I was one of those guys who got the top-tier cable package with something like 800 channels, three premium services, and a DVR with more hard drive capacity than my computer.
I’d gone back and forth between Comcast/Xfinity and DirecTV every couple of years to take advantage of whatever deal they were offering at the time, but after the introductory period my bills were regularly in the $200 range every month. When I started looking at how much of it I was actually using vs. what I was paying for, the absurdity hit home. So I started looking at alternatives.
Laying out a plan to cut the cord
First, I had to decide what I really and truly wanted to watch. For me, the biggest hurdle to overcome was how to access mixed martial arts fights, primarily the UFC. The other big thing was making sure there were enough kids programs to keep my daughter entertained when necessary. Turns out they have a UFC channel on Roku where you can buy the pay-per-views. (Yes, UFC PPVs are $60 a pop, which ain’t cheap, but it’s one of the few interests I have.)
So in order to leave DirecTV, I bought two Roku boxes and a Netflix subscription. I got my UFC fights, and I had plenty of movies and shows to keep both my daughter and my wife happy. For several months, this was going very well. No one missed the overpriced cable package, and in fact there’s a bunch of great stuff we really enjoyed about Netflix.
The total cost of equipment and a year of Netflix was basically equal to two months of what I was paying for DirecTV. When I called to cancel my service, they asked what they could do to keep me.
“Keep me at my current package for $10 a month,” I said. Not surprisingly, they were not willing to bargain that much.
And then, like an idiot
I got a call several months later from Xfinity. We still had Internet through Xfinity for $88.95 a month for the upgraded tier because my wife works at home and that’s a necessity. The guy from Xfinity offered me a new deal: 140 channels, HD DVR, and an even faster Internet tier. Monthly price: $89.94.
All that for 99 cents more? You have my attention, but this isn’t my first rodeo.
“What’s the contract length, and when does this price go away?” I asked. “Two years, and the price is locked in for two years.” Now he really had my attention.
If I told DirecTV I would stick around for $10 a month, surely I should take up Xfinity on 99 cents a month – plus a boost to my Internet speed. And that’s what I did, while also adding an additional box for my second TV at $10 a month. Of course, as you can guess, my bill wasn’t $10.99 more than I was paying when I just had the Internet.
The most important questions are the ones you don’t ask
You see, the Internet service had a monthly tax of 69 cents. However, the TV portion added a broadcast TV fee, a regional sports fee, a franchise fee, an FCC regulatory fee, an excise tax and additional sales tax. All these charges together were an additional $10 a month. Three months after I signed up, the regional sports fee went up $2 a month and the broadcast TV fee increased $1.75 a month.
Look, $13.75 a month isn’t going to break my budget, but my 99-cent deal turned into almost $15 a month. How did I not think to ask what my actual bill, with taxes, would be every month? Why didn’t I think about the total cost of ownership?
That’s the lesson here. You see it with cell phone bills, too. Never assume the monthly price is the all-in price. Ask for the total including taxes, or you might be surprised when the bill comes.
Where I’m at now
When we moved to our new house, I called to cancel the entire contract. Our HOA included high-speed internet, so I wouldn’t need that from Xfinity, and I certainly wasn’t going to pay for cable alone. I had to pay nearly $200 in early cancellation fees, but the past 10 months I haven’t missed cable for a second.
Have you ever been suckered into something with a “low cost” that turned out to be more than you bargained for?
We get internet at $37.49 a month, and I work from home thrice a week. My husband works from home on weekends sometimes while both my son and I are streaming Netflix. You were probably paying too much for your internet?
It depends on the speed you get and the options in your area. Cable companies, and by extension high-speed Internet providers, have largely kept out competition in most areas. We only have two options in ours: Xfinity and CenturyLink. I know a lot of people who hate both and switch back and forth to take advantage of the “new customer” deals every two years. After those expire, it gets ridiculous in a hurry!
It’s amazing how many fees can be found in the fine print. American commerce has become the place of hucksters and scammers on some level. I think you find a lot less of this with small business. Big business, with the large contracts and legalese, often take us for a ride.
We are currently cableless for the last 6 months and doing fine. We miss some things, but Roku, netflix take care of the rest.