Cord-cutting was supposed to be the smart way to free yourself from exorbitant cable bills. But you add a Netflix here, an HBO Max there, toss in some Hulu and Apple+ and your favorite sports network, and pretty soon you’re paying $100+ every month. What’s a smart streamer to do?
That was me two years ago. Today my total cost of video services is half what it was then, and I never run out of entertaining stuff to watch. In this post, I’ll show you how I did it, and how you can do the same.
How to cut your video streaming bill
1. Make a list, check it twice
Streaming providers, like your neighborhood fitness emporium, count on their members signing up and then putting their monthly payments on autopilot. Maybe you come back, maybe you completely forget that you have a paid subscription to Starz or Paramount+. If you don’t go through your credit card statements with the eye of an IRS auditor, you’ll never notice those monthly extractions.
The solution? Track the services you subscribe to, so you know exactly what you’re paying for. If you’re not using a service, you can and should cancel with extreme prejudice.
This is the sort of job that spreadsheets were made for. I use Excel, with my files stored in OneDrive so I can view them online or in the desktop app. If you live in Google’s cloud, feel free to use Google Sheets. You could also use OneNote, EverNote, or another note-taking app.
If you want another incentive to check that list regularly, consider also jotting down the series and events you watch or plan to watch on each service.
The important thing is to make that list and then remember to check it at least once a month.
2. Take advantage of offers from your mobile provider
Streaming services know that people are increasingly watching their content on phones and tablets, which means they’re eager to cut promotional deals with mobile providers. You can save money by taking advantage of those deals.
T-Mobile, for example, offers a long list of streaming discounts. With a Magenta or Magenta Max plan, you get “Netflix on Us,” Apple TV+ (for at least six months), Paramount+ (for a year), and a $10 discount on the monthly subscription cost of YouTube TV. That adds up to more than $30 a month. (And yes, the Magenta 55+ plans qualify.)
Verizon throws in a free (ad-supported) Hulu/Disney+/ESPN+ bundle with its top two unlimited plans. You can also get six months of Discovery+ and Apple Music depending on which plan you’ve chosen.
AT&T includes a no-charge HBO Max subscription with some of its unlimited plans.
In every case, you have to cancel your existing streaming subscription and then sign up again using the mobile provider’s portal to take advantage of these discounts. But the savings might make it worth the small hassle.
3. Take advantage of offers from your credit card company
Streaming services love to rope in credit card companies as partners. That makes sense, because you’re probably going to use a credit card to pay for that service, and the card issuer chips off a little piece of each transaction as part of the deal.
If you have a top-of-the-line American Express Platinum card, one of your benefits is a $20 monthly credit for a streaming service, which you can apply to Disney+, Hulu, ESPN+, or a bundle containing all three services. Peacock is also on the list of eligible video services.
You might be able to find similar deals from other cards, but the more likely option is an inflated cash-back option for streaming services, with some cards giving between 3% and 6% of the total bill as a rebate. It’s always worth checking.
4. Cut your monthly cost with an annual subscription
Some streaming services offer a powerful incentive to convert your monthly subscription to a prepaid annual deal.
If you know you want to subscribe to HBO Max every month, for example, why pay $10 (for the ad-supported plan) or $15 (for the ad-free plan) every month, when you can purchase an annual subscription that effectively gives you two months free?
Not every provider offers this option (Netflix is monthly only, for example), but it’s worth checking for any service that’s on your list.
5. Use the “subscribe-binge-cancel” strategy
Sometimes a service doesn’t have a selection of content that’s compelling enough to justify a long-term subscription. But what do you do when that service has a series or two you’re dying to watch? That was how I felt about Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building earlier this year.
The simple solution: Once every episode is available, sign up for a monthly subscription, binge the series before your month is up, and then cancel.
And here’s a tip to avoid accidentally paying for a second month because you forgot to cancel. After you’ve paid for and activated your monthly subscription, go to the service dashboard and cancel. You won’t get a refund; instead, you’ll get a notice that you can continue watching until your month is up. Just be sure you watch that final episode before the clock runs out. Calendar and/or Alexa reminders can help you with that.