At the start of every year, you likely spend time combing through your budget, looking for expenses to cut so you can make good on your resolution to save more.
And the first cost that may come to mind is your cable bill. After all, with most folks spending more than $100 per month on pay-TV service, it's understandable to see why you'd cut the cord in order to free up room in your budget.
But if you can't bear to miss the latest season of your favorite shows, there's good news: You don't have to eliminate cable altogether in order to snag decent savings.
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“Companies are open to making a deal with you on a lot of bills,” says Dan Rayburn, principal analyst in the digital media group at consulting firm Frost & Sullivan. “I’m always amazed that consumers just don’t seem to realize that if you’re nice and friendly and call up and ask for something, good corporations that value you will work with you.”
Of course, it always helps to be prepared before you try to negotiate down a bill that you've likely been paying for a while, so arm yourself with these five expert tips before hitting up your cable provider.
1. Do an Audit of Your Plan’s Features
Unfortunately, building an a-la-carte cable package of only the channels you want isn’t a thing—however, shaving off premium features you don’t need is.
Rayburn suggests starting by taking an honest look at your viewing habits to see what you’re consuming with your current plan. Are sports packages and premium movie channels important to you? Do you need a DVR in every room? Pinpoint what you’re OK with giving up and have a list of unnecessary features at the ready when you hop on the phone. Letting go of the sports channels alone, for example, could save you up to $20 a month, depending on your provider.
2. See If You’re Buying More Internet Than You Need
There’s a good chance your TV, phone and internet services are bundled. According to Rayburn, we’re often oversold on the internet portion and end up paying for a higher-end service that we don't actually need.
A lot of companies push plans that tout 100 megabits per second (mbps) download speeds, which supposedly optimizes streaming video. The problem? You probably don’t need more than 50 mbps. Before you panic, we’re not talking about downgrading to dial-up here; Rayburn's point is that jumping to 100 mbps won’t necessarily improve your streaming quality. The download speed is determined by the type of media you're consuming and what the media provider sets their parameters at.
Let’s look at Netflix, for example, which recommends 5 mbps for streaming high-definition-quality video. In a household of four people, each person could easily stream their video of choice in HD and consume 20 mbps total—a fraction of the speed (and likely the price) of a 100 mbps plan.
So if you find you’re not using as much internet as you’re being sold, Rayburn estimates that reducing your bundle could save you around $20 per month.
3. Leverage Your Customer Loyalty for a Discount
Customer acquisition costs are one of the most-tracked metrics for cable companies, says Rayburn. So if you’re a loyal customer who’s been with the company for a while, make sure to bring that up during the phone call—especially if you have your wireless service rolled into your package. Point this out (politely, of course), then flat-out ask if they have any promotions going on that could take, say, $10 off your monthly bill.
“You should always look at competitors’ rates, but make sure it’s an apples-to-apples comparison,” Rayburn adds. This means cross-checking features to ensure a competitor’s services mirror the same number of channels, channel selection, internet speed, set-top-box rental costs, router rental costs and so on. If the comparisons match up, you may be in a better position to get a price-match or a deeper discount with your current provider.
4. Sign Up for a Contract
Sometimes you can lock in a stellar price by opting into a multi-year contract. “Many consumers don’t like the idea of contracts, as they feel like it gives them fewer options,” says Rayburn. However, unless you’re planning to move or you think your channel preferences will change drastically sometime soon (they probably won’t), signing up for a contract can prevent a potential price hike the following year.
5. Always Be Pleasant
As the old saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Same is true when dealing with your customer service rep; be as kind and patient as possible if you want a positive outcome.
“You have to [negotiate] nicely and make [the reps] feel like you want to work with them and you want to stay,” says Rayburn. “Too many customers call up and tell them how much their service stinks, then never get a discount. But if you do it professionally, it’s amazing how many times you can reduce your bills.”
If you get a rude agent who isn’t willing to work with you or says he can't provide a price cut, then by all means, call back another time or ask for a manager. But the majority of the time, Rayburn says the customer service rep who first answers your call has the authority to grant at least some level of discount. He also dispels the myth that there are certain times of the day when it's better to call.
One last tip: If you're successful in lowering your bill, be sure to check your statement every month for mistakes, which are unfortunately all too common. Are your discounts being applied correctly? Were you improperly charged during an outage? Give your bill a quick once-over periodically—especially as the price is likely to vary slightly from month to month—and get in touch with a service rep if anything looks off.