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If the holiday season conjures images of unwanted calories and maxed-out credit cards, how about losing a little weight?
I can't help you with the calories. It was your decision to top Turducken for dessert with Piebreadklon, which you let all of us know was your bold attempt at stuffing a Klondike bar inside a bread pudding, served between a pair of pie crust shells.
However, I can help you when it comes to slimming down that credit card bill you're dreading. Here are a few web-savvy tips to save some serious money this holiday season.
Shrink those cable bills
Now that it's all the rage for couch potatoes to cut the cable cord, maybe it's your turn, too!
Cable companies are losing subscribers at an alarming clip:
- Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA ) closed out its third quarter with 822,000 fewer video customers than it had a year earlier.
- Time Warner Cable (Nasdaq: TWC ) closed out the same quarter with 155,000 fewer video customers than it had just three months earlier.
- Cablevision (NYSE: CVC ) shed 22,000 net video subscribers in its latest quarter.
Satellite television is holding up better, but the trend is unmistakable. Pay television in this country suffered its first quarterly decline ever during this year's second quarter. That picture may not get any better, as cable rates continue to inch higher while significantly cheaper entertainment alternatives proliferate.
Cable isn't cheap. The average DirecTV (NYSE: DTV ) subscriber shells out $88.98 a month for service, 4% ahead of what they were paying a year ago. The year-over-year increase is even higher at Cablevision.
If you think this is the point where I break into some "cable companies are greedy" diatribe, you're missing the mark. For the most part, cable companies are passing on the rising pricing demands of the networks they carry.
It's pretty ridiculous to think that you're paying for dozens -- if not hundreds -- of channels that you couldn't care less about. Would you pay a premium for a seafood buffet if you had shellfish allergies? Would a vegan pay up at a Brazilian churrascaria? So why are you paying a king's ransom for a smorgasbord you're not utilizing?
Buried several pages deep in Wired's head-turning "The Web is Dead" issue this summer was an excellent primer on cutting the cord. Digital antennas are cheap, providing all of the local channels in HD. At that point, a thrifty couch potato with Wi-Fi connectivity can turn to Hulu for ad-supported television content, and pay Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX ) $8 a month for unlimited streaming of more than 20,000 movies and shows in its growing digital library.
If you can't find your favorite shows through Hulu, Netflix, or the network's website, you can always pay for piecemeal rentals through Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iTunes or countless other smaller services that continue to make it easier to stream video through your existing home theater.
Fellow Fool Anders Bylund picked up the scissors last month. What are the rest of us waiting for? There's always the fear that broadband providers will move to tiered pricing -- especially since many of them also provide cable television -- but even then, the savings will still likely be substantial.
Let's pressure the networks and cable providers to come around to a la carte pricing. This picked-over buffet is quickly losing its flavor.
Shrink those gifting bills
Treating yourself to more attractively priced video is a good start. Now let's tackle that holiday gift list.
Let me close with a few tips to save some serious coin when shopping.
- There's a reason why Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) was apparently willing to pay as much as $6 billion for Groupon. Social coupon sites are win-win-win hubs where consumers get great deals, merchants generate leads, and the flash-sale sites cranking out daily markdowns cash in. Why gift a tie or chain restaurant gift card this year? Give your uncle the hot-air balloon experience that he's always wanted. Pamper your mom with a half-priced spa treatment. Choose carefully. Check out nearby cities for additional deals. Verify deal terms and expiration dates. Oh, and also feel free to check out LivingSocial, BuyWithMe, or the growing number of sites that may be smaller than Groupon, but could be better suited for what you're looking for.
- Comparison-shopping is a must these days. PriceGrabber, NexTag, and Google Products are just some of the websites that scour the web for the best deals on the items you are looking for. Even if you think you have the best price on a deal, it doesn't hurt to crack open a new browser window and make sure. Some of the better sites also compare state tax and shipping fees to make sure you are getting the lowest-priced deal.
- Check in before your check out. See that box asking for a promotional code? You don't have a coupon code? For shame! Plenty of sites offer up e-tailer coupons. My favorite choice is RetailMeNot.com, which has helped me save a ton of dough on everything from web-based toy stores to pizza deliveries.
- If you have to go shopping in the real world, don't do it alone. If you're fortunate enough to own a smartphone, download one of the many barcode-scanning apps. Using your phone's camera to read a product's UPC Code, the apps spit back competing prices available nearby and online.
Have a thrifty holiday season and a less cash-strapped New Year.
Do you have any dot-com money-saving tips? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.