If you’re like most Americans, you are watching more and more of your TV on streaming services — and less via traditional cable or satellite providers. Same for movies. Less in the theater and more via Internet streaming. This is likely true whether you’re a cord cutter, a cord never, or a cord “supplementer” (a subscriber to streaming services to supplement your traditional provider).
Even with the streamers cutting back on their production budgets and producing fewer shows, odds are that your favorite series span multiple services. That’s certainly true for me. I cut the cord in February 2021 after realizing that my family and I were watching virtually nothing via our DIRECTV satellite package. Paying for both legacy TV service and multiple streaming subscriptions no longer made sense.
But the gotcha with on-demand streaming is that you easily can get addicted to the luxury of watching anything you want at any time. If you’re not careful, you can end up paying more than you intended for an ever-increasing number of streaming services — and negating some of the savings you expected from cutting the cord.
In the end, you could subscribe to so many streaming services that you’d pay about the same as a mid-tier to a high-end cable package. Even if you can afford that, who wants to pay for more than you need? Or to waste money on services you watch only a few times a year?
With that in mind, I thought I’d review the practices I’ve used to minimize my streaming costs without depriving myself of content I want to watch.
A few caveats:
- When I first wrote this post in 2021, the streamers were trying to grow their subscriber bases at any cost, and discounts and promotions were easy to score. Since then, the streamers have started prioritizing profitability, and finding deals has become increasingly difficult.
- I’m allergic to commercials so any strategy around saving money by choosing ad-supported plans or services is out of the question for me. But for many, this is a popular choice, especially since Netflix and other services have introduced lower-cost ad-supported tiers to their price plans.
- I watch almost no sports or live events, so I don’t have a need for an online live TV service (such as YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV, and Philo). If you’re looking for a live TV streaming service, then Sling TV is usually the most cost-effective, assuming one of their channel lineups suits your needs.
With those caveats out of the way, here are my tips for ways to save money on streaming services.
ℹ Upcoming Pricing Changes
Disney will raise the prices for its ad-free streaming plans on October 12, 2023.
- Disney+: $13.99 (up from $10.99)
- Hulu: $17.99 (up from $14.99)
The good news is that the cost of the ad-sponsored tiers will remain unchanged ($7.99), and on September 6, the company introduced a new Disney+/Hulu ad-free bundle for $19.99 a month (which will be a good value if you need both services).
Direct Promotions from the Streamers
The first place to look for deals is straight from the source — streamers sometimes offer free trials and promotional discounts.
The typical free trial is seven days. However, services sometimes offer longer trials as special promotions.
For example, Paramount+ usually offers 30-day free trial promotions, including for the ad-free Paramount+ with SHOWTIME premium plan. Jared Newman of Cord Cutter Weekly, claims to have used rolling 30-day trials to continuously subscribe for free for months on end. Even though I love saving money, I don’t mind eventually paying the regular price for Paramount+ since I want to financially support their ability to make Star Trek shows.
Even if a free trial isn’t available, streamers offer other promotional discounts. For example, at one point, Disney+ was offering a month of service for $1.99 before the regular price kicked in starting month two. Sadly, such offers have become less frequent since the streamers started tightening their belts.
I subscribe to Hulu only intermittently, and often six months or more elapse between my subscriptions. In the past, they have sent me returning customer promotions good for one free month. I haven’t received such a promo lately, so I’m not sure if they still send out such offers.
Another example: Apple TV+ offers three months of free service with the purchase of qualifying Apple hardware. (Note: they offer this deal only once per customer and not once per purchase.)
If you’re interested in multiple streaming services all owned by the same parent company, they may be available in a discounted bundle.
For example, Disney has long offered a discount if you subscribe to Disney+, Hulu, and EPSN+ as a bundle. As of October 2023, they also offer a bundle with only Disney+ and Hulu. These can be great deals if you want multiple services at the same time.
If you’re a student, Spotify offers bundle with Hulu (ad-supported). For just $5.99/month, you get their Spotify Premium Student with Hulu student plan.
Paramount used to offer a discounted bundle that paired Paramount+ and Showtime. Now, they include Showtime in their premium subscription (and you can no longer subscribe to Showtime separately).
Discounts from Promotional Partners
Many of my streaming services are available for free or at a discount from promotional partners.
AT&T used to give me HBO Max for free as a benefit of subscribing to their gigabit fiber Internet service. This was fortunate because HBO Max was probably my favorite streaming service, due to its treasure trove of HBO TV series, a growing collection of originals, and Warner Brothers movies.
After Warner Bros. Discovery rebranded the service to Max, AT&T grandfathered me into this benefit (even though they no longer owned the service). However, when I moved in 2023, I had to switch Internet providers and lost my free Max subscription. I’ll still subscribe frequently, but now that I have to pay for the service (at $20/month for the 4K plan), I’ll rotate this service instead of subscribing full-time (see below for rotation tips).
From a quick web search, I can’t seem to find any discounts for new Max subscribers. But I’ll update this post if that changes.
Except for Ted Lasso, Severance, Silo, and a few exclusive movies, I wouldn’t pay for Apple TV+ based on their current offerings. However, Apple granted me a free year of service from an iPad purchase in 2020 (now they offer only 3 months after your first purchase). Immediately after that expired, I redeemed four additional months of free service as a Target Circle member. Once that special ended, I redeemed a year of free service from T-mobile. As of this writing, Best Buy is offering 3 free months for new and returning customers. Unfortunately, all my Apple+ shows are between seasons right now.
Via T-Mobile, I qualify for $8.99 per month towards my Netflix subscription. The company also has a promotion for a one-year free subscription to Paramount+. Alas, it’s for the ad-supported Essential plan.
You should check your mobile phone provider to see if they have partnered with any streaming services for special promotions.
A final example. One of my credit cards (from American Express) offers a $7 monthly statement credit on the Disney Bundle (if you use the card to pay for your subscription). I don’t care about ESPN+ and usually subscribe to Hulu and Disney+ on a rotational basis, so the deal doesn’t make sense for me. But for anyone who already subscribes to all three services, the offer is a great way to get a further discount on your already-discounted bundle price. The takeaway: also check your credit cards for partnership discounts.
Promotions via “Indirect” Third-Party Subscriptions
Some streaming services — e.g. Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, Hulu, and Disney+ — allow only direct subscriptions via their apps. In other words, you pay them directly and you have to use one of their TV or mobile apps (or their website) to watch content.
Let me give you some examples.
You can subscribe to Paramount+ directly (with no third party in the middle) and use their app on your TV or mobile device. However, you can also subscribe to Paramount+ indirectly via Amazon Prime Video Channels or Apple TV Channels. In this scenario, you pay Amazon or Apple and the Paramount+ content appears inside either the Prime Video app or Apple TV app. (You don’t use the Paramount+ app at all.)
One reason you might want to do this is to take advantage of a special offer from the third-party platform. For example, around June 2021, Amazon was offering two months of Showtime ($10.99/month at the time) and Starz (normally $8.99/month) for just $0.99/month each. Normally, I don’t pay for those services, but I subscribed to both to catch up on several movies which were streaming exclusively on Showtime — and to watch the Starz original TV series P-Valley.
After two months, I had caught up on all the content I wanted to watch and canceled those channels from my Amazon Prime Video subscription. Total cost: $4.
Note: Amazon periodically offers this type of promotion, especially around Prime Day and Black Friday.
In addition to promotions, I have three more reasons you might want to indirectly subscribe to a service:
- Fewer apps to deal with. I don’t mind using multiple apps to watch my shows, but the simplicity of having your content consolidated into one service is appealing. For example, if you were to subscribe to both Paramount+ and AMC+ via Amazon, then you could add their movies and TV shows right alongside the “regular” Amazon Prime Video content, all in the same watch list.
- Device availability. If you have an older streaming device or television, one or more of your services may not offer an app for it. For example, the Paramount+ app isn’t available on my 2017 LG OLED TV. They offer the app only on LG TVs made in 2018 or later. To solve this problem, I could instead subscribe to Paramount+ via Amazon Channels since the Amazon Prime Video app is installed on my TV. In my case, I actually have another option. The NVIDIA Shield streaming box hooked up to my TV does offer the Paramount+ app (via the Google Play store).
- Better picture and sound quality. When it debuted, the picture and sound quality on CBS All Access (the precursor to Paramount+) was pretty poor compared to bigger services like Amazon and Netflix. When Star Trek Discovery came out, the CBS All Access app struggled to reach HD picture quality and did not offer Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. On the other hand, if you watched the same content on Amazon instead (with an indirect subscription), they offered it in full HD and Dolby Digital 5.1 — like any other Amazon Prime Video content. These days, Paramount+ offers its prestige shows in 4K HDR — matching or exceeding the quality on Amazon. A more current example: if you subscribe to AMC+ directly, its TV app offers sound in only stereo or Dolby Prologic sound, whereas the same AMC content on Amazon is available in full Dolby Digital 5.1 audio.
Often, when you start a cancelation flow, a streaming service will offer you a short-term discount to keep your subscription. If you’ve run out of shows and movies to watch on the service, then usually you’d still want to cancel. However, in some cases, accepting the offer may make sense.
For example, after subscribing to Paramount+ (via Amazon Channels) to watch season 2 of Strange New Worlds, I decided I’d cancel my subscription before my September billing date and resubscribe after Lower Decks completed its fourth season in early November. When I went to cancel, Amazon offered me a promotion to keep the service for two months at $0.99 per month (vs. the regular price of $11.99 per month). At that nominal price, I’d be able to watch Lower Decks weekly as episodes released over its nine-week run. I wouldn’t pay $25 for that privilege, but at $2, the decision was a no-brainer.
With so much quality content available via the various streaming services, you can end up paying for services you’re barely watching — for lack of time. Or maybe you’ve caught up on everything you want to watch on a particular service until a new season or series comes out.
For these reasons, one strategic way to save money is to rotate your streaming subscriptions. For example, the only thing I watch on Paramount+ is their Star Trek series (other than the occasional movie to which they have exclusive rights). So, it’d be a waste of money for me to subscribe to the service between Star Trek series. Also, while I want to watch some series (like Discovery, Picard, and Strange New Worlds) as soon as each episode drops, for other series (like Lower Decks), I’m fine with waiting until an entire season is available and then binge-watching it.
Likewise, I subscribe to Disney+ only when they have a must-see Marvel or Star Wars series that I want to either binge or watch week to week.
I do the same for Hulu — subscribing only when they have built up enough exclusive movies or original TV series (e.g. Dave, Ramy, What We Do In The Shadows, Reservoir Dogs) to warrant a subscription.
One advantage of this rotation strategy is that companies may offer you a returning customer promotion (such as the free month of Hulu that I already mentioned).
If you plan to subscribe to a service to watch a new show or season, you can save money by strategically timing when you start your subscription. The goal is to pay for only one month of the service instead of two or more.
You can employ this strategy for shows that drop week to week, one episode at a time (it doesn’t apply to shows where streamers release the entire season all at once).
If you’re okay with waiting until the whole season is available, you can delay your subscription until after the last episode drops. You’ll have an entire month to leisurely watch the show. The downside? You’ll miss all the water cooler talk and may see spoilers.
If you’re excited to watch a show sooner than later, you can try to time your subscription so that you pay for only one month of the service.
For example, as I write this, season 1 of the Star Wars series Ahsoka recently started releasing on Disney+. The first two episodes dropped on August 22, and the last one will drop on October 3. To watch the show but pay for only one month of Disney+, I decided to subscribe on or after September 4. With this plan, about four episodes of the season would already be available, and I could watch the remaining four week to week before canceling the service. (My son and I also have some Marvel movies to catch up on which further justifies a one-month subscription.)
If you’re eligible for a free trial, you can adjust the start date of your subscription accordingly. For example, you might have one month plus 7 days as your initial subscription interval.
Free Streaming Via Your Library
Their selection is limited, but several times a year I find movies on Kanopy or Hoopla that aren’t available on Netflix, Amazon, or my other paid services.
In my experience, the picture and sound quality are better on Kanopy than on Hoopla.
Savvy consumers use several other methods to save money on streaming. However, I don’t use any of these for various reasons.
Sharing Passwords Across Households
While it makes sense to share the same account (with different viewer profiles) for family members in the same household, many friend groups use this technique to game the system. Depending on the service, sharing passwords between different households may violate their terms of service. As of 2023, Netflix has started enforcing its password-sharing restrictions. The other streamers will likely follow their lead.
For me, I’d rather support the companies financially so that they can keep making the content I like.
Subscribe to Ad-Supported Plans
Most services, including Netflix, Max, Disney+, Hulu, Peacock, and Paramount+, offer a cheaper subscription plan with ads and a more expensive plan without ads. I can’t tolerate commercial interruptions, but my understanding is that the ad volume is much lower than what you’d see on traditional television.
All of the major streaming services will give you a price break if you prepay an entire year. This is a good deal if you’re confident you’ll consistently watch the service year-round. However, you’d be giving up the opportunity to rotate your subscription and take advantage of new/returning customer promotions.
Some services offer student discounts. The site Shall I Stream It has a good rundown of the various discounts for students.
Bonus Tip: Monitor Your Credit Card
You should monitor your credit card activity for transactions from streaming services. Charges on your card may remind you that you’re still paying for a service but no longer watching it. Or you may not be aware that a streamer has increased its prices, and you may want to re-evaluate the service or your subscription tier.
A Case Study
Now that I’ve outlined various ways to save money on streaming services, I thought it’d be helpful to describe my setup as a case study.
My “Permanent” Services
I subscribe to two services on a continuous basis.
If it were just me, I’d likely subscribe to Netflix year-round because I watch it fairly regularly between their original and licensed TV series and movies. However, when you add in the viewing habits of my wife, daughter, and son, then Netflix is a slam dunk and our number one must-have service.
- Plan: Premium (4 simultaneous streams and 4K UHD video)
- Price: $11/month (after my $8.99 T-mobile discount)
Amazon Prime Video
I watch Amazon Prime Video semi-regularly — a few original series (e.g. The Boys, Upload, Undone, Invincible, The Rings of Power) plus some original and licensed movies. We are Amazon Prime members for package delivery. And since membership includes Prime Video, you might say we are getting it for free. Otherwise, for just the streaming service, I’d likely subscribe on a rotation.
- Plan: Amazon Prime Membership – Annual Payment Plan
- Price: $139/year (which works out to around $11.58 per month)
Note: You can subscribe to Prime Video as a standalone service for $8.99/month.
My “Rotational” Services
I subscribe to various other services anywhere from once a year to multiple times a year.
I probably watch Max as much or more than Netflix. I think it’s the most underrated service on the market. The rest of my family doesn’t watch as often. Since I no longer get the service for free, I now subscribe on a rotating basis.
- Plan: Ultimate Ad-Free (4K)
- Price: $19.99/month
As I mentioned above, I subscribe primarily to watch the various Star Trek series, which means I typically have a subscription for around half the year.
- Plan: Paramount+ with SHOWTIME (no ads)
- Price: $11.99/month
If I weren’t frugal by nature, then Hulu would be on my permanent list. They frequently have original or licensed movies on my watch list. Plus, they have several TV series I like. However, I subscribe and cancel around twice yearly to save money.
- Plan: No Ads
- Price: $14.99/month
My primary interest in Disney+ is the Marvel and Star Wars content. I typically subscribe for The Mandalorian and then once or twice more during the year to catch up on other shows and movies.
- Plan: Premium (no ads)
- Price: $10.99/month
The launch of AMC+ as a stand-alone streaming service (independent of any cable or satellite subscription) was a key factor in enabling me to finally cut the cord. That’s because I like to watch the shows in the The Walking Dead universe in real-time as they air week to week. Before AMC+, the only way to do this was to subscribe to cable or satellite and watch on the “linear” AMC channel.
The only streaming option (prior to AMC+) was to either subscribe to an expensive Live TV service or wait months until the shows were available on Netflix or other streaming platforms.
With AMC+, I can watch new episodes not only in real-time but several days earlier than their regular broadcast on cable. Also, I have access to other shows on AMC. Thank you AMC+ and — SNIP — audios DIRECTV.
- Plan: Monthly subscription
- Price: $8.99/month
Between the direct promotion from Apple and partner promotions from Target and T-Mobile, I’ve received 2.3 years of free Apple TV+. Now that those promotions have expired, I expect Apple TV+ to be in infrequent rotation since they have only a few TV series and movies I want to watch.
- Plan: Monthly subscription
- Price: $6.99/month
More than two years after its launch, Peacock finally amassed enough must-see content for me to try it for a month. After catching up on several exclusive movies, I found a gem of a TV series: We Are Lady Parts. So, Peacock now enters my rotation. I since resubscribed for one month to watch Poker Face.
- Plan: Premium Plus (no ads)
- Price: $11.99/month
Kanopy & Hoopla
As mentioned, I sometimes watch movies on these services which are free through my local libraries. As such, I don’t subscribe to them. They are always available to me. However, I watch content on them only a few times a year.
Every blue moon I want to watch a movie sooner than its streaming debut, or one that isn’t available on any of my current streaming services. In those cases, I’ll rent the movie on a VOD service like Amazon, Apple, or Vudu. Depending on whether the movie is available in HD or UHD, a typical rental is anywhere from $3.99 to $5.99.
Total Monthly Cost
Since I rotate subscriptions between multiple services, I don’t have a fixed monthly streaming cost. So, I’ll break it down by minimum, typical, and maximum.
With only my core (“permanent”) services:
Netflix ($11) + Amazon ($11.58) = $22.58.
If you consider that I’d be paying Amazon anyway for package delivery, then you could argue that my true cost is only $11.00.
Without my partner discounts, my monthly cost for the two services would be $31.57.
At any given time, I’m usually subscribed to at least two additional “rotation” services. For example, currently, I have Paramount+ and AMC+ subscriptions.
Assuming I don’t have any promotional discounts on those two services, they sum up to $20.98, bringing my total monthly cost to $43.56.
Without my partner discounts, the monthly cost would be $52.55.
If I were to subscribe to all of my various streaming services at the same time, then my total monthly cost (with discounts and bundles) would be $102.52*.
Note: I have never done this to date and likely never would.
Without discounts, the total cost would be $117.50*.
* This cost calculation assumes the Disney+/Hulu Duo Premium Bundle for those two services.
- When the 49ers reached the playoffs in early 2022, I added an indoor HD Antenna to my setup. I got dozens of broadcast channels from the Sacramento TV market, including FOX, NBC, and CBS affiliates. Sadly, my antenna couldn’t pull in the ABC or PBS affiliate. If those had been truly important to me, I could have explored an outdoor antenna. Since then, I’ve moved to So Cal and haven’t tried my antenna yet.
- I updated references to “ViacomCBS” to “Paramount” due to a corporate rebranding.
I updated prices and calculations to reflect price increases from various streaming services. I also added Peacock to my rotation and price calculations.
I updated prices and calculations to reflect price increases from various streaming services and also added context about the current climate in the streaming industry where profits have eclipsed subscriber numbers in importance — reducing the number of deals available.
If you combine various trials, promotions, and discounts with the practice of rotating your less-watched streaming services, you have several levers you can pull to save money on your streaming services.
Tons of tech news sites provide lists of ways to save on streaming. I hope my more personal case study gave you an idea or two to help you watch what you want at a strategic price. Let me know in the comments.
(Note: I moderate all comments so you may experience a delay before your comment appears on the post. For any SPAMMERS out there, don’t waste your time submitting as I will reject your comment.)