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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9/29/2010 7:36 PM

When I moved to a new state in 2005 I was broke and couldn't afford cable. It hurt for a while but now I can't imagine sitting down to watch TV. I don't feel deprived and if I want to see a show I will rent it from Netflix and watch the entire season in a week.

If cable service was carte blanc I might be interested--say $5 a month for service and $2 per channel. I'd get the house and garden channel and a movie channel.

9/29/2010 6:36 PM
I did watch TV growing up in a desolate environment where I felt unwanted, unloved and alone.  I became so dependant on TV I had no life.  I finally gave it up 6 years ago when my daughter, who never bought into my addiction, in a fit of anger because the TV was always blaring 24/7 pushed it off the table to the ground breaking it and then challenged me to live without it.  After going through painful withdrawals, I learned to have a life.  I am now an advanced ballroom dancer.  I knit and crochet, I have better relationships with the people in my life, I've made 3 quilts, I walk, cook fresh food for myself and I go out to hear live music all the time, The theatre and opera are now in my rotation which turns out I enjoy more than film and TV.  I read.  I went back to school and I have developed a social life.  I get my news from the internet and newspapers.  In order to keep up with the NBL, NBA and NFL etc. well I read about it. If there is a game I really want to see, my brother owns a sports bar.  I discovered it more fun and interesting to live life with out TV.   I will never go back.  The reality of my life is far better than reality TV.  Try it you will like it.
9/29/2010 4:51 PM

I didn't watch tv growing up and I don't watch it now; don't even own one. Out of my whole life I owned a television for a total of 4 years and they were not consecutive. I do however receive the news that is meant for me and it comes in the most unusual ways. I could not ask for it any other way! Yes, I have saved loads more by not watching it and I have found that my mental stability is 190% more stable from not watching the news. Like many have said already, I find myself more at peace. I enjoy life more and I see it in such ways, that at times.......I'm unable to find the words to explain it to myself. Then I ask what it is that I'm seeing and the answer does come to me. Ask and you shall receive, right?! I hope on day all televisions become a thing of the past. 

9/29/2010 4:32 PM
If you are a fan:   live sports that are not locally available to attend but are ONLY on cable or sat dish.   Especially since much of this is subject to contract negotiations with the sport's sanctioning body you may not see any of your favorite live events with rabbit ears (still valid with the new standard).
9/29/2010 3:40 PM

We got rid of dish network 3 years ago.  We just use a converter box and get what is playing over the airwaves for free.  Sometimes the stations don't come in to well.  I do miss being able to watch a ton of sports and I like the discovery channel, history channel, HGTV, but it's okay.  We get netflix and we have movies and shows covered if needed.  Plus I can watch any sports highlights on,,,, etc.


Kids are doing fine without the TV playing and when they do watch, it's usually Qubo so they can learn good things.  They don't miss it either. 

9/29/2010 2:56 PM

We don't watch any network programming thus no moronic dancing, idol or survivor shows. Almost all I watch has a close relationship with nature, history, engineering and inventing(plus some football, I must admit).


TV is great if it is used specifically for a program purpose, but not as an adult or child babysitter or timepasser for the bored. If it is mostly these to you, you need to put more into life so you will get more out of it. Try harder, which is the secret to most success.

9/29/2010 2:51 PM
TV is not evil or intrinsically BAD, but I think it can become something that feels like a need when truthfully it definitely can be done without, to no ill effects. I have a TV but haven't turned it on in months.  As a single mom with a 55 hour a week corporate job, I feel it would be irresponsible both financially and time management wise to indulge in television watching when my to-do list is ever expanding as it is! People argue that there's so much educational content for kids, but I have found that my son enjoys learning actively (by finding and looking up bugs rather than watching a tv show about bugs for example), or can get the same information from a book, while using his brain at the same time.  I don't miss the distraction, and definitely find it offensive when friends turn down a dinner invitation because they have to watch their show...
9/29/2010 1:36 PM

TV is like the internet. It all depends on how you use it and what you get out of it. It can be good or bad. For me, I believe it's the most cost effective learning tool I have ever been exposed to. I love TV and a wide variety of programming. I have a family and we are very close. My wife and I still talk all the time. TV does not rule our lives, we use it to enrich our lives.


TV allows you to see and experience things you may never have the chance to do in person. If anything, it breaks down barriers and stereotypes and allows people to understand how different parts of our society and culture are beneficial to one another. I like watching a broad spectrum of shows, from "So You Think You Can Dance" to "Mythbusters". Each show can inspire, motivate, teach or intrigue us. I actually believe TV programming has gotten better over the years. For the most part, entertaining shows are now more down to earth and educational programming can now be very entertaining. 


To each his own, but I do believe the whole experience depends almost entirely on the person who is watching it. If YOU choose not to watch TV, that is entirely up to you. But I do feel that each and every person, especially children, should have the right to make that decision themselves. Most children don't start out turning the TV to the Discovery Channel, but if there is no TV to watch then there is no way for them to make that step themselves. 


Just like magazines, newspapers, books, the internet, radio and good old conversation, television is a way to get information, learn new things, and entertain ourselves. A long time ago people used to think that reading books was a complete waste of time, and one should spend more time working or learning trade. Of course these days we understand reading is a critical part of our intellectual development. Maybe television is too?

9/29/2010 1:17 PM

I rarely watch television.  I am old enough to remember when we did not have television.  I much prefer reading.  In fact one of my favorite COSCO visits is too the book section.  I have picked up wonderful history books for less than $10 which gave me reading pleasure for days if not weeks.

You are never alone when you read. It is the only way to gain insight and understanding of complex events.   I like PBS but little else.  I could give up television and not miss it.  And the saviings by not succumbing to cable, Netflicks, TVO etc is wonderful.  It means a good dinner with my wife and a bottle of wine!

9/29/2010 12:48 PM
I know we could save a lot of money and probably get more sleep if we gave up DirecTV, BUT there is so much good stuff.  Just watched a fascinating show about the impact on both Europe and the Americas after Columbus' arrival in "the new world".  Also watch lots of shows on archeology, history, travel (places we would love to go but most of which we could never afford--even if we gave up satellite TV), astronomy, and various other scientific shows.  We frequently have discussions about what we've watched and sometimes do research to either flesh out what we've seen, find opposing viewpoints, or verify accuracy.  We also watch shows that provide good tips on fixing up our older house and a smattering of cooking shows.  The only popular shows we--well, that I watch, are dance reality shows just because I love dance.  Better stuff than most movies, BTW, and with TV we can get both old and newer movies that we really want.  Like most things, it's all in how you use it. 
9/29/2010 12:39 PM

It's all true! I discontinued my cable 4 months ago to save money after a layoff and although I missed it for a couple of weeks I gained SO MUCH time to expand my horizons and time to work on myself and my golf game.


I only watched news, sports and some documentaries but I still "wasted" like 3 hours a day/night. That is 21 hours a week to have to myself and I sleep better since I have restarted my workout program.


With the C Rap that is on TV you aren't missing much these days except people willing to do anything for fame and attention- no thanks.


9/29/2010 12:32 PM

My folks ditched TV in 1974 and we were raised without it. I had it for a while when I was married but ditched it again after the divorce. What did we do? EVERYTHING! Three of us (my father, my sister and myself) have written and published short stories and novels. All of us aced school (without really trying) and we had college equivalent reading levels by fourth grade. And no... we are not geniuses, we just had time.


I'm not against TV, but I find the advertisements irritating and I do not want my life to be controlled by somebody else's schedule

9/29/2010 12:02 PM

 After getting married in 1994 and moving into a new 6 bedroom house I have envisioned a home with 3 TV’s but my wife insisted we have none we settled with one.  At first I was having severe TV viewing withdrawals, and I went to my mothers house to watch TV.  As time passed I stopped watching TV and had more time with my wife and my family!  To this day my children view TV as another piece of furniture.

9/29/2010 11:42 AM
Sometimes defining "enriching" your life doesn't always mean saving money. When you are disabled or in your house alone day after day, the TV provides some much needed signs of life and " company", instead of silence hour after hour. You get to laugh at comedy, help solve cases with detective shows, learn how to better understand your pet thru animal shows, etc. The ads show you upcoming new shows you might be very interested in which you may not learn about watching nearly ad free computer TV, and new products you might want to try. Ads are not "bad". Also, there may be another partner in the house who refuses to try going without Tv, and someone who makes a great paycheck and works hard deserves  to have cable if they want. Parents should never give in to kids demanding things they see on TV ads, but giving up TV so you don't have them asking you for stuff is saying you don't want to bother  teaching them NOT to be demanding kids. You can limit TV without going totally without. Sometimes adults want to watch TV and have kids watch elsewhere, so watching on the computer means you need several computers, doesn't it? People think nothing of spending thousands on a yearly vacation, they "earned" it, yet daily TV entertainment they are now balking at? It costs less, is educational as well as entertaining, doesn't get ruined by bad weather, and DOESN'T prevent anyone from going out and exercising and socializing, or keeping families from having conversation around the dinner table. TVs have off buttons for a reason. It's been around for eons and suddenly now people are badmouthing cable as if it's the sole reason they are poorer, not getting social interaction, everything they are finding unhappy in their lives is because of cable. There is as much lovely, happy shows kids can identify with as there are violent shows, it all comes down to parent guidance. People looking to cut back on things to save money need to just DO it without trying to justify it by calling that expense "bad". It wasn't bad when you had money, was it? There is nothing wrong with cutting back , as long as all the adults in the home agree to do so. But don't try to call it "going green", or trying to do "better" by your kids, when in reality it's simply trying to save money because times are tough. That's really people who are somehow embarassed by having to cut back, like the people selling their house "because they want to move back closer to their parents", when really they can no longer afford the house, period. There is no dishonor in being truthful, no one will point fingers at you just because you have less income now. Next, people will villify cars when they can't afford one anymore, because they can bicycle or walk for health and  being "green". It's a natural instinct to want to get others to your own level in life so you don't feel "less" than them, but quit calling anything that you can no longer afford in life "bad". Everyone should be healthy and happy no matter how they need to do it.
9/29/2010 11:27 AM

I loved Joann Cohans testimony about about after she stopped watching TV her self esteem rose and she escaped the stereotypes, especially against women. Then she watches Family Guy on Hulu. Now there's a show that'll raise your self esteem and not bombard you with stereotypes... NOT! I lol'd on the irony.


I only use cable for Internet access. I enjoy Hulu & Redbox. I think this article plugged Hulu at least three times. On Hulu I get to tailor the commercials I watch to my criteria. Basically they have to make me laugh. Geico commercials get my yes vote, and I'm safe from buying their insurance. I know you can't save money with a company that has a billion dollar advertising campaign. That makes me laugh all the more.

9/29/2010 10:28 AM
I have friends who are Orthodox Jews w 6 kids and don't have TV, ever, the whole neighborhood doesn't have
TV.  The difference is noticeable; the kids entertain one another or themselves or are with the neighborhood kids.  Adults interact, go visiting, always have someone over to visit (even late at night) and stay for a snack or dinner or just talk or sing! Know your neighbors?!?! Conversation!!! in Los Angeles!!!  Play piano, read books, barbeque, play guitar, pray, take a walk around the block, jump rope, color, girls learn to knit!! scrap book.  They live an Ozzie and Harriet life behind a white picket fence!! while the rest of us sink into the couch in front of the TV and can only dream about having a real life.
9/29/2010 10:05 AM
I have a 46" tv that gets turned on for about 2-6 hours a week. I have netflix and an xbox, but typically, the tv doesn't even go on. I don't get bombarded by crazy commercials, but it is surprising how much pop culture I still know from "news" websites (like CNN and MSN) and from the checkout ines at the grocery store. (I get to see who lost 50 lbs. and who gained it).  I've come to the conclusion that nowadays the entertainment industry by and large exists to promote the entertainment industry instead of entertaining. (analogous to how corporations exist to return shareholder value instead of being industry leaders)
9/29/2010 6:58 AM
When my local TV service carrier changed how it sends TV into the home about two months ago and started blacking out channels (unless you got an adapter for your old tube TV), I realized then that this is getting out of hand.  Now we watch Netflix movies and a few things online, but overall, the peace and quiet is lovely.   I also am not yelling at the idiots on TV anymore, since I can't see them.  I really don't miss it at all, and I am much more peaceful without it.  I am also one of the dinosaurs who refuse to get a cell phone.  If I didn't work on the internet, I wouldn't have it either.  Strive for simplicity, is my motto now.  I am gadget-free and untethered.  I also don't own a car.  That would horrify most people.  
9/29/2010 6:36 AM
Haven't had TV for 14 years!  My life is better!  Much better!
9/29/2010 5:55 AM
Ditched the TV in 1996 and do NOT miss it.   Wasn't a big TV watcher before like some folks, but really enjoy the freedom from mental pollution.  I read, spend lots of time in the garden, play w/ the cat and so forth.   Have a decent movie collection and will put a movie in to watch while I'm eating on the weekends, but that's about it.  No cable, no dish and live too far out to get broadcast signals.   People have a tendency to look at you like you have 3 heads when you tell them you don't watch that drivel but that speaks volumes about their "addiction" to the very aptly named boob tube.
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