Cable is on the chopping block of every frugal budgeter out there. But for a lot of us, the enjoyment we get from cable is worth the cost. However, that doesn't mean we should pay more than necessary. Your cable bill is often up for negotiation...you just need to know what to say.

Over the years, I’ve seriously considered cancelling cable and watching TV exclusively through Amazon, Hulu Plus and Netflix.

It’s undeniably cheaper. Gizmodo found that streaming shows through these services costs about $22.50 per month. The average cable bill is projected to hit $123 per month next year, and a whopping $200 by 2020.

But like many TV lovers, I just can’t do it.

I love “live watching” TV. I love watching a bad Lifetime movie on a rainy Sunday afternoon. I love tuning into breaking news on CNN. Without cable, I wouldn’t be able to talk to people about what happened on the most recent episode of the Walking Dead. Without cable, I wouldn’t be able to flip through channels when I’m not sure what I’m in the mood to watch. I know some people think TV is the root of all forms of evil from obesity to stupidity. But for TV lovers, it’s a digital, anti-anxiety medication.

If you’re not ready to ditch cable either, I have some good news. You can still lower your monthly bill.

Sure, you’ll have to be a smooth talker to get your cable company to agree to lower the price. But since we still have cable, we can learn all about the art of negotiation by modeling ourselves after Jax on Sons of Anarchy. And if that’s not enough, I also got some advice from Sydney Alcala, Vice President of BillCutterz, a bill negotiation company.

Don’t assume your bill is correct

“The first thing you should do is go over your bill very carefully and make sure you understand each charge,” Sydney says. “If there’s a charge for something you’re unsure about, ask the representative when you call.”

My bill this month has fees for things like:

  • Outlet Service
  • Connectivity Charge

I have no idea what those terms can possibly mean.

“Ask about taxes or extra charges you’re unfamiliar with because they could be on your bill by mistake,” says Sydney. “Also keep an eye out for mysterious charges – especially on cell phone bills – because you could be a victim of cramming.”

According to the FTC, cramming is “when a company adds a charge to your phone bill for a service you didn’t order or use. Cramming charges can be small, and they may sound like fees you do owe.”

Research what your cable company’s competitors are charging

You really only have one negotiating chip with your cable company – the possibility that you may leave them for a competitor.

“Check out if competitors if have any promotions or new customer deals available,” Sydney says. “There are many websites out there to help research best rates in your area, but your best bet is to visit the provider’s website directly and see what they’re offering.”

Make a plan before you call

Sydney suggests calling during off-peak times to increase your chances of getting a representative in a good mood. Next, make your pitch. “Ask for lower rates or new customer pricing,” she says.

She suggests mentioning any reasons they should lower your rate, such as:

  • If you’ve been long time customer
  • If you have a history of on-time payments
  • How much you’d save switching to a competitor

Avoid the word “cancellation” until the last minute. “If you threaten to cancel, be careful if the rep calls your bluff,” she says. “You don’t want to end up with canceled service when all you wanted was a lower bill.”

Be mindful of your tone

One of my favorite pastimes is watching people freak out on airline personnel at the airport. It gets them nothing, except high blood pressure. Meanwhile, I’ve often scored free wine just by asking a flight attendant how his or her day is going.

“Remember that you get more flies with honey. The same principle applies to haggling,” Sydney says. Angrily demanding to speak with a supervisor can easily backfire.

“You may just get your rep’s neighbor instead of a manager,” Sydney says. “It’s better to call back later and get a friendly rep who wants to help you out.”

If you don’t want to go through the hassle of doing this yourself, you can always call in the experts. “BillCutterz can expertly negotiate for you and save you 30% or more on your monthly bills,” Sydney says.

 Have you ever tried to lower your cable bill? Share your stories here. I’m going to try this month, and report back. 

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About the author

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Patty Lamberti is a freelance writer and Professional-in-Residence at Loyola University Chicago, where she teaches journalism and oversees the graduate program in digital media storytelling. If she doesn't know something about money, you can trust she'll track down the right people to find out. You can learn more about her at www.pattylamberti.com. And if you have any story ideas, or questions about money etiquette that you'd like her or an expert to answer, email her at [email protected]