Giving the cable company the boot… mostly.

This post was inspired by the “Your Words” feature in the November 2011 Real Simple. The question this month was “What cutback has saved you the most money and changed your life the least?” A lot of the answers were predictable – not buying coffee-shop coffee, cutting back cell phone services, not going out to eat as much – and some were a little more interesting, but unlikely to play a role in my life – giving up a car and biking (not with 2 kids to haul around), cutting back on our weekly date night (don’t have that to cut back on!), and not having a TV at all (yeah, I’m not even going to consider that, sorry). But the cable bill is a huge drain of cash for us… or it was.

You see, I always argued that, while the cable bill was high (it was phone and internet, too), that it was pretty much the main form of entertainment for us, so it really was worth it because we used it a lot. Plus, we had the additional issue of needing a land line (for a variety of reasons) and the bundle deal, with just cable removed to another service, like a satellite one, wouldn’t have added up to a savings worth the hassle. But while a land line is still needed and TV remains a big deal in our house, something has changed: we now pay fraction of what we did before. We axed the cable and phone portion of the bill and we are saving about $120 a month. That is a tidy sum, really. In just one year, that adds up to more than $1400! Yes, please!

Here’s how: we got a great tip from a friend to try Ooma phone service. This is actually a box that you purchase and it uses your internet connection (like other VOIP services) for your phone line. Except you only pay for taxes and fees. That means our bill is just over $4 a month with unlimited calling and all the usual features (caller ID, no long distance charges, call waiting, voicemail, etc.). We even use it to phone family overseas, and those rates are very low, too. The box costs $199 on their website to purchase, but our friend tipped us off when Woot! featured refurbished Ooma boxes for a much lower price (watch for them on Woot! – they were recently featured again).

Then we made a couple of additional capital investments: a Roku box and a Mohu leaf antenna – lots of oooo sounds, right? While this might seem like a lot of up-front outlay, it really only took about 2 months before our savings had paid for the investments and we were really pocketing the difference. The Mohu antenna receives our local HDTV signals and we can pick up all the major stations (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox) plus public broadcasting and some other channels. The Roku allows us to get Netflix and Hulu plus on our TV without messing with computer hookups every time we want to watch – of course if you had a Wii or other such device, you could use that instead of Roku and save yourself some more money. Our Netflix and Hulu subscriptions total about $15 a month.

So that’s it – $35 a month for our internet (we kept that through our cable provider), about $4 for phone, and $15 for TV: less than $55. We actually prefer it, for the most part, to cable, too. We like watching movies and TV shows (I’m a huge fan of starting with the pilot and methodically working through several seasons of a show over a month of so). We see things we never would have caught on cable, too (like “Gavin and Stacey” from the BBC – although only the first season – we need to find the rest!). And the majority of our favorite shows are on Hulu, so we still keep up with Modern Family and 30 Rock and so on. Plus, it’s great for the kids – whenever we want to allow a little TV time, there are a ton of TV and movie titles to choose from.

There are a few shortcomings – mainly if you are a sports fan (you’d have to catch the game live on the antenna, I believe), or if you are into a semi-obscure cable channel (like C-Span or Speedvision). We generally only use one TV in our house (the 2nd one is largely for game purposes, but has a Wii connected, so we can use our Netflix and such on that one if we want to, as well). If you are a multi-television household, then there would be more initial outlay on Rokus and Mohus. It also took a little bit of fiddling with the order of the connection of the Ooma and the modem and router in our house so that all our phones were set up just right, but it wasn’t so painful, really (although I admittedly left that to my husband).

For us, it is working out well… and we are definitely saving money! We dropped our TV and phone services through the cable company (after trying out our set up in parallel for a month) in June and, after paying back our investment in the equipment in July and August, we have two months of savings – already $240 – in the bank.

So, while I am not willing to forego the boob-tube, I am more than willing to forego paying the giant cable bill each month. Have you given the cable bill the heave-ho? Or do you have another big money-saver to share? Don’t you love it when you can get the same/similar/more for less?

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