Currently, the average pay-TV subscription runs $86 per month, for a whopping $1,032 per year. Worse yet, these bills continue to jump by about six percent annually, which is more than twice the overall rate of inflation. But here’s some good news: you have many ways to watch TV without watching so many of your dollars disappear.
25.1 Pick Alternatives
Cable and satellite providers once held a tightly wrapped cord around our necks. With the onset of new technologies, their grip has finally loosened. If you tap into enough other video sources—many of which are FREE—you might even cut the cord forever, and save yourself about a thousand per year in the process.
□ 25.1.1 Attach an Antenna
Local stations deliver high definition content over the airwaves for FREE. To receive signals, all you need is an HDTV antenna. Indoor versions cost as little as $5. Visit AntennaWeb.org, type in your address, and see antenna choices tailored to your neighborhood’s signal strength.
□ 25.1.2 Access the Internet
New HDTVs and Blu-Ray players display internet content via a wireless home network or Ethernet connection. If your equipment lacks this capability, you can buy a digital media receiver such as the Roku HD player for as low as $50. Alternatively, if you own a decent computer screen, you can watch online content there. Some video sites are free (CBS.com, C-SpanVideo.org, FreeDocumentaries.org, Crackle.com). Although other sites charge, they still cost less than cable or satellite (Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus).
□ 25.1.3 Corner a Kiosk
RedBox.com offers movies and video games. Currently, DVDs rent for $1.20 per day and Blu-Rays for $1.50. Provide your email address and receive a steady supply of promo codes.
□ 25.1.4 Join Netflix
Monthly plans start at $8. Share a subscription with a friend and cut your costs in half. Visit NetFlix.com.
□ 25.1.5 Borrow Video Content
Libraries lend not only movies, but also documentaries, educational films, and entire TV seasons. Borrow DVDs from friends too.
You might cut your overall costs for television, internet, landline, and cells if you buy them all from a single provider. Run the numbers in advance to confirm your savings.
25.3 Use Your Memberships
Look for cable/satellite deals offered through your warehouse membership club, AAA, or any other groups to which you belong. I went through Costco for my last satellite contract and scored $60 off of the first year’s subscription, plus a $180 gift card.
25.4 Try Group Buynamics
If you have roommates, share TV costs. Then you all can fight over who gets the remote. For pay-for-view events, invite friends and split the costs. Some providers pay cash bonuses if you refer new subscribers.
25.5 Avoid Bells and Whistles
Cable and satellite companies are notorious for tacking fees onto monthly bills. Dodge them and save.
□ 25.5.1 Cancel Premium Services
Drop any you don’t use. For any must-see series, wait until you can rent the DVDs. Switch to cheaper packages with fewer channels.
□ 25.5.2 Forgo Pay-For-View
Movies cost $5 or more when you order them with your remote control, but only $1.20 at Redbox.com.
□ 25.5.3 Sidestep Equipment Rentals
Don’t pay extra for converter boxes or other equipment. Instead, buy them used. Confirm with your TV provider in advance that supplying your own hardware will actually remove the rental fees.
□ 25.5.4 Ditch DVRs
At $8 or more per month, these costs add up fast. But if you dislike commercials, maybe it’s a small price to pay.
25.6 Avoid Pitfalls
□ 25.6.1 Dodge Late Fees
Arrange for automatic payments and you never have to worry.
□ 25.6.2 Watch Out for Rebates
Read the fine print whenever you switch providers. Some new customer offers take the form of rebates that must be formally redeemed. If you don’t redeem them, you don’t save.
□ 25.6.3 Suspend Service During Travel
Many providers allow you to temporarily suspend your account during lengthy vacations. Take advantage of such policies. Don’t pay for TV you’re not there to use.
□ 25.6.4 Know When the Contract Expires
Mark your calendar with the expiry date. When it arrives, renegotiate or cancel (see 25.7 and 25.8). If you do nothing, your bill skyrockets and you commit the grave sin of overpaying.
Competition is intense, so a single phone call often yields savings. Let the operator know what other companies offer new customers and ask for the same deal. Usually, you have to speak to another department before you’re connected to anyone authorized to bargain. When haggling, hold out for common deal sweeteners such as three FREE months of movie channels. Until you hear that bonus dangled forth, you haven’t heard the best offer.
25.8 Play the Cancel Card
Read this war story and profit. Before I switched satellite services, I called my existing provider and tried to get the price they gave to new customers (I had been with the company for five years). Despite my several threats to cancel, the company refused to budge. So I terminated the service and signed up with their competitor. Within a week, the old service pummeled me with telephone calls offering—you guessed it—the same deal it gave new customers. The lesson: often threats aren’t enough, and you have to actually cancel. In fact, some savvy fringers routinely terminate at the end of their contracts and make do with broadcast signals for a few days (see 25.1.1) until the inevitable offers start rolling in. Better yet, if you cancel as you leave on vacations or business trips, you can snag a lower price when you return and not miss any service at all.