Janet Patton: The advantages and disadvantages to cutting the cable cord


When it comes to household budget belt-tightening, there are just so many things you can economize away.

Electricity and gas? Got to have that. Water and sewer? Yep, that too. Mortgage, rent, car payments? Probably fixed.

These days, cable seems to be the most expendable expense.

What a few years ago seemed like an extreme choice — getting rid of cable — now seems downright trendy. Many millenials are opting out of TV altogether.

And it can save you money, if you are willing to forgo some things you probably take for granted. Like sports. Or random reruns.

But you don't have to go cold turkey to save.

When people come to Jennifer Hunter, an assistant professor in the University of Kentucky Department of Family Sciences, for advice on reducing expenses, cable is usually where she tells them to look.

Cable bills can easily top $100 a month if you have premium channels. But you can slim that down considerably.

"Do you need premium channels, HD channels, movie channels? Or could you go back to standard cable package?" Hunter said. "The other thing we also tell people is cable is one place you can negotiate your price."

It's true: You've probably heard that obnoxious recording of a cable operator attempting to stop a customer from cutting off service. That's extreme but it's basically standard procedure to attempt to retain customers.

The main way cable companies do this is by offering a lower price. So the next time the cable bill sends you through the roof, call and threaten to cancel.

But what if you really mean it?

Going cable-free requires a mental shift, but it's pretty easy for most people these days. With a decent antenna, you can get major broadcast channels and public television. You may not even need a digital antenna; old UHF versions still work sometimes.

In Lexington, KET viewers sometimes need an outdoor antenna or antenna booster amplifier to pick up the local public television channels, the station said.

Add internet service and you can find a lot more good and bad TV.

Plug-ins like Apple TV, Google Chromecast or Roku can give you access to a wide range of mainstream shows, news channels and premium content, Hunter said.

If you have a newer smart TV, you're already there. In fact, you might not even need a TV to watch: increasingly people borrow the cable or premium channel password of a friend or relative and log on to watch online.

Social media can help you find great things to watch and share the joy of a little-known gem.

You can supplement free TV with subscription services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and other channels to watch movies and much more.

But those can add up: Amazon Prime recently announced it is raising its annual price from $79 to $99, plus on-demand prices for many shows and movies. Hulu Plus is $7.99; Netflix is raising its prices to about $10 a month for new subscribers.

Still, if you can get by on $15 for internet and $30 in subscriptions, that beats TimeWarner Cable's listed price of about $65 a month for basic cable and internet.

But unless you have cable plus premium channels — or friends who will let you piggyback — you won't get new episodes of top shows like Game of Thrones.

And — all important in Kentucky — you won't get to see many Wildcat basketball games.

But you may find you don't miss cable as much as you think.

Chris Poore, University of Kentucky student publications adviser, said his family gave up cable years ago.

"It was as much lifestyle as economics," he said. "We were watching too much TV."

This decision was not universally popular, particularly with his teenage son. But as they have gotten busier, they miss it less, he said.

Until there is a game on.

His wife, Lee, played college volleyball and loves to watch volleyball games.

"She tries to watch on the internet and just gets angrier and angrier," he said. "Because the speed is so poor, and it just freezes up. So she'll go to a friend's house or a bar."

Hunter, the family finances expert, said going out can be a good solution, "as long as you don't overspend at the bar."

Homework: Pay attention to what you really watch; not just what's on in the background but what you actually watch on TV.

Now see if you can find it somewhere else cheaper, through a subscription service like Amazon Prime?

Before you cut the cord, try a test run and turn the TV off for a few nights. Turn it back on only for a specific show or movie. That wasn't that painful, was it?

If it was, think about saving hundreds of dollars a year and see if you feel better.