USA TODAY is launching a weekly series on how to lower your monthly bills and cut your costs so you can put your money to work for you. Each week, we will look at one of your monthly bills and offer tips on how to cut that bill down to size and save you money. In this week's installment of Taming your budget-busting bills we look at how to cut your cable bill.
There's perhaps no bill capable of generating peak frustration more than the one for cable TV.
Cable television companies report average spending per subscriber of about $85 a month, while the average among satellite TV providers tops $100 a month, according to Leichtman Research Group. .
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But there's hope. If you think your cable TV bill is too high, there are several ways to counter.
"Most people think, like a utility bill, if it comes in the mail at $200, that’s your bill, end of story," said Phillip Swann, publisher of the television industry site TVPredictions.com. "It is not the end of the story."
Here are five things you can do to lower that cable bill:
1. Assess what you watch: Get rid of extras, downsize your plan
Before making any changes, review your current cable plan and what channels you get. "Do you really need everything that’s on that list," said Swann. "Let’s say you have HBO. Do you watch it a lot?" Cutting premium channels and sports packages is an easy way to cut your bill and rack up savings.
Make a list of the channels that are must-haves to help you narrow down what you really need or want. There's a good chance you can drop down to a smaller, less expensive cable package and still get most of the channels you need.
2. Examine those extra fees
Take a look at your cable bill and examine each of the fees. Some of the fees and taxes are required but some could be cut back.
Do you have one or several set-top boxes for watching TV throughout the house? Those rental fees for boxes can add up. "If you have multiple DVRs in various rooms, do you need them in every room," said Swann.
If you package your cable with Internet, consider buying a compatible modem instead of paying the monthly rental fee. You'll end up making back the money you spent on the modem in the long term. When buying make sure to confirm with your operator that it works for your provider and is certified for the speeds you want to get. Most of the larger providers have a list of approved modems: Comcast/Xfinity, Time Warner Cable/Spectrum, Cox, and Cablevision/Optimum.
3. Skip the two-year contracts
Yes, the pricing can be very attractive. However, you're better off staying with a month-to-month commitment, says Swann. "When you do, you are bound to that company," he said. "You have no leverage during that two-year period."
Swann said consumers will usually pay as much or more compared to a plan without contracts. Also, if your service is poor enough you want out, most cable companies will require you pay an early termination fee.
4. Call your cable company and negotiate
If your bill still isn't what you want, contact a customer service representative at your cable provider. Check out the latest deals that they are offering to new subscribers and compare them to what you’re currently paying.
When calling, be friendly and explain your concern over the cost of your current package and ask for a better deal. “Knocking down the price is as simple as taking the time to call and ask — politely,” says personal finance writer Andrea Woroch.
If there's a competitor, threaten to cancel your service and switch. Cable providers will usually find a way to strike a deal if it means you stay put.
Negotiating requires persistence. If at first you don’t succeed, call back and talk to someone else. Woroch suggests asking for a supervisor or manager if necessary.
5. Consider a leap to streaming services
If calling and negotiating with your cable provider doesn’t produce the results you want, consider cutting the cord and check out streaming services.
Sling TV, DirecTV Now, PlayStation Vue, Hulu, and YouTube all offer skinny bundles with a solid core channel lineup that could save you extra cash. The cheapest option available among the group is Sling TV's Orange plan for $20 a month, and features channels including ESPN, CNN, Disney and Food Network.
Streaming allows users to watch on smartphones and tablets, but if you prefer the traditional TV experience, you can get a set-top box like Apple TV or Fire TV, or a streaming stick such as devices made by Roku and Amazon. One drawback is limited availability to your local channels.
Contributing: Eli Blumenthal
Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @brettmolina23.