Many consumers have cut the cord with cable, looking to streaming services as a way to save money and enjoy a more customized viewing experience. In fact, a recent survey by Consumer Reports found that more than half of American households subscribe to four or more streaming services. Almost one in ten subscribe to nine or more.
And the streaming services know they're popular. Amazon Prime (which includes Prime Video) increased their membership fee to $139 a year in 2022, a hefty 17% increase from the original fee of $79. Many others, like Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, and YouTube TV have followed suit and raised their prices.
Along with the price hikes, many are also cracking down on sharing passwords, so your son away at college who wants to use your Hulu account may be out of luck.
You're also getting less fresh content and fewer top-tier programs. Simply put, you're paying more and getting less.
Still, for many of us, streaming is the way to go for a number of reasons. If you're willing to compromise a little, you can save on your favorite services. Here are a few tips to cut back on costs, and still have money left in your wallet for popcorn.
Deal with watching commercials
Ah, yes, those annoying commercials. Commercials and ads are one reason many left network TV and cable in the first place. However, the price difference between streaming shows with and without ads is hard to ignore.
For instance, the cheapest monthly subscription to Netflix without commercials is $15.49. But if you can deal with sitting through ads—and not being able to fast forward through them—you'll pay $6.99 a month. That's more than half off the cost, and the savings adds up to $102 annually.
Similarly, a subscription to Hulu without commercials is $17.99, thanks to a price increase that took effect just last month. With commercials, you'll only pay $7.99 per month. That's a savings of $120 annually.
Other streaming services like Max (formerly HBO Max), Paramount Plus (which includes Showtime), Peacock, and others also have subscription tiers with commercials. In some cases they are also half the cost of the no-ad option.
Take advantage of special offers
One advantage of having so many streaming options is that all of the services are vying for your attention—and your money. Many offer free trials, your first month free, special discounts, or add-ons at reduced or no cost. It's smart to visit the streaming service's website and hunt for special deals and promotions before you hit subscribe.
You can also check your cell phone provider for deals. Verizon offers a discount for some customers on combined subscriptions to Netflix and Paramount Plus. T-Mobile and AT&T also add subscriptions to Netflix or Apple TV Plus with some of their mobile phone plans. If you buy a new iPhone or some other Apple products, some mobile providers add three months of Apple TV Plus for free.
Another place to check for deals are coupon sites like Rakuten. Currently, the site offers cash-back and special offers for annual subscriptions to Disney+, Hulu, and more. If you download Rakuten's add-on to your browser, you'll get pop-up notifications for cash-back offers available when you're on streaming service websites.
Another tip is to pay for your streaming services with a rewards credit card. That way, you earn cash back and other rewards with every payment to your favorite channels.
Watch for a while, then cancel
Depending on your viewing habits, you may be better off subscribing to a streaming service for a while, or taking advantage of a free trial, watching what's interesting to you and then canceling. Then repeat with another streaming service.
Or, make it a seasonal option. For instance, if you're a football fan and don't want to miss out on NFL games on network TV, subscribe to a service like YouTubeTV in the fall and end your subscription after the Super Bowl.
You can always come back and subscribe again. Netflix saves your account details and watch lists for almost a year if you want to cancel and return. Other services including Hulu give you the option to "pause," saving your shows and settings for up to three months.
If you do take advantage of a special offer or free trial, just be sure to set a calendar reminder to cancel the service before the offer ends to avoid being charged.
Don't overlook free or lower-cost alternatives
If watching the latest movies or series is not that important to you, there's a library of mostly older entertainment on free streaming services like Pluto TV, Freevee, Tubi, and the Roku Channel. YouTube also has free movies (mostly with ads).
And if there's a particular movie you want to watch, you might not need a streaming subscription. Free apps like JustWatch and ReelDeal, for example, not only tell you where you can stream a certain movie or show for free, they also offer free digital rentals of older movies.