Rising cable costs can creep up on all of us, especially when you’ve been locked into your plan for a few years and you may have not checked the details of your bill in a while. Yet you don’t have to settle for the same thing year after year, and your cable bill is more malleable than you think.
Many families are even deciding to cut the cord entirely hoping to save on their cable bill, and while this might work for some families who may only use a streaming service or two occasionally, ultimately, given the rates of television consumption in the United States, we know that cutting the cord isn’t the right answer for a lot of people. The real right answer is trimming the fat from your bill and negotiating for a better deal via the methods listed below.
Before You Start Considering Options
Before you review everything on this list, we think it would be best to do and note the following first:
The personal touch can work wonders for most cable companies, and talking to a human being whose job it is to retain customers and keep them satisfied can quickly reduce your bill. Calling about your bill and specifying that you’re considering other options will get likely get you sent to someone that can help. And for better or for worse, the reputation is that sales and retention get a lot more manpower and funding than customer service.
You should know, however, that many representatives are trained to try and avoid giving discounts. For this reason, it’s far better to have a competing offer lined up, try to negotiate at the end of your contract term, and have all the relevant information and numbers in front of you when you’re on the phone.
Here are a few other tips for when you’re negotiating:
Did negotiations get caught up the first time? Did you run into a roadblock or an unfriendly agent on the other line? If so, try calling again! You’ll almost certainly get someone else on the other end, and perhaps you’ll be able to come to a better solution. Not every retention specialist will operate in the same manner, even if they go by the same playbook. There’s often wiggle room in their guidelines, and its possible one of them is just having a bad day (not necessarily the most professional of them to refuse you for this reason, but they’re human).
Just remember to not ask for any unreasonable reductions in your bill, and that aggression will not get you too far. You are talking to another human being on the other line, one that probably has to deal with stressed, distressed, or angry people all day. A bit of kindness can make you stand out and make someone more willing to work with you.
Related to the above discussion, you can look up other providers in your area and start seriously calling them to see if they can offer you a better deal than what you are currently working with. Competition between providers is extreme, and since what’s provided to customers is often similar in nature that means cable companies live or die by their prices and their customer service. They’ll want to put their best foot forward to keep you.
Also, if a cable company is new in the area or about to move in, you’ll likely be able to get an excellent sign-on deal so the company can establish a base, so to speak.
Are you watching everything that you’re paying for? While you might pay for a premium channel package, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re watching it to the degree where it’s worth the extra $250 per year (think of it in terms of per year instead of per month, and you’ll quickly start evaluating things differently).
Do you have other options for the few shows you might watch on premium channels? Even buying a season of your absolute favorite show might be cheaper than sticking with a premium channel package for a few months.
The same might go for sports channel packages. It’s possible DVR services or online streaming options for sports might be cheaper than buying a deluxe cable package from your cable provider for the same games and content.
Whatever the source, checking the bill and checking your alternatives should be the next step.
Do you have an additional cable box in your basement, bedroom, or another room that you just don’t use or need anymore? Each one you have might be costing you a few extra dollars each month, and it’s worth seeing if and how you can return it to get a small reduction in your bill. It’s unlikely to make a huge difference, but every dollar counts, and you get to remove some clutter.
While you will need some equipment provided by the cable company, maybe you are renting something like a DVR setup from them. It’s far more likely that you’re renting an internet router from them, which you can replace yourself for a long-term cost reduction for your internet service if you do your shopping right.
Once again, a quick cost comparison and willingness to commit (or refusal to commit) can make a great deal of difference. If you’re certain you’ll be happy with the same modem, DVR system, or another device for a few years, in most cases it makes sense to pay upfront for a device if you can.
You might be able to reduce the size of your cable bill by making it not just your cable bill anymore. If you get internet from a separate provider, then see what the cable company offers for internet service. Chances are they’ll be happy to talk with you. In the extremely rare chance you need a landline phone for your home in 2020, see what options there are in that department as well.
Just remember that your commitment also has an opportunity cost and that renewing a contract with a bundle can mean its much harder to lower your bill in related ways in the foreseeable future. Flexibility has an uncertain value, especially if you know more options are moving into your area soon.
Conversely, you might currently have cable bundled with other services you no longer use. It’s unlikely that you’re going to want to cancel your internet and keep your cable, but perhaps a competitor for internet service can give you more options and combinations (although using two different companies can also get expensive). Your phone line, on the other hand, might have not received a non-spam call in six months, in which case you can safely downsize it to save a few hundred dollars each year.
It could be late fees, maintenance fees (whatever in the world they might be maintaining, the definition seems to change every week), equipment rental fees, or something else. Many cable companies love to tack on fees out of nowhere onto unsuspecting customers who won’t even check their bill for them. It’s gotten to the point where Consumer Reports states they add $450 to the typical bill.
They might not consider the dispute or potential loss of goodwill (or your business) worth the effort of arguing with you, especially if the fee is only a few dollars. At the very least you might be able to get an acceptable explanation and perhaps avoid the fees in the future. Some of them are legitimate or have a good purpose, but you should always know what’s going on.
Here are a few of the more common ones, and whether you can or should do anything about them:
DVR Service Fee: Depending on what your package or arrangement with your cable company is, you may be paying each month for DVR services. If you generally use on-demand options for shows you miss, you might want to cancel this service.
Broadcast Television Fee: Cable companies may pay local networks for broadcasting rights. This is that cost being passed onto you under a different byline.
Hardware Fees: This can come under several names related to the setup you have at your home. Effectively, if you’re renting any equipment form the cable company, it can show up as this type of fee. Take note of it, make comparisons, and keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t rise.
Administrative or Regulatory Fees: There are many possible justifications for this, and you might be charged based on your location, per line or device used, or other factors. Try to find out why these fees are listed, even if you can’t change them.
Regional Sports Fees: This is a fee cable companies charge for granting you access to local sports broadcasts. If applicable, you will get charged this whether or not you actually watch regional sports broadcasts.
There might be other fees on your bill, and in time there will certainly be new ones we haven’t heard of yet. That’s why, even though consumer groups and lawmakers might at times push back against surprise fees, you need to keep watch yourself.
This might have come to mind to you earlier, or you may notice it right away, but is your bill what it should be? Are you getting charged properly, and are you getting all of the services you were promised? While some cable companies can be difficult when it comes to keeping promises in this regard, and fees and other small changes can creep in, you need to fight for the rate you agreed to. Honest mistakes do occur, and if this is the case, then correcting it can save you more than any other method.
One other thing that you should know is that it's quite likely you’re locked into a bundle or a cable contract of some sort. If this is the case, then you will want to check two things:
1) How long it is until your contract is up or is set to renew.
2) How much it would cost you to cancel your contract early or change the terms in any way. This is especially important if you plan on switching providers.
To find out this information, you could check the documents you hopefully saved when you first signed up for your service. If you don’t have them, then there still isn’t much to worry about. You can likely look this up online, and if all else fails you can contact customer support. The cancellation rates may change over time based on contract length and other factors, so don’t assume anything based on a check a few months prior.
If the cost is too high, it might be best to just wait out your current contract before making a switch. However, some competitors are willing to buy out the contract or pay the fee for you to get your business, so look out for those offers as well.
If you feel the need to completely cut the cord to save money, then you do what you need to do for yourself and your family. However, you shouldn’t cut off access to entertainment and the shows you love yourself when you can just reduce your bill to an acceptable level instead.
So, we ask you to take some notes, review your situation, and see if you can make changes that aren’t so drastic. It can be more stable in the long-term, and we hope that you’ll still be able to enjoy all your favorite programs and events, and perhaps even find some new ones.