Save Money, Watch Smarter: Cable-Cutting Basics for Seniors

After years of careful consideration (and the inevitable but slow upward creep of monthly bills for 100+ channels he rarely watched), on a clear recent Saturday morning, my significant other and I made the 15-mile journey to the nearest cable storefront to return his equipment.

He’d finally done it. He’d cut the cord. It was a momentous occasion.

If the demographics in the store that morning were a representative sample of business in industry, we extend condolences to cable providers. Every other person (not exaggerating) was doing the same thing, and there wasn’t a soul under 50 in the place.

The silver tsunami of cable-cutting seems to have begun.

One man, behind us in line, leaned in conspiratorially and whispered, “How are you guys gonna get TV from now on?” We let him in on the secret.

The cable-cutting tool kit

No less an authority than Consumer Reports validated our experience when it published a comprehensive guide to services that let you cut the cable in July 2019. With an internet connection, a way to connect your television to a streaming service, there are endless ways to get only what you want without all that stuff you don’t.

And yes, the major stumbling block to widespread adoption of streaming rather than cable is finally gone: You can now get live “cable” news and sports without cable on services like Hulu with LiveTV or SlingTV. (That’s what finally got my significant other over the hump.)

The process itself is well documented across the internet. But the truly exciting thing about cutting cable is the possibilities it opens up.

What will I do with all this extra time and money?

While the initial motivation to cut cable is usually monetary, the benefits may be more than financial. It may be possible to use cord-cutting into a step that supports healthier aging.

First, run the numbers. I went cable-free in 2014. That took my monthly provider bill from more than $250/month to $55/month, for just internet. I then added Netflix and a Hulu subscription (upgraded to the fancy premium version, without commercials) at $10 apiece (at the time—it’s since gone up to $15 for Netflix). The net annual savings: more than $2,100 per year.

It’s been five years now, so it adds up. By now I could have purchased a respectable used car with those savings; I’ve been socking it away for the inevitable day a replacement is needed. Similarly, seniors who are looking for ways to add resources to the budget for other needs, such as a personal emergency response system or cell phone, might examine this option as a way to fund them.

Another benefit of cutting cable: It forces intentional television watching behavior, which is a significant benefit for the aging brain. Research published in February 2019 suggests that watching more than 3.5 hours of television per day in middle-aged people might be associated with a decline in verbal memory—a measurable decrease in brain performance. Even worse, that performance decline appears to steadily worsen as more hours of TV are watched.

Streaming (rather than leaving a TV on all the time in the background) is a more selective process than cable-watching. You have to stop and think, “Do I really want to watch this?” Netflix is even notorious for asking, “Are you still watching?” These prompts offer opportunities to affirmatively select information and stimulation, rather than becoming a passive recipient of sensory input. In fact, researchers know that TV can cause stress—which is another potential source of damage to neurons in the aging brain.

The television and brain aging study prompted Rebecca Edelmeyer, director of scientific engagement at the Alzheimer’s Association, to suggest replacing TV with other activities, in fact. “You’re spending more time not engaging with your family, your friends and having social conversations, because they’re specifically reporting a decrease in verbal recall…We know engagement with others in conversation is something that supports and protects verbal recall,” she said.

Have you cut cable? Are you thinking about it?

What could you do with a few extra hours per day of intentional time if you turned off the television? Would you read? Listen to audiobooks? Draw? Do puzzles? Text or talk with your family who live far away? Take a class? Get together with friends for game night more often?

Organize the family photo albums and annotate them with notes about who’s who and what they were doing, so future generations don’t lose their history?

How much could you save on cable by switching to streaming?
Have you considered it?
Is it time?

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