Fiscal Fitness '09: Slash Your Cable Bill on Your Lunch Break

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.

Fiscal Fitness boot camp instructor Dayana Yochim owns none of the companies mentioned in this article. Netflix is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. Google is a Rule Breakers recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (9) | Recommend This Article (21)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2009, at 5:25 PM, cancelcable wrote:

    Wanted to add to your 'Dump cable TV altogether' tip. We canceled cable last year and are saving over $100 a month. In addition to using Hulu.com we bought a digital tv converter box ($10 after coupon). This lets us watch about 15 free digital channels including all networks, 3 PBS stations and a 24 hour weather channel.

    The quality is much better than our old digital cable and we no longer have monthly charges. Newer flatscreen TVs don't need the converter box and can even receive most free digital channels in HD.

    We're blogging about our experience at <a href="http://www.cancelcable.com">CancelCable.com</a> and put together a guide for those thinking of doing the same.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2009, at 5:54 PM, akaluna wrote:

    Great ideas to save money on Telecom but you missed the best; MAGICJACK. After a $40 fee to get a phone number you pay only $20 per YEAR. Unlimited LD and Local service. ATTT,VZ,TimeWarner nor Comcast can match that

  • Report this Comment On January 12, 2009, at 5:31 PM, philip9j wrote:

    I just saved 50% from my monthly bill for 6 months from comcast just by asking. Great tip!

  • Report this Comment On January 13, 2009, at 4:02 PM, alexandra63 wrote:

    I tried this several times with Comcast the last 4 months with no luck. I am stuck, I live in a condo that does not allow attenas on balconies or satellite dishes. Comcast is the only provider.

    Any other suggestions?

  • Report this Comment On January 14, 2009, at 6:56 PM, Besk wrote:

    To alexandra63:

    The FCC has a rule that prohibits communities including condos etc. from not allowing antennas or satellite dishes. Many times the members of the board are not aware of this. For some information about this FCC ruling you can click here:

    http://www.fcc.gov/mb/facts/otard.html

    Do some research and go to your board and you should be allowed. There are also a lot of Over the Air antennas now that are small and unobtrusive. You really don't need this big wired antennas to pick up the digital transmissions anymore. I have a slim 4 foot antenna that is able to pick up channels over 60 miles away.

  • Report this Comment On January 16, 2009, at 3:59 PM, mantis1 wrote:

    Thanks for the reminder! I've done the bundle thing and threatened to change twice in the past. Each time I, eventually, got to save some money each month for 6 months but it took a half hour phone call. I just called Comcast and tried to ask nicely this time... shaved $57 per month for 6 months off the bill... call only took 5 minutes.

    It helps that I do have options in the area, and I have no problem with switching to Verizon, other than it would be a minor hassle to do so.

  • Report this Comment On January 16, 2009, at 7:26 PM, PaintItBlue wrote:

    I'd like to see her deal with the guys here.

    I've tried variations of this with Time-Warner Cable and they just blew me off. They also say they can not give me any sort of price break (bundle) unless it includes the phone as well as TV and internet. I'd rather not switch my phone. I can not get a straight answer out of them on anything. Which is why I've still got the stupid rabbit ears & converter box.

  • Report this Comment On January 17, 2009, at 1:32 AM, rhopr wrote:

    I was ctually intending to drop comcast tv last month. When I called them to cancel, they got very creative with different offers and packages. I wound up with a few less channels that I never watched anyway, and a 50% reduction in my monthly bill. The CS rep told me they have had a lot of cancellations recently due to the economy and layoffs, and they are told be helpful if it keeps from losing a customer

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2009, at 6:41 PM, Robert1ers wrote:

    I've been doing this with Cable and Cellular for almost 10 years, but you reminded me that I hadn't done it with my Cable bill for almost 2 years. Just called and got a 25% rate cut on both Cable and Internet!

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