Earlier this week, one of my brothers called with questions regarding his cable TV and Internet bill. Without giving it much attention over the years, seems the costs began to creep up on him, and he wanted some advice.
Last time he looked at the bill, it was about $300 per month, which would make my stomach drop if it were mine. Strange thing is, his Comcast services were nearly identical to mine, yet I’m paying at least $130 less per month. Go figure.
Bottom line is that if you’re not careful about tracking what you pay in entertainment and technology services, the costs can become invisible but crippling.
An Internet connection, for example, no longer is a $19.95-per-month luxury. Today, having a faster broadband connection is a must for a family with kids going to school or for a professional working from home. But that faster connection today goes for $50 to $75, making it more like a utility bill. And like those other utilities, you’ll want to keep an eye on what you use and how you use it to keep costs in check. So, here are some steps to ensure that the Internet and entertainment services you subscribe stay within your budget.
Audit the fees • At least once a year, go over your list of entertainment and electronics bills to make certain you’re getting exactly what you ordered and being charged correctly.
Also, almost all providers, such as Comcast, Dish Network, DirecTV or any of the four major cell phone carriers, probably will hike your rates at some point, and chances are you won’t know it until long after it happens. Not that they don’t warn customers, but more often than not they put the announcement deep down in your bill, where you normally don’t look. Comcast, for example, raised my rates $10 a month a year ago and mentioned it on the third page of the online version of my bill. It wasn’t until a couple of months later that I actually noticed the difference in costs.
Cancel services • While auditing your services, it’s also a good time to sit down with the family and review which ones you still need and which you don’t.
Do you need text messaging if you and everyone in your family own an iPhone and can use Apple’s iMessage service for free? Do you need HBO anymore if you have it only for “Game of Thrones,” and it’s in between seasons?
A lot of people talk about wanting to cut the cord and drop cable or satellite television in favor of television over streaming services such as Hulu or Netflix. Review your viewing habits and the shows or networks you watch most to see what makes sense to keep. In my case, favorites such as “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men” and “The Walking Dead” are all on AMC, a network that does not stream any of its programs over the Internet, so I’ll want to keep basic cable.
Repetition • There are a variety of entertainment services available, but a lot of them have overlapping catalogs. Plenty of what you can see on Hulu also is available on Netflix. Almost everything available on Netflix is on Amazon’s Prime Instant Video service, so why subscribe to all of them? Yet many do.
Are you OK with waiting a whole year for the latest season of “The Walking Dead” to appear on Netflix rather than watching right away on AMC through basic cable? Then cancel cable.
Every streaming service changes its offerings often, so this would be a good opportunity to figure out how to maximize your entertainment dollar.
Discounts • Cable and satellite companies and mobile phone carriers can be generous with discounts.
I’ve had many people tell me that they can call up Comcast or AT&T, complain about high prices and threaten to cancel their service. In almost all cases, they were transferred to some kind of retention department that offered them a deep price cut.
I called Comcast to complain about the rising price of my Internet, cable TV and landline phone. A representative told me that I had been with the company long enough for a “loyalty” discount in which they dropped my monthly bill $40 for the same level of services.
Don’t assume that this will work for everyone. Whether it works well or not may depend on whom you get on the phone. But it’s worth a try.
If you have a tech question for Vince, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and he’ll try to answer it for his column in The Salt Lake Tribune or on its website. For an archive of past columns, go to www.sltrib.com/topics/ohmytech.