I spend days psyching myself up to make the calls. My targets include the very companies that make dialing the number possible: communications providers. Why am I connecting with these connectors who give us access to wireless phone, email, entertainment and internet? To cut that very expensive cord.
This is no trivial matter. According to a survey by eMarketer, the average U.S. adult is expected to spend 5 hours and 45 minutes each day on devices in 2016, including mobile, laptop, desktop and tablet. Add television on top of that and we sit in front of multiple devices throughout each day. As “The Internet of Things” matures, the cost of communications will command a bigger portion of our household budgets. On the horizon: advancements in home and health monitoring, wearable tech and mobile-everything.
It's also costs a ton. Cable, internet and phone can easily top out at $250/month. Here's how I tackled the problem:
Know What You Use and What You Can Live Without
First, I arm myself with information aimed at putting money back into our household: my current statements, informal surveying of friends to see what they use and how much they pay, a quick look at what communications subscription services our family has and has not used over the past few months. Then, every three to six months I voluntarily put finger to keypad and dial a number that winds down an audible road of prompts and options. Intermittent “All customer service representatives are busy……” reminds me of the important job ahead. I use the 15 to 20 minutes on hold to review my rhetorical jujitsu because I want my time to pay off. And that should be your goal as well.
The Art of the Negotiation
Why are consumers able to successfully negotiate with their communications providers? It all started with the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The marketplace changed when cable and telephone companies were allowed to compete and offer bundled services. Buyer decision-making became more important as companies began vying for consumer's brand preference for bundled internet, phone and cable services because once you leave, you leave all three and that is some serious money. Then streaming came along and suddenly cable seems not just old, but downright anti-consumer when you can get so much great content via Netflix or Hulu for under $12 per month.
Simply put, communications companies are willing to negotiate a lower monthly plan to retain you as a customer. Knowing this, let's arm you with five tips to put more value and savings into your communications bundle.
Paying Less for Cable in 5 Easy Steps
1. Research your existing provider, competitor offers and your employer perks. Communications companies offer a variety of plans every few months to entice customers away from competitors. Find a plan that best suits your household and use it to negotiate a match or better offer. For example, one communications company offered three bundles in May. One plan included dish television with internet; dish television with internet and home phone; and dish television with an unlimited wireless data plan. Another company allows you to build your own bundle using television, mobile data, landline, home security and internet services. Lastly, check with your employer to see if they offer employees communications provider discounts — especially if your workplace has a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) mobile phone policy. Many organizations have agreements with wireless services to offset employee's mobile phone costs. [Editor's note: I still enjoy 17% off my personal cell bill from a job I left in 2009. I won't tell if you won't. It's well worth it to ask.]
2. Keep track of your offers. Many promotional offers end after several months and the higher rates return long after you remember signing up for the lower promotional rate. Also, lower rates usually correlate to less service or fewer products. Again, ensure that you are receiving everything you need and want. Mark your term of service right into your computer or family calendar. It's a good reminder to circle back to providers and go for those lower prices.
Love frugal living tips? We do too! Join the Get Rich Slowly community for weekly news-you-can-use via email. Simple sign up and always free.
3. Be aware of the upsell. Providers always want customers to try services and products they may not be familiar with. For example, complimentary premium television channels may be offered for three months hoping that you fall in love with the service, sign up and then pay a monthly fee for the new service once the introductory period ends. Beware! As you try the premium service, write down how many times you actually use it and then figure out the extra cost per use. If it's cheaper going to the movies or that big sports event, cancel the extra service at the end of the period.
4. Be prepared to lock in. Communications companies will try to lock you into a plan for a set amount of time, usually up to two years. The advantage is that your rate is guaranteed for a set period of time. One con is that a better offer may come along and penalties are enforced for breaking the contract. However, being a long-time customer and paying bills on time can give you leverage when renegotiating the locked-in rate and penalties. Negotiating the terms of a contract is just as important as the actual rate.
Here's one very important tip as you get closer to the end of your two-year contract. Things that look like freebies or upgrades may come with a request to sign some paperwork. Chances are very good you are about to sign a two-year renewal without knowing it. Just. Say. No. Like with all other services, if you want to renew, you will. If not, you won't. Cable isn't a life sentence.
5. What happens when your skills fail you? If your current provider is not willing to negotiate a better deal, you have a few choices. One, you can always walk. Two, you can nibble away at the bundled package by eliminating one or more service offerings. Three, wait a few days and call back. A different customer service representative may be more accommodating. Remember to always be nice. Threats and demands may allow you to get some steam out of your system, but they do little to support your cause.
What do you think? Have you successfully navigated cutting the cord with cable? Tell us in the comments below or in our Facebook community.