Whenever I struggle to recommend ways for families to save money in their household budgets, I can count on readers to come to the rescue.
Take the monthly cable bill.
This has been a persistent thorn in my side, especially since our cable television service is packaged with Internet and phone. When my Time Warner Cable contract came up for renewal in January, I wrote a column bemoaning how our monthly bill was getting higher and higher.
I then explained how I trimmed our costs by $35 a month by dropping HBO and requesting and getting a six-month service promotion.
Now the promotion is about to expire and I feel tapped out of fresh savings options, other than asking for an extension on the deal.
Should I jump to the competition and go through the hassles of changing equipment? Try new technologies? Or even pull the plug entirely?
(Note: Since everyone in my family has certain favorite cable programs, I don’t want to unplug altogether. That’s a price for keeping the peace in my house. Call it a lesson in wants and needs, and in opportunity cost.)
So what exactly am I to do?
After my column earlier this year, I received a steady stream of responses from readers on how they handle the cable bill. Here are some of their pointers.
For Rick Tamblyn, the answer is to threaten to discontinue service: “It was only then that (the cable company) sent me to the retention department. Then a nice lady offered me a lower rate when I told her I was moving to satellite services.”
Kelly Jones used the same tactic with Dish Network: “Once I threatened to leave, I got somewhere. We also looked at what we actually watched and downgraded our package.”
Several readers suggested a blast from the rabbit-ear days of the past — high-definition indoor antennas.
Many models can be bought for less than $100 and can bring a high-quality picture into your home without contract-based cable or satellite services.
“Truly the picture is better than what pay-TV companies can provide,” said reader Bob Bridges.
Cindy Duke said her “secret” was to use her HD television, with an antenna, to receive high definition channels for free: “We have a working VCR, so we don’t really care about the DVR and don’t want to pay for the box to get digital. We do have an HD television and you can get quite a few HD channels for free.”
One caveat: The quality of your picture may depend on how your house is constructed and the neighborhood where you live. Experts say antennas work best if you live in an area that’s relatively flat, especially rural areas.
Finally, Scott Buescher offers this approach: “I and a number of my friends have shut off cable service altogether. We now only see shows on a public station, use the library for available movies, or Redbox, and most of all have returned to reading books.”
While Buescher acknowledges it may be hard for some families (including mine) to make the same choice, he argued that the benefits outweighed missing good sporting events and other shows.
“I forgot what it was like to delve into a good book and let my mind go crazy instead of it being shut off while for the most part I wasted time looking for something to entertain me,” he said. “And I also got my kids to realize there was still an outdoors world to explore.”