3 Reasons to Not Cut Your Cable

Male hand using Tv remote control
Getty ImagesCutting your cable to cut down your bills could end up costing you more in the long run.
By Lindsay Konsko

Looking to slash your monthly bills so you'll have some extra cash? Cable TV is one of the first little comforts you might be considering doing without. After all, the national average monthly price for expanded basic cable service was $61.63 in 2012, with the next most popular package averaging $74.57 monthly, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Perhaps you've been thinking that dropping cable could free up some cash for a great family vacation or that new outdoor patio furniture you've been eyeing? Surprisingly, resolving the cable conundrum may not be as simple as it appears. Before you pull the plug on cable TV, check out these powerful reasons to stay connected.

1. Cable keeps you in the loop. While some TV shows are timeless, others are very much diminished if you don't have access to them in real time.

Cable TV is still one of the best ways to watch exciting new shows, such as AMC's (AMC) "Mad Men" or HBO's "Game of Thrones." Seeing these programs as they first air is half the fun! You wouldn't want to appear clueless at the office Monday morning when everyone else is talking about what happened between Don Draper and his wife, Megan, on "Mad Men." And you certainly wouldn't want to get the verdict on Tyrion's fate from your co-workers before you see it for yourself on "Game of Thrones."

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%Sure, you can stream sporting events or your favorite cable shows online. However, you'll watch them a day to as much as a week later than everyone else. No matter how exciting that football or basketball action is, streaming after the fact deflates the thrill. If you're active in social media, the chances of catching some annoying spoilers are pretty strong, too.

Sports fans should also be aware that ESPN (DIS) has obtained the rights to broadcast the entire World Cup competition this summer from June 12 to July 13. Although ABC will also air some of the matches, the only way to see the entire World Cup live from your home is through the ESPN channel.

Breaking news is unquestionably the most important programming to receive in real time, and for many Americans, television is still one of the largest mediums for news as it happens. Local cable programming also keeps viewers up to date on community information that national networks may ignore. During a crisis situation like a hurricane or forest fire, cable TV news can be a vital and even life-saving resource for some viewers. Your cable service may even offer an option for streaming its programming on your smartphone or tablet, enabling access to the latest news when a natural disaster knocks out electrical service in your area.

2. Replacing programs costs time and money. You'll probably still want to enjoy some or all of the types of services cable TV provides, such as sporting events, recent TV shows and movies, all of which will come at a price.

Subscribing to Netflix (NFLX) or similar services is less costly than cable. However, to get some of the newer releases through services like Netflix, you'll need to add them to your queue and wait for DVDs to arrive by mail. This could result in waiting weeks to see a film you could have viewed immediately though your cable service. Additionally, not every streaming and rental service offers every film or series. Subscribing to multiple services may prove costly and inconvenient.

Perhaps you just plan to catch an occasional movie at the theater instead of paying for cable TV. The National Association of Theater Owners reports that the national average price of a movie ticket is $8.13. That doesn't sound so bad. If you have a family though, costs add up quickly. To take a family of four to the movies could cost you over $32 if your kids don't qualify for a discounted ticket -- and that's before factoring in the cost of premium priced snacks at the counter. So renting through your TV and making popcorn at home might save you a lot more in the end.

Want to catch that next big game or boxing match live for free? You can. It's probably playing at your local pub. The catch is, of course, you'll have to keep buying drinks if you want to stick around and see who wins. If you order food, the price per game continues to rise. You'll also lose the bonding experience of watching games with your young kids, since they won't be allowed to join you at the bar.

3. Filling time in other ways can be expensive. Maybe you're thinking of pursuing a hobby during the time you'd otherwise be sitting in front of the TV. That can be a great idea to learn something new or get more physical activity, but don't expect it to save you money. For example:
  • The price of joining a gym varies but can easily run upward of $1,000 per year for a family.
  • Private ballroom dancing lessons can run from about $50 to $200 each. Add to that the price of a dance-appropriate wardrobe and any competition or costume costs.
  • Playing a weekend round of golf on a public 18-hole course comes with a median price tag of $36, which includes the cart, according to a Golf Channel survey. Private or newer courses will cost you more -- all this is before adding in the cost of golf attire and golf clubs purchased or rented. For serious golfers who want to join a private club, the annual cost can run into four or five figures.
Some truly disciplined people may be able to drop cable TV and not spend an extra dime elsewhere. For most of us, though, hanging onto cable makes real economic and practical sense. Cable provides a valuable, real-time connection to news, sports and entertainment. Your current cable package may even already include programming such as exercise, meditation, art and dance instruction to help you pursue certain hobbies at no additional cost.

Lindsay Konsko is a writer for NerdWallet, where she covers credit, credit cards and other personal finance topics.

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