Tired of paying too much for your Internet, cable, and phone services? Before you make another payment, evaluate your service needs and shop around to compare prices.
According to Mindy Spatt - communications director for The Utility Reform Network (TURN), a California-based consumer advocacy organization - be diligent when doing business with Internet, cable, and phone service providers in order to get the best possible rates.
And don't forget to "read the contract and read that bill every month," says Spatt.
Want to learn more about how you could save on your digital services? Check out these tips that could help you find the best rates.
Tip #1 - Shop Around
The song "Shop Around" by The Miracles and Bill Smokey Robinson was a big hit in 1960, but its hook still rings true today when applying it to telecommunications services: You better shop around.
"If you have access to the Internet, the best way to shop is online, where most of the special promotions and rebates can be found," according to "To Bundle or Not to Bundle - Cable TV, Internet, and Phone," a letter response on the TURN website.
"Print out the different offers and compare them. But remember! Deals change all the time, and the deal you find one day may be gone the next," warns TURN.
Spatt echoes her organization's advice for shopping around, adding it's important to sharpen your eye for detail when looking at potential deals. In fact, prices in advertising materials could be different (radically, in some cases) than costs listed on the finished contract.
"It's definitely good to read the fine print," Spatt says. "Be aware there is a lot of bait and switch going on. The price you sign up for might not be the price you pay forever. Are the taxes and fees part of the advertised price? The customer needs to look at the contracts, not the advertising materials."
And to help extend the deal, simply pop the question: "Don't hesitate to call the companies to ask more specific questions," according to TURN. "For example, 'How long will this special rate last?'"
Tip #2 - Bundle Your Digital Services
Bundling isn't just something you do with the clothes you wear on cold days. It could work as a cost-saving option when you roll two or more of your digital services into one service plan, depending on the customer.
Just note, "The customer has to make a decision based on their own usage," Spatt says. "Bundling isn't right for everybody."
If you are considering bundling, Spatt suggests looking into bundling options only after you have gauged that it's more expensive to pay for services individually.
You'll also want to question your usage habits to see if you need all that a bundle has to offer:
- Do you only want basic phone service?
- Can you live without cable?
- Do you plan on using your cell phone for long-distance calls?
- How much Internet service do you really require?
Once you determine your digital services usage, you can figure out which bundle best fits your needs. And remember to do your homework and search for the best bundle deals.
But while shopping around, keep TURN's additional warnings in mind: "Some bundles have extra fees and charges or that really great deal expires sooner than you think!"
Tip #3 - Negotiate, Negotiate, Negotiate
Don't be afraid to haggle with carriers in an effort to get a fair price.
"The customer should always try to get the best possible deal," Spatt says. "Don't take the first thing that's offered. You have to ask if there is a lower price service, a cheaper way to do this. When you have done your homework, you know what your options are."
For example, if the carrier won't go lower than that initial offer, an effective bargaining chip might be mentioning the rates offered by a competitor.
"You might find that Company A offers you a price, and you might say, 'Company B told me they would offer me a better price,'" Spatt says. "You might find that Company A may come up with a better price. In theory, this is how a competitive market works."
On the other hand, if you find your current providers' prices feel a bit too steep, TURN suggests asking whether they will make you a special offer to stay with them.
Tip #4 - Don't Buy More Than You Need (if Possible)
What could be worse than paying too much for your digital services? Paying too much for digital services you don't need.
For example, if you have an all-you-can-talk long distance package, do you really need to pay more if you rarely make long-distance calls from your landline?
"Paying for services that you don't need is a waste of money," according to TURN.
To help avoid overbuying, TURN suggests asking these types of questions regarding your usage of your Internet, cable, and phone services:
- Are most of your phone calls local? Or do you often call family and friends outside the United States?
- Do you use the Internet only for e-mail? Or do you enjoy watching online videos and downloading pictures?
- How many cable channels do you want to watch?
Afterward, it might be helpful to make a list of your needs, according to TURN. Then you'll get a clearer picture of what price points are too much for your needs as well as your pocketbook.
Tip #5 - Don't Sign a Long-Term Contract
Don't want to commit to one service provider over the long haul? Reconsider signing a long-term contract.
"As a rule, avoid contracts if possible because they limit your ability to switch providers or negotiate rates," according to the May 2011 Consumer Reports article "The Benefits of Bundling and Bargaining."
This means that after the honeymoon period ends and the provider's services no longer meet your needs, you could be tied to a company for much longer than you intended.
"Some companies will lock in a monthly price for two years, but if you try to break the contract, you'll have to pay a fee," says TURN. "Make sure you get price protection before agreeing to a long-term contract."
But if a long-term contract is your only option, it can't hurt to ask whether your provider could reduce the contract's length.
Tip #6 - Ask for Discounts
Don't be bashful when it comes to seeking out discounts. If you don't ask for them, you probably won't know whether an Internet, cable, or phone service provider has pricing offers hiding in their back pockets.
And it also helps if you have already scoped out offers from the American Auto Association (AAA), as well as student or professional discounts.
"Customers need to stand up for themselves," Spatt says. "They need to be informed so that they know what they can expect for a price. That will put them in the best bargaining position."
Even if you successfully hit up a provider for a discount, that doesn't end your duties as a consumer.
"Make sure to ask what your first bill will look like," according to TURN. "Some companies charge you for two months when you first sign up, or you may be charged installation or activation fees for some of the plan's components."