How Much Should You Spend on Streaming TV?

Upgraded Home Team
by Upgraded Home Team
Credit: Shutterstock / Andrey_Popov

Subscription costs for popular services range from $5.99 to $19.99 per month and even exceed $100 per month for premium live TV streaming packages that are akin to cable. But when platforms have exclusive content — like Stranger Things on Netflix, The Last of Us on Max, NFL Sunday Ticket on YouTube TV, and the entire MLS season on Apple TV+ — you’ll need more subscriptions than ever to keep up with must-see TV.

On top of that, local sports fans may upgrade to larger packages to stream a plethora of live games, including college favorites or entire leagues. Tack on additional costs for DVRs, multiple streams at the same time, and 4K quality, the cost of streaming what you want to watch can end up being a significant monthly expense.

So how much should you spend on streaming? If you skim through your bank or credit card statements and discover subscriptions are costing you more than usual, you’re not alone. Luckily, there’s a lot of research out there on the subject, and here’s a guide to help you navigate the many options that you’ll have when you sit down to watch something new.

First Up: What Are Others Doing?

It should go without saying that someone else’s actions shouldn’t be followed blindly. (I can hear my mom saying: “If they jumped off a bridge, would you do that too?”) But it does help to see how others are managing their own streaming TV subscriptions on a much higher, macro level.

According to recent studies conducted by Deloitte, FinanceBuzz, Leichtman Research Group, and Forbes, here are where people spend their hard-earned cash on streaming:

  • U.S. households have an average of 4.1 subscriptions to streaming video or direct-to-consumer TV services.
  • 1 in 4 spend more than $75 per month on streaming subscriptions, and 1 in 10 have "no idea" how much they spend. The average is $48, based on a 2023 study by the Center for Technology, Media & Telecommunications at Deloitte.
  • 41% of respondents admit to relying on a family member's or friend's login to avoid paying for a streaming service.
  • Price (51%), content library (31%), and original programming (26%) are the top factors viewers consider when deciding whether to pay for a streaming service.
  • More than 50% of streamers have signed up for a streaming service to only watch one particular show before canceling. For example:
  • 26% of respondents subscribed to Disney+ specifically to watch The Mandalorian — the same amount did so for access to Stranger Things on Netflix, and 23% paid for HBO to watch Game of Thrones.
  • 41% have subscribed (or plan to subscribe) to Paramount+ for its original TV shows and movies — live sports (35%) and classic TV shows (34%), such as I Love Lucy and Frasier, are also among the top three factors.
  • 26% of respondents subscribed to Disney+ specifically to watch The Mandalorian — the same amount did so for access to Stranger Things on Netflix, and 23% paid for HBO to watch Game of Thrones.
  • 41% have subscribed (or plan to subscribe) to Paramount+ for its original TV shows and movies — live sports (35%) and classic TV shows (34%), such as I Love Lucy and Frasier, are also among the top three factors.

Streaming Services Are More Popular Than Ever

Over the past several years, streaming services have seen a surge in popularity — 83% of U.S. households have at least a Netflix, Amazon Prime, and/or Disney subscription, compared with 69% in 2018, and 52% in 2015, according to research by media consultancy firm Leichtman Research Group, Inc.

Subscriptions Per Household Are On The Rise

When asked to compare their subscriptions from last year to this year, 24% of households reported adding another streaming service (bringing the average to over 4), and 21% are paying for at least two additional streaming services.

A small minority canceled subscriptions in the past year. Just 5% said they are paying for fewer subscriptions now compared to last year. But as we noted earlier, there is a subset of watchers who avoid paying for a service; nearly 8% said they aren't paying for any service that they are watching – being made possible through bundled perks with other service providers, mooching off of friends and relatives, or utilizing extended free trial offers. (More on that below.)

But Do You Need All Those Subscriptions?

While the norm is to have at least a few subscriptions, it's crucial to assess your streaming needs and determine which services are truly essential for you. Take a moment to reflect on your must-watch shows, preferred genres, and the content that you’d want to watch from month to month. Is it family entertainment? Your favorite team throughout the season? That popular movie everyone is talking about?

Creating a list of these priorities can help you make informed decisions about which subscriptions are worth your hard-earned dollar. By identifying your must-have content, you can prioritize your subscriptions accordingly, ensuring that you're getting the most value out of each streaming service.

Determining The Right Amount For Streaming In Your Budget

Have you heard about the 50/30/20 method when it comes to budgeting? This popular strategy means that 50% of your take-home pay should go towards necessities, such as rent and food. With the remaining 50%, experts say you should split it up so you are spending 30% on things you want and 20% on savings or paying down debts.

Within that 30% dedicated to desires, this is where streaming would come in. Given that the average household spends $48 per month on streaming, and the median household take-home pay would amount to about $1,600 for “wants” per month (from a $64,000 per year salary), streaming could be seen as a small and justifiable amount for what you spend your money on.

The 7 Best Ways To Save On Streaming

As we mentioned above, just because the average is around $48 per month for streaming and 25% of households pay over $75 per month, that doesn’t mean that you should pay that much. There are plenty of ways to save on your streaming bill. Here are methods that we use to save our wallets.

#1. Get a free trial. Why pay for a full month of something if you just need it for a night? There are plenty of services that offer a free trial, such as DIRECTV STREAM or Fubo, to give you a sense of the platform, channel availability, and content on the platform. You can also find coupon codes (more on that in the next bullet point), that will give you the first month free.

#2. Take advantage of online deals. When you sign up for a streaming subscription through your TV (such as Roku, Apple TV, or Fire TV), it is unlikely that you will be given any discount. To save while signing up, search out “new subscriber” offers which can save you anywhere between 10% and 80% on your first month. Our favorite site to find up-to-date deals is (Bonus: Many services offer a Military or Student discount, which is deeply discounted if you can validate as either.)

#3. Opt-in for credit card cash back. After you’ve found a discount, the smallest way to save an additional 1% to 4% is by putting your subscription on a credit card that gives you cash back for entertainment. But even better than that, often you can find special deals with your credit card where they will pay for a portion of your monthly subscription to popular platforms, such as Disney+ or DIRECTV STREAM. You just need to be vigilant in perusing through your bank or credit card offers and opting in.

#4. Go for an annual subscription. If you have a streaming service you enjoy, and you know that you will stay with it for a long time, you can save between 10% and 20% on average by paying for an annual subscription. These deals are often for new subscribers too, so if you already have a month-to-month plan, you may need to cancel your existing account and then sign up with a new email address to qualify for an annual discount. Some cell phone plans or internet service providers may also give you a deep discount on an annual plan if you bundle it with their service.

#5. Downgrade to an ad-supported tier. Some streaming services offer cheaper plans that include ads. If you don't mind the interruptions, these plans can save you money compared to non-ad tiers.

#6. Stream hop. This one takes a bit more planning, but stream hopping is the method where you only pay for one month of a service, binge as much as you can while you have it, and then cancel before the month ends to start a new subscription on another service. The downside of stream hopping is that repeating a service subscription may mean that you pay full price for subsequent months.

#7. Use Library Resources: If you are looking to stream an older movie, there’s a good chance that your local library may have access to a digital version. Some libraries offer free access to streaming services like Kanopy or Hoopla which have a wide range of movies and documentaries.

Deciding on a streaming subscription

There are many reasons why you may want to subscribe to a specific service, but the biggest factor is between needing a live TV streaming service or one that gives you videos on demand. When it comes to cost and catalog depth, there are big differences between the two.

Live TV

If you want to watch something on a nationally broadcast station, you can buy an antenna for your TV or you can go the streaming route. An antenna is a great option for your wallet, as they tend to be under $30 and all you need is a good signal, but a streaming provider will give you a lot more features and channels.

If your appetite for watching TV is for cannot-miss events, such as sports, then a live TV streaming platform is probably better. This is because your antenna can only pick up the major broadcasters and doesn’t include major channels like ESPN, FS1, or Bally Sports. These channels are typically reserved for cable and satellite plans, but many live TV streaming services like Hulu Live TV, YouTube TV, DIRECTV STREAM, and Sling offer these channels as part of their packages.

There’s a major difference between what is considered a “skinny bundle” and an all-encompassing package when it comes to streaming live TV through one of these providers. A skinny bundle will typically cost you anywhere between $20 and $40 per month but will have limited channel availability (typically less than 40 channels). If you want a premium package with all channels, you can spend anywhere between $70 and $180 per month.

On-Demand Videos

If you don’t need live TV, then you can save your wallet significantly by going with a video-on-demand subscription. These are your popular services such as Netflix, Disney+, Max, and Prime Video. These services will give you access to movies and shows that may be original to their platform or have exclusive rights to stream.

These services can range anywhere from $6 per month with ads all the way up to $20 per month for premium, ad-free 4K viewing.

On-Demand with Live TV

On-demand services are slowly blurring the lines between the kinds of content that they stream. For example, Prime Video has NFL’s Thursday Night Football game. Hulu has the Australia Open. Max has NBA games that are aired on TBS. And broadcasters themselves have their own platforms such as Peacock (which hosted the exclusive Chiefs vs Dolphins wildcard playoff game) and Paramount+ which streams The Grammys, the Super Bowl, and many European soccer games live.

Depending on your budget and your list of things you want to watch, going with one of these hybrid services can save you some money too. For example, Paramount+ usually has a coupon code for a free 30-day trial and will give you some major live TV events that are broadcasted on the Paramount Network (CBS, Nickelodeon, MTV, etc) for less than $12 per month after the promotional period. That includes all the movies and shows already on the platform and is a lot cheaper than combining a VOD with a live TV streaming service to get both.

Our Recommendations

We stream a lot of content each month. Here are how we break things up to find the best bang for our buck:

  • National Sports: If the sport isn’t exclusive to a streaming platform (like MLS on Apple TV+), we suggest an antenna with Sling. This will give you your locally broadcast coverage, plus the non-broadcast stations like ESPN, ESPN2, FS1, TBS, TNT, and others. They have a 50% off deal for your first month, which takes your bill to just $20.
  • Local Teams: If you want to watch something in-market, the best bet is with a subscription to Bally Sports+. It will run you $20 per month and it isn’t available in all markets, but does cover a majority of markets and sports.
  • Family Entertainment: If you have small kids at home, there’s a plethora of content on Netflix, Disney+, and Paramount+. We tend to rotate between these services for our kids so that we don’t get burned out on one service.
  • Non-Family Entertainment: Netflix and Amazon Prime have the biggest catalogs for the category, but Hulu and Max also have some amazing originals and exclusive content. This is another one we tend to schedule in advance based on premieres we are interested in.
  • Older Movies and Shows: If you are into classic television and movies, there’s a good chance you can find them streaming on a free service like Tubi, Freevee, or FreeStream. The downside to these services is that they have a lot of ads that you can’t skip and you have limited options to watch them on demand (you may have to tune in at a certain time).

To sum it all up, when it comes to streaming TV, being smart about your choices can save your bank account and give you plenty to watch. Take the time to figure out what you really can't live without in terms of shows and genres. Make a list, prioritize, and only subscribe to the services that truly matter to you. Don't forget to explore bundling options, share subscriptions with friends or family, and keep an eye out for those tempting free trials and special deals. And hey, don't be afraid to reevaluate your subscriptions regularly to make sure you're getting the most out of your subscriptions. With these tips, you can enjoy your favorite shows without blowing your budget. So go ahead, kick back, and start streaming, knowing you've got it all under control.

Upgraded Home Team
Upgraded Home Team

We are a team of passionate homeowners, home improvement pros, and DIY enthusiasts who enjoy sharing home improvement, housekeeping, decorating, and more with other homeowners! Whether you're looking for a step-by-step guide on fixing an appliance or the cost of installing a fence, we've here to help.

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