According to Fortune magazine, more than one in five households have already dumped their cable tv subscription. It can be scary to make the jump, but the flexibility and freedom that come as a result are more than worth it. There will be adjustments at first to the new consumption habits (adjusting to peak hours for internet, how you browse channels, etc.) but we bet you’ll adjust in no time. And hopefully it will be worth it thanks to all the money you are saving. This video shows you some of the experiences people are having with cutting the cord.

Not quite ready? That’s okay too! We’re here to answer any questions you have. Just ask your question in the comments below.

Have you considered cutting the cord? Why?

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As a homeowner Sadie understands the importance of keeping her property, and all that's in it (including her and her family) safe. She's passionate about smart home technology and the latest and greatest gadgets to live life to the fullest. When not doing marketing for Safe Smart Living, she enjoys decorating on a budget, small DIY improvement projects and all things HGTV.

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I cut the cord years ago and haven’t looked back since! Do it people, saves you so much money (not to mention the headache of dealing with the big cable companies!)