We don’t have a TV in our house.

That admission is less shocking than it once was. The number of people who have dropped their cable subscription or never had one currently stands at around 10% and that number is growing. According to new research from Forrester as reported by NPR this week, that number will climb to 50% for adults under 32 by 2025. For us, that doesn’t mean that we never watch shows or movies online. It means that we don’t spend time with the TV on in the background, we don’t watch commercials, and we don’t watch anything we don’t really want to see.

We discovered the Zero TV lifestyle by accident many years ago. Nathan got a seasonal winter job working in Medora, ND, requiring us to pay for a house and an apartment for the winter. We didn’t want two cable bills too, so we bought a much cheaper Netflix subscription and spent a cozy winter watching Arrested Development online. In a small town in the middle of the prairie, you’d think TV would be an essential escape, but we quickly realized that we were wasting $50 a month paying for 140 channels we didn’t need to watch. It was an awesome and eye-opening winter. The next time we moved, we simply didn’t hook up cable TV and we got rid of our TV too.

What I Love About Being a Zero TV Household

  1. No cable bill: At $50 a month, we’re saving $600 a year by not paying for cable.
  2. No commercials: OK, there’s the occasional commercial online, but I don’t have to sit through 8 of them to watch a 22-minute show. Not watching commercials probably saves me money too. My kids aren’t bothering me about the latest toy craze and I don’t waste my time learning about something I don’t need. Granted, many people now have TiVO, but that’s an extra expense I don’t have to worry about.
  3. No politics: During the elongated political campaign season in the United States, the attack ads and constant news updates come fast and furious and they make me furious too. Imagine a world where you can simply turn them off. We did. Now, when I happen to catch political updates on CNN while waiting for a flight, they seem odd and petty. That alone reinforces my decision to go TV-free.
  4. More productivity: It’s easy to turn the TV on in the background, but that can be distracting. After a hard day’s work, I don’t immediately turn on the TV. Now, I do something else like read to my kids, finish a project, or grocery shop online. TV makes it too easy to lounge around. Not having a TV opens up a lot of time to do something better.
  5. Raising readers: There’s a big difference between kids that are constantly watching TV and those that are playing outside and reading. Pay attention and you’ll see it too. Too much TV has been proven to reduce vocabulary and math skills and decreases attention span, according to Professor Linda Pagani of the University of Montreal.  It’s easier to get kids to read when there isn’t a TV in the room.

 What Do We Miss About TV?

Sports events. In particular, we miss watching Badgers Football and the Superbowl at home. My husband wishes he could watch Nascar races. My kids aren’t up-to-date on their pop-culture because they haven’t seen the latest shows. Of course, they are only 5 and 2.

We get around these problems by socializing more. We can go to the DC Badgers game watch events or over to a friend’s house for the Superbowl. ESPN3 will sometimes stream the Badgers games online.

How to Be a Zero TV Family

So, how do we do it? Here are some specific steps you can take to become a Zero TV family.

Stop your cable subscription and get rid of the TV.

Not having a physical box at the center of your living room does wonders for encouraging you to spend your evenings doing something else you enjoy. The cash saved is nice too.

Figure out which of your favorite shows are offered online for free via the network website.

This may soon be a thing of the past, but I watch Downton Abbey on PBS.org and used to catch every episode of The Amazing Race on cbs.com. Most shows are posted within 24 hours of the original viewing date.

Subscribe to Netflix, Hulu+, HBO, Amazon Prime, or the particular sports package you miss.

You certainly don’t need all of these!! We only use Netflix and that works great for us, but some shows/movies aren’t streaming (like Game of Thrones) so we wait for the disks or subscribe to see them another way. For sports, you can subscribe to MLB, NFL GamePass, and ESPN online. If there’s a particular sport you’re after, Google it. I’m sure there’s a subscription for everything.

Download one or two news apps on your phone and read them daily.

If you like to watch the news, save yourself some time and read only the headlines you care about. Every paper and news station has an app today. Download it and get your news whenever you want. Washington Post now has a subscription fee, but you can read stories from NBC 4 Washington for free.

Limit screen time for kids.

Just because the TV is gone doesn’t mean kids will stop surfing the internet or playing games. All screen time takes away valuable outdoor and reading time. So, set limits up-front and stick to them. If you start early enough kids won’t even miss the screen time.

Do you have additional tips for becoming a Zero TV family? Share them!