A party is underway, ramping up. (Can I get an amen for the disco ball (featured image)? I mean is it a disco ball or a really happenin’ Death Star? You decide.) 😉
And like every good party, I’m
embarrassingly fashionably late. See, I have a strategy down solid: wait until it’s really swinging, because then a bunch of people can go before me and chart the path and show me how it’s done.
And it seems as though this is a party that ain’t coming to a halt any time soon, because well, Because Numbers. Numbers that swell. Numbers that talk. My philosophy is simple: the only vote nobody can mess with or miss count or hang-chad the hell out of is the Vote of the Wallet.
And the wallets are voting.
(Wait…how’d I get from disco balls and Death Stars to wallets in a ballot booth? Don’t mind me, I’ll just be sitting over here, making awkward small talk…)
So anyway, amidst the now-older kittens crashing into recycling bags during play and essentially trashing the place, my partner and I started conversationally drifting toward the fact that it’s summer and we’re dirt-broke. And apparently, each of us was independently, unbeknownst to the other, sitting up and taking stock of our living situation, trying to figure out where and how we could trim some expense fat.
There were the obvious symbols, like the cord-based phone sitting on the desk in the home office, gathering dust from non-use, and the bitter taste in our mouths from paying for a languishing landline because to cancel it would break apart our bundled package of cable TV, phone, and internet. And we knew we needed to keep the cable.
Or did we….?
Mr Kitty never watches it, but I rely on it. Not because I’m a TV junkie, but because I find it impossible to sleep in a dark, quiet room like normal people. My nervous system actually acts up and throws major tantrums in normal sleeping environments, essentially guaranteeing that I won’t sleep.
Instead, it’s imperative that I lay on the couch, with the end table lamp on, the TV on and the volume up, and bonus points for also doing something on my laptop. You know–the kind of stuff that would keep most people awake. For me, it’s the only way I can fall asleep.
Network TV is of zero help to me (I have zero interest), and we only have so many DVDs, ya know? So while dropping the phone line ghost has never been an issue (we’ve wanted to for a long time now), we hadn’t even dared consider cutting the cable cord.
Sure, we’d gone like 7 years without cable before. But that’s back when I was extremely worn out, and of course it helps to be able to sleep during normal hours in a normal slumber-conducive environment, too.
I haven’t been like that in 8 years; for the past near-decade, I’ve been the way I am now. I’d made peace with that, but part of that peace offering involves giving my brain something to sink its teeth into every night, something that would roll continuously without my having to get up and change discs or anything.
I share these factoids so that y’all can see just how big of a deal this was for us and just how not-lightly we had to weigh this decision. Cutting the cable cord might’ve meant an end to my Solution To Sleeplessness, like taking someone’s Ambien away from them, or more accurately, Ritalin away from someone with ADHD; without something stimulatory for the brain to do, it goes haywire, in every direction at once.
And besides–a cable box is never just a cable box; it’s a set of invisible handcuffs, a semi-permanent fixture in the entertainment center cubbyhole. And we’re paying through the nose for this package, so we’re going to use the crap out of it, dammit!
The felines have even gotten used to the TV being on all the time, so I even leave it on for them at low volume during the day, in order to maintain a constant environment.
So, we needed something.
But we also needed to save money. There’s no point in paying for sports, news, and local TV channels we never watch and have no interest in, no point in paying for a landline we never make calls out on and only receive telemarketing robocalls in on (despite paying extra for an unlisted number, which has kept the call-spam down to a dull roar), and no point in paying for music channels we rarely listen to (included with the cable package).
There’s also no point in paying for top-tier cable packages when certain cable providers (ahem–Spectrum) keep failing to reach deals with the very cable networks that attracted us to the top tier in the first place. Like CLOO. Time Warner/Spectrum removed CLOO and a couple others I used to watch, and it’s not like they said “oh by the way, we’re removing some channels that we’re probably sure you watch (cable box phoning home with your viewing habits and all, I suspect), so you might want to re-evaluate your cable package and see if you really still need that top tier”. I mean, I’m pretty sure that could be done (make no mistake–the technology is there, and the customer notification process could likely be automated, too), but you’re not exactly going to say that when you’re led around the nose by a bunch of stockholders, amiright?
And there’s certainly no point in paying about $80 a month for these (shrinking) privileges.
Maybe you or someone you know is in a similar situation: looking to shed dead media weight and maybe to slim down on the unnecessary budget expenses, too. But maybe you’re not sure where to turn or how to go about letting go.
It’s been over 3 weeks now since we cut the cable service cord on June 30. I’m still alive. And I’m even still sane! I’m even sleeping just the same as before, no change there. And obviously, given the above, I’m probably the last person you’d expect to see doing any cable-cutting. For me, it was one hell of a leap.
But we succeeded. And we’re actually better off now. We get more of what we need (our needs haven’t changed) for a lot less money. And for those of y’all who don’t know, I’m going to share. Because I reckon we’re not alone. The numbers prove it (links at bottom with more information).
First I need to say one thing: I’m going to mention specific companies, in a positive light. I am not paid or compensated, nor do I derive benefit or gain in any other way by mentioning these entities. This is not a paid advertisement or plug. I have zero vested interest. These are also not the only services/companies out there; they’re just what/who we went with.
Here’s what we did…
Step 1: Assess the State of Your Nation
Maybe you already know for sure that you want go cable-free, for any one of multiple reasons. Or, maybe you’re sitting on the fence, not quite sure which way to jump. Maybe you’re tired of paying a bundle of money for the few channels you watch every once in a while. Or maybe you watch a lot more of your package, or you watch it a lot more often, but you’re starting to feel the financial pinch.
I wasn’t actually looking to cut the cable cord, initially. I was, however, fed up with the sheer (perceived) volume of the ultra-processed, max-allowed noise level of commercials, and I decided to Google it. Something along the line of “cable commercials are too damn loud” or whatever.
That’s what initially got me going…
Step 2: Evaluate Other Possible Options
I ended up on Reddit, where people, mostly of Generation Y heritage, were talking about just cutting the cord altogether and going with commercial-free streaming services.
You know, that got me thinking (rubs what would be chin stubble if I were biologically male)… Streaming services…. Hmmmm…. I might live under a rock, but I don’t live under a mountain; I’ve heard of Netflix. This or that show is available now on Netflix. And many cable networks also have apps (although I want to watch shows at full TV size and besides, most apps require you to log in with your paid cable account). But all those plugs for that channel’s app (an average of 5 per commercial break–I counted) planted seeds of their own.
People in the Reddit threads started throwing around terms I’d heard of like Netflix, and also terms I hadn’t heard of like Roku and Philo.
So I started researching Roku and Philo.
Roku is what’s known as a “streaming player”. From my own (newbie) user experience, it seems to be a technology that essentially turns your TV screen into a homepage. Not like the web, but its own thing. It gathers all of your streaming service subscriptions together in one place, with the Roku remote acting as sort of a “joystick” used to arrow around the panel of streaming services.
Roku also has (a ton) of its own channels, offered through its own marketplace that functions a lot like the app stores on smartphones. It boasts about 3,000 channels, although I haven’t yet gone exploring these. I do know that some of the channels are free, and subscribing is easy as clicking the “subscribe” button (who could’ve seen that coming, eh? 😉 ). Other channels carry monthly costs, some of which kick in only after varying-length free trials.
Think of Roku as a “hub” that makes all the Roku channels you subscribe to, plus any other streaming services you subscribe to, accessible from one screen. It pops up as soon as you turn your TV on and from there, you arrow the cursor to whatever you want and press “OK” or the play button or whatever.
To get Roku, all you need to buy is the Roku device. It’s a one-time purchase at a variety of widespread stores like Target, etc. It comes with its own remote control, for which you can get “add-on” sections to power other devices (like your TV, DVD, the volume, etc). At this time (Summer 2018), here are no further costs (monthly or otherwise) for Roku itself.
The Roku device is already set up to give you quick access to Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime, and others.
Philo is a service that streams live (or nearly-live) feeds of a set of cable channels (I’ve seen anywhere from 37-40) that exclude sports, news, and local channels, centering instead on educational and entertainment programming. These include the Discovery Channel (and its spinoffs like my personal favorite, the Investigative Discovery or ID channel), The Learning Channel, Animal Planet, A&E, Nick, TeenNick, MTV and MTV2, VH1, and so on.
For like $16 a month. Yep, I had to double-check the numbers, too. Known as a “skinny” package, this is for the previously-silent-but-increasingly-vocal sane people who aren’t rah-rah about sports, won’t put up with political pundits telling us how to think, and realize that the “news” is in itself manufactured and devoid of fact. There’s unlimited DVR, but with a catch–whatever you record is only accessible for 28 days.
The only things I personally miss are The Weather Channel (I love their shows, and we’re coming up on the peak of hurricane season, when I tend to rely on them the most) and FX (which airs every Simpsons episode ever made 5 nights a week). But I’ll deal.
Step 3: Add Before You Subtract
I’ve always found it easier to add something before subtracting something. Giving something up without having something else in place would be a recipe for disaster for me, because I’m left floundering, wondering what to do next. It makes things much harder. Which then means, obvs, that it makes things a lot easier if I’m prepared and have Plans B and C in place.
So even before we cut the cable cord for good, we installed our Roku device and signed up for Philo (which claims to give you a 7-day free trial, but after about 48 hours makes you put in your payment information before you can exit that screen and keep watching (we couldn’t find any other way to exit the screen, so if there is one, it’s hidden or otherwise too subtle), so a little finger-wagging to them on that point).
Mr Kitty is also already an Amazon Prime member, which gives you access to a certain amount of available movies and TV show episodes/series for free, while others cost a few bucks to rent. So, we added that to our “home screen”, too.
And we decided to have some fun we hadn’t had before: we actually subscribed to Netflix! We opted for the ad-free version, which costs us $11/month.
We abstained from our cable box in “cold turkey” fashion, using it only for its digital clock on its face. We wanted to experience Life Without Cable, and make sure our new plan would work.
Step 4: Make It Happen
Five days into our “trial run”, we knew we were satisfied. (Actually, we were satisfied the first night, but we wanted the first-day novelty to wear off a little and make sure we were certain, resisting the impulse to call Spectrum and say “you’re outta here!”, because there are few worse feelings for me than to go back to something I’d given the heave-ho with my tail between my legs.)
Once we were solid in our decision, we made the call, gave up our cable box (and everything I had recorded on its DVR), and its handy remote (which was probably the best component of their equipment), and said, “sayonara!”
We instantly felt lighter, freer. Sure, I still watch (or listen to the) TV to get to sleep. That hasn’t changed and it probably won’t any time soon; brain wiring is a bitch. But did I mention that I have even more relevant stuff to watch now than I did before (thanks to Netflix), I didn’t have to give up too much (other than FX and Weather), and we’re saving a whopping $80/month (which is after upgrading our internet connection to twice its previous capacity)??
Philo takes some getting used to, and it’s been a little flaky at times; most mornings, it’s perpetually stuck on some kind of black screen with a “Loading…35%” message, but that’s easily fixed with a remote control home button. From the home screen, click “Philo”, and voila! It loads and plays again.
So anyway, it can be done. The above is my story of how.
Now break out that disco ball! 🙂