Just when I thought I finally had my television services all set up, my options changed again. This time, Dish's Sling TV is the newcomer. Oh, not to mention CBS's a la carte package. And HBO's a la carte package. And Nickelodeon's standalone service. And the list goes on….

All of this—all of these new options—just makes it harder to figure out which combination will save me the most money. If you can relate, here’s a side-by-side cost comparison to help you calculate your own options.

Today’s alternatives to traditional cable TV

So you know you don't want to pay for traditional cable television anymore. But what are your alternatives?

Here is today's menu:

  • Network TV only: Always an option, all you need here (in most areas) is a good set of modern digital "rabbit ears" (antenna).
  • Piecemeal streaming services: Examples include Hulu Plus, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video.
  • Standalone packages: Examples include CBS All Access, HBO Now (upcoming), AT&T’s “Speed + HBO + Amazon Prime” and Nickelodeon Noggin streaming for mobile.
  • Satellite TV: Examples include DIRECTV and DISH Network.
  • All-inclusive streaming device: If you want to manage all your streaming services through one central device and ensure you can watch all programs from each on your TV, you may need to invest in an all-inclusive streaming device. Examples include Amazon Fire, ROKU, Chromecast (Google), Apple TV.
  • Stripped-down cable package: Sling TV is the first entrant to this field, offering 11 live channels and several smaller add-on options.

Pricing it out

The key to saving money by transitioning away from a traditional cable package is to ensure your new package(s) contain channels and/or programs you watch enough to get your money's worth—without driving your monthly costs UP instead of down!

  • Note: While your costs may vary by provider and package, surveys show that traditional cable packages today tend to cost the average household around $64.41 per month.

So the goal is to beat that price, while gaining greater access to programming you love.

3 Steps to upgrade your programming

The analysis process may take a bit of time, but it is a necessary step to know what you actually watch, what you’re missing now (that you want to watch), and what you no longer watch that you can do without.

1. Sit down and analyze your viewing preferences.

This will also help you avoid purchasing two standalone services that both offer the same shows or stations!

What to do:

  • Write down a list of your favorite programs.
  • Next to each, note the station or service they’re associated with.
  • Notice if there is anything missing—such as a show you love but can only access on your laptop (but not on your TV).
  • Draw a line through any shows or services you can do without or don't think offer great value for the price.
  • What’s left is your ideal viewing menu.
  • Now you just need to make sure you have the right equipment (smart television, streaming device) and services (streaming, packages, etc.) to access those programs.
  • Finally, calculate your cost and compare it with what you pay now—then adjust as needed.

2. Take advantage of promotions.

Another way to upgrade your at-home entertainment options while downgrading your price tag is to take advantage of short-term promotions.

Here is a great example of a current promotion:

  • Sling TV + Apple Firestick: Right now, Amazon is offering a short-term promotion to new Sling TV subscribers. All new subscribers who prepay for three months of Sling TV get a FREE Fire TV Stick. This promotion continues through the end of March 2015.

3. Don't forget to sell back your old electronics and gear if you decide to upgrade!

At any point along the line, when you upgrade, there is someone coming along behind you who would love to snag your old gear at a discount.

  • Resource: Here is a great post that teaches you where and how to get cash for your gently used electronics, games and gear.
Cable TV Versus A La Carte Services: Which Is the Right Choice for You?