It’s hard to believe, not long ago (okay, perhaps a little over 20 years) I was watching TV on a black and white Zenith. Back then, television sets were furniture pieces with intricate wood designs and ahhh, those classic rabbit ear antennas. For those of us too young to remember, antennas provided free over-the-air broadcasts of about 12 channels, give or take — you can still find them today). And we were all pretty happy with that.

I remember my cousin getting his first colour TV, years before we did and was over one day, trying to convince me He-Man’s pants were purple. I wasn’t buying it. It was only a few years later that I would discover my (parent’s) first colour TV (and wouldn’t you know it, by the power of Greyskull, he was right!).

I mean, who would have thought? Looking back now with our fancy 50-60 inch Plasmas, LCDs, LEDs, whatever have you, in beautiful crisp full HD TV sets, where you can pause, rewind with your snazzy PVR’s and what was I talking about?

But do we really need all this? For some of you, maybe you do, maybe that’s what you enjoy doing after a hard day’s work. But if you’re looking for an easy way to cut back on your expenses, lowering your cable bill is one of the easiest and first places I’d recommend trimming the fat. If I lost my job tomorrow, cable’s one of the first things I could easily sacrifice (and I do used to watch a fair amount).

Taking the hot air out of your cable bill

It’s been so ingrained in us that cable TV is no longer seen as a luxury, but a need. Yet maybe your soaring cable bill has made you think twice. Here’s a couple ideas to cut back and save:

  • Back to Basics. That’s what I did. Got the cheapest, most basic cable package out there. My wife wasn’t too happy at first, thinking she’d lose all these channels she was used to. But I did a little searching on all the shows she watched and guess what? Most were either available On Demand through our own cable company or online for free (yes, even children’s shows). They may show a day or two later, but it saved me about $20 a month from going to the next cable package. That’s $240 a year. For those of you in the U.S., you’re probably already familiar with the free online streaming services Crackle and Hulu. You can even stream those online shows through a PS3, Apple TV or iPad or pretty much any device that has a built-in web browser, straight to your TV. Or find out how much it costs to add the extra channels you want to see to the basic lineup.
  • Bundle your services. When it makes sense, bundling your phone, internet and cable with one cable provider, can save you a lot of money on your cable bill. Most companies have bundling promotions. But there’s perks beyond even just the promotions that everyone knows about. If you only have one service with your cable provider, you don’t hold much weight. But if you bundle your services, you hold more weight – they’re less likely to want to lose you as a customer.
  • If you want something, just ask. If you want your cable provider to lower your cable bill, just ask. It takes 5 minutes (that is of course, if you’re not “waiting for the next available agent”). You’ve got nothing to lose. I can’t express how important this is. I’ve literally saved hundreds a year by just asking. I’ve received such promotions as free HD PVR rentals, 30% off all my services, 80% off my internet. They want to keep their customers, especially if you happen to be a long-time customer, so politely ask them if there any promotions they can offer you. If they say they don’t, then you can play the “well this company is offering me this deal” card, hinting that you’re considering switching providers (even if you’re not).
  • Have a PVR? Put it to good use. To me this has been a saver. I may cry the day my cable company no longer offers it for free and I’ll have to give it up. I record all shows and movies that I want to watch, so with the limited time I have, I can watch them, when I want to watch them. And because of this, I can’t even remember the last I rented a movie. There’s surprisingly a good number of movies already on TV, that you probably miss. So look for the free weekend movies and record them. Our cable company every week offers free previews of new channels as well, some of which have movies and new TV shows I’ve never seen.
  • Eliminate. Okay might seem like a last resort, but if you’re at any point struggling to pay your bills, it’s a pretty obvious choice. I wouldn’t even think twice. There’s plenty of free options available online when you’re TV hungry.

Some have even got pretty inventive. Just do a search on Youtube for videos on how to make your very own HD TV antenna. I’ve never tried it myself, but a friend of mine went this route and says he gets about 20 HD channels for free! Some are even ditching cable for Netflix. Although in Canada, at least, the selection is still pretty lame. I’ve looked at that many times, but to me even paying $7.99 for shows I don’t want to watch is $8.01 too much. But to each their own.

What have you done to lower your cable bill?

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