Cable vs. Buying DVDs vs. Renting DVDs

I’ll admit to loving movies and certain TV series. As a result, I buy a lot of DVD’s. Someone once told me that I was wasting my money on all those DVD’s, since I could rent them for free or watch the same movies on cable. I didn’t think it was a waste of money, but I decided to crunch some numbers to see if I was better off buying, renting, or getting cable again.

We used to have cable with a package of movie channels and it cost us $70 per month, or $840 a year. However, there were only a few channels on cable that I watched regularly and I thought the rest was junk. I was also sick of all the advertising that was rotting my brain and tricking me into buying things I didn’t need. Since a la carte programming isn’t an option, I cancelled the cable and pocketed the $840 per year. Actually, it’s probably more than that once you factor in all the crap I’m no longer buying because of the advertising, but that’s another story.

I then joined Netflix and experimented with a bunch of packages ranging from $10/month to $30/month. I was able to watch a lot of videos that way, but I always felt pressed for time, as though I had to watch everything super fast and send it back in order to get my money out of the deal. It got to be kind of stressful. Even on the smaller packages I found that I didn’t always have time to watch something and the longer it languished on my coffee table, the more I felt I was wasting my money. It further annoyed me that I would sometimes have to wait weeks for a new release. I like to watch things on my own schedule and when I’m in the mood to see it.

Once I got rid of Netflix, the only option left to me was to purchase DVD’s. I thought that it would be prohibitively expensive, but it turns out to be the most economical solution for us. I figured it up once and I determined that my average cost per DVD was about $6. Because I buy used, on sale, and ask for DVD’s (or gift cards to Amazon) for most gift giving occasions, my overall cost per DVD is quite low. For what it costs for my husband and I to watch one movie in a theater (about $20, not including food) or to rent from Netflix for a month, I can buy three DVD’s and watch them over and over and on my schedule, then sell them when I’m done with them. If I get just $3 a piece when I sell, I’ve reduced my purchase price by half. If I choose to keep them, I have a library of entertainment that rivals anything I could find on cable.

For the $840 I was paying for cable per year, I can buy about 140 DVD’s. That’s not quite three DVD’s per week. And most weeks I don’t buy any, so I’m coming out far ahead of the cost of cable. Even if I factor in TV series or box sets which tend to be more expensive, the cost is still offset by the number of weeks in which I purchase no DVD’s.

Obviously buying DVD’s could break me pretty quickly if I didn’t employ some cost cutting measures to achieve that $6 per DVD average. Here are some ways I keep my costs low:

Buying used is a great money saver: Sites like Amazon,, and others have huge selections of used titles. You can also find used DVD’s in good condition at yard sales and flea markets. Used DVD’s can also be found at Blockbuster or other rental stores. When they clean out their inventory, they frequently sell their extra copies. Many of my DVD’s were purchased used for a fraction of the new cost, reducing my expenses considerably.

Buy on sale: If there’s a new title you must have, buy it the week it is released on DVD. That is when the prices are lowest and there are potentially other offers (like BOGO or extra merchandise) associated with the title to entice buyers. I also watch for 2/$20 or 5/$30 sales and so on and use those sales to really stock my collection.

Sell what you no longer want: One of the advantages to owning is that when you get tired of it, you can sell a title and use the proceeds to buy another. I rarely sell because I only buy what I know I’ll watch repeatedly, but the option is there.

Use coupons: It sounds strange, but there are coupons available for DVD’s. Since the economy has tanked, Disney has been putting out coupons for their new releases. I often find coupons around the holidays in magazines like Entertainment Weekly. Sometimes there are even DVD coupons in the Sunday paper.

Rebates: Many movies (particularly kid’s titles) have rebates attached. You usually have to buy the movie and then a food item. If the food item is something you’ll eat anyway, do the rebate.

Find free DVD’s: Sometimes when I go out for my walk I’ll see DVD’s stacked by the trash cans for pickup (why people throw them away is beyond me, but they do). I go through and take what I want. Friends also know I like movies so when they de-clutter they sometimes offer their old stuff to me for free.

Check the bargain bin: Many stores like Best Buy, WalMart and Target have “bargain” DVD sections. Usually $5 or less, these DVD’s are older titles or overstocks. There are probably a lot in there that you don’t want, but sometimes you find a gem.

For me, buying is the best way to go. The assumption that buying DVD’s is always more expensive than renting or cable simply does not apply to me. Your circumstances might be different and I encourage you to crunch the numbers for yourself before deciding on an entertainment strategy. I might change my opinion if two factors were different. First, we don’t have a rental store or a RedBox anywhere near us (we live in the boonies) so it’s a big pain to trek there and back and costs me more in gas than the movie. If I had a rental place nearby I might buy fewer DVD’s because it would be a way for me to get the movies I want and to only check them out when I can watch them. It would eliminate the guilt of a service like Netflix where the monthly fee is charged whether I have time to watch anything or not. Second, we do not have a library system that lends movies (if you do, I’m jealous). I would probably buy fewer DVD’s if I could borrow them for free any time I wanted. However, since that’s not an option, buying is the most economical of the choices available to me and I work to keep my costs as low as possible. As a bonus, I have a great library of entertainment available to me anytime I want to use it and I don’t have to suffer through the ads or cable outages.

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19 Responses to Cable vs. Buying DVDs vs. Renting DVDs

  1. Traciatim says:

    If you are going to buy them anyway, why not just team up with someone and join columbia house? You can alternate signing each other up to get more bonus DVDs. The trick is to make a chart of all the DVD’s listed by price and make sure you get your ‘free’ ones that are not 19.95 (or whatever their cut off is to be eligible to finish the program). All your free ones should be the more expensive ones, and all your purchased ones should be exactly at the cut off to finish their lock in plan.

    My spouse and I used to do this a while back and it worked really well for us.

  2. Annie Jones says:

    I agree that cable is a waste of money, and I can see how buying movies might make sense to some people, but Netflix is what seems to work best for us.

    To begin with, we rarely want to watch a movie more than once, so buying them doesn’t make sense for us.

    Especially in the summer, we’re hard-pressed to find time to watch a full-length movie, but we can usually work in an hour-long episode of a TV series. Netflix has lots of those to choose from.

    We’ve never felt any pressure to watch Netflix discs quickly. We’ve kept some for up to a month at a time and watched them when we could fit them into our schedule. Also, we don’t mind waiting a few weeks to see a new release. If by chance there IS something we just can’t wait to see, we can usually get it from Redbox for $1.

  3. Monkey Mama says:

    WE use Netflix and we buy.

    I agree on some level. I am more a Netflix gal. I rarely watch a movie more than once. My spouse loves to buy movies. It’s interesting because he does not buy them used and I am not sure why. But he only buys them on sale or with gift cards, etc. I’d be surprised if we paid more per movie than you do. My spouse watches them over and over and he has a large movie screen to boot.

  4. Ken says:

    Hulu and Boxee are helping to make internet viewing of Movies online and free!!

  5. Jennifer says:

    @ Ken: You raise a good point. I should have mentioned the option to view programming online as another way to get cheap programming. However, living in the boonies means I can’t get decent high speed internet that will support that method, so it didn’t even occur to me. It’s just not an option out here, no mater how much I beg. But if you can get it, I’m jealous.

  6. I also use Hulu for my TV shows and only buy movies when i get Best Buy Gift Cards (i seem to get them often). This makes me decide if a movie is worth it more than anything else. I rent other movies from Blockbuster as it is cheaper than netflix, etc for me.

  7. Patricia says:

    I’m really lucky that we have a library down the street from us that has a pretty good selection of movies. But I’m sure that won’t always be the case, as I’m sure we’ll move some day. I appreciate this analysis of buying movies vs netflix. The only thing that would make me nervous about buying all the movies is what happens when DVD’s become obsolete like VHS and cassette tapes? I’d hate to have to try to sell them all or worse be stuck with them all when my dvd player breaks one day and I can’t fix it or run to the store to buy a new one. Although I guess with sites like Ebay you’d probably always be able to find a player. So maybe not such a huge worry. Anyway, interesting thoughts.

  8. Jean says:

    I get movies from the local library.
    While some libraries loan them out for free, mine charges $1.00 per movie – I get to keep them for a week.
    My libary is part of the county system that includes about 10 others. If I can’t find the movie I want, all I have to do is request it, and they will get it from one of the other libraries in the system and call me when it’s available.

  9. Anne says:

    I’m one of the lucky ones who has both Redbox (very recent) and a movie-lending (for free) library system. We hadn’t spent a dime on movies for a while, I suspect the Redbox will change that, but it’s still a lot better paying $1 (if you can get it back responsibly) than $4.50 at Blockbuster!

  10. Gail says:

    We buy DVD and VHS when we find them at yard sales and library sales, sometimes we get videos for 50 cents a piece. We don’t feel like it is a big loss then if we don’t like it. My hubby loves to watch his favorites over and over again and we aren’t up to going to movies, so our collection of movies is a very cheap source of entertainment. Our son keeps track of newer DVDs and buys them for us for birthdays and Christmas and he likes to spend time with us watching them. I can’t imagine turning over $840 a year to watch cable TV! We maybe spend $50-75 tops on movies during the year and we can sit in our favorite chairs with our favorite cheap snacks to watch them.

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  12. Cindy M says:

    Jennifer, check out I have been using this site for a few years now and can stream-watch the latest movies usually without a hitch on line, and I have no objection to watching movies on my PC screen. It looks fully legal. Not perfect, but I no longer even bother to go to the library when I want to watch a new movie. There are many other sites out there where you can watch a movie or TV series you haven’t seen before.

    I have to have high-speed internet for my work but have not had cable TV for years. Lord knows I would not pay to see a movie any more unless it’s super cheap. I used to collect VHS tapes and some DVD’s but quit ages ago.

  13. TravelGargoyle says:

    Have you ever heard of something called a Public Library? You can borrow them there, at no charge.

  14. Shane says:

    I solve the “Netflix Pressure” problem by opening the envelope, ripping a copy of the movie into my Media PC, and then dropping it back in the mail.

    I rarely have a movie at home for more than a day.

    The newest releases do have protection on them that prevents a digital copy from being made. I’m sure I could overcome it if I wanted but if they put copy protection on I just leave it be. In those cases I keep the disk till I watch it, then send it back. I average 18 movies a month on my 3-at-a-time plan. Or just about $1 per DVD exactly.

    I have heard that Netflix will “throttle” users to prevent them from getting too many movies each month, but I theorize I haven’t had a problem with that because only a small fraction of my queue is new releases. I doubt Netflix would let me get 18 new releases a month as they surely cost the company far more to license.

    Some may look down upon this practice. I am ok with it. I’m not selling bootlegs. Content producers are getting paid the substantial “rental rate” fees they charge Netflix. Artists are being paid. Netflix s being paid. And I have the flexibility of watching when I like, where I like, and how I like.

  15. ron melquist says:

    Great article. I always had a hunch that was the case but your logical analysis and numbers confirmed it for me. One pro about buying dvds is that you may sell your dvds when you are done viewing them. Sites like second spin and will buy your items in bulk.

  16. cheeseball says:

    #15- ron:
    i agree with your point in considering trade in value of a dvd when you buy it. Thats often a forgot part of the equation when measuring the value in buying dvds. But note columbia house dvds (and other clubs) generally have no trade in value when you sell at places like mx123. They require a upc number

  17. cheeseball says:

    #14 – shane: what you are suggesting is illegal. You may justify it however you like in your head but there is not getting around the fact it is illegal. If you dont own the disc you can’t have a backup copy.

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  19. tina benez says:

    I like buying them cause I watch them over and over;> And when friends come over we pick out one to watch, they’re right at hand;) Also I own many hard to find classics, some only still on vhs. Its all good, what ever works for u:>

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