An illustration of money for article on how to save on your cable bill.

If you’re considering cutting the cord, or just finding a few less expensive options, you should start by reviewing your current pay-TV service.

You’re likely to find that cable-TV pricing can be complicated. Prices generally vary by location, there are lots of opaque fees, and promotional pricing keeps changing. But you can take control of your bills by building a customized collection of entertainment services.

Here are four sample scenarios to give you ideas for your own plan. And read “Take Control of Cable TV!” for a step-by-step guide to getting everything you need at a lower price.

Cable Bill Before Cord Cutting

Let’s say you have a fairly typical bundle of three services from your cable company: TV, internet, and digital phone. Here’s what the bill might look like. It’s based on an actual bill from a consumer in Connecticut, rounded to whole-dollar amounts.

TRIPLE-PLAY BILL
  • TV    $92
  • Internet    $55
  • Phone    $20
  • Broadcast TV Surcharge    $9

  • TOTAL COST     $176

Note: Sample bill excludes taxes, which vary by state. TV price is for a midtier plan with 175 channels including HBO and Showtime, plus a digital receiver. Internet price is for standard broadband.

Monthly Costs After Cord Cutting

Now let’s get rid of cable-TV service—and the associated fees. That saves $101 per month. But you still want to watch movies and TV shows, right? And streaming services cost money, too. Your new TV-viewing budget can vary a lot depending on what choices you make. For some options, you’ll need to buy an antenna to get free over-the-air broadcast TV signals. In our recent indoor antenna test, models ranged from $10 to $80. But then there are no recurring monthly charges.

WATCH FREE OR NOT AT ALL

Live in a spot where an antenna works well? Have a library card that entitles you to a Kanopy account? If you can do without cable channels, TV viewing can be cost-free.

  • Antenna    $0
  • Sony Crackle    $0
  • Kanopy    $0
  • Internet    $55
  • Phone    $20

  • TOTAL COST     $75
NETFLIX, PLUS A LITTLE MORE

This plan uses an antenna for broadcast channels. Netflix delivers older movies and original series ("The Crown"). And you can rent two new releases from FandangoNow.

  • Antenna    $0
  • FandangoNow (2 movies)    $12
  • Netflix     $11
  • Internet    $55
  • Phone    $20

  • TOTAL COST     $98
SIMILAR TO CABLE, BUT CHEAPER

Sling TV Blue gives you about 45 cable and broadcast channels. Add two options, such as HBO and Spanish-language programming, and you still cut $56 from our sample bill.

  • Sling TV Blue $25
  • HBO (Sling add-on) $15
  • Best of Spanish TV (Sling add-on) $5
  • Internet $55
  • Phone $20

  • TOTAL COST $120

There are now several cable-style streaming services to choose from. Many now combine local broadcast channels with networks, such as AMC, CNN, and HGTV, that used to be available only in traditional pay-TV packages. Note that internet and phone service may rise in price when you cut TV from a triple-play bundle, though some consumers report no increase. 

THE TV LOVER'S PLAN

Saving money isn't the only reason to cut the cord. It also helps you customize your viewing. A mix of streaming series can give you the kind of content you like most.

  • Amazon Prime   $10
  • DirecTV Now Go Big package    $60
  • HBO (DirecTV add-on)   $5
  • Filmstruck with Criterion   $11
  • Netflix   $11
  • Internet   $55
  • Phone   $20

  • TOTAL COST $172

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the August 2018 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.