Haven't cut the cable cord yet in favor of free or low-cost Internet TV options? You're not alone. The majority of Americans still watch TV through traditional paid cable services, according to media market research company Nielsen.
Unfortunately, as you know, cable TV can be pricey. But you can keep the cost of watching your favorite shows and movies under control with these seven strategies.
1. Trim back on channels. Do you really need hundreds of channels? You're probably not even watching most of them, so you can save big by switching from a premium cable package to a basic package. I cut my cable bill by $80 a month when I did this. Basic packages tend to include the major networks, ESPN, Disney, Nickelodeon and many other popular channels. What you lose, primarily, are the movie channels. To replace them at a much lower cost, you can sign up for a movie streaming service such as Netflix for $7.99 a month or VUDU for as little as $2 a movie. Or you can rent DVDs for $1 a night from Redbox kiosks.
2. Keep up with promotions. Cable companies are constantly adding promotions to attract new customers, but current customers often can take advantage of these deals, too, says consumer expert Andrea Woroch. She recommends calling your cable company or checking its Web site every six months to find out whether it's offering any promotions, such as free movie channels. When you're asking about promotions, also find out whether your cable company offers discounts if you sign up for paperless statements or automated payments.
3. Evaluate feature usage. Woroch says that many consumers sign up for full-feature cable packages that include cable boxes in every room, along with DVR function and other bells and whistles. However, she says that you probably don't need a cable box in the guest bedroom that rarely gets used, nor do your school-aged children need DVR capabilities. The monthly fees for these extras might seem minimal, but eliminating them can amount to savings of up to $100 or more over the course of a year.
4. Buy an antenna. For $40, you can buy an HDTV antenna , such as the Mohu Leaf, to get access to local channels. Woroch says they're great options for people who want to reduce their cable bill by limiting the number of cable boxes they have. You can hook the antenna up to that guest room TV so visitors have something to watch or the kitchen TV that you just turn on to watch the news while making dinner. Woroch recommends looking online to find the best prices for HDTV antennas and looking for retailers' coupon codes to get an even better deal.
5. Turn off cable equipment when not in use. You can lower the overall cost of having cable TV -- not just your cable bill -- by turning off cable receivers, DVRs and other related equipment when these electronics are not in use. Connect them all to a power strip that you can turn off with one switch. Woroch says that you can save $40 a year per cable box by doing this.
6. Threaten to leave. Check with other cable providers or satellite TV providers in your area to see if they have packages or promotions at prices that beat what you're currently paying. If so, then ask your cable company whether it's willing to match a competitor's price. Be sure to speak with a supervisor, who has more power to make changes to your plan and bill. If you threaten to switch to another provider, Woroch says you'll likely find that your cable company has some great offers to share with you. By sticking with your current company at a lower rate, you can avoid setup fees with a new provider.
7. Switch to satellite TV. You might find that you can get all the channels you want at a lower price with a satellite TV provider. For example, Dish Network's cheapest plan is $19.99 a month versus $39.99 for Comcast's basic cable TV plan. The two major satellite companies, Dish Network and DirecTV , often have promotions for a free satellite dish and installation. Worried that switching to satellite TV means giving up local channels? There's a good chance you won't have to. Both Dish Network and DirecTV provide local channels in most locations.
Final note: Cable, satellite and telecom companies advertise bundles of services -- TV, Internet and phone -- as a way to save money. You'll see discounts on Internet and phone services in these packages, but bundling doesn't usually lower the cost of TV services. And there are better ways to save on the other services, Woroch says. For example, you could drop your landline and use your cell phone only, use free or low-cost VoIP services such as Skype or Vonage, or make free calls using the Ooma Telo device.
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