Q. My cable TV bill keeps going up and up. My bill this month is way over $100 and all I have is the basic package of channels and HBO. Is there anyway to get this bill down? I’m about to cancel. — Sam, Chincoteague, Virginia.
Sam, I hear you. Due to higher programming costs, and a few other reasons perhaps less justified such as pure greed, most TV providers annually raise their subscribers’ monthly fees.
In addition to paying more for your programming package, cable and satellite operators routinely increase fees for other services, too, such as DVRs, Internet modems, regional sports channels, and the dreaded broadcast fee (local channels).
After they add it all up — and squeeze in taxes and other miscellaneous charges — it feels like you need a loan officer just to watch TV, or access the Internet.
But there are some things you can do to lower your bill. Two are obvious. One may not be and I’m calling it, ‘The secret to saving money on your TV bill.’
First, the obvious ones:
1. Switch to a Less Expensive TV Service
With the explosion of streaming has come the multi-channel, live streaming service such as Sling TV, YouTube TV and Hulu Live. They offer dozens of channels in packages starting at $35 a month. (Sling TV starts at $35 a month; YouTube TV is $49.99 a month; and Hulu Live is $54.99 a month.) The live streamers also don’t require two-year contracts, equipment fees or cancellation fees.
One caveat here is that live streaming lineups often are missing certain channels (particularly sports) that you might consider must-see. Plus, they are not as technically reliable as cable and satellite, which means your picture may occasionally suffer some buffering. But there’s no doubt that live streaming is a serious alternative for consumers who love TV, but hate the growing costs of cable and satellite.
In addition to the live streamers, you could discontinue all live viewing and simply watch a few subscription Video on Demand streamers such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. The combination of those two services would come to less than $25 a month, and it would be even less than that if you already have an Amazon Prime sub.
2. Cut Your Programming Plan
If you are unwilling to break free from cable or satellite, take a close look at your current TV bill and think real hard if you really need everything you’re getting. For example, some cable and satellite TV providers charge almost $20 a month to rent a HD DVR. If you don’t record many shows, you could get by with a less expensive HD receiver.
Also, do you subscribe to premium channels such as HBO and Showtime? They usually cost more than $10 a month. If you don’t watch them very often, why pay the extra cash?
Of course, if you are using these types of services, that’s a different story and I wouldn’t tell you to drop them. But give it some serious thought. You might be surprised that you’re paying for things you really don’t need.
With that in mind, what about your overall programming package? Do you need all the channels you’re getting? Would you be satisfied with a less expensive package that includes fewer channels?
For instance, if you don’t watch sports very often, some pay TV ops will offer cheaper plans that do not include sports channels. (These channels may also exclude regional sports channels, which will eliminate the regional sports fee.)
3. Pick up a Phone
After you’ve done this review, there’s one more thing you can do. Yes, the secret thing. And it is…
Pick up a phone.
Yes, pick up a phone and call your cable or satellite TV provider. Tell the customer service person that you believe your bill is too high and you want to know what he or she can do to lower it.
It may sound crazy, but TV providers will often work with you to cut your bill down.
They may offer you a six-month or annual discount on a program package or a premium channel. The reason why is that they want to keep you as a subscriber. Tell them that you are seriously considering cancelling when you call and you will get their attention.
It may not work all the time. The cable operators, in fact, are less dependent on video subscriber numbers than they used to be because they have shifted some of their focus to Internet service. But it’s worth a try. You might walk away with more cash in your pocket.
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— Phillip Swann