You're spent, literally. Holiday shopping has thoroughly ravaged your wallet and soul. That means it's time to rein in the discretionary expenses for the New Year. There's no better place to start than that grotesque $180 cable bill.
Yes, you could simply give up on cable, cut the cord, or whatever the kids are calling it these days. But then you risk becoming one of those self-satisfied people who talks about how they don't have cable. Nobody likes them. Also, cable is awesome. With minimal time and effort it's possible to dramatically reduce those monthly costs by at least a third. Here's how to negotiate your way into a more manageable deal and still watch the new season of Archer.
Get to Know Your Local Providers
Because this whole exercise is predicated on you wanting to reduce your bill, there's some very basic info you'll need up front. Like, um, how much you currently pay. We know, it can be easy to lose track of—particularly as promos and special introductory offers wear off. Do yourself a favor though: Go back and dig up the past six months worth of bills to get a sense of how much you've handed over to the cable co. Try not to be horrified.
At this point, you'll also want to familiarize yourself with the competition. Connect my Cable and Thisiscable.com are good places to start. Both will give you a list of all local providers, as well as some of their current deals. You've probably already been spammed with multiple offers, too. Collect those or simply hit the majors (Verizon FiOS, Comcast, DirecTV, Time Warner, DISH, AT&T U-Verse) to determine what deals they're offering. Remember, the more options (and specific offers) you have, the more bargaining leverage you gain. Be thorough.
Pro Tip: During this initial research stage, take some extra time to parse specific TV delivery methods. Satellite, traditional cable, fiber, IPTV—they all have their advantages and disadvantages. As much as it pains us to suggest, in certain instances, it will benefit you to also research bundles. Some (from AT&T and Verizon) let you throw cellular service into the mix, effectively creating a quad-play bundle and (depending on your needs) better savings.
Assess Your Viewing Habits
Honestly. Do you actually watch all 12 of those HBO channels? How about The Intertube Channel? We know: cable companies strong-arm you into channels and services you don't want or need. And while you won't have much of a choice when it comes to the premium stuff (they're bundled and sold to the cable co's themselves), chances are there are plenty of options that are expendable. Make a quick mental (or physical) note of these, along with the channels you can't live without. You'll need all this for negotiating.
Pro Tip You'll also want to take into account when you actually watch cable shows. Do you actually watch shows when they air or are you a time shifting maniac? Something as simple as removing a DVR from the mix can save you up to $16/month ($192/year). That's a very nice two-disc Netflix subscription right there, my friend.
Search for the Best Deals
Ideally, you've already determined who the providers are in your service area. Now, you can use their introductory offers to get a sense of how much money you're simply throwing in the garbage every month. One great new resource that'll save you time on this front is BillShrink. While it currently doesn't cover bundles you will get quick access to the very best deals from everyone.
What it is: A money-saving service that helps you zero in on best cable deals at any given point in time.
How it works: You tell them where you live, who your current provider is, how much you currently spend, and BillShrink will calculate what the best deals in your particular area are.
What it costs: Nothing! But they do ask for an e-mail address.
Not just anyone, though. Make sure you navigate to the cancellation department. Here reside the people who are actually authorized to make the best deals. In fact, their sole purpose is to keep you and they have wonderful spreadsheets full of options. Before you call, make sure to have a copy of your latest bill handy (with account number), as well as that list of better deals. Now let the retention game begin!
Don't pussyfoot around.
Start off by expressing your intent to leave. Let them know you're serious about this, and make it clear it's due to money (not free HBO). Most importantly, don't be an ass. Express regret at having to cancel, but tell them times are tough and you've found better deals. Remember, most of the time, these are human beings on the other end of the line with you too—humans who happen to make very little money and can sympathize with your financial predicament.
At this point, you'll likely hear the magic words: Is there anything we can do to keep you? Yes, there is. Tell the representative that you'd like to pay less and run down your list of specific offers. Your aim is to get them to at least match the competition's price, but it doesn't hurt to ask for a better deal either. If you've been a loyal customer for a year or more, you'll want to bring that fact up.
Here's the thing: almost every cable company knows that their services have equal (if not better) substitutes. And while they continually hike their rates, they still compete ferociously. Your provider will never let you leave without trying to entice you to stay with some nicer offer.
Pro Tip Spending all day on the phone with angry and abusive customers can turn even the kindest customer service rep into a many-headsetted hydra. Based on our own humble successes at renegotiating, we've found it's better to call in the AM. Your personal retention specialist will likely be in a better mood and more open to negotiating the terms of your deal.
Rinse, Wash, Repeat
So you've just knocked $40 off your monthly bill. Congratulations. But just because you've successfully renegotiated your way into a sweeter monthly price doesn't mean the game is over. Remember, we're talking about cable companies, so nothing is ever really locked in. Chances are you've worked out yet another four or six month arrangement, or (if you're lucky) nailed a rate down for the year. At the very least, this means you'll need to follow up. Set up calendar alerts, because your cable company sure as hell won't warn you before hiking your bill again. Don't worry: while rates go up, there's always new promotions.
Pro Tip Here's another anecdotal tip: If you slip and forget to call before that bill hike, use that lapse to your advantage. Some of the most effective calls often come after a big increase. You gain much more traction (and sympathy) with a huge and unexpected rise in your bill.
You don't need to be Herb Cohen to shave hundreds off your yearly cable expenses. Staying on top of rate hikes and regularly calling to ask for better deals is all it takes. Sure, you'll hit a brick wall or two, or talk to an unhelpful rep. The important thing is that you don't give up. Wait three or four days and call back. You will eventually find someone who will cut you a better deal. More than anything else, persistence is the key to keeping your cable bills manageable. Remember what this is, after all: You're giving the cable company a chance to keep you as a customer. And if you think they don't care about that $1,600/year you've been handing them, think again.
Original illustration by Gizmodo guest artist Shannon May. Check out more of her work on her website.