How we got free Basic “Cable TV” (and it’s legal!!!)

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Free Basic Cable

Free Basic Cable

Cable TV is Expensive

We’ve been forced to re-examine our budget and make additional cuts to make ends meet. A few years ago, we downgraded from the cable package that has all the basic cable channels to the “limited” basic cable package. (I still miss the Food Network!) Even though we had only the limited package, we were still paying a lot to rent the HD DVR. We really liked the convenience of the DVR – especially when it came to the Cable TV

We had a stock of PBS shows we knew were just fine for our kids, and since we had limited free time in the evenings, it was nice to watch shows that we liked when it was convenient for us and to skip all the commercials. Earlier this month, we made even more changes, and I’m happy to report that it hasn’t been as bad as we thought! We saved an additional $42 a month by returning the DVR and turning off the cable service altogether. Here are some things we’ve discovered as we saved money on TV.

First, we took out an old rabbit-ear antenna we had in the garage and plugged it into our TV. (Our TV is a newer model that has a built-in digital tuner). The TV was able to find many of our local stations. Then we put a longer cord onto the antenna and held it up near the roof – it was then able to find every channel in our area but the CW and ABC.

How We Got Free Basic Cable

So we decided to purchase a roof-top antenna to see if we could do better. We went to to learn more about antennas and installation. This site recommends different kinds of antennas and gives you information about the OTA (over the air) digital stations in your area based on your location. We ended up purchasing this RCA antenna to get us the free Cable TV we wanted.

The Antenna we bought that works like a charm.


So although this option does not include any extended cable channels  it gives us everything that Basic Cable offers for $20-25 a month, except we get it for free now.

We used our Swagbucks gift certificates to Amazon to get it for free. Installation was actually quite simple. We even pieced together leftover coaxial cable that we had in the garage to make the run from the roof. We just disconnected the line from the cable company where it comes into the garage and attached the cable from the antenna instead. We were able to get the ABC and CW channel now. And we were able to do all of this for free either with gift certificates or with stuff we already had.

You can also get some free trials to watch TV online (or right on your TV):

We were still missing the DVR, so we thought about Tivo and even DVD burners, but we needed to save money, not spend more!

And finally, we’ve noticed something really great with our kids! At first they were annoyed like just we were that they couldn’t fast forward commercials or that certain shows weren’t available. Now we are finding that when they ask to watch a certain show on TV, and we respond “That’s not on now.” They generally say “ok” and go on to do something else. Sometimes they will ask what is on, and if something is appropriate, we’ll turn it on for them. But we are finding they don’t watch as much TV and playing more outside because there isn’t a stock of 3 or 4 shows they can watch at any time.

Also see: From Satellite to Streaming: We saved $528 a Year!

DVR Options When You Don’t Have Cable

The biggest downside to not having cable is the lack of a DVR.  We do miss that sometimes.  Although I don’t think there are any perfect options, there are a few products to check out, though.

Saving the $42 is one of several cuts we have been forced to make, but even though we thought this one would hurt a lot, it has turned out to not be so bad after all and the free Cable TV is awesome!

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  1. Pam Polischuk says

    We recently did this as well, but Dennis found directions to make an antenna online. He found the supplies in our garage as well. It doesn’t look pretty, but it works :)

  2. Shari Rosemblat says

    WE never had cable…we have reception only and if a game is on cable we just go online to watch it free.

  3. says = tons of great shows for free (one ad during the regular commercial breaks. They have both new (up 1-7days after airdate) and old, plus a lot of movies and anime. I love this website.

  4. says

    We JUST cut cable, but as we are renting, my husband didn’t feel comfortable installing an antenna. So we are just using Hulu and Netflix (and DVDs we got as hand-me-downs from cousins for the kids). I am definitely going to check out the TV Guide DVR. Thanks for the tip.

  5. Todd B says

    Booster antenna bought at Walmart for $17 almost 8 years ago gets me 13 channels.
    The DVD-I to HDMI cable I bought on Amazon $3.66, and stereo cord $3.55 (both free with gift cards)
    lets me hook up my pc to my tv, and allows me to use every free streaming service on my tv.
    Who needs to pay for cable?

  6. Anna says

    We also just use rabbit ears, but the channels we get aren’t technically “cable” it’s network TV. Since we already get the network channels, I was hoping this post was on how to get real cable channels, like Food Network. In the mean time, we are able to see most of the TV we want using just the antenna and internet. When you can plug your laptop or tablet to the TV, you can make do with quite a bit of programming you don’t get on network tv. But we don’t need a rooftop where we live to get what we want to watch. Way to be frugal, though! I thought we were the last cable holdouts!

    • jlpenner says

      I wish that too.. but lots of people pay for “basic cable”.. which is nothing but network channels.. costing them around $20 a month :)

  7. Christine says

    Yea, the name of this article is DEFINITELY misleading. ABC, CBS, FOX, CW, PBS (I’m sure I’m missing some) are already free network channels. They are NOT cable

  8. Michelle says

    I this a long time ago. But yesterday I saw an ad say call your Congress so they won’t take away free t.v. and posted tje number to call. I refuse to pay for tv so i plan on making the call.

  9. Teresa says

    Been wanting to make the jump for a few years now.
    But how and how much are you getting Internet Service??
    I’ve cut my cable back and would not have TV at All. But it’s actually
    Cheaper for me to keep it bundled with my Internet.
    Rediculous what they are charging me for just Internet alone.

  10. says

    We cut our Cable TV a year of so ago. We got Netflix (which I recommend over Hulu unless you’re into old movies and such – there’s very little you can get from Hulu you can’t get from a Network TV’s own website.) and I hooked up an old laptop to our TV. We also had a PS3 that gets Netflix. Now, we get everything. Even stuff that isn’t on US TVs. And all we pay for is Cable internet.

    We cannot get local TV, however, since antenna’s are almost useless here. Even if you live in the same town as the station, you can’t get good reception. So antenna’s won’t help everybody. Some people use their friend’s passwords to get access to network websites so they can watch the shows for free as well. Some sites, like Comedy Central, don’t require a password but have commercials. A decent browser with a good adblocker can often let you watch those shows advertisement free, but that varies depending on the website.

    Note you can often find used laptops cheap at big electronics stores or from repair shops. I suggest one with a DVI output unless your TV is too old. Laptops are the most powerful option you can have, but there are a couple of drawbacks. Updates are a little annoying and I don’t have (presently) a way to control it remotely, although this can be done as well. My laptop is old and only has a VGA output, but my TV accepts this. DVI is still better.

    If you know computers and get a laptop without an operating system, you might be able to use Linux instead of Windows. If you can get Linux to use all your laptop’s abilities that is. You can also stream movies from another computer in your home and play DVDs, BLURAYs, etc., so long as the laptop can handle them.

    I wrote about it at my own site, but that article was a while ago.

  11. Gale says

    Our internet is through the cable company, and the minimum package doesn’t cost us any additional money beyond just internet. We use Netflix, too. If cutting that basic package that we don’t use actually saved us money, we’d do in a second.

  12. Paula Geschwind says

    I work for the Time Warner Cable, and I get my Cable, Phone, Internet, and Security System free. Can’t beat that.

  13. Cristy Ridey says

    We cut the cable a few years ago and started streaming using:

    I little technical, but cheap and well worth it. You will not believe what you can stream to your TV , legal and basically free.

  14. Tami says

    We got rid of cable more than 2 years ago now… we have a HD antenna and a Roku. Now we watch what we want almost when we want. (Bonus to Netflix for picking up some HGTV and FoodNetwork shows.)

  15. Pam says

    Don’t forget free tv shows and movies from.the.library. Our library even has free HBO and Showtime shows you can get a complete season for 3 weeks at a time. Lots of free stuff besides books. Check it out.

  16. kellyn says

    I cant use am antenna either I live in a valley with no reception. I have no cable, no internet besides 5g I pay $10/mo extra with a wifi hotspot on my phone for my kid to sometimes watch netflix on her tablet. I have unlimited internet on my samsung smartphone. I have a samsung smart tv and can do screen mirroring from my phone to my tv screen with no obvious loss of quality and stream netflix, hulu or amazon instant video from my phone to my tv with no internet required. I find with hulu or netflix I have everything I think I need :).

  17. Donna Quarles says

    We haven’t have cable for over 15 yrs. When we had it we never watched it. We do have all the local channels & we have netflixs. We used to have redbox instant but it didn’t work on the tv through google chrome or the xbox. we get our internet through our phones so we aren’t missing anything.

  18. Maureen says

    We have 2 DVR’s, home phone and extended cable plus Showtime and The Movie Channel…We rarely watch those and I would gladly try to cut back but every time I call Time Warner to get rid of the extended packages we don’t watch, I end up paying more for less channels…That doesn’t even make sense to me! So this article is a great idea. We already have Netflix and our internet is free through our home owner’s association, so I don’t need to pay for that. We definitely need to look into trying an antenna but we live in a condo, so don’t know how that will work out. I think before we cut the cord on cable, we should see if we can get any reception through the antenna before hand. Great article, thanks for the tips!

  19. Karen Propes says

    We cut off our Direct TV because we moved in with his mother because she was sick. She passed away and now we are back at home and just using antenna. I hate the pauses so we ordered hulu and have been so disappointed. Days of our lives is available sometimes and not sometimes, easier to get from the network online. We are going to try Netflix. We have internet through our phone company and have to keep our home phone to get internet and we are paying around $90.00+ for that alone. Crazy…. I’m on disability and he’s looking for a job since he had to quit to take care of his Mother. The circle never ends. .

  20. says

    I found you on Pinterest! My curiosity was piqued because I have not had cable in years. In our case, it is not financial, but because we do not want to be that couple sitting in front of the TV while we should be spending time together. Though in our area it is the equivalent to a small car payment to have cable! Which is pretty ridiculous. We use Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc. for free, but sometimes I just want to watch football or maybe the Grammy’s and then I admit – I miss it. Thanks for these tips. Due to the community we live, we cannot hang an antenna, but I’m going to show this to my husband! It would be cool to have it for the rest of the Play-Offs. Sometimes I don’t feel much like going to the sports bar.

  21. Jacob says

    In addition to Swagbucks – you can very easily get free Hulu using rewards and it’s a great deal on value. We got an OTA DVR and antenna and now we can record the OTA shows we love and watch at our convenience. It’s pretty great!

  22. MK says

    Suggestion – cheap option for a DVR… old school VCR – they come on at programmed times and record what you have set up. If multiple shows at once is your thing… multiple VCRs usually works. And you can still fast forward through the ads. The tapes are reusable for many shows.

  23. Elton says

    Save money on dvr but you can still record to a pc with an added external hard drive costs a few bucks upfront but you can add the tuner to pc and a few other things and with a Tera byte or more hard drive save tons of shows.

  24. Commonsense says

    Not CABLE but over the air TV. This is nothing new. The same thing since TV was invented. Please rename this article so people will stop pinning it thinking that it is some MIRACLE CURE for TV.

    • jlpenner says

      This is why it is labeled “basic cable”. Many people still do not know that you can get it for free and are paying for it… we were.

  25. Gayle says

    Ummm…this is not “free cable”…you’re simply hooking up an antenna to get clearer signals to the already free network channels just like most everyone else without cable tv does. You really should fix you graphic making it’s way though Pinterest, as it’s clearly misleading.

    • jlpenner says

      According to Comcast,limited basic cable option includes several local broadcast stations such as ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX and PBS. Local government and educational channels are also included in this package. Thus is basically what you get by doing what we recommend and many people pay for the above service and do not have to :)

    • jlpenner says

      According to Comcast,limited basic cable option includes several local broadcast stations such as ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX and PBS. Local government and educational channels are also included in this package. Thus is basically what you get by doing what we recommend and many people pay for the above service and do not have to :)

  26. Shawn Stokes says

    Not free cable. Just open air TV. Having cable hooked up and getting service from it and not paying, that would be getting cable TV for free.

  27. Shirley says

    We made the change going on 2 years now. The only thing we did that you didn’t was first we bought a box called Roku that was really nice but hubby wanted more on it. Then we gave that to our daughter and bought another box which I can’t recall the name of. It was very very complicated and not user friendly at all so we gave that to a nephew who, being much younger, loves it and figured it all out. We then bought another box and I think it’s called Amazon Prime TV. We absolutely love it! Very user friendly and has lots of different things on it. Yes we pay for some things like Netflix or whatever, but it is so cheap that anyone can own it and not break the bank. Many many things are free on it too. This all happened when our cable company got greedy as they all do and we had just had enough!

  28. says

    I was thinking of cutting our satellite way back and I ordered the free trial of Netflix. Long story story short I could not get it to connect with my internet on my smart TV. Ended up calling the TV manufacturer and was told I had to have at least 3 bars on TV to pick up Netflix and I only had one. I am paying AT$T for high speed DSL. I have new modem and an apple router and apple extender to get my wifi throughout my house but yet neither my smart tv or the Apple TV in out living room will connect with Netflix so I had to cancel netflix. Anyone got any suggestions or solutions for me?… – HELP PLEASE I NEED IT!!!

  29. Patricia Monday says

    I have Netflix and Hulu. I pay 12 each for them, best 24 i spent. I get them both commercial/ad free by the upgrade, plus netflix i can have running on 5 things in different rooms at the same time. I used to have a satellite, so i am going to use their stuff on my house to add an rca antenna to, and still use my own splitter, so that i have it going to all rooms, like cable was. Since my cable bill was 150, im now paying 24, im a happy girl. 126 savings a month. 1512 a year.


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