Death, taxes and an ever-increasing cable bill: For the last 17 years, American consumers have seen their monthly cable bill rise, often at rates far exceeding inflation. For those living on a budget, gargantuan cable bills can be problematic.
It may be difficult to ditch cable entirely, but it's possible to get a lower rate. Although everyone's situation is different, using these three simple tricks can result in lower monthly bills for most cable subscribers.
Stop paying absurd rental fees
In addition to the cost of service, cable companies often pad their customers' bills with exorbitant equipment "rental" fees. Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA), for example, hits its Internet customers with an up to $8 per month charge for the privilege of renting one of its high-speed modems; Time Warner Cable (UNKNOWN:TWC.DL) charges its subscribers as much as $16 a month for each HD cable box.
Although the equipment is necessary, the fees are not: It requires some up-front investment, but cable customers can, in most instances, get rid of these rental fees by purchasing their own equipment.
Comcast Internet subscribers, for example, can replace their Comcast-owned, rented modem with a standard, $70 Motorola cable modem. After just nine months, the device will pay for itself, and after several years, could add up to hundreds of dollars worth of savings.
Cable boxes and DVRs are more difficult, but can be replaced in some instances. Comcast offers an Xfinity TV app for the Xbox 360, allowing the video game console to double as (and thus replace) a standard cable box. Time Warner Cable offers something similar for Roku streaming media players. Both apps have their limitations -- Time Warner's lacks a channel grid, Comcast's depends on on demand shows and doesn't offer live programming -- but for a secondary TV, could be an attractive alternative to an expensive HD box.
Negotiate for better prices
Equipment fees can add up, but don't generally compose the bulk of most cable bills. To get a better rate on their overall service, cable subscribers could do well contacting their company's customer service department.
Many customer service agents are empowered to offer subscribers a better deal, especially if they're threatening to cancel the service outright. Obviously, there are limitations, but simply calling and asking for a lower rate could be the easiest solution.
Just get rid of it
Lastly, and most significantly, cable subscribers could guarantee a lower monthly bill by cancelling their video service. The recent rise of Internet video options has made ditching cable easier than ever: Last year, more than 250,000 U.S. households cut the cord.
Internet video services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime offer hundreds of hit shows and movies to their subscribers, and HBO will join that group with an over-the-top service of its own next year. Netflix's $9 monthly fee is laughably cheap compared to cable, and even adding Hulu ($8) and Amazon Prime ($99 per year) produces an alternative entertainment bundle that's far less expensive than a cable package that can run in excess of $90 per month.
Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime don't carry everything, which may be a limitation for some. However, individual shows of many hit cable programs, such as The Walking Dead, can be purchased individually from Amazon for just a few dollars the day after they air. Live sports is another issue, but at least most local teams' football games are freely available on broadcast networks: ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox can be viewed by anyone with an over-the-air antenna (price and quality varies, but HD antennas can run as cheap as $15).
Ditching cable won't work for some, but for those that find they're paying for a bunch of channels they never watch, cutting the cord can -- over time -- result in thousands of dollars worth of savings.
Sam Mattera has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com and Netflix. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com and Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.