Consumer Watch: Ways to limit cost of cable TV

Consumer Watch: Ways to limit cost of cable TV

March 23rd, 2014 By Ellen Phillips in Business Diary

Ellen Phillips

Q: I am so frustrated by my increasingly expensive cable bill. It is more than my phone and Internet combined, and I don't subscribe to premium channels. Please say you have some recourse for me and my flattened wallet.

- Thelma Television

Dear Ms. Television: In a word: Yes. Answer the following questions from Women's Day magazine experts to see what's best for your household:

• What types of programs do you watch?

1. If you only watch basic programming, you do not need cable. A digital rabbit ears-style antenna that enables you to watch major channels is free, less the cost of the antenna (about $15). Or you can view network websites on your computer, iPad or iPhone for a few weeks after the original air date.

2. If you subscribe to basic channels and don't mind waiting a short time, you can still watch cable faves. Subscribe to video streaming services, such as Hulu Plus or Netflix, and also enjoy on-demand access to many TV shows.

3. If you pay for premium channels like HBO or Showtime; you'll still want to keep cable, unless you don't mind waiting a few months to purchase premium shows on DVD or at the iTunes Store. A season of "Game of Thrones" sells for $39 on iTunes. A subscription to HBO can run up to $20 monthlyon top of what you're already paying for basic cable.

4. Sports fans also wish to stick with cable. Even though many NFL games air on major networks, and the NBA and MLB offer streaming services, you'll still miss some cable-televised games. If you're a true sports fanatic, this is a very hard decision.

• Cable, satellite, or fiber-optic providers offer frequent deals for existing customers, if you just ask. Every year or two, call every company offering area TV service (other than the one you're currently using). Ask for their best new-customer rates. Next, call your existing provider and tell them you want to cancel your subscription. This should get you an immediate hookup to a customer-retention rep who can offer you as good, if not better, than the competitor you originally called. However, according to Bottom Line Personal, if your current provider won't match its competitor's terms, then switch. They obviously don't think they owe you any loyalty.

• Do you want live shows? You don't subscribe to cable, and you're feeling left out of the rehash on the morning after a particularly-exciting episode of "Mad Men." Okay, okay, so you have video streaming and MM shows up in a few days. Well, even with a video streaming plan, you'll still have to wait a few days to enter that (long gone) lounge conversation. Perhaps a cable-less life just isn't for you; after all, you know if instant gratification is necessary or not for your mental stability.

• Check your math skills and put away those salvaged bucks for retirement. Figure this and see what it means for your lifestyle. Netflix = $96 yearly; PlayStation 4 console on which to play it = $400; MLB or other related-sports service = $20 monthly; OR let's assume you already own an Xbox and begin to pay for Amazon Instant Video and Netflix at $175 yearly. You'll get two video services, pocket a good many bucks from that otherwise $40 per month cable subscription, and get free two-day shipping from amazon.com to start watching and enjoying sooner.!

Next week, we'll discuss exactly which service brings you more bang for your buck.

Tax Tip

Some jobs require employees to have or use equipment that the employees purchase out of their own pockets. If the company doesn't reimburse for those expenses, some may be deducted on income taxes to help maximize a tax refund. For example, the subscription costs of professional publications that keep you updated about how to perform your job better can be deducted. The same is true of professional dues, such as those you pay to belong to unions or professional organizations.

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer books. Email her at consumer watch@timesfreepress.com