Retirees on fixed incomes can save money by switching to free over-the-air TV

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A senior woman hugs her husband in the kitchen.

Retirement provides freedom, but it can come with some restrictions, too. You are financially limited when you are dependent on your pension, investments and Social Security benefits. When you have a fixed income, there is little to no flexibility in how much money you will receive and are able to spend every month.

According to a 2020 study, an alarming 43% of Americans aged 60 or older have less than $100,000 saved for retirement. However, most experts state that about 80% of your final pre-retirement annual income is necessary for a comfortable lifestyle after leaving the workforce.

Many retirees look for ways to spend less. Some people eat out less or shop for less expensive products at the grocery store. Others scale back on non-essentials, such as entertainment, travel and gifts. While these practices can stretch the budget, nobody wants to (or should) give up all of life’s little pleasures right at the point where you finally have time to enjoy them.

Fortunately, there are several ways to cut expenses painlessly. For instance, starting a garden is a wonderful way to boost your health and reduce your grocery bill. Traveling mid-week and off-season can get cheaper rates on flights and lodging. Entertaining friends at home could be a fun and budget-friendly way to show off your cooking skills.

Another way to save a substantial amount every year is switching to over-the-air television.

Saving Without Giving Up Entertainment

According to the 2018 Report on Cable Industry Prices by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the average cost of cable is about $300 for basic service and $856 for expanded basic per year. Direct broadcast satellite TV is comparable in price to expanded basic cable service, according to the report.

In addition, 78% of U.S. households have at least a Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu subscription. And 1 in 4 families spends more than $75 per month on subscriptions to streaming services.

If you have both cable and one or more streaming services, you could easily spend close to $2,000 every year just to have access to a broad range of TV content — much of which you probably don’t even watch.

Switching to over-the-air television, which is full high-definition television broadcast over the public-owned airwaves in your area, could eliminate these expenses. And the best part about over-the-air TV is that you don’t have to give up television as a source of quality news and entertainment.

You can enjoy countless shows, sports and films on over-the-air TV for free. For instance, catch your local news and weather, game shows and sitcoms at regularly scheduled times (or pay a one-time fee for a DVR to record and store them). You can also watch many live sporting events, award shows and special programming, movies, shows in syndication and more. All you need is your TV and an antenna.

How To Switch To OTA TV

Making the switch from cable or satellite to free over-the-air TV is straightforward. First, you will need to buy an antenna. You can check the Federal Communication Commissions’ DTV Reception Maps to discover the stations you should be able to view and how strong the signals should be. You can decide whether you need an indoor or outdoor antenna, depending upon where you live (rural homes may do better with an outdoor, directional antenna, while urban and suburban ones should be fine with an indoor, omni-directional model).

If you aren’t sure what you need, take our short quiz to find out which antenna is best for you.

Once you purchase the best antenna for your setup, connect it to your current television. Next, perform a channel scan on your TV to find stations and, if necessary, adjust the position of the antenna and rescan until you’re happy with the reception you’ve got.

Switching to OTA doesn’t mean you have to give up features like recording or pausing live TV. Tablo offers a range of DVRs for over-the-air TV, giving you the freedom to watch your favorite shows and movies on your time.

Everything You Need To Get Started

Ready to start watching free over-the-air TV? Here are our top picks for the equipment you’ll need — an affordable one-time investment when compared to the thousands of dollars you’d potentially spend on cable and streaming over the next 10 years!

If you live in an urban area or nearby suburb:

Antennas Direct ClearStream Eclipse Amplified TV Antenna

$64.99 from Amazon

This highly-rated indoor antenna is designed to receive frequencies 50+ miles away from broadcast towers. It easily grips smooth surfaces like walls or windows for optimal placement to pick up as many channels as possible.

Recommended antenna if you live in a far suburb or rural area: 

Antennas Direct ClearStream 4V TV Antenna

$130.20 from Amazon

This powerful antenna has a range of 70+ miles and can be installed inside, outside or in the attic. It has UHF and VHF multi-directional elements designed to deliver reception in remote areas.

Pair your antenna with an OTA DVR to record your favorite shows:

Ditch the costly subscription fees, but keep the cable capabilities (record, pause, rewind and fast forward) with an OTA DVR device. Here are the products we recommend:

If you have an external hard drive sitting at home collecting dust, consider these options as cheaper alternatives. Simply connect your antenna and portable hard drive to these Tablo DVR devices and you’re ready to go.

  • Tablo DUAL Lite: Equipped with built-in Wifi, it lets you position the antenna and DVR for the best signal reception.
  • Tablo QUAD: Record up to four OTA channels simultaneously. This model connects to your router rather than your TV, giving you the option to stream live TV to any device.

If you need to purchase a portable hard drive, we recommend USB-connected portable hard drives (USB 2.0 or 3.0, 1 TB to 8 TB in size). These are the ones we recommend: WD 1TB Elements Portable External Hard Drive and the WD 2TB Elements Portable External Hard Drive.

Getting Started With OTA

The best antennas recommended by experts in the industry to get the most out of your OTA experience.