Watch Cable TV for Free (Legally) – Strange Ways to Save Money

There are few ways to save on TV viewing in your own home. You can cut back your cable service to the minimum, or use a service like Netflix to supplement or replace your cable. You can buy DVD’s of TV shows and movies cheap on the used or clearance shelves. But short of going with what you can receive over the air or unless you have a great library/friend that loans DVD’s, there is no way to make TV viewing totally free. Or is there?

A coworker of mine has figured out how to watch almost all of his TV shows for free. He simply heads to public places that have TV’s and uses those. Since TV’s are everywhere these days, he has more success than you might think. When he wants to watch CNN in the morning, he heads to the gym which always has it on. (He doesn’t pay for the gym, either, since it is a perk of his job.) When he wants to watch a football or basketball game, he knows which local bars will have their TV’s tuned in to the games. When he wants to watch a prime time show, he’ll head either to a friend’s house or to a local bar where he knows the owner won’t mind changing the channel. He’ll also try his luck at the laundromat where he can often get a load of clothes done while watching something he wants to see. It’s strange, but it works for him.

Asking for a channel change is one of the keys to this strategy. You have to be willing to ask the owner of the establishment if you can switch to whatever it is you want to watch. Most places just turn the TV to a default channel like CNN or ESPN, but might change it if you ask. Just make sure whatever you want to watch isn’t offensive or completely out of tune with the establishment. (Don’t ask, for example, to watch reruns of Scooby-Doo at the local sports bar.)

Of course, this strategy will really only work if your TV taste is in tune with the mainstream. If you want to watch some foreign film or animal documentary, you’re going to have trouble convincing the owner of the establishment to change the channel. If, however, you want to watch a sporting event or something popular like American Idol, you’ll probably have more success. Other people in the place aren’t likely to complain if you request something popular.

It’s also helpful if you have limited TV needs. If you just want to catch the occasional football game or the news every day, this strategy can work for you. However, if you want to watch soap operas, a program marathon, or something else that’s on every single day or for long periods of time, you’ll be better off just getting cable. (Although, I have worked in an office where there was a TV in the break room and all the TV watching ladies would time their lunch hours according to the soap they wanted to watch.)

If you want to avoid getting kicked out of public places, you should buy something if the establishment is a restaurant or bar, but buying a drink or appetizer once a week so you can watch your favorite show is still cheaper than paying for cable every month. Don’t use waiting rooms in doctor’s offices or service stations unless you are a client or customer. However, if you know that your service station shows a channel you want to watch, there’s no harm in scheduling an appointment for an oil change during your favorite show. If you want to watch TV in public places, here are some common sources for TV’s.

  • Gyms
  • Coffee shops
  • Restaurants
  • Bars
  • Airports. Note that in some airports you don’t have to pass through security to get to the TV’s. You may, however, have to pay for parking.
  • Doctor’s offices
  • Friends who share common interests. If you have friends with cable, try to organize viewing parties with them. You bring the snacks, they provide the cable.
  • University common areas. You may not have to be a student to get into the student union, depending on the security of your local university.
  • Service station waiting rooms
  • Waiting areas at your kids’ activities
  • The break room or waiting room at your workplace (just make sure you only use it during lunch or on break)
  • The laundromat
  • Hotel lobbies
  • Department stores or malls (look near the changing rooms or in the common areas)

Perhaps the best way to watch cable for free, though, is to housesit or babysit. If you housesit or babysit frequently for cable loving friends and family, you can watch a lot of TV (and get paid for it).

It is possible to watch cable TV for free without resorting to illegal activities like stealing a cable signal. You just have to plan your activities and spend some time finding the places that show or are willing to show your favorite programs.

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7 Responses to Watch Cable TV for Free (Legally) – Strange Ways to Save Money

  1. getforfree says:

    Leaving house and going places costs money. I watch all I want on Hulu and I don’t have a tv at home. I have kids to take care of, so I don’t always have time to watch the whole thing right away, and I can pause show any time or watch it any time of the day.

  2. pen says:

    good idea… but I’m one of the people who watches the non popular animal documentary type shows.

  3. Nika says:

    That is like one step away from “no need to heat your house, you can ride all day on a bus, sit in a subway or in a library to keep warm”.

  4. cameorose says:

    I am as thrifty as I can be. I am always trying to save money. But I draw the line at being a free loader. People probably say “Oh no it’s HIM again”.

  5. Sean says:

    This has to be one of the stupidest things I’ve ever read on here.

  6. Sheila Smith says:


  7. Tonto says:

    I cancelled my costly cable and DirectTV 5 years ago, and I
    dropped Hulu because of of their intrusive ads. For the same price of only $7.99/month I’m now subscribed to commercial-free Netflix and Love It!

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