Donna Freedman: Cutting cable TV can save money, improve quality of life

Living With Less

Can your life be richer without TV?

Cutting the cable or ditching the dish can leave you healthier and wealthier -- and you don't necessarily have to give up watching entirely.

By Donna Freedman
MSN Money

Want to save some serious green? Stop watching TV.

Cutting the cable or ditching the dish can recoup more than just the monthly service fee. Television-free folks say:

All that can add up to a healthier and wealthier you -- and you don't necessarily have to give up TV entirely. You just change how (and how much) you watch.

I haven't owned a television since March 2004. I don't have Netflix, and I've watched approximately five minutes of an episode of "House" on Hulu. (Maybe I'll finish it some other time.) While visiting friends or relatives I sometimes watch TV with them. But back home in Seattle, I don't feel the need to rush to the public library to borrow Season 3 of "The Closer." It's not that I don't like TV. It's that other things have replaced it in my life.

But would it work for you? Read on to find out how others view (or don't view) television to help you decide.

'How can you possibly live without a TV?'

Although an estimated 800,000 households have ditched cable over the past two years, people who don't watch TV are still a tiny minority. Some 61 million U.S. households have cable, and about 33 million more have satellite service, according to the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. These numbers don't include people who get TV for free online or with ordinary antennas.

Those who eschew the tube know they're swimming against the tide. Boy, do they know it. Leigh Henderson, a Manhattan management consultant who also teaches at Baruch College, says her students are horrified.

"They look at me like, 'How can you do it? How can you possibly live without a TV?'" says Henderson, who gave away her bulky old television in March 2007 during an apartment renovation.

Her plan was to buy a flat-screen model. But Henderson liked not being "inundated" with advertising and realized that a lot of programming was, well, dumb.

Since then, she's noticed her students often wail that they don't have time to do all that course reading yet can tell her all about the programs she's missing. Henderson has friends who won't go out because a particular show is on. And at a recent family reunion, one relative watched cooking programs rather than interact with people he hadn't seen in years.

"That just reinforced it for me," Henderson says. "(Television) isn't evil. It just shouldn't be the top priority."

Questions to consider: Does TV take away more than it provides? What are you giving up in order to watch "American Idol"?

'There's a lot of world out there'

Cincinnati resident Cheryl Besl estimates she saves almost $100 a month by not having cable. "I just choose to do other things with my time," says Besl, 38.

Among them: a public-relations career, involvement with several nonprofits, regular exercise and reading. Besl volunteers with a neighborhood improvement group and served on its board for two years. For the past three years she's mentored a teenage girl.

She also gets eight hours of slumber every night, unlike some acquaintances who are sleep-deprived but up to date on the latest TV shows.

John Holden, a publicist at DePaul University, used to have multiple TV sets chattering in more than one room even when he wasn't watching. When television went digital in 2009, his old sets stopped working. At 48, Holden had never been without television. But within two weeks, he stopped missing it and started realizing how much more time he had.

Holden read. He joined a second board of directors. To hone his work skills, he took university classes in digital media and online marketing.

"Once I shut the TV off, I realized how much of my time was being wasted," Holden says. "There's a lot of world out there beyond the TV screen."

Now his TV watching consists of "Jeopardy!" on Hulu -- sometimes.

P.S. Holden's electric bill has dropped at least 15%.

Question to consider: How would you improve your life (and maybe other people's lives) if you weren't watching TV?

Continued: What about the children?

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11/18/2011 11:39 PM
Totally agree. "Reality is found in doing" quote from this author-Roslyn Margaret Heywood's "The Hidden Art of Life Without Television and Video". A light and good read based on Roslyn's own journey from being a gadget girl to marrying a husband in rural Queensland who lived this lifestyle.
12/23/2010 5:55 PM

Lumping this one together with cutting internet service at home, I came to realize the value of "quality family time".  Also, not only has my savings improved as a result but so has my reading, my running as well as spending time working on the house. 

12/07/2010 12:41 PM
I wish cable would go a la carte.  There's only a few channels I really want and I hate the thought of having to pay for the 100 other channels I never watch.
11/20/2010 6:32 AM

I might need to give up the internet, too, I might add.  It is something that I have started to consider pretty seriously in the last 30 days.


11/20/2010 6:30 AM

A timely article for me.  I shut off my satellite tv last month.  My contract was  up.  Guess what happened?  I don't miss it.  With one or two notable exceptions, the programming sucks.  One of my motivating factors in shutting it off was the amount of advertising for which I paid (with an ever-increasing bill, I might add) for the privilege of viewing. 

One of the best decisions I ever made.


11/10/2010 5:44 PM
As a freshman in high scool I learned in my english class about a study that had been done about brain activity and television.  The researchers hooked up groups of people, at times as many as 25, to a single TV and turned it on.  The hookups were designed so that whenever all the people who were hooked up reahed an "alpha state" in their brain activity, the television would shut off.  An alpha state is the lowest possible conscious brain function, and an individual is essentially a zombie at that moment.  No matter what program was on the televiision, or the age, education, or any other factor that existed within the group, no group kept the television on for more than 15 minutes before it shut off.  The television I believe has made our world much less intelligent and despite the many attempts to use it as an educational tool, it will never be a good one.  It does too much for us and we stop exercising our brain when it is on.  Parents in particular with young children should be required to remove all televisions from their home.  I challenge anyone to stop watching television for 2 weeks and then turn it back on and watch your "favorite" show and see how great you think it is at that moment, but at your first inkling to turn it off do so...or you will be hooked again.  Television is the pacifier of the masses and we would all be better off it never existed at all.
11/04/2010 3:45 PM
My husband and I haven't watched TV since 1997; we also do not have internet (by choice).  We just found that we didn't have a need for it.  Our friends and family think we're nuts but we love to read and debate and just hang out.  We just had our first child this past January and I think this type of environment will be good for him as well.  We have few kids dvd's and a couple of movies but that's about it.  If I need to check up the news or read stories like this I just hop on this homepage at work for a couple of minutes or listen to NPR on the way home from work :)
10/28/2010 1:25 PM

When my husband and I moved back to IA, we always said we would just get basic cable to save money, but we ended up with the fullblown package. Then when we bought our first place in June, I held firm and the only tv we have now is what we can get on a set of rabbit ears we got for $15. The shows we really like are on the basic channels anyway, and I can live without all the other brainless shows on all the other channels. It works for us and when our favorite shows arent on, we just turn it off and go outside or play with our dog. We've had a lot more "quality time" because of it.

10/27/2010 11:24 PM
Since my 14 year marriage split in 2002 I have been free of the idiot box. The TV's I ended up with I gave away. Instead of coming home from work and plopping down on the couch to watch how other people lived life I committed to goin to the gym each night after work. even if I only stayed 15 minutes. I met new people, I lost 75 lbs, I traveled, socialized, dated and took classes at the the local adult school and city college and joined a women's cycling team. I've completed many metric centuries and next year plan to do my 100.  Instead of living vicariously through the people on TV, I'm doing my own living and I wouldn't trade that for anything TV has to offer. And each election year I am reminded once again how fortunate I am to not have a TV. Anything I need to know I'll read online or in a publication.
10/24/2010 12:33 PM
I have to say I sort of admire people who CAN do without it, but I personally don't want to be so out ouf touch that I won't know what people are talking about. Alientation. It's a bit of an addiction, but it's managable.  If I HAD to give it up, I'd watch sports, being a baseball and football junkie.  That's an all-year commitement!
10/21/2010 6:04 PM
We have done without TV for 24 years, after having been glued pretty much for years before that. It was easy to give it up.   We read, listen to music, work on puzzles, do crafts, do things together. Plus I volunteer as a Scout leader. We get enough sleep and that is a big plus! Hubby is 70 and I'm 65.
10/21/2010 3:05 PM

I don't agree with this article at all because watching TV is a good way to be entertained and relax.  It depends on how long and often you watch it.  I don't mind watching FOX Sports Detroit all day as long as I take care of my responsibilities.  I'm at school more than I'm at home so I watch TV just for a little downtime. 


I work part-time and I'm in the process of getting DirecTV for my household so I can watch the Detroit Pistons, Red Wings, Tigers, and local high school sports on FOX Sports Detroit at my leisure.  I agree with the statement "there are more things to do in life other than sitting around watching TV all day".  However, giving up TV entirely is unrealistic because a lot of sports fans can't afford to go to the games nor go to the bars on a regular basis.  So they spend time watching sports on TV and there is nothing wrong with that. 


Limiting the TV watching is more realistic than just going cold turkey.  By me being a sports fan, however, this is nearly impossible for me.  I've gone without watching FOX Sports Detroit for about a couple of years and now I feel like I'm missing out in the world of local sports.  I've missed more Piston, Red Wing, and Tiger games than any other games on TV.  So I don't think that it's realistic to give up TV watching all together. 


It's a matter of doing it in moderation.  Watching TV is not a bad way to entertain yourself.  How long and how often you watch it can either entertain you or can have harmful consequences.  Coming home and watching TV after a hard day's work is one thing.  Being a couch potato and neglecting your responsibilities just to watch TV is another.  Watching TV is ok just as long as you're taking care of your responsibilities.     

10/21/2010 8:45 AM
Bubble gum for the eyes!  Get more sleep, feel better.  It is too negative (CNN=constantly negative news).   Advertisements are about equal in time to the show time.  Don't even miss it.  I got a life now! 
10/18/2010 10:30 PM
When my roommate moved out in May, she took her TV with her and transferred the cable and internet service to her new place.  I decided not to get cable or internet service till a new roommate moved in (which was August) to try to save some money.  Not having TV or internet connection at home was so hard!  Especially during the first two weeks!

But eventually, I got used to not being dependent on them.  It was a lovely summer because I spent more time outside and hanging out with friends rather than watching TV or surfing the net.  When I finally got service in August, I tried to not get back in the habit of spending a lot of time with the TV or computer.  

In all fairness, though, I did have internet connection at work which I used to check email and surf the net.  Also, I would go to the library to watch "Masterpiece Mystery" every week... it's my one guilty pleasure!

Overall, it was a good experience.  I would recommend that people should try to live without TV or internet for a few months.  You learn a lot about yourself and your habits.  TV is not a bad thing, but it can turn into a bad thing if you are too dependent on it.  I have a few shows which I love to watch and I limit myself to them.  Balance is always good.
10/18/2010 8:18 AM
I've read many of the comments posted and I keep getting the impression of moral superiority from those who have given up cable and/or TV (including from the author of this article.) I don't find this to be justified.
Whereas it is great that many people are no longer being feed mindless programming and having the guts to turn off their TV, what really replaced it? We're all using the internet aren't we? That's another big time (and money) waster. When you threw out that TV, did the cell phone go with it too?  Talk about a mindless time (and MONEY) waster!
Now I feel completely comfortable saying this since my husband and I gave up cable 5 years ago. It wasn't due to some moral choice but we moved somewhere with really crappy cable and we couldn't get a signal with an antenna.  And we're just not stupid enough to sign up for a dish contract.
We still watch "TV". There are many internet options (not just hulu) and we also have an extensive dvd collection, as well as a Netflix subscription. The internet has allowed us to discover programs that we would have not otherwise come in contact with (primarily a lot of BBC/other UK programming) that we can watch as little or as much as we want.
Also, we do something which seems foreign to most TV watchers. We schedule our time to watch it.
And I commend the post that pointed out that sometimes you can find programs that you wouldn't ordinarily watch....and learn something new.

10/17/2010 3:00 PM
Eco, if  you need to have rose colored glasses on in order to live in the real world, go ahead. There is a thing called switching the channel if you don't like what is on. Personally, I just got thru watching a man go into ecosystems searching for rare animals like the pygmy sloth, and learned not only how endangered so many animals are but took a minute out of my life to learn about other beings on our earth. I learn about solar system workings, how huge mega machines are designed and built and used. I see how ocean fishing is incredibly dangerous yet way too exciting anyway, how funny and tricky repo men can be at their jobs, how swamp men teach their passed down crafts to their kids in this ever changing world. How dedicated the people who risk everything to save the whales are, while you just dump the TV so you don't even get to share in their efforts and share the joy in their successes. You probably sound so clueless at a dinner table if the subject of any of these worthy events in life come up. I think many are badmouthing the TV when possibly they don't have full cable programming, and yes the basic cable and free over the air TV are far less broad, but extended cable is so well worth it! People who say now that they don't have the TV they can lose weight, etc., didn't get heavy BECAUSE of TV, they got it from not feeling like exercising or running around town. Losing TV won't change that or they would have turned it off to go do their daily jog. Books and games do not have the VOICE connection TV has either, which lonely shut ins need, and doesn't take up tons of storage space nor cost money buying each and every book or game. Fifty dollars a month for all you can see and experience and learn from watching the GOOD parts of TV? Priceless. I still read and do magazine games and use an exercise machine, yet I have TV on all day every day, just for the perceived companionship of human contact and the learning I am always absorbing like a sponge. It's like a group of friends in the room. If I don't like what's on, I turn the channel, or turn it off a while. Don't give TV "power". It isn't mindless and drivel , it's just THERE. It's up to the people to use it wisely. Yeah, paying for cable TV is one of the wisest investments I chose to keep my mind fresh and entertained and happy, and that is worth the price. Cable in the Classroom, one more bit of proof it enriches lives if used properly. If one show "numbs"your brain, I wonder how you got thru school, sounds like a bit of paranoia if someone claims to be so easily brainwashed because they watched a show. Wow. You may be saving "green" by ditching TV, but you are disconnecting from the world. I'd go mow lawns to keep cableTV. Even computer TV, which I watch,too, isn't of the caliber full cable is, without the pay programming of course.
10/16/2010 12:01 PM

I cancelled my DISH last January.  I do NOT miss the TV.  The drivel on there now is just mind numbing.  These reality TV shows are some of the most useless waste of time that I have seen put on TV yet.

Was at a friends last night and the political ad attacks were shocking.  I had forgotten how bad it is.  Then she turned it to some 20/20 program about all the deaths of young people subjected to bullying.

By the time I left, I was distressed and felt as though I had been thoroughly attacked with every ploy possible to numb my brain.

Just say NO!  The withdrawals stop in a weeks time and one can actually get a life.

10/16/2010 12:26 AM
I feel that we are slaves to the propaganda that is promoted on tv. We need to take control over our lives and find creative things to do in our down time, as oppose to allow that time to create us... I been without tv for over a year. I don't have time or space in my life for it. I am to busy living...
10/15/2010 3:50 PM
I essentially stopped watching television about seven years ago.  Basic cable was included with my high-speed Internet, so I just kept it.  Then Cox Cable decided they should charge $23/month for cable, explaining to me on the phone, "Why should some people get it for *free* when others are paying?"

I realized my television hadn't even been turned on for two years, except to watch the occasional DVD.  Before, when I still sorta-kinda watched television, I was a mindless channel surfer, never really watching anything, just flipping around 100 channels, which is why my viewing waned; it was such a waste of time.  I told Cox to turn off the basic cable once they began charging for it, and they could not have been more surprised.  They simply could not believe I could live without television.  I think they're more used to the idea now that more people are doing it.

I do have Netflix, and I enjoy watching a few shows (I love Doctor Who, so there).  I spend maybe two hours a week watching television programming, and, yes, I admit it, probably another 3-4 hours per week watching a couple of films.  So no, I didn't ditch TV entirely.

This viewing pattern works for me and may work for others.  I am totally out of the loop when people talk about American Idol, Survivor, Dancing With the Stars, Project Runway, Lost, and ad nauseam, because I have never seen 30 seconds of any one of those programs.  I could not care less.

I read a lot of news articles on the Internet.  One topic leads to another, and I research to find out more.  I read a lot of booksand have caught up on classics that I always knew I *should* read but never did before.  I spend more time with friends, about half of whom have followed the same strategy I have.  I really am very glad to not be glued to the boob tube, but I haven't given up a screen entirely; I love films too much.

Anyway, this is a method other movie lovers may want to try.  You don't HAVE to give up everything, but, seriously, give a try ditching at least most regular TV shows.  You probably won't notice and won't care after a very short time.
10/13/2010 8:47 PM

I'd love to give up tv, though my much better half would likely have deep and hard withdrawal symptoms.  I do need CNBC and Bloomberg for my work.  Does anyone know a provider that allows a piecemeal/itemized semi basic cable distribution?  Thanks.  tcs


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