60 Minutes to a Cheaper TV Bill


Welcome back to the second installment of the Grow Savings Challenge, where we give you the keys to successful (and quick) monthly bill negotiations. Try it out, then tell us how it went by posting on our Facebook page or Tweeting us @Grow_mag, using the hashtag #GrowSavingsChallenge.

Let’s jump right in with the next topic: pay television.

These days, it’s sexy to call yourself a cord-cutter. Yet it’s nearly impossible for most people to stream every show they want to watch—especially local sports fans—and connecting your laptop to the living room TV is always trickier than it looks. That’s why, even though cable and satellite providers are losing thousands of customers every year, there’s still about 95 million Americans paying them.

If you’re among them and aren’t ready to cut the cord, there’s a new movement you can join: the “cord shavers.” That’s when you limit (or shave) your channel lineup to just the basics—some call this a “skinny TV” package—which can be done for as little as $20 or $30 a month. Cut your cable bill from, say, $120 to $30, and you’ve just saved more than $1,000 annually.

If you can combine the cord-shaving technique and deft use of over-the-top streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu, you’re very likely to get all the TV you need for a whole lot less. Ready to get started?

First, grab a copy of your bill and an advertisement from one or two competitors. Next, pick up your phone and be ready to talk about skinny TV packages—but don’t call your current provider. Call a competitor instead.

You’ll hear this from me a lot. You can’t negotiate with your current provider without another offer in hand. This is a fact of life in market economies: Price is set by competition, which means that before you can threaten to cancel unless you get a lower price, you have to mean it and know your realistic options in case you hit a brick wall.

By the way, don’t forget what constitutes “competition” in today’s pay-TV market. It might be Verizon FIOS, newly available in your neighborhood. It might be Sling TV, delivered over the Internet. Or it might be an antenna for local TV and Hulu for streaming programs. Do some research, and come up with your own version of a skinny plan, which should be something south of $50 a month.

Once you’ve established your parachute plan and how much you are willing to pay, call the customer service number on your cable bill and ask to speak with someone about lowering your monthly payment. Be willing to wait on hold.

When you get a human being, simply ask: “What’s the cheapest monthly plan you offer?” You might also mention that you’ve heard providers are offering skinny TV plans and that you’d like one, too. If the operator says there’s nothing she can do, ask to be transferred to the retentions department, which is where you’ll talk to agents with real power to offer unpublished discounts.

Now, your goal isn’t to waste time bickering over pennies. If you get an offer from your current provider that’s $3 more than the counteroffer you found, it’s probably not worth the pain of switching. Remember, this is about saving hundreds of dollars—even $1,000—not a handful.

On the other hand, if you feel like you haven’t gotten the best offer or customer service possible, take your concerns to Twitter. Seriously. Most firms have followed Comcast’s lead and actively monitor social media. Try Tweeting directly at @ComcastCares, for example, with your complaint, like this: “I have a better deal, @ComcastCares. Want to counter?” You’ll be surprised how effective that is.

While we’re here, a word of caution about bundles: Many providers offer “discounts” on bundles that include Internet access and telephone service. Such bundles often sound cheaper, but usually aren’t. Can you live without a landline? Could you buy Internet access from one provider and skinny TV service from another? Make that part of your equation.

The trick is to realize that these bundled discounts almost always expire after 12 or 24 months. So if you sign up for one of these deals, your master’s level tip is to put a reminder on your calendar a few weeks beforehand to call and renegotiate. Failing that, make sure to at least glance at your bills every month to notice when the price goes up, and call immediately to discuss a lower price.