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10 ways to save money on streaming

Too many services, too little budget? Get ready to slash your streaming costs while still watching everything you want.

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Don't worry, you don't have to cancel CNET -- that one's free!

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Ditching cable is a great way to save money, right? Not when you turn around and subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, HBO, CBS All Access, Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus, YouTube Live and other popular streaming services. Before long you can find yourself paying as much as you were for cable alone, if not more.

Fortunately, there are ways to save money on streaming, and they don't require much in the way of sacrifice. Still want to watch all your favorite HBO shows? Totally do-able. Can't live without live TV? We've got you covered. Read on for some great tips for stretching your streaming budget.

Read more: Budget hack: Replace Netflix, Apple Music and more with these free alternatives

(Note that CNET is owned by ViacomCBS, which is a compensated programming provider on all cable, satellite and online TV services that offer CBS and Viacom channels such as CBS, Showtime, Nickelodeon and more. ViacomCBS also owns and operates its own streaming services, including CBS All Access and Pluto.)

1. Figure out which services you can cancel

Here's a simple money-saving tip: Drop one of your streaming services. Just identify the one you're using the least and cut it loose. For example, if you signed up for Apple TV Plus last year but have already exhausted its handful of decent original shows, there's no point in keeping your subscription. It may save you only $5 monthly, but it's a start. And remember: You can always resubscribe when there's a new season of, say, The Morning Show.

2. Plan your binges

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Subscribe strategically to save money.

Ashley Esqueda/CNET

What's great about Apple TV Plus, Netflix, Hulu and the like is that you can cancel your subscription anytime and resume whenever it suits you -- like when a favorite show comes back. Many series go nearly a year between seasons, so you can take that time off and pocket the savings. (That's one reason I don't recommend subscribing for a year at a time, even if there's a discount for doing so. You'll almost certainly save more if you subscribe "on demand," for just a month here and there.)

For serious savings, work out a rotation schedule. Instead of subscribing to multiple services simultaneously, you could choose just one, catch up on all your favorite shows there, then cancel and move on to another service. For example: Netflix in July, Hulu in August, CBS All Access in September.

Need more help? Here's how to choose the best streaming service for you. And check out the Binge Buddy app, which helps you track your favorite shows.

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TV antennas cost as little as $20 and deliver live TV, no streaming required.

Sarah Tew/CNET

3. Ditch live TV (or use an antenna)

YouTube TV costs a jaw-dropping $65 every month. Hulu Plus Live TV: $55. Even a "budget" service like Sling will set you back $30, minimum. If you're currently paying for a live-TV streaming service, it's time to give serious consideration to giving it up.

Think about it: How much live TV do you really watch? There's precious little sports to see at the moment, and if you're a news junkie, a free service can fill in the gaps. Plenty of services including Pluto, ABC New Live and CBSN stream live news for free.

If nothing else, consider a cheaper alternative like Philo, which offers 58 channels for a more palatable $20 monthly. There's also T-Mobile's upcoming TVision service, which starts at just $10.

Finally, consider deploying an antenna (remember those?) to pull down local TV stations. You won't be able to record -- not without additional hardware -- but at least the airwaves are free. Here are the best indoor TV antennas for 2020 (starting at only $10!).

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New subscribers can get a full 30 days of Hulu for free.

Hulu

4. Take advantage of free trials

Nearly every major streaming service offers a free trial, meaning if you plan your viewing wisely, you might be able to binge a series or two without paying a dime. Just make sure to mark your calendar with a cancellation reminder, otherwise you'll start getting billed after your trial expires.

5. Choose ad-supported subscriptions

Nobody likes watching commercials, but if it means saving money, maybe you take one for the wallet. CBS All Access, for example, costs $10 monthly for ad-free viewing, but just $6 if you're willing to endure commercial breaks. That's a $48 annual savings. And opting for Hulu's ad-free tier would save you $6 every month. Use that commercial time like we did in the old days: Grab a snack, hit the bathroom, fold your laundry.

Not convinced? Here's how to find out if it's really worth it to pay extra to nix commercials

6. Choose nonpremium plans

While you're weighing the commercial question, ask yourself if you really need the ultradeluxe streaming plan -- specifically Netflix Premium, which is the only way to get 4K streaming on that service. (It also allows for four simultaneous streams instead of just two.) You're paying an extra $3 monthly for that privilege, and here's a secret: 4K is utterly pointless if you watch mostly on a phone or tablet. And even on a big TV, standard-plan HD streaming looks amazing. I've watched a lot of Planet Earth, and trust me when I say it's just as dazzling at 1080p as it is at 4K.

Read more: Roku Express vs. Fire Stick: The best cheap streaming device for quarantine binges

7. Share subscriptions with friends and family

Different streaming services have different policies when it comes to password-sharing -- but those policies can be vague and difficult to enforce. Just to play devil's advocate, if I'm paying for a Netflix Premium plan, which allows for five user profiles and streaming on up to four devices, does it really matter if all those users live under my roof? 

So maybe I pay for Netflix and Uncle Abe pays for Hulu, and we share our respective accounts. That's a real-world way to save money, right? Yes, but you should definitely take note of the risks of sharing streaming-service passwords.

8. Look to the freebies

Ever seen The Iron Giant? The utterly delightful first animated feature from Brad Bird is free to stream right now on The Roku Channel. The riveting sci-fi thriller Ex Machina? Free to stream on Kanopy. Cult-fave comedy series Schitt's Creek? Watch the entire thing on IMDb TV.

The point is there are lots of free streaming services out there, and many of them are home to some pretty good TV and movies. Yes, you'll have to sit through commercials on most of them (library-supported Hoopla and Kanopy are the exceptions), but otherwise there's zero cost. You can even get your fill of free livestreaming news.

Here's my roundup of the best free movie streaming services and a similar batch of the best free TV streaming services. You should also check out ReelGood's compendium of movies and TV shows on free services.

9. Get a cord-cutter credit card

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Lots of credit cards give you cash back for various purchases, but a handful offer streaming-specific benefits as well. For example, the American Express Blue Cash card delivers 6% cash back on nearly every major streaming service, Netflix included. If you're paying, say, $40 monthly for various services, you'd save nearly $37 annually. That's not enough to recoup the $95 annual fee for the card, but other the card's other cash-back perks might help with that.

Meanwhile, certain Chase cards are currently offering $35 back when you sign up for AT&T TV (and subscribe for at least two months). You could also get $3 back with any CBS All Access subscription. It's not much, but every little bit helps. See if your current card has any streaming offers. If not, it might be worth switching to a card that does.

10. Put your money where your phone is

How about a free subscription to Netflix, Hulu or even Amazon? Various phone carriers dangle just such perks. If you're a T-Mobile subscriber, for example, and have the Magenta Plus plan, you get a Netflix Standard subscription (good for two screens) at no extra charge. AT&T's Unlimited Elite comes with HBO, while Metro by T-Mobile's Unlimited Plan nets you Amazon Prime (and Prime Video ($9 at Amazon) along with it). Verizon will give you Disney Plus with any Unlimited plan.

The biggest streaming bounty comes from Sprint: Amazon Prime, Hulu and Tidal high-fidelity music streaming, all included as part of the Unlimited Premium plan. That's a combined annual value of around $430.

Have you found any other good ways to save money on streaming? Share your favorites in the comments!

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