Dear Cable Company,
Seriously, it's nuts already, am I right? Seems like every month, an already-exorbitant bill creeps a little higher. The average customer pays over $100 per month, which is probably why cable companies are among the most hated in America.
Fortunately, there are ways to lower your cable bill. Some require a bit of effort, some are remarkably easy. Even if you're able to save only, say, $10 per month, that's $120 per year -- well worth a little of your time.
Step 1: Audit your viewing habits. Spend a few days paying close attention to what you watch and, especially, where you watch it. Do you spend more time with, say, Netflix than you do with cable? Do you watch live TV, or mostly choose on-demand viewing? And do you even plunk down in front of the TV anymore, or are you mostly using a phone or tablet these days?
Once you have answers to these questions, you'll have a better idea for what you really need -- and how much leverage you have with the cable company.
More services for less money? It's possible: Some providers offer lower rates when you choose a bundle that includes phone, cable and Internet. If you play your cards right, you might be able to sweet-talk a customer-service rep into giving you whatever promotional bundle is available to new customers.
Of course, that means you have to pick up the phone, wade through menus, wait for a rep, give them all your account info, and on and on. And if you're going to do that...
Haggle a better deal (or let someone else do it)
How do you feel about playing hardball? If the rep doesn't seem willing to offer you a better deal, say you'd like to cancel your service. That'll most likely get you transferred to the customer-retention department, where you may be able to negotiate a lower bill. The reps in that department don't want to lose you as a customer, but you have to be willing to see your cancellation threat through to the end.
If you don't have time for all that, or haggling just isn't your cup of tea, considering letting a third party negotiate on your behalf. Billcutterz, BillFixers and Billshark are among the services that will make the call for you. You'll have to supply them with your account information, of course, which may feel a little unsettling, privacy-wise. What's more, each company takes a cut of whatever you save: Billcutterz and BillFixers keep 50 percent, while Billshark keeps 40 percent.
Those rates may seem steep, but these companies know exactly what to say to net you the maximum possible savings. Plus, they do the heavy lifting. You don't have to spend time on hold, getting transferred to different departments and all that.
Buy your modem
Take a peek at the Internet section of your latest cable bill. Is there a "modem" charge? Chances are good your provider is leasing you the device that brings that speedy connection into your house -- probably to the tune of $8-12 per month. Chances are also good that you can return that modem and supply your own. (Just make sure the cable company allows this, and that the modem you get is compatible with their network.)
For example, the TP-Link Archer CR500 is a combination modem/Wi-Fi router that's compatible with most cable providers, and it offers fast AC1200 Wi-Fi along with 16x4 cable bonding. It's available online for around $95, meaning you'll recoup your investment in under a year -- and then save that monthly charge forever after.
The downside, however, is that if you have connection issues, your provider may not be willing (or able) to offer the same kind of assistance as with their own equipment.
Read more: 8 cable modem shopping tips
Ditch your DVR
Another fee that adds to your monthly bill: the DVR. It's one of the greatest inventions of all time, of course -- but are you actually using it?
In my house, for example, it's all but collecting dust. Most of the shows we watch come from Netflix and Hulu. So why should I pay extra every month for a DVR? If it's the same in your house, consider trading that box for a simple receiver. (At the same time, check for receivers you're no longer using and turn 'em in!) The money you save could help cover the cost of an online DVR service, like Sling TV.
Read more: The best DVRs of 2018
Get rid of it altogether (maybe)
OK, the elephant in the TV room: cord-cutting. Isn't it time to just ditch cable altogether, at least for television? Maybe yes, maybe no. It's all about the math.
For starters, consider what I mentioned earlier about bundles. If you remove cable TV and just subscribe to cable Internet, you might actually end up with a higher monthly rate -- or even just one that stays the same, which kind of defeats the entire purpose.
Then factor in the costs of services that'll supplant your cable viewing: Hulu, for example, and maybe Sling TV so you can still watch live shows. With those two alone, you're looking at a minimum of $33 per month. If TV adds only $50 or so to your monthly cable bill, it might make sense to keep it. After all, you get local channels -- still a challenge for online services -- and the joys of channel-flipping.
Will you save money by cutting the cable-TV cord? Perhaps. It just might not be as much as you thought, and not worth the hassles. (Be sure to read "Cord cutter curious?" to learn more about the subject.)
If you've already done it, or you have some other suggestions for lowering that obnoxious bill, hit the comments and share!
First published on July 7, 2017.
Updated Aug. 29: Added new information.
Read more: The best live-TV streaming services for cord-cutters
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