They're the proverbial enemy of paychecks and bank accounts everywhere.
And when you're spending an arm and a leg for your Internet, cable and phone service, paying them is no easy feat.
Luckily, there could be a way to lower your monthly costs, and it goes by the name of "bundle."
What's a bundle, you ask? In this case, it's the combination of two or more digital services -- like phone, Internet and cable -- from one single provider.
Just take a look at the May 2011 issue of Consumer Reports magazine. The nonprofit consumer-awareness organization surveyed its readers and found that 1 in 3 had a bundled package of TV, Internet and home phone services.
And "more than half reported significant savings compared with buying the services from separate companies."
Want to see if bundling can help you save on your digital services? Check out these tips on how to find the right bundle for you.
Tip 1: Do Your Research and Shop Around for the Right Price
Bundling Internet, cable and home phone services for a discounted price wasn't always an option. But luckily for you, that's not the case anymore.
In fact, many companies now offer bundling services; and as you can imagine, they offer them at varying prices.
This means it's up to you to do your research and shop around.
According to a Pew Internet & American Life Project report, "Home Broadband Adoption 2009," the average monthly cost of broadband services was $39 a month between 2004 and 2009.
In this instance, if you were paying more than $39, it would probably be a good idea to switch carriers or see how a bundle could lead to savings.
Not fond of delving into reports? There are simpler ways to research -- like talking to friends and family to see how much they're paying for their digital services.
Some questions to ask:
- How much are you paying for your bundle?
- What are the benefits of bundling? What are the cons?
- Would you recommend bundling?
You'll also want to keep in mind that prices vary by location, so speaking to someone who lives in your zip code is probably a smart idea.
Tip 2: Don't Overbuy
Let's face it: We can all go a little overboard with our digital services -- especially when it comes to television and Internet.
So when you're customizing your bundle, don't just accept all the premium channels they give you. Ask yourself if they are channels you'll actually watch -- and if they're not, ask your provider if getting rid of some channels could lower your bill.
The same rule applies for your Internet service: Don't get what you don't need. If you only plan to use the Internet to check email, for example, chances are you don't need top-notch speed.
Unfortunately, though, consumers are simply not paying attention to what they're paying for.
In fact, in a survey of 3,005 adults conducted in April and May 2010 by the Federal Communications Commission, 80 percent of home broadband users "do not know the speed of their home Internet connection."
That's 4 out of 5 people who were paying for Internet service without fully understanding what they were actually getting from it.
The moral of the story? Understand what your needs are and cut back wherever possible.
Tip 3: Negotiate
If you're a self-proclaimed bargain hunter, haggler, extreme coupon clipper or all of the above, this tip probably doesn't come as a surprise to you.
Still, negotiating for a good deal is king when it comes to bundling your digital services.
Consider these stats from the Annual Telecom Survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center in spring 2011:
Seven out of 10 surveyed Consumer Reports readers with bundled Internet, phone and TV did not attempt to lower their telecom bills by means of negotiation.
Of those who did negotiate, more than 90 percent were offered some kind of adjustment.
Here's how bargaining paid off for the surveyed respondents:
- About 40 percent of bargainers reporting savings of up to $50 a month.
- Around 30 percent had fees for installation or activation waived.
- About 30 percent or so said they got free premium channels.
If these potential saving opportunities appeal to you, then it's time to start honing your bargaining skills.
Tip 4: Avoid Digital Commitment (if possible)
Relationship-phobia may be an issue in your romantic life, but in the case of digital services, there's nothing wrong with avoiding long-term commitment.
According to a June 2012 article by Consumer Reports, signing a contract with early-termination fees could limit your flexibility to negotiate rates or change providers.
It adds that while some providers will require a contract, "others give you the option of a contract-free plan, usually at a slightly higher rate. It's worth paying a little more to maintain your bargaining power."
Avoiding commitment is especially important advice to keep in mind as promotional savings for a bundle may end after a certain amount of time, and a more attractive and cheap offer may become available. If so, you probably wouldn't want to be tied down to a contract -- and worse -- pay a hefty fee to break it.