Slash Your Cable Bill Over Your Lunch Break

The Motley Fool's Fiscal Fitness Boot Camp is in session! Every weekday this month, we'll walk you through a fresh money-saving/money-making tip as we work toward finding $2,000 in savings you didn't know you had.

You can't put a price on quality entertainment. By "quality entertainment," I of course mean television. Even so, there's no reason to pay more than you need to for it.

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 Fiscal Fitness Boot Camp task for today is to call your cable company and ask for a break on your bill. Ellen Bowman (TMFKabellen), our Foolish resident expert on this topic, rang up discounts with Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA  ) every three to six months over a two-year stretch. "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 (Nasdaq: 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Get into "Concerned Customer Mode." (Put on a suit jacket and your "I mean business" shoes if it'll help you get into character.)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 here in the comments section below. Feeling shy? Last year when we posted this tip Fool.com members reported back the following:

  • "Just called and got a 25% rate cut on both Cable and Internet!"
  • "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."
  • "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."
  • "I just saved 50% from my monthly bill for 6 months from Comcast just by asking. Great tip!"
  • However, be warned, not everyone had such stellar results: "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 antennas on balconies or satellite dishes. Comcast is the only provider." And: "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."

Save even more: Dump cable TV altogether!
Radical, I 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 ask yourself: 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?

Over at cancelcable.com, one couple has been posting about their experience of dumping cable for the past year. After calculating that they spent $2,000 a year to watch TV, they went cable-less and now watch their favorite shows with a combination of free HD broadcast TV and the Internet. Check out their current setup and see if there are free or lower-cost ways to watch your guilty pleasures with the showfinder tool. Sadly, Jersey Shore was not listed.

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.

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.

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, or 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-based voice applications like Skype.

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. 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.

Tune in every day this month for the latest installment of our Fiscal Fitness Boot Camp, as we stay on course to produce at least $2,000 of savings for you.

Fiscal Fitness Boot Camp drill sergeant Dayana Yochim admits her latest guilty viewing pleasure is Steven Seagal, Lawman. Dude can shoot the tip off a match! She doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned. Netflix is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. The Fool has a disclosure policy that keeps it off Deputy Chief Seagal's radar.


Read/Post Comments (7) | 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 07, 2010, at 4:18 PM, theHedgehog wrote:

    Regarding the person you quoted who lives "in a condo that does not allow antennas on balconies or satellite dishes" - they should read the FCC Fact Sheet on Over-the-Air Reception Devices (“OTARD”) at this link: http://www.fcc.gov/mb/facts/otard.html They may find that their HOA doesn't have the authority to restrict their use of a satellite antenna, regardless of CC&R restrictions.

    Extract:

    "The rule applies to individuals who place antennas that meet size limitations on property that they own or rent and that is within their exclusive use or control, including condominium owners and cooperative owners, and tenants who have an area where they have exclusive use, such as a balcony or patio, in which to install the antenna. The rule applies to townhomes and manufactured homes, as well as to single family homes."

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2010, at 4:19 PM, theHedgehog wrote:

    Regarding the person you quoted who lives "in a condo that does not allow antennas on balconies or satellite dishes" - they should read the FCC Fact Sheet on Over-the-Air Reception Devices (“OTARD”) at this link: http://www.fcc.gov/mb/facts/otard.html They may find that their HOA doesn't have the authority to restrict their use of a satellite antenna, regardless of CC&R restrictions.

    Extract:

    "The rule applies to individuals who place antennas that meet size limitations on property that they own or rent and that is within their exclusive use or control, including condominium owners and cooperative owners, and tenants who have an area where they have exclusive use, such as a balcony or patio, in which to install the antenna. The rule applies to townhomes and manufactured homes, as well as to single family homes."

  • Report this Comment On January 14, 2010, at 10:15 AM, judymom123 wrote:

    I have saved a little by trying some of the things suggested here. This time I'm planning to cancel my landline phone service and use Magic Jack.

  • Report this Comment On January 14, 2010, at 4:54 PM, Tristaur wrote:

    You will be very happy with the Magic Jack. I have used it for the past year and its great! The only thing that I don't like, and this is only a personal experience, is that I sometimes have static on the line or the caller sounds really far away, but I don't blame that on Magic Jack. Our property provides a wireless network for all the tenants, so our Magic Jack is hooked up to a laptop. I have taken this with me to my mother's and hooked it up to her desktop with a regular DSL connection and it worked great! The sound quality was perfect, so, as I said, I think my issue was because of the wireless network and it being used by so many. ENJOY!

  • Report this Comment On January 14, 2010, at 7:01 PM, penguina23 wrote:

    We have cut off almost all utilities in the past year. We purchased ooma for our phone service. Unlike majic jack, there is no monthly fee at all. It has worked great for us. We cut off our cable and watch television, like most, online and through netflix. We cut down on electricity just through unplugging things. Overall, we have cut our expenses down significantly!

  • Report this Comment On January 15, 2010, at 10:32 AM, Irishb31 wrote:

    Good luck making any progress if you are a Time Warner customer. I called yesterday after my bill jumped from the $99 intro up to $140 per month while the current promotion for new customers is $85 for cable and high speed internet.

    I asked the rep why my rate went up and they claimed it was due to higher taxes and fees. If this is true shouldn't that hold true for all customers including new ones...I mean taxes are taxes, right? Also, I am curious as to how a new customer's promo could be so much better than last year's if the increases truely are due to fees and taxes.

    The best offer the rep could give me was to sign a 2 year service agreement for the same services at $130 month. That is hardly a deal at almost $50 more than the new customer rate.

    I eventually called back to get a different rep and was told to cancel my service and then reapply for new service so I could take advantage of the new customer rate. Really? Wouldn't it just be easier to provide your existing customers with a better rate than to spend the time and resources to process a cancellation and reconnection of services? This is the worse customer service I have ever dealt with...well aside from the Power company and the DMV.

  • Report this Comment On October 15, 2011, at 8:37 PM, enrgar004 wrote:

    I'm a Time Warner Cable customer in So Cal. My monthly bill was about $110/month with all the fees, for very limited channel line-up and Internet.

    Unfortunately, DSL is not available in my area, so TWC is my only option for Internet with the speeds they offer. I just lost my job ... I called them up and told them I needed help with adjusting my monthly price. They cut it to about $72/month, kept my TV service and Internet. If i had only kept Internet, it was going to be $50/month.

    I had called before though, and they didn't help, they just gave me more channels for the same price. So keep trying ... it definitely helps if you have options around your area. I plan to get one of those 4G Internet cards for $55/month and will get rid of TWC then.

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