Everyone is cutting the cord these days (AKA choosing video streaming services and ditching their cable or satelite TV provider). For the first time in history, streaming will drive more viewing time for people than cable TV. (1)
But that doesn’t mean cord-cutting is necessarily the right choice for you. Although streaming providers like Netflix and Hulu like to paint rosy pictures of endless TV options for less money, it’s not always that simple for everyone—especially if you like sports and live TV or you live in a rural area with limited internet options.
That said, most people who cut the cord do save money and enjoy greater flexibility. And you’ll spend a lot less of your life watching commercials, which is always a perk. But to make sure you’re happy with cord-cutting, you’ll need to do a little research up front to make sure you can still get the channels you want and save money. Understanding your options before you cut the cord will pay enormous dividends down the road.
Pros and cons of cord-cutting
When you say goodbye to paid TV (either cable or satellite TV) and opt to use streaming providers instead, it comes with a lot of benefits—and a few downsides. The pros and cons of cord-cutting that will matter the most to you depend on how you like to watch TV and where you live, which we’ll cover in more detail in our in-depth analysis below.
- More flexibility and portability
- Fewer commercials
- Endless on-demand options
- More customization
- Lower monthly TV bills (most of the time)
- Access to exclusive on-demand content
- Strong internet connection required
- Limited accessibility for some live TV
- Difficulty streaming certain sports
- Worse reliability than cable
- Repetitive, highly targeted ads
What you need to cut the cord
Before you call up your cable provider and cancel, you’ll want to get all your remotes in a row to make sure it’s a smooth transition. Here are three things to do before you cancel your cable plan:
1. Get a good internet plan with at least 50 Mbps speeds and a 1 TB data cap
When you have a cable TV or satellite TV connection, your internet speed doesn’t matter because your TV plan doesn’t depend on it (though you will need internet for apps and voice remotes). Streaming, however, will eat up not only your internet bandwidth but also your monthly internet data.
With a paid TV service, you can watch as much TV as you want and not worry about buffering (when the dreaded spinning wheel appears on the screen) or data caps. But when you’re using the internet to watch TV, it’s a different story. You’ll want to plan for using up to 3 GB of data per hour while streaming if you opt for HD, less if you watch TV in grainy SD. Streaming on your smartphone will take less data as well (about 1 GB per hour).
If you have only one device in your house streaming at a time, you could get by with less than 50 Mbps of internet speed. But 50 Mbps is a good baseline for two streamers and a few other internet activities happening simultaneously.
If you live in a rural area where internet speeds are low or expensive and data is highly limited, it may be better to stick with satellite TV if you value a high-quality TV experience. You can also get the most sports in 4K with satellite. If you’re ok with watching low-quality TV on a data budget, though, streaming on a satellite internet or mobile internet connection might be ok for you.
2. Decide which streaming services you want and compare costs to your cable plan
When it comes to picking a streaming provider, you’ll have no shortage of options. There are over 10 on-demand streaming providers and six live TV streaming providers with more joining the ranks every year. The tricky thing will be matching up your favorite shows with the right streaming provider. You might need to subscribe to multiple streaming providers to recreate the same options you were used to with your cable plan.
Usually the cost savings from cord-cutting are so great that you’ll still be saving money even if you subscribe to multiple providers. But depending on your tastes (especially if you like sports), you might end up spending just as much on streaming as you were on cable. Run the numbers and make sure it’s worth it for you. You can also explore free TV streaming options that might offer the content you want for a price that’s impossible to beat, though you’ll probably have to put up with ads.
3. Choose your streaming device
Unless you plan on streaming exclusively through your laptop, phone, or tablet, you’ll need a streaming device. If your TV is a smart TV, this counts. It will likely be all you need for streaming on platforms like Netflix and Prime Video. There are also many gaming consoles that can act as streaming devices, including the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X.
But depending on your smart TV, you might still want to invest in a streaming device even if you have streaming capabilities built into your TV. There are some services and providers that you can get only if you have a streaming device. If you don’t know where to begin, the Chromecast with Google TV, Roku Express 4K Plus, Amazon Fire TV, or Apple TV are good places to start.
Want free live TV? Try an over-the-air antenna for local channels. You can get certain live TV channels, like ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, Fox, and more for free if you have an over-the-air antenna. They’re affordable, easy to set up, and you can find them at your local electronics store or online from retailers like Amazon. Pairing an over-the-air antenna with a streaming service can be a good solution for people who still want news and some sports along with their on-demand streaming.
4. Sign up for free trials first
The nice thing about streaming providers is most of them offer free trials. You can sign up for free trials before you cut the cord to get an idea of how often you use the service and what kind of content it has. You can also use free trials to help you narrow down which providers to subscribe to long term.
How to decide if cord-cutting is right for you
Like we said, cord-cutting isn’t necessarily the best choice for everyone. Here are some factors to consider that could help you decide if it’s right for you:
Do you still want to watch live TV channels, like sports?
Streaming sports is expensive, and there are still some sports that aren’t available over streaming at all. Your best options for streaming sports are DIRECTV STREAM ($90/month), YouTube TV ($65/month), or fuboTV ($70/month). All of those options come with hefty bills, especially considering that Disney Plus is about $11 per month and Netflix is about $10 per month for the most basic plan. Depending on just how much of a sports fanatic you are and what channels you currently have access to in your cable plan, it might save you money to think twice before cutting the cord.
Are you in a contract with your current cable plan?
Some paid TV plans charge enormous cancellation fees if you break your contract early. You’ll want to plan your cord-cutting carefully to make sure you don’t ruin your streaming savings by incurring some serious ETFs (early termination fees). If you have plenty of room in the budget for entertainment, you could get your streaming providers set up while you wait for your cable contract to end. That’s paying for a lot of TV, but, hey, do what you want.
Will your monthly internet price go up if you cancel your bundle?
One advantage that cable TV has over streaming is that you can bundle it with internet service to get discounts. It could really eat into your savings if you currently have a bundle and would have to lose that discount in addition to potentially upgrading your internet plan to support streaming services. It will likely still be worth it to cut the cord, but make sure to run the numbers or prepare to absorb a larger internet bill.
Worried you’ll regret cord-cutting? Don’t sweat it
The awesome thing about streaming providers is there are no contracts. You pay on a monthly basis, so you’re free to drop a streaming provider any time if it’s not what you expected. As long as you plan it right and make sure you’re not paying for content you’re not watching, cord-cutting can be a liberating experience that not only saves you money but also connects you to more of what you love to watch.
Cara Haynes has been writing and editing about internet service and TV for six years. Previous to contributing to Helpful, she worked on HighSpeedInternet.com and SatelliteInternet.com. She graduated with a BA in English and a minor in editing from Brigham Young University. She believes no one should feel lost in internet land and that a good internet connection significantly extends your lifespan.
Bri Field has a background in academia, research writing, and brand marketing. She has edited scientific publications, conference papers, digital content, and technical communications. As Assigning Editor, she enjoys ensuring all content is accurate, clear, and helpful. In her free time, you can find her in the kitchen trying a new recipe, out on a hike, or working through her massive TBR list.