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?

More from MSN Money and

 1 | 2 | 3 | next >

Rate this Article

Click on one of the stars below to rate this article from 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest). LowHigh
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).
10/02/2010 6:55 AM
In general I think this is a great idea in theory, but in reality it is not.  Due to the digital changes, I know people who for economic reason now have no access to tv at all and it is a problem. It has created a dangerous level of ignorance and in one case may be the cause of their pending divorce. In that case the wife was completely ignorant about the economy and blames her husbands inability to find a job as soon as he graduated from college entirely on him. When I told her the national unemployment was nearly 10% she was shocked.  She had no clue because she hasn't watched the news since June.
9/30/2010 2:24 PM
Overall,  I think the computer/internet is a much worse companion.  It eats up hours without notice. Whereas watching tv often results in getting up and doing other things along the way.

At least one person mentioned the DVR, which has really been an asset.  Now I can share some of the great things on cable: HDTV  SUNRISE series,  House Hunters Intrntl,  How the Earth Was Made, and great movies:  HOUSE OF SAND,  FIVE GRAVES TO CAIRO, RAN,  CEMETERY MANSurprised


It annoyed me that they took great network shows like LAW & ORDER and did sucky spinoffs, like Special Victims which is only to market Mariskas T&A.  And then L&Order drfited into misleading political statements at times.


I used to be hooked on CSPAN,  but after getting smart about their DOG & PONY shows and seeing that Congress cares little about whats best for America,  I found other entertainment  when Im not reading such great books as: CADILLAC DESERT/Reisner, TESTAMENT/Romer, and bios on my hero:  GEN CURTIS LEMAY, who kept America safe from those Russkies:  PEACE IS OUR PROFESSION  (SAC).


So There

10/02/2010 5:51 AM
If I didn't have cable I wouldn't have read your stupid article. duh.
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.

10/02/2010 10:00 AM

Yea, nailed it, all of us who enjoy the great options on tv are imbeciles or have been brain washed and cannot think for ourselves.

Thanks for the enlightenment.

10/02/2010 9:19 AM

I watch a lot of television. With todays' providers there are hundreds of HD channels. Discovery Channel, Science Channel, History Channel and HBO to name a few amazing tv channels.

I also watch my Phillies and Eagles regularly and love watching other sports and movies.

You cant watch the Phillies OTA.

There is so much on tv these days if you are willing to pay a little for it. For those complaining about commercials, google "DVR".

I also really enjoy my 50" tv and surround sound set-up. I could never or want to ever watch any video on my 15" laptop. I don't enjoy being two feet away from any screen. It saves me from having to cough up $20+ per person for a movie theater visit....and I have better video and audio at home.

Now, television is just a part of my life but I would never willingly give up the great enjoyment I often take from it.

...oh and I work full time, I am in school full time and I work out five days a week.

10/02/2010 5:38 AM

I don't know about this.  Two years ago I lived in an area facing a direction that prevented me from getting a signal to my Sat.  I truly hate cable and refused to get it.  So what I did enjoy free cable for about three months.  I was renting and they had forgotten to disconnect it I guess.  Anyway, I didn't feel bad about it.  When it was corrected I just upgraded my internet to 3 Mbps and began watching TV from several websites.  I then went and purchased a long USB cable and connected my laptop on the coffee table to my wall mounted LCD on the wall.  It was great.  And free.  So that is the extent of my living without TV.  I didn't really.  I agree that we probably do watch to much TV, but it's not all bad.  today there are a lot of programs on that actually show you how to do things and save some money.  I'm talking about all of the DIY programs.  Generally I watch about 90 minutes of news per day and perhaps a couple of movies or sporting events.  That's a lot I know.  But I'm not married either. 


I think that we should all consider watching less and with the extra time do something positive or constructive.  That includes me to.  The reason I've been considering getting rid of  pay tv is economic really.  In 1970 I couldn't have ever dreamed that I would be paying $70 a month for a tv service.  That's right up there with buying bottled water.  Seriously though to most families $70 a month is a material amount of money.  It's not a fortune, but there are other things that money could be used for.  So this is something that I think I can do and will do.  I won't however quit watching altogether.  And to me, one hour a night won't cut it. 


Good article and it should provide cause for us to rethink paying for tv. 

10/02/2010 10:26 AM

10/05/2010 1:05 PM
Great Article....Televisio​n is just mental masturbation
10/02/2010 3:04 AM
Hello, give up TV are you a moron. What about CNN and all the so called finance shows who keep telling us about how the economy has tanked. Other than the wall street journal, hmmmm were do are so called financial advisers get their, so called info, NEWs on TV
10/02/2010 8:16 AM
You, are a smart smart woman Ms Freedman. I have cable and the only reason why (and I hate to say it) is because I like to watch the Chicago Bears. We recently moved to DFW from my hometown Chicago in Janauary, so it's either the Cowboys or whoever else. When we left home, I didn't have cable and was able to pick up the games from my atenna on top of the garage. If the game was on espn, I would crash the neighbors. TV is pretty dumb, but lets face it, if you don't have cable you'll be a social outcast and quite possibly your head may explode! God forbid if you had to pick up a book, go for a walk, learn to play instument or interact with family! Imagine what the world would be like if there was no tv? I think it would be a much much better place.
10/02/2010 7:40 AM
I don't have cable or satellite.  I receive my TV free over the air on an outdoor antenna.  Since the conversion to digital, I receive a lot of channels which I didn't have before.  Since I only watch PBS usually, it has been great getting a lot more of those channels since the switch to digital.  I am fortunate to life in an area where I pick up PBS stations from several large cities in the state.  I would never pay for TV.  I also would not want to get rid of my TV, it is an important part of my life.   
10/05/2010 1:07 PM
Seriously, this is a good article and right on.....I watchvery, very little television and could be totally happy without it at all. It is my other half that likes the Golf channel, etc, and we do watch some programming on Travel Channel, Animal Planet, PBS.......Personally, I could give it up and not miss it at all!!! Hopefully one day!!
10/02/2010 8:37 AM
This is a great article!  I've been without TV for about 17 years now, and don't believe that I am the lesser without it.  As a member of the military, overseas deployments and assignments limited the kind of American (English-speaking) programs I could receive, and soon I just stopped trying to find them.  On the rare occasion that I do watch TV (staying overnight in a hotel where I have cable access, etc.) I find my energy is 'zapped' after just a short sit in front of the boob tube.  As for other activities to fill the time that may have been wasted in front of the TV, for me there are many.  I'm finishing up my Ph.D. this year, am in the best physical shape of my life thanks to a challenging workout schedule, and I have time to volunteer.  Also, I get plenty of sleep.  TV is such a joke these days, how can such drivel compare to living your life to the fullest?
10/02/2010 8:28 AM

I dumped the tube back in ’01. My kids were 11 and 14. The first couple of weeks was kind of touchy. After that, I noticed their behavior was rather bizarre. The fighting and arguing had dropped to almost zero, no more heated discussions over what mindless nonsense to have blaring all the time. They began to do odd things, like read, help out around the house and yard. My daughter made the honor role, and stayed on it from then on. As a family we rediscovered the lost art of conversation.  The kids are grown and gone now. The tube is still shut off. Ok, we do cheat a little. I have DVD player and Netflix. On weekends we live the good life. B-B-Q in the backyard and some old TV series…….without commercials. Wish I had done the deed years earlier. Oh, we save about $100 a month. More than pays for our wild weekends.

10/02/2010 1:04 PM
i like this article. i have reduced my tv time to one hour per week due to the lack of interesting programs. the news is also a joke when it comes to the truth. newspapers and tv were once thought of as the fourth estate. it amazing how far they have fallen.
10/02/2010 12:29 PM
We have so many channel's and they all SUCK. Why do I need Hispanic channel's? I called my cable company and they said it's part of the package. Soooo. I'm paying for garbage I don't understand. I known I can block these channel's,but thats not the point. Give me more channel's in ENGLISH. I'm already paying too much as it is. I will very soon cut my ties with AT&T. Watching tv is mindless crap, you know like watching Oprah.
10/02/2010 7:59 AM

Funny how a recession causes us to rethink what we see as entertainment. Having been out of work for 11 months, we have ditched Directv. I mean how many reruns can one endure! I now have to time to practice banjo and dobro, lift weights, fix the house, weed the yard and start a business.


Funny how we take our wages and pile up useless entertainment costs. When the wages are gone, many other things are possible other than sitting and doing nothing in front of a TV. When I either get the business going or find a job, I do not want it back. I will use a HD USB TV card for local TV. This takes to long to set up, so why bother. It is mainly used for severe weather alerts when the satellite cannot see through the rain, snow or clouds. Fantastic article.

10/02/2010 7:50 AM
A bit over a year ago, we ditched our cable company, switched phone service providers and got those converter boxes to hook up to our 'old' tvs.. We save over 150 dollars a month.
We now have 4 PBS channels to choose from, which is a plus. We also get the major networks and a few local stations.
My husband misses the sports channels, but its worth it considering all the money we are saving!

Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of ConductPlease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
Additional comments(optional)
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?