3 Easy Ways to Get Your Utilities on the Cheap

PHOTO: New startups have stepped in to let you connect to a wireless network anywhere.
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There's a reason why cable and utility providers consistently rank among the most-disliked companies in the country. Bad customer service, expensive plans, binding contracts – these guys give you a lot not to love. But thanks to an explosion of new services and startups, you may not have to stick with the expensive old dinosaurs. Here are some new ways to cut the cords and save more money.

Smartphones: Save on data plans with mobile hotspots

These days, data plans are the main driver of cell phone contract costs. Streaming movies over a 3G or 4G mobile network can be quite costly. Thankfully, new startups have stepped in to let you connect to a wireless network anywhere. Since most data plans have unlimited, free streaming over Wi-Fi, you can cut down on your data use considerably. Karma is one such startup: You get a little device that serves as a mobile hotspot, and you pay $14 per GB of data. Most people use 500MB per device per month, so it's considerably cheaper than a high-priced data plan. You can also get free data by allowing people to connect to your hotspot.

Wireless: Use 4G Internet

If you live in an area that has good 4G coverage, you can take advantage of services that turn the 4G signal into wireless Internet – for cheap. For example, FreedomPop offers 500MB of data per month for free, with tiered plans topping out at $18.99 a month for 10GB. Prices for NetZero, a similar service, range from free (200MB a month) to $49.99 (8GB). These plans aren't ideal for heavy Internet users, but if you tend to check your email or read the news rather than watch movies online, such lightweight plans offer a better deal than Comcast or AT&T.

TV: Just get it online

Cable TV isn't just expensive – it usually requires you to sign a contract, which makes belt-tightening difficult. Rather than commit to a costly service, make use of free or low-cost services that offer quality TV without demanding a commitment. In this case, you're well within your rights to like it and still not put a ring on it. Hulu and many TV channels' own websites offer shows free of cost about a week after the airdate. Hulu Plus, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video provide a greater selection of shows for a lower monthly cost. This website lets you see which services have your favorite shows online, and when.

You can even get many sports channels without paying for cable. The MLB, NBA and NHL let you stream games to your laptop, and even the NFL offers deals for its fans. For example, if you purchase Madden 25 (this year's Madden) it comes with NFL Sunday Ticket for free. There's a reason why fewer and fewer people have cable subscriptions: It's just not worth the cost.

When you're looking to lower your bills, keep an eye on two aspects: The monthly cost, of course, and the required commitment. Even if you don't need to cut expenses now, no-contract options provide you the flexibility to get through lean times later on.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Anisha Sekar is the chief consumer advocate at NerdWallet.com, a personal finance website dedicated to providing free, unbiased and insightful advice.

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