39 Ways to Do March Madness on the Cheap

March Madness doesn't have to break the bank. Here are easy ways to save money while following college basketball's biggest event.

The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament is almost here. It’s the biggest event in college hoops, and following the unpredictable 68-team tournament can lead to big costs for hardcore fans. The average fan spends about $211 on March Madness expenses, according to Sara Skirboll, a shopping and trends expert for RetailMeNot, a shopping deals website.

However, there are ways of enjoying March Madness to the fullest without going over your entertainment budget for March (or April). We’ve tried to cover them all here, whether you’re looking to save on tickets so you can see a game or two live, watching at home, showing your team spirit or even putting together a competitive bracket. (Have more ideas? Let us know in the comments.)

1. Shop Around for Deals on Apparel

Looking for your favorite team’s gear? Skirboll said sporting goods retailers often offer discounts leading up to the tournament, sometimes with free shipping. Skirboll also suggested following specific retailers on social media or subscribing to their newsletters for the chance at more deals.

2. Take Advantage of Discounts on Food

For those hosting March Madness viewing parties, you may want to shop around for discounts on refreshments. See if your local pizza joint offers a discount, especially if it’s a big chain, Skirboll said.

3. Make a Party Budget

Your National Championship Party might not be as big of an event as your Super Bowl party was, but you’ll still want to make a realistic budget and stick to it.

4. Limit Your Guest List

This may also help cut down on disputes on whether or not Duke is the worst.

5. Ask People to Bring Food & Drinks

Call it a potluck and you might end up with leftovers for days. That’s a win, even if your team loses. (To help, you may want to check out these tips on how to save on groceries.)

6. Don’t Put All Your Money on Your Bracket

It’s fun to put together a bracket, but you don’t want to blow your budget by putting too much money down. The NCAA reports that the odds of picking a perfect bracket — and this is a lowball — are one in 128 billion.

7. Change Your Cable Plan

CBS, TNT, TBS and TruTV are carrying all the games (all of these except CBS are on cable). So you may want to consider one of these six ways to save on your cable bill.

8Go Old School

CBS is airing the biggest games of the tournament — the Final Four and National Championship — so you can watch them without a cable package. Dennis Restauro, who writes about ditching cable on Grounded Reason, said you can buy an antenna (runs about $20) to get the channel.

9. Cut the Cord

There are several services that let you stream live TV without signing up for cable, many of which don’t have an annual contract. Some even offer free trials so you can sign up just for the tournament, if you time it right.

10. Just Get the Channel You Want

Another way to watch CBS is to get CBS All Access, available on multiple devices. This airs the local CBS affiliate in more than 150 markets, but it does come at a price: $5.99 a month with commercials and $9.99 a month commercial-free.

11. Follow Along With Free Apps

There are countless March Madness apps out there, but we narrowed it down to eight of the most useful apps for following March Madness for free. The NCAA March Madness Live app carries every game live. (Note: You need a cable subscription to watch the games broadcast on networks other than CBS.)

12. Phone a Friend

If you really want to avoid paying to watch games, you can just visit a friend. Make sure to buy them a six-pack or pizza if you plan on mooching off their cable subscription.

13. Visit the Bar

You can also patronize your local sports bar to watch games. The proprietors will look on you more kindly if you actually order food and/or drinks. You should also leave a decent tip if you’ll be hanging out watching hoops all day.

14. Take a Math Professor’s Bracket Advice

Tim Chartier, a professor of mathematics and computer science at Davidson College, in Davidson, North Carolina, leads a sports analytics group that has worked on several projects for fantasy sports websites and conducts analysis for Davidson sports teams. His first tip: Be wary of picking seeds lower than 10 to go far. Very few of these teams win more than four games.

15. Weigh Your Odds

If teams from weaker conferences play tough against out-of-conference teams, Chartier said, it could be a sign they have what it takes to make a run.

16. When Calling an Upset, Pick the Right Seeds

Calling upsets can be the key to winning your office pool. Teams seeded 10, 11 or 12 account for 76% of all upsets, Chartier said. Teams seeded 12th account for 27% of upsets alone.

17. But Pick a High Seed to Win It All

Don’t rock the boat too much when you’re picking a champion. Over the past 15 years, every tournament winner except one has been a 1, 2 or 3 seed, Chartier said. The only exception was Connecticut, seeded 7th.

18. Pay Attention to Strength of Schedule

Don’t just look at winning percentage, Chartier said. To get the edge on your workmates, pick teams that not only win, but win against good teams. Avoid teams that lose against weak teams, even if it was close.

19. Pick Teams on Good Runs

Also look at recent performances, Chartier said. A team with momentum can usually carry it into the tournament.

20. See Who Can String Wins Together

See which teams have gone on big winning streaks, Chartier said. After all, winning the tournament is simply a matter of going on a six-game winning streak.

21. Pick Road Warriors

A team’s road record is also important, Chartier said. “March Madness is one long stretch of away games,” he said. “How does a team do winning on the road?”

22. Location, Location, Location

Nate Rattner, an analyst for ticket search engine SeatGeek, said location plays a big role in prices. Tickets for games where teams are close to home and fans don’t have to travel far will likely be the priciest, Rattner said. For example, if the Kansas Jayhawks end up playing at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, expect those tickets to be more expensive. Conversely, if they’re scheduled for a game at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, N.Y., prices might be lower.

23. Bigger Isn’t Always Better

Tickets at Madison Square Garden are always expensive, no matter who you’re coming to see. But “cities like Memphis and Kansas City have smaller populations and will require more outside fans to make the trip in, which could make tickets more affordable,” Rattner said.

24. Watch the Hot Teams at Home

Certain teams could drive up ticket prices. As of press time, Northwestern has a shot at making the tournament for the first time in Wildcats history. If Selection Sunday is kind to Northwestern, expect prices for their games to pop, Rattner said. “With an extremely excited (and often wealthy) alumni base, wherever Northwestern is drawn, their fans will follow.”

25. Try to Be Patient

Every time a team gets knocked out, a big chunk of their fan base stops wanting tickets, so if you can hold out, it may pay off. “Of course, waiting longer increases the likelihood that the perfect seat may no longer be available,” Rattner said.

26. Buy Full-Strip Tickets

These get you access to every game at a given location and can be a good value. However, ticket prices for later games can drop, so make sure to do the math to see whether they’re worth it, Rattner said.

27. Traveling to See Games? Use the Right Card

Check to see if your credit card offers rewards for travel or hotel stays. If not, there’s still time to get one if you feel this is the right move for you. (Here are a few of our favorite travel rewards credit cards you might compare to get you started.) Just make sure you take a look at your credit scores before you apply.

28. Look for Hotel Deals

Make sure to search online (including social media) for coupon codes or promo offers, especially tied to March Madness. You may also be able to get deals through clubs you belong to or other loyalty programs. And if you can’t find any…

29. … Give Them a Call

Sometimes talking with a representative on the phone can get you a better rate than booking online. (Want more ideas for saving on a hotel stay? Check out these new Marriott Hotels you can visit in 2017 for free.)

30. Get a Package Deal

You also might score a discount if you book your hotel as a bundle with your plane tickets and/or car rental. You may even ask if they have any March Madness specials.

31. Ditch the Fees

A baggage fee here or a resort fee there may not seem like much, but they add up. You can read this guide on tips to help you avoid outrageous travel fees.

32. Share the Expense

If a bunch of you are headed to the games together, you probably don’t each need your own accommodations. After all, you’re there to watch basketball, not sit around in the room. Splitting the cost can really help you save (and maybe even splurge on an extra round of wings).

33. Pick Cinderellas That Steal

Correctly picking a Cinderella — an unheralded team that goes far — can turn your bracket into a moneymaker. One of the things to look for is whether a prospective Cinderella can force turnovers, Chartier said. If a team can do that, even against a stronger opponent, it’s a big swing, because it robs the other team of a possession and usually creates a high-quality scoring chance on the other end.

34. Pick Teams That Defend the 3-Point Line … 

A good Cinderella also concedes few three-pointers, Chartier said. Obviously, threes are worth more than twos, and a team that’s forced to take only two-pointers will generally be less efficient.

35. … & Teams That Shoot Lots of 3s

On the same note, a Cinderella candidate should also shoot a lot of threes, Chartier said. “By taking a larger proportion of threes, underdogs give themselves a chance to outscore a more talented favorite,” he said. “Keep in mind, they’ll need to have a good night.”

36. Pay Attention to Matchups

Also see who your potential Cinderella is playing. If the bracket lines them up against a team with a bad defense, that creates upset potential, Chartier said.

37. Pick Teams That Feast on Freebies

A team that doesn’t shoot free throws well could also be ripe for an upset, Chartier said. “If you are shooting a low percentage of free throws, you aren’t making as many points per possession,” he said.

38. Pick Teams That Swat Shots

Pay attention to shot blocking. Teams that give up clean looks at the basket are often fall prey to Cinderellas.

39. Earn Millions for Your Bracket

Finally, if you really believe in your bracket, consider applying for a job at Berkshire Hathaway. CEO Warren Buffett told CNBC that his company would give $1 million a year for life to any employee who guesses which teams will play in the Sweet 16. Time to brush off that resume.

Image: gmcoop

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The 8 Most Useful Apps for Following March Madness

Here's how to keep track of all things NCAA Tournament this year.

March Madness is almost here. With 68 teams competing for the men’s NCAA basketball championship and 64 for the women’s title, it can be hard to keep track of the latest news and the status of your bracket.

Luckily, there are plenty of apps to help you follow the tournament without leaving the safety of your couch — or your desk at work (we won’t tell). These apps can help you track your bracket, check out highlights and watch and listen to games live.

Here are our favorites.

1. NCAA March Madness Live

Platforms: iOS, Android, Amazon Fire, Microsoft

Price: Free

The NCAA’s own app for the tournament might be the only one you need. Not only can you watch every game live, the app also allows you to pick a bracket.

You’ll need a paid cable subscription to watch games broadcast on TBS, TNT and truTV, but games on CBS are free. The app also works with Google Cast, allowing users to cast video on the app to their televisions.

For radio lovers — or anyone trying to keep up with the action at work or in the car — live radio broadcasts are available for every game. The app also includes highlights, scores and stats.

Bracketologists can use the app to make tournament picks with their friends and enter the NCAA Bracket Challenge Sweepstakes, with prizes including a trip to next year’s Final Four.

2. ESPN Tournament Bracket Challenge

Platforms: iOS, Android

Price: Free

This bracket app is among the most popular, thanks in part to the chance at winning $10,000 and a trip to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational college basketball tournament. The app also lets you see how your bracket measures up against pro athletes, celebrities and ESPN hosts.

ESPN also has live scoring and gives users the ability to make up to 10 brackets. The app also includes a Women’s Tournament Challenge, but does not offer any prize money for the best bracket.

3. Yahoo Fantasy Sports

Platforms: iOS, Android

Price: Free

This tournament app also lets you pick your bracket, and has its own competition offering a $25,000 prize to the user who picks the best bracket (again, men’s tournament only. There’s no bracket competition for the women’s tournament). The Yahoo app also lets you manage your bracket and all your other Yahoo Fantasy Sports teams. Like the ESPN and NCAA apps, you can organize tournament groups for your office, school or family.

4. CBS Sports

Platforms: iOS, Android

Price: Free

CBS is one of the broadcasters covering the tournament, so it’s a good app to download if you want to watch live games and listen to streaming video.

The app also includes scores, stats and news. And yes, the CBS app also allows you to pick a bracket.

5. Thuuz Sports

Platforms: iOS, Android

Price: Free

You can’t possibly watch all the games, especially not in the first round of the tournament, when dozens of teams are playing at once. Thuuz can help you narrow down which games to follow.

Thuuz rates every game on a 100-point scale to let you know which match-up is best. The app also includes a television guide to let you know where to watch. You can set up alerts for your favorite teams as well.

6. TuneIn Radio

Platforms: iOS, Android

Price: Free

If you’re not down with the CBS Radio broadcast, TuneIn Radio gives you access to thousands of radio stations, including live local broadcasts for teams like Kansas, Maryland and Duke.

7. Bleacher Report’s Team Stream

Platforms: iOS, Android

Price: Free

This app gives real sports junkies instant alerts as news breaks. With plenty of news breaking during tournament time, this app can help you keep up on your favorite teams.

Team Stream also has scores, schedules and stats, as well as video highlights.

8. SeatGeek

Platforms: iOS, Android

Price: Free

Nothing beats experiencing March Madness live and in-person. SeatGeek can help you find deals on tickets.

SeatGeek’s DealScore feature grades every ticket deal and lets you buy and sell tickets through its marketplace. While the men’s final is in Phoenix and the women’s final is in Dallas, the early rounds of both tournaments are all over the country, so it’s possible to catch a game near you.

Before you spend too much on tickets or bet big on your bracket, be sure you can afford it and that your credit is in a good place. You can get your free credit report summary on Credit.com. (It gives you two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, plus lets you track how you’re doing in five key areas that affect your scores.) And if you’re having a hard time managing your money, well, there are apps for that, too. Here are five of them that can help families on a tight budget.

Image: RapidEye

 

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