5 Ways to Slash Your Cable Bill

Luckily, going without isn't your only option.

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When I was younger, we paid around $15 a month for television. We didn't get cable, just the standard programming channels, and we enjoyed it all the same. While I was in college, cable television was free, rather it was included in the fees for my room, and so I didn't think much of the cost. After graduation, I was surprised to learn that you could now get hundreds of channels, many of which you'll never watch, and that it would cost you over a hundred dollars!

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If you were to see how many channels you actually watch, you'd probably be astounded. For a month I kept a TV log, which was really just a log of which shows I watched. I think I watched the same six channels outside of basic cable, which I only watched because of sports.

Unfortunately, if you want cable television, you really have no choice. In many areas, there is only one cable television option and then DirecTV satellite service. In Baltimore, it's only Comcast (and DirecTV). There are, however, ways you can save money.

Ditch Cable Television The most obvious solution is to cancel your cable television service. Keep a month-long log of what shows you watch, which channels, and how often you watch. If you're not that ambitious, just think about the shows you watch and write down the channels. You probably don't watch most of the channels you are currently getting so you really won't feel that much pain if you cancel it. Also, many television shows are available on the channel's website or Hulu fairly quickly. If you do decide to cut the cable, you can always replace it with other forms of entertainment.

Cut Excess Programming If you can't bear to cancel cable entirely, consider going down a level in service. Consider canceling some a la carte channels if you don't really watch them. Many people are paying for channels like HBO and Cinemax because they were given a three month free trial, only to forget they are now paying for it. If you don't watch a channel and you can scrap it, downgrade and pay less.

Negotiate Constantly Cable companies know they are offering a product with a perfect substitute. Comcast is interchangeable with Verizon which is interchangeable with any number of cable companies (by the way, I keep listing those two because they are the only two available in my area, an example of a near perfect monopoly). You can use this to your advantage by forcing them to compete with one another. If you aren't under contract, call up and threaten to go to another company and they will give you a better deal.

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Look for Promotional Offers If you do plan on changing providers, or even if you're threatening, always look for promotional offers. When I signed up, I used Verizon FiOS promo codes to get a lower monthly rate on my double play (cable and internet). Promotion codes are available everywhere, so don't sign up for service without having one. One caveat, make sure you aren't signed up for a ridiculously long contract period - no more than two years.

Buy the Equipment Cable providers will charge you a rental fee if you use their cable box or DVR, consider buying a used unit off Craigslist if it'll cost you less. The downside of buying your own unit is that you will have to perform servicing on it if it fails, since they won't repair your personal cable box. The upside is that you can save yourself a lot of money and even sell the unit after you change providers. The key is to check your contract, the fees, and do the math.

In summary, never pay full price, always negotiate, and remember that you have the power (if you're out of contract!).

Jim Wang writes about personal finance at Bargaineering.com. When he's not tackling money issues, he's usually looking forward to his next vacation and writing about it at Wanderlust Journey.