Today's tip is part of our Fiscal Fitness '09 series. Every weekday this month, you'll get help getting fiscally fit as we work toward our goal of saving $2,000 to invest in 3 stocks!
You can't put a price on quality entertainment. Even so, there's no reason to pay more than you need to for it. By "quality entertainment," I of course mean television. (C'mon, surely you're up on the Dickensian story arc playing out on The Biggest Loser, too!)
TV tastes may vary, but lowering the monthly cost of your cable bill is universally appealing. As an added bonus, it's a snap to do.
Your task for today is to call your cable company and ask for a break on your bill. Our resident expert on this topic -- Ellen Bowman (TMFKabellen) -- has been ringing up discounts with Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA ) every three to six months over the past two years. "Your mileage will vary depending on the customer-service rep you get, your particular provider, and the phases of the moon," she says, "but I've always been able to reduce my bill somewhat just by asking." Others have reported similar experiences with competitors like Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC ) , Dish Network (Nasdaq: DISH ) , and DirecTV (NYSE: DTV ) .
Dial up a $10 to $50 per-month discount
Over the years Ellen has gotten her cable company to give her various breaks, such as new-customer pricing or ultra-high-speed service for the cost of the slower plan -- all of which she estimates have saved her anywhere from $10 to $50 a month on her bill.
Since Ellen's strategy has been road-tested, let's use a page from her dialing-for-dollars playbook today during a coffee or lunch break. Your instructions:
- Head to competitors' websites to price out current rates or compare packages and availability in your area at http://www.dslreports.com/find-broadband. Look for signup specials as well as rates for plans that are similar to yours.
- Get into "Concerned Customer Mode." (Put on a suit jacket and your "I mean business" shoes if it'll help you get into character.)
- When you get a live human on the line, explain (politely!) that you feel your bill is higher than you'd like. Share the details of the various plans you priced out while doing your research. Ask if they can match it, or if there are any special offers -- perhaps for new customers -- that they can extend to you. If not, inquire about ultra-cheap rate plans.
- If there's not a lot of competition in your area, let the rep know that you're serious about cutting your service back to just the basics. "They may find a good deal for you after all," Ellen says.
- Write down any offer you're given and its expiration date, then make sure you monitor your bill for price increases. When your promotional rate expires (or if your bill goes up for other reasons), call again, repeat your spiel, and ask them to help you find places to save.
Call your cable company and report your results back to the Fiscal Fitness '09 board. We're all ears!
More ways to save ...
- Scrutinize your service contract: Many cable/Internet providers have different pricing tiers for different speeds of service. The slower speed (typically $7 to $10 a month cheaper) is just fine for most people, unless you're a rabid gamer or like to regularly download the entire Internet.
- Dump cable TV altogether! Radical, we know, but there are a lot more ways to watch "TV" these days than via, well, your TV. Many network station websites, as well as hulu.com, post shows online right after they air. Similarly, if you're willing to wait until the season's end, you may be able to load up an entire season's worth of viewing when the season DVD gets released. So do you really, really need those specialty channels? Can you rent those shows on Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX ) for a subscription price of $5 to $17, which could save you another $40 or more a month? If you can't bear the idea of parting with your beloved channels, simply telling your service provider you want to cancel a premium channel often inspires them to cough up some sort of savings.
- See if you can save by "bundling": Cable and telecom companies want your business -- all of it -- so badly that they're willing to eat the cost of some services entirely to get you to sign up for a package that includes cable TV, Internet, and phone service. Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) and AT&T (NYSE: T ) are among traditional phone companies that are pushing such packages. The savings on most plans come to roughly $20 to $40 a month. The "gotchas" on these deals can be plentiful (e.g. requiring you to sign up for premium services you don't need; charging you to cancel the contract early) so read the fine print thrice. Or shop around for alternative Internet and phone options (think outside of the main players). If you can deal with the hassle, you can continuously swap cable and Internet providers after that yearly promotion is up, assuming there is no cancellation fee. Or seek out new ways to communicate through web programs like Skype, Google Talk, and jajah.com.
- Lower other monthly bills: If the cable is your best friend and you can't bear the thought of letting it go, see if you can lower one of your other monthly bills. Taking steps to winterize your home will give you big savings on your heating bill. (They can be as easy as adding plastic to your windows or switching to CFL lightbulbs.) Take a hard look at your cell phone plan. Do you really need that data plan or that many minutes? If you belong to a gym but find that you haven't gone since last January, see if your gym allows you to freeze your membership or provides refunds.
Read the latest from Fiscal Fitness '09: 1 Month, 2 Grand, 3 Stocks to get our other money-saving tips. We're warming up your budget by cutting back on everyday expenses. You can also keep up with our daily tips through our daily Foolwatch email. Share your frugal insights and experiences through our "Fiscal Fitness '09" discussion board or leave a comment below.