Is it cheaper to have cable or streaming services?

Ah, the age old question: is it cheaper to have cable or streaming services? This is something I’ve been considering myself for a while. I “cut the cord” seven years ago, but it’s not as cheap as I expected. There’s the Internet bill, but then it’s hard to choose which streaming services to use. There are so many! And because of licensing, the programming options are spread out across all the different services/platforms so it can get really expensive. Luckily, someone else crunched the numbers and came up with the cheapest option.

With its contracts and fees, cable TV is nowhere near cheap. The alternative is a suite of streaming services, but paying for multiple subscriptions — or even a live TV streaming service like DirecTV Stream — could also rival your cable bill. According to a July 2022 study from Parks Associates, roughly one-quarter of American households subscribe to nine or more streaming services, while 50% of us have at least four.

These days, you can sever the cord completely and solely use streaming services like Hulu, Disney Plus or YouTube TV. You can also keep satellite or cable TV as your main dish while subscribing to a couple of streaming platforms on the side. There’s also the option to watch 100% of what you want on cable TV only.

All those choices can quickly become overwhelming, but don’t worry. Here, we do the math to break down how you can save money in most parts of the US with the best combination of cable, streaming and internet.

To compare the price savings between streaming and cable, we started with monthly cable costs across a handful of US cities. While streaming service pricing is the same no matter where you live, we crunched numbers for major cable companies in New York, San Francisco, Houston, Atlanta, Kansas and Maine.

In our research however, we found taxes and fees can add between $30 and $50 to the monthly charge

Be aware that most internet plans available today should be fast enough to stream Netflix, even in 4K quality. The “slowest” budget plan we saw was 25Mbps (AT&T) but Netflix recommends a minimum of 5Mbps for 1080p or 15 Mbps to get 4K. This means even the most basic connection should work fine if you only need to stream to one TV at a time. If you have a larger household, then a 50Mbps or even 100Mbps plan should be sufficient, and we found that most budget plans offered this.

The cheapest option? Get the least expensive internet plan you can and subscribe to Netflix, Disney Plus, HBO Max and Hulu — separately or all together — and skip live TV.

If you want to have the cable TV experience without the fees and contracts, then live TV streaming is the next best thing. These services can offer a program guide, DVR and most of the familiar channels you’re used to with cable. They cost more than on-demand services like Netflix, however.

[From CNET]

This is really helpful! So it is cheaper to do internet and streaming. And it can get even cheaper if you choose the ad options, which gives the experience of real TV and commercials if you ever miss those. The article pretty much tells you exactly what services to get: Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and HBO Max. Honestly, agree. That’s pretty much all you need. I have those services and a couple of others and I’m pretty happy with them. I definitely notice months where I’m mostly watching one or the other and I could probably deactivate them since they’re monthly subscriptions, not annual, but that seems like too much work. (I actually do that with Apple TV+ though; there’s just not enough content there for me to use it every month) I also like Peacock and Paramount+ too, but those are secondary and they have pretty good promos throughout the year so I think it’s worth waiting to subscribe until you see a good deal. Another tip: if you have an American Express, check the AmEx offers for coupons for the various streaming services. They cycle coupons you can add to your card for stuff like streaming services and pretty good stores and restaurants too.

Photos credit: Netflix and via Instagram

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42 Responses to “Is it cheaper to have cable or streaming services?”

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  1. ChewieNYC says:

    We just cut cable in favor of streaming this past month. Went from a $200 cable/internet/streaming bill to $75 for internet and streaming platforms. We have Netflix, PrimeVideo, and Disney/Hulu/ESPN bundle. We also get HBOMax through our cell phone provider. We realized we hadn’t used cable in months and it was a no brainer. It’s totally worth the savings and when you call your cable provider to cut the cord you can totally negotiate your internet bill down to their “new client” pricing and then some. Play hard ball!

  2. Andrea says:

    Don’t forget about over the air (OTA) digital channels! I get PBS and all the major networks for free with an antenna. It’s not for everyone. You need clear skies for some channels, and not all areas of the country have good coverage, but if you really need that occasional traditional TV fix (which I absolutely do), it’s free!

    • JanetDR says:

      Same! With the digital extra channels, there is a lot to watch. I live in the middle of nowhere and get the 3 main channels and Ion, but all told there are 26 channels. I was surprised to find Firefly on last week! We also do Netflix and Prime and my daughter has Disney. That’s enough as I have the Netflix DVD plan, so we can always watch a movie or series as long as we don’t mind waiting. I wish we got PBS but we are just too far out. We get our internet service with our land line (no cell reception to speak of here).

    • Jennifer says:

      I live in the heart of town, have the TV as close to the window as I get and multiple TV antennas, but frankly, OTA digital is AWFUL. I rarely get any channels to come through viewably, I might get ONE to work, and it won’t be the same channel from time to time that I turn it on. I have pretty much given up on TV watching with an antenna. It’s just bizarrely terrible with digital.

  3. Becks1 says:

    It really just depends on what you want to watch and your viewing habits. If you like live sports, then it becomes a very different calculus. We have cable bc we have to have it to watch our local baseball team. But, that cable bill includes Netflix, Peacock, HBOMax and Paramount Plus, and then we get all the live sports we want. the only streaming service we pay for outside of that is Disney+ but I pay for that on a yearly basis so its easy to ignore lol. (for the first three years, I paid upfront so it wasn’t even a factor, and I paid something like 100 dollars for three years.) Anyway so we have crunched the numbers a bunch of times and for us to have what we want to watch, cable works out better for us.

    My parents don’t watch live sports besides football (which they can almost always get over the air) and overall aren’t super picky about what they watch (i.e. my dad sometimes just channel surfs at night, its kind of how he unwinds, lol) so they don’t have cable and just use over the air plus Netflix and Prime. I think their bill is still something like 100 or 125 a month bc they only have one option for internet and its not cheap.

    • North of Boston says:

      Your last point about the “they only have one option for internet and it’s not cheap” is a real issue for many. That’s the situation where I’m at, it’s Comcast or nothing. So even if I’m trying to go the streaming route, I still wind up having to deal with the cable company. It’s essentially a monopoly with non transparent pricing and control of the market.

      Aside from all their issues- and I’ve run into many of them in the last couple of months – I wish I could opt out of the regional sports fee. It’s $25-30 per month for some I don’t need or want.

    • LadyMTL says:

      I was coming here to say this re: sports. I number-crunched last year when I finally signed up for Disney + (I live in Canada so things here can be quite a bit more expensive, plus it’s rare for cable bills to include any streaming.) It would cost me more to have the same content that I have now via cable if I wanted to include sports, in part because so many of the channels are split up over different platforms…so for example I’d not only have to keep Prime TV at $10 but then get premium add-ons at $13 per month each. Then the sports streaming subs are close to $17 per month, and so on.

      Anyway, all that to say that I wish I could cut the cord, but for the time being nope.

    • manda says:

      yup re sports–we still have directv bc of NFL ticket, which allows you to watch all the games on sunday. Except there has been one european game that was on a platform we don’t have. But, it will end, I guess this year? Not sure. We will likely cut the cord then, and I was telling my husband it will be weird for us because we do still kind of channel surf. Or leave it on comedy central all day

      • Becks1 says:

        Our cable package comes with RedZone, which gives us enough of the other games to satisfy my husband, lol. (back in the day we had Sunday Ticket but the house we’ve lived in for 10 years now doesn’t have a good enough view of the satellite or whatever to have DirecTV, so we dropped it at that point.) he’s a Giants fan and they’re rarely on the TV here (minus prime time games) so RedZone it is, I guess, lol.

      • liz says:

        We also kept cable because of local sports. Hubby is a hard core hockey fan, particularly of the NY Rangers. A lot of their games are on the local network, owned by the same company as the team and not available on a streaming service. That may change as the new NHL/ESPN contract plays out, we will see. We’re going to have to add Apple+ once they take over the MLS contract next year – my nephew plays and it’s the only way we will get to see him play.

  4. Gizmo’sMa says:

    It’s definitely cheaper for me! Steaming is the way to go but you have to discounts. Never pay full price!!

    We had DirectTV. We had it bc the NFL Sunday Ticket. That made our bill expensive for 5 months of the year. I was always able to get a discounted price bc I negotiated it down. At the time I left it was an additional $450 for the package. I never paid full price bc DirectTV offered discounted pricing on the package. You just had to ask. The football season after AT&T brought them I called to negotiate like I always do and they said they do not offer the discount anymore and I had to pay full price. So I left. And saved lots of money doing! As regular pricing was $130 a month without premium channels and internet

    So this is what I pay now for streaming is under $100 a month including internet
    Internet: $50
    SlingTV: $40
    Hulu & Disney+: $4.98
    Peacock: $1.66
    Paramount+: $1.99
    Netflix & Appletv free with T-Mobile
    HBOmax free with Mom

  5. mellie says:

    We had DirecTV for 20 years! And they would not give us a break at all when I played hard ball. So I told them to suck it. We were paying around $200 a month, and that wasn’t even the largest package. So about 2 years ago we switched to Hulu Live (so that gets us all the locals, plus all the sports), Disney +, ESPN+, NetFlix, Amazon Prime and Apple TV…plus we have our internet which isn’t horrible and we’d have to pay that anyway because we work from home sometimes and we need that connection. So we are still paying less than $200. I would like HBOmax, but I’m just not adding it at this time. I did get an email that Apple is raising their prices next month….after Ted Lasso ends, that one may go.
    Hulu Live has gradually added so many new channels that I don’t miss the satellite service one bit. There are so many ways to watch TV cheaper than cable, you just have to dig around.

  6. wldwaffles says:

    We cut the cord about 5 years ago. We had an AV company come out and put up a quality antenna so we can access live TV that way if the internet goes out. We live in severe weather area so that seemed like a good precaution to take and it’s a one-time expense.

    We use YouTube TV b/c we do watch a lot of sports. We get HBOMax free with cell phone provider. Then we have Prime, Netflix, Disney+/Hulu/ESPN bundle, discovery+, and Peacock+. If it was not for the sports issue, we could easily dump YouTube TV, since the only other live regular programming we watch is the news and we watch NBC.

    I subscribe and cancel periodically to AppleTV, Paramount+, Showtime, and Starz when there are good deals.

  7. Holz says:

    I feel like the price of the internet is an irrelevant cost because I would purchase internet with cable or without cable.

  8. Steph says:

    Cut the cable cord! I went from paying $275 a month for unwanted and unneeded channels to paying $49.99 a month just for internet. I do have a three streaming subscriptions, but one is an annual fee and the other two are $15.99 a month each and they are ones of my choosing.

  9. Anne says:

    I honestly don’t care about the price- to me it’s such a more pleasant experience to watch streaming services- no ads, no flipping through channels, and it’s easy to cancel. Ever tried canceling traditional cable? Oy.

  10. Frippery says:

    Since you mentioned American Express, there’s a lot of different companies partnering with streaming services to offer discounts and deals. Check around! Offhand, I know Walmart+ subscribers can get Paramount+ for free, I think T-Mobile users can as well for awhile. I got 3 months of Apple TV for free because I bought a Roku TV.

  11. Elizabeth says:

    I just cut the cable chord in September because the $200 a month (including the internet) was too much. I have Hulu, Amazon Prime, Peacock (I paid for a year for 19.99), and Netflix. I also jump on deals when they come up occasionally on Prime for other channels, but I cancel them once the deal is done.

  12. Neners says:

    Streaming services, especially if you rotate them out. I have a few that I always keep and others that I subscribe to when certain shows’ seasons start. For the ones I rotate, I binge all the content that looks interesting for the month I have the service and then do the same thing next year. I barely pay anything to stream.

  13. Ariel says:

    I have exactly the 4 streamers mentioned at the moment. But I do rotate, which keeps costs down, hbo expires in a few days and I’m looking at getting peacock or something else for awhile. Keeping Disney through Xmas for the nostalgic programming from my childhood. And then Yellowjackets season 2 comes out – I’ll get showtime for awhile.

    The other thing about cable vs streaming – I no longer have the patience to watch commercials.

  14. Nancy says:

    I never count the internet bill into tv service because even when we had cable tv we had internet. My last cable tv bill was around $130 with taxes etc. My adult son pays for Netflix & the internet. My adult daughter who recently moved back in has a Hulu account she pays for.
    I pay for Disney, Paramount+, Peacock, Discovery, HBOMAX, Acorn, Masterpiece, Britbox, & MHz. I chose the cheaper with ads version when possible and we love foreign tv here. My out of pocket is $65.10 which includes taxes. Even if I carried the cost of Netflix & Hulu it would still be cheaper than cable.

  15. Case says:

    I have several subscriptions — HBOMax (I split it with a friend), Netflix (I pay and share with my mom), Prime (she pays and I share with my mom), Disney+, Apple TV (using a trial and then will delete) Hulu, and YouTube TV. For Hulu and YouTube TV, I generously use the “pause subscription” button when I’m not actively watching something on it, which saves a lot of money. YouTube TV is most expensive, but I only subscribe to it from Halloween through award season, and then ditch it once the Oscars are done.

  16. libellule says:

    I haven’t had cable for years. I have a lot of streaming services but share accounts for all of them (depending on the service – either with my parents or friends).

  17. Christine says:

    My family and I share streaming services and the ones we don’t share, I’ll periodically subscribe to and watch what I want and cancel until something new comes on that network that I want to watch. Even with Netflix cracking down on password sharing next year, it’ll be cheaper than paying for 3 seperate accounts.

  18. Isa says:

    I don’t count the internet bill, bc we would have that anyway. I only have Netflix. Cable was so pointless, they advertise that you can get 200 channels, but only about 10 of them had content. The rest were music or shopping or weird stuff.

  19. Concern Fae says:

    I rotate through streaming services, although I pay for Criterion Channel annually. I love old movies, so TCM is the one thing I miss from cable, but Criterion covers that. It’s $100 for the year. My apartment gets the afternoon sun, so the TV is fairly unwatchable in early evening. That’s why I started rotating, because I was never watching TV in the summer.

    I’m not rotating as much as I used to, because now I’m getting DVDs and Blu Rays from the library. It’s close enough that I can hit it on my exercise walk. They’ve gone fine free and no extra charge for DVDs. The Friends of the Library runs the town’s thrift shop. They get all the new releases, it just may take a bit for it to be in when I’m there. Can’t beat free, though! And they have a huge selection, I can always grab a mystery show if there isn’t a movie I’m interested in. Finally watching Diana Rigg in The Mrs Bradley Mysteries and caught Everything Everywhere All At Once over the holiday.

  20. lucy2 says:

    I cut cable about a year ago, and now just do internet ($80/month is the cheapest the ONE COMPANY I can use gave me) and then I do Hulu with Live TV, Netflix, Amazon, and HBO Max. I share most of those with family, and they share Disney+ with me. Getting all of that, I’m saving probably $60-70 a month, which adds up!

  21. K says:

    One nice thing about cutting the cord is that you can use streaming services on any device and watch TV anywhere. With cable, you are tied to that one TV with the cable box.

  22. VegasSchmegas says:

    Subscribe to the free newsletter “The Streamable” – it keeps you updated on promotions on the various streamable options. We cut the cord 4 years ago, we use HuluTV, and have Netflix and HBOMax. We also pop in and out of other steaming options for trial periods. One thing to remember, before you ditch your wired services, check to make sure you are not within their “agreement plan dates” – cable loves to hold you and your money hostage. Also, you can watch the various streaming channels for a trial period, free. You can always cancel (no hostages taken).

  23. SpankyB says:

    I have basic cable and I have no idea why. I also have Netflix, Paramount +, Prime, HBO Max. HBO Max is free. I’m hanging on to Paramount for The Good Fight, I’ll reassess when that ends and maybe pick up Hulu. Or, more likely, I’ll binge The Good Wife and The Good Fight one last time then decide.

    My problem is I forget what is streaming on what channel. I’ll watch a series on HBO then forget about it when a new season drops because I’m watching another series on Netflix. I need a spreadsheet.

  24. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    That’s exactly what we’ve had since forever ago. And we toggle between others. Live tv streams through Hulu and Paramount.

  25. Banga says:

    Don’t overlook Kanopy!

    You join through your local library and can stream excellent movies, documentaries and some series for free.

    Costco also has a deal on Apple TV. The year long subscription saves something like $12.

  26. Solidgold says:

    I need to sit down and calculate the savings.
    I pay for premium cable channels +Netflix and Disney, Prime and Apple.
    I only watch cable sports, news and the Crave (HBO channel). I’m ready to cut out the news channels( news is negative and way too much disinformation) and just watch the local basic news channels. I will keep sports so I can watch hockey and tennis. I think I will cut Prime and Apple keep Disney and Netflix…….I don’t know.

  27. LP says:

    I always think this comparison is a weird one because you can’t share cable accounts like you can streamers! No one I know pays for everything themselves, they share with friends or family and have their own profiles. Plus with pausing, rewinding/fast forwarding, and guaranteed subtitles it’s a no brainer!

  28. JK35 says:

    It amazes me how much TV people watch. I have an antenna and get in the local stations. I got a 2.00 a month deal on Peacock – use the ROKU. watch old shows. My internet bill last month was 30.00. What on earth are you all watching. There is no way I’d pay even close to 100.00 for internet.

    • GeoDiva says:

      I have Starlink for internet so it is $110/month, but in rural areas, it is a lifeline.

    • Becks1 says:

      we have two kids who watch TV (not as much as some of their peers but still on a regular basis lol) and we watch TV most nights after they go to bed. Some nights its sports, some nights its a series on Netflix or whatever, some nights its something on “regular” tv or cable.

    • K says:

      For some areas, it’s not a choice. Where I live, you only have one company to choose from because they have a monopoly in this entire area, no other ISP can come in. The cheapest plan with taxes and fees is ~$65.00 which is slow and limited.

      It’s possible to watch older shows or movies for free if you have a streaming device, with free channels like Tubi, Pluto TV, and Freevee.

  29. GeoDiva says:

    I live in a rural area so cable is not an option where I live, so we use an antenna for local channels and stream everything else. We have Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Amazon Prime, Discovery +, HBO Max, Apple TV+, Peacock. We also use my MIL’s Xfinity log-in to watch ESPN live. Our internet is from Starlink, so we do have the bandwidth to stream everything.

  30. Roan Inish says:

    Question to all the commenters. Do you require any special hardware when you ditch cable? Right now with cable we have the cable/channel box, dvr and modem for WiFi. What exactly do you need for the switch. We have a tv with apps for most of the streamers.

    • K says:

      If you are happy with using your smart TV there is no need to buy any new equipment. But there are a lot of good streaming devices on sale around the holidays. (I use Chromecast with Google TV which lets me cast videos from my phone.)

  31. The Recluse says:

    We live out near the boonies in New Mexico, in a smallish town that is over an hour’s drive from any larger city, so digital antennas don’t work at all. I looked it up and the only broadcast channel that can be pulled in is a Fox channel from El Paso.
    We tried our local cable provider and Direct TV, but they were too expensive and getting more so.
    So, we turned to YouTube TV and haven’t looked back. It works for us as it also offers Las Cruces’ PBS affiliate, something that Hulu didn’t offer. PBS is important to us.
    I really appreciate its bottomless DVR.