September 15 2010|05.00 AM UTC

Jennifer Scott

Three Simple Tips to Avoid Cable & Internet Service Rip-Offs

Category: SavingsTags: , , ,

My fiancé and I just moved into a new apartment. As we’re saving for a wedding, we thought we’d use this opportunity to make some frugal decisions about our utilities. Gas and electric we’re pretty much stuck with, but our cable and internet package seemed to have a good amount of wiggle room. We decided to get just internet and stream shows and movies from our computers through the TV. Pretty smart, right? Pretty frustrating, actually. Here are some tips I wish someone had given me before we started this process:

1. Don’t lock into a contract. We had no intention of moving again for a while, so we got a 2-year contract with RCN because it was a great deal. But issues came up that we couldn’t reconcile with our old place, and we had to find something new. It turns out we could have added on to our contract all we wanted, but to remove something they would have to cancel the contract and started a new one. Yes, that does come with a cancellation fee, funny you should mention it!

2. Sometimes more is less. Because we both do a lot of work at home, and because streaming entertainment can take up a lot of bandwidth, we knew we’d need a fairly high speed internet connection. But of all of the companies that could deliver internet to us, it was more expensive to buy just the internet service. No matter how many times we would say, “We want ONLY internet” we were always met with “You’ll spend less if you get more.”

3. Not everything is up for negotiation. I don’t know about you, but my past experience led me to believe we’d be able to negotiate a good deal with whichever company we chose. This time, however, no one would budge on the price. At all. In fact, when we told RCN we were going to go to Comcast, they said, “Okay.” We were flabbergasted that they would be willing to collect the cancellation fee and lose us forever rather than try to keep us on, but sometimes that’s how the cookie crumbles.

In the end we stayed with RCN and we kept the digital cable and DVR. After crunching all of the numbers, it ended up being the most affordable option. If you can’t shrink your bill, here are a few ways to make it more palatable:

Pay with a rewards card. Most companies will let you pay over the phone with a credit card. I can use my rewards debit card and earn cash back every time I pay my bill. Pretty sweet! Read the fine print, though: some companies charge a “convenience fee” to use this service.

Shrink your other bills. So our cable bill isn’t budging, but after a quick run through with BillShrink it was clear we were paying way too much for our cell phones. Every little bit helps!

Give yourself an A for effort. For every time you make a smart financial choice, there are lots of people out there making really bad ones. You’re already ahead of the game. Reward yourself… gather the family and enjoy a movie on your fancy cable plan!

Have you run into situations where you couldn’t be as frugal as you’d like? What did you do?

photo credit: mr. t in dc

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