Are you looking for ways to cut down your monthly bills, but not sure where to turn to first? One place to start may be your cable, Internet, or home phone service.
In fact, these services offer more than a few ways to save, says Jeff Blyskal, a senior editor for Consumer Reports Magazine, which published a June 2012 investigative piece on the subject, called "Cut Your Telecom Bill."
From switching providers to bargaining with your current one, you might be surprised at your possible savings. In some cases, it could be over 50 percent, says Blyskal.
So if you're looking for ways to save money - and who isn't right now? - check out these four ways you might be able to save on your home digital services.
#1 - Find out How Many Providers are Actually in Your Area
When it comes to cable companies, you've probably noticed that the word monopoly comes up a lot. And it's true, in many areas, if you want cable service, you may only have one choice of provider.
"It's true that most people are trapped with one cable company because the cable companies have a monopoly over a certain area," says Blyskal. "But in a number of communities around the country, there is another company competing."
So the first thing to do is research your area. If there is competition, you can use price as a big bargaining chip.
Blyskal adds that the best thing to do is be honest with companies when shopping. Tell them the prices and promotions you are being quoted by their competition. Because they want your business, they'll probably do all they can to meet or beat their competitor, says Blyskal.
Lastly, remember to compare the services they are proposing, says Blyskal. After all, a slightly cheaper rate for far inferior service is no bargain.
#2 - Combine Your Digital Services with Just One Company
Do you get your cable TV service from one company, your Internet access from another, and your home phone from yet another? If so, you could be paying more than you should. But how do you get the savings? One word: bundling.
Bundling is when you sign up for two or three services - a combination of TV, internet, and home phone service - from one provider.
"All the services are coming in on one wire, so it costs the company less to deliver them," says Blyskal. "For that, they're willing to give you a big discount."
Big is right. He says your savings could be anywhere from 40 to 60 percent, depending on your market and the competition.
However, there are a few important points to remember, says Blyskal.
- The savings aren't usually as great if you sign up for two services (opposed to three), but you'll likely still see significant savings.
- The savings will end, usually after the promotional period of six months to a year. At this time, you'll need to renegotiate with your service provider (see Cost Cutter #3 below). Until then, bundle up and bask in the warmth of your savings.
#3 - Don't Settle: Negotiate the Price You Want
Athletes do it. Actors do it. Why can't you do it, too?
We're talking about negotiating your contract, for cable service that is. And really, you're probably not going to ask for a signing bonus or a pound of gummy bears in your trailer. You just want a lower rate and a few perks, right?
Blyskal says one of the most common misconceptions is that you can't bargain with your cable provider to get a lower rate or for some extra channels. Too often, he says, people just sit there and take a rate hike, like when a bundling discount runs out after six months or a year.
"Instead, we suggest that you bargain to keep your rate down," he says. And here's the thing: according to Consumer Reports' research, most of the time, it works.
In fact, Consumer Reports magazine surveyed over 15,000 readers who bundled three services. "Of those, when the promotion ran out, seven out of 10 didn't negotiate, but just paid the higher rate," says Blyskal , reporting his magazine's findings.
However, he says that of the remaining three who did negotiate, 90 percent got some discount or extra services. "Forty percent of the time, they got savings of up to $50 a month. About 30 percent had fees for activation and installation waived. And 30 percent said they got free premium channels," says Blyskal.
Not quite a bowl full of gummy bears in your trailer, but still pretty sweet.
#4 - Drop Unwanted Services and Premium Channels
It doesn't make sense to pay for things you don't use. That's why Blyskal suggests doing an assessment of your channels to figure out how many you actually watch.
He says that most people only watch a handful of channels regularly, but are often paying for many more in premium packages. He admits that often the most popular channels are in those packages, but you may be able to save money by cutting back.
For example, if you find that you're paying for premium movie channels, but only watch a few movies a month, it may be time to drop those channels. Instead, a good - and often less expensive alternative - may be a Netflix subscription.
Another obvious place to cut is your home phone service, especially with 83 percent of Americans owning a cell phone, according to an April 2011 poll by the Pew Research Center, a nonprofit organization providing information on current trends. If you choose to cut your home phone, this could save you anywhere from $30 to $50 a month, says Blyskal.