Cutting the Cable TV Cord

By Kevin Gibbons

When I talk about the Savvy Life Philosophy – Saving on what’s not important to you so you can Spend on what is important to you – I usually use the example of foregoing a cable TV subscription in my house so my wife and I can have more money for travel. While the end result is correct, the story is actually a little more complicated than that. It has its roots in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. (Was that really almost 30 years ago?!)

I was living alone in an apartment in Silicon Valley at the time. Without even being aware of it, I had turned my Sundays between August and January into marathon professional football-watching binges, starting at 10:30 in the morning and wrapping up at 9 or 10 at night. Now, let me make something clear: I don’t particularly like football. I never played it, never had any interest in sports brackets or even football pools (although I could usually get talked into throwing away $5 on an office Super Bowl pool), or even really have a favorite team. It was just something I developed by habit. I think it may have grown out of listening to the local news radio station that featured regular interviews with ex-coach and TV broadcaster John Madden. He’s a very interesting storyteller, and maybe I just wanted to see a little more of where his stories came from. In any case, my Sundays were fully occupied in front of the TV.

Then on October 17, 1989 the San Francisco Bay Area experienced one of its worst natural disasters in 81 years. Fortunately, I and my friends emerged relatively unscathed. However, one of the casualties of the aftermath was my television. When the local power was turned back on, a power surge blew a fuse in the TV. (I know this, because, being a nerdy engineer at the time, I took it apart, checked the components and identified the faulty part.)  But that disruption to my routine was enough to make me realize that I had been wasting multiple days of my life on something that was not important to me. I put the TV back together, with the blown fuse, and have never had a connected TV in my residence since. I had my Sundays (and many other days and evenings) back to explore my environment, meet with friends, practice my photography, read and just try unexpected things!

When my wife and I bought our house, the first thing I did was go through all the rooms and literally cut the cable connections with a pair of wire cutters, shoving them back in the wall and blanking off the access plates. We did have a monitor and DVD player, so we could watch movies or even released TV series, but it became a much more intentional decision for the evening or weekend plan, rather than just mindlessly turning on the tube for four or more hours.

So flash forward to present day. My wife has a couple of streaming service subscriptions.  It’s easier again for her to watch her shows, but it is still a focused, intentional activity. She usually watches specific programs and we don’t have the equivalent of channel surfing for hours. And the streaming subscriptions are significantly cheaper than a cable subscription.

Cutting the Cable Cord has become a popular subject for quite some time, but with more alternatives becoming available and affordable, it has gained new popularity.  We did it “cold turkey,” and slowly added streaming services as they became available. And we did it not just for the financial savings, but for the quality of life improvement, eliminating something that really was not important to us and finding a working solution that matched our needs. If you really enjoy the entertainment that is provided by many cable services, you may feel trapped or confused by all the streaming service options out there.


Fortunately, Paul Andrews at the Seattle Times has written a very good article “Cutting the cord: Streaming instead of cable TV means complicated choices, and some trade-offs,” explaining some options and what to consider when making the switch from cable to streaming. He cut his viewing bill by one-third, and kept all the channels that he wanted. This article is pretty detailed, discussing the different streaming services, what you will need in terms of Internet Provider Services, and much more. It is definitely worth the read if you are considering making the switch, or are unsure if you have made the best choice. Just remember, the best choice for you is picking what is important to you and not just staying with something because it’s habit.

Update April 12, 2018: Aaron Pressman at Fortune Magazine is the latest to report on his success cutting the cable cord. You can read about it on his Twitter at @ampressman.