Home > Personal Finance > 6 Ways to Save on Your Cable Bill

Comments 0 Comments

It’s a great time to be a pay TV (aka cable) consumer. Really. After decades of helplessly paying skyrocketing TV bills (helpless because many consumers were stuck within monopoly situations) the worm is finally turning. New entrants like Verizon’s FiOS and SlingTV have created genuine competition, while the “cord cutting” phenomenon has helped many consumers ditch traditional pay TV altogether.

The pay TV industry is losing hundreds of thousands of customers every quarter, but roughly 100 million people still pay for TV in the U.S., so reports of the $100 cable bill’s demise are premature (the average cable bill really is $99). In fact, a recent survey by Consumer Reports found that 68% of Americans still pay for cable or a similar service, leading the magazine to conclude that only a “trickle” of people are really leaving pay TV.

In other words, pay TV bills are probably here to stay for a long time. So you might as well avoid the minefield of gotchas that pay TV creates, and save yourself a bundle. If your monthly bill reaches into the triple digits, you might be doing TV wrong. Here are six things to consider.

1. Skinny TV

If you aren’t part of the trickle of cord cutters, perhaps there’s a middle ground you should consider— cutting back, but not completely cutting the cord. This group has been dubbed “cord shavers.”

About 11% of TV fans in the Consumer Reports survey said they had trimmed subscriptions as a way of saving money. Many took advantage of the latest trend in pay TV offerings — so-called “Skinny TV.” Pay TV firms have finally heard the message that consumers don’t watch 150 channels, and don’t want to pay for them. So providers, led by Verizon and Comcast, have come up with new bare-bones bundles that cost around $50. If you have an average cable bill and switch to a skinny package, you’ll save $600 annually. That could pay for a nice new TV … or a subscription to streaming services like Hulu or SlingTV, and still leave you with money left over.

2. ‘Promotion Pricing’

By now, the game is well-known — threaten to cancel, and get a special deal from the cable or satellite “customer retention department.” Everyone seems to know about this, but consumers still get distracted or can’t be bothered and overpay. Paying full price for TV is like paying MSRP for a new car. It’s only for suckers. Make sure to call periodically and ask about your rate. Notice when competitors like FioS arrive in your neighborhood, because competition always makes providers more amendable to cutting deals.

Again, I know you know this. That’s why the real game isn’t about getting promotion pricing, but keeping it.

3. Have a Calendar

We’ve all been there, happily paying our discounted $55 cable bill, when one day, we notice the bill is now $132. Yikes! What happened? The promotion period ended, that’s what happened. If you are lucky, you notice it during the first month and negotiate a new deal— and perhaps even score a refund of that month’s overpay. But many consumers are busy, and don’t notice the increase, and pay for months until they realize just how much the bill has soared.

Whenever you score a special deal from pay TV, it always ends. And it ends rudely. One of the most critical tips to avoiding the dreaded bill doubling is to mark a calendar every time you negotiate such a deal with a reminder to call again before your deal expires.

Sounds simple, right? Not so fast. Here’s a fresh tip I learned recently. Reminiscent of the old days of cellphone contracts, it can be very hard to learn exactly when your discount period ends. It’s often not on a monthly bill, or even on your website profile anywhere. You’ll probably have to call and beg to find out. That’s why it’s so important to write it down when you strike the deal.

But there’s still something else about promotion pricing that might trip you up.

4. Make a Well-Timed Call

When I called my pay TV provider recently to bargain for a continuation of my promotion pricing, I was hit by a new wrinkle: There was nothing the agent could do for me. I called too early!

I had to call within seven days of my promotional price ending, I was told. Until then, the rep couldn’t sign me up for a new “save the customer” deal.

This is starting to feel like the old rebate game, now. The more rules, the more likely consumers trip up. So make sure your calendar note is very precise. And please remind me in about two weeks that I have to call the cable company again.

5. Cut Down on Box Rentals

The old advice to save money on cable was to buy your equipment, rather than rent it. A cable box might cost $50 to buy, but $4 per month to rent, meaning the purchase paid for itself within a year. Recently, that equation has become far more complex, as cable boxes have become more complex. They now support HD, DVR, high-speed Internet, and even wireless networks. So it’s not as easy to buy your box, and in some cases, it’s not realistic.

However, a big mistake consumers make now is paying for boxes they don’t really need. Now that it’s relatively easy to stream channels to smartphones and tablets, it’s quite possible your family only needs one box. Maybe you can add a Roku device or Chromecast to your bedroom TV and skip the box rental for that unit. Maybe you can watch movies on your tablet and skip the box/TV altogether.

Even more promising: The Federal Communications Commission is trying to open up the “box” market to even more competition, which should bring prices down for everyone and spur creativity. To some extent, that’s already happening. Comcast, for example, recently announced it would experiment with boxless delivery of its channels, and let consumers use an Xfinity app instead. Progress!

6. Do You Really Watch That?

All these changes really add up to one big question every consumers should ask themselves: Do you really watch that? Do you really need the all-in 300-channel package from your TV? Is it possible that a $50 skinny TV package would be good enough? Would Sling TV’s 20 or so channels at $20 a month, plus a decent antenna for free over-the-air TV, do it for you? Or is Netflix binge watching, which can cost even less than $20 a month, enough to satisfy your screen needs?

Do a TV-watching audit during the next month or two. I’ll bet you’ll find that you can replace about 95% of your TV/screen habit with less than 50% of the cost. That’s an equation you can’t resist, and could really help you cut your monthly bills. Live, local sports is still the holdout, but with all the money you’ll save, you can probably afford to eat out at your local sports bar with the savings. And you might make some friends, too.

And remember, if you’re applying for new cable service, chances are the company is going to run a credit check. It’s a good idea to do your own credit check before applying for cable so you can be sure there aren’t any surprises on your credit report. You can start by checking your two free credit scores, updated every month, on Credit.com.

More on Credit Reports and Credit Scores:

Image: Ivanko_Brnjakovic

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other articles on Credit.com News & Advice may also be offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com will be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards or products. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Our Owners

Credit.com is owned by Progrexion Holdings Inc. which is the owner and administrator of a number of business related to credit and credit repair, including CreditRepair.com, and eFolks. In addition, Progrexion also provides services to Lexington Law Firm as a third party provider. Despite being owned by Progrexion, it is not the role of the Credit.com editorial team to advocate the use of the company’s other services. In articles, reporters may mention credit repair as an option, for example, but we’ll also be sure to note the various alternatives to that service. Furthermore, you may see ads for credit repair services on Credit.com, but the editorial team isn’t responsible for the creation or implementation of those ads, anymore than reporters for the New York Times or Washington Post are responsible for the ads on their sites.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team