How to pay less for TV and get much more

Why continue to pay for cable or satellite TV options you never use? This eight-step strategy can help you significantly reduce your TV bill without giving up the services you really want.

samsung js9500 curved suhd tv 2

Samsung JS9500 Curved SUHD TV

Credit: Samsung

How much money do you spend on TV each month? If you're an average consumer, you probably funnel a $100 or more to Comcast, DishTV or another similar provider. You could "cut the cord" and go all in on streaming video, though that route has some notable drawbacks. A better option may be to get your current cable or satellite provider to charge you less — or switch to a competitor.

Sound unlikely? Perhaps, but it is still possible. I recently knocked my TV bill down by about $40 a month, or nearly $500 a year, which is the the price of a new TV or a ticket to Europe. Of course, you'll need to do some homework and haggle a bit, but the efforts can really pay off.

8 ways to lower your current TV bill

Step 1: Take a close look at your current cable or satellite TV bill. It should include an itemized list of the features you pay for and specify your programming package, as well as the cost of extras, such as DVR service.

While you're at it, check to see if you are bound by a contract that includes a penalty for early cancellation. (You may have to call your provider for this information.)

Step 2: Most cable companies give you some sort of channel list. It's a good idea to keep it close by while you consider your next move.

Step 3: Do an online search to find out which companies provide TV service in your area. The list is likely a short one, but if there are multiple options, check out the various offerings. After you find the most attractive options, keep the pages open in browser tabs while you continue the research. If you're not familiar with a particularly provider, check out Yelp or another social media site to gauge its reputation.

Step 4: Before making any switch, take a hard look at the service that caught your eye. What channel packages does it offer? Most channel bundles include lots of junk you'll never watch, so think about what you really want to pay for and what you can do without. Does it offer DVR service? Can you hook it up in more than one room?

If you're a new customer, there are often introductory offers. To take advantage of the offers, you sometimes need to sign up for a set period of time. When the introductory period ends, how much will the charges increase? Some cable companies sock you with price increases close to 100 percent after 12 months.

Step 5: Speak to a sales person at the company you're considering, and be prepared to take notes. Cable companies often keep charges hidden in lots of different way.

For example, DirecTV, now owned by AT&T, offers a "free" Genie DVR. However, DirecTV actually charges a $15-a-month rental fee. A company sales representative told me it's "free" because you don't have to buy it. Yeah. That's akin to a car rental company saying all of its cars are free because customers don't have to purchase them. DirecTV also slips in a $20-a-month charge for digital service, which is a basic part of the offering. 

I'm not trying to pick on DirecTV specifically; other companies pull similar shenanigans. The company is probably no worse (or better) than its competitors, but I'm using it as a real-world example of things to look out for.

Step 6: When you talk to a sales person, get a price quote, and unless it's an absolutely terrific offer, write it down and tell them you need to think about it and will call back later. They won't like that, but it's the right thing for you to do.

Step 7: Call your TV provider, and tell them you think you're paying too much for the service. They'll likely say they understand and will attempt to sell you a cheaper package. That's not good enough. Explain that you want to pay less and get more, or at least keep the service you currently have. A "customer retention specialists" will probably take over from there, and they're the people who have the power to cut deals.

Step 8: Bargain, bargain, bargain – but don't lie. Explain that you shopped around, and tell them what their competitors offered. If you make something up, they won't take you seriously, so be honest. That's why doing your research beforehand is so important.

Finally, you need to remember that the customer retention folks are paid to keep you from defecting. That means there's a good chance that you, like me, can save a significant chunk of money without giving up the features you want. If not, say goodbye and go to the competition. You might have to return some TV hardware, then sign a new contract, but if you follow all of the steps listed here, the efforts can result in significant savings.

This story, "How to pay less for TV and get much more" was originally published by CIO.

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