Caring Currents

5 Bills You Can Lower With a Phone Call

Last updated: May 01, 2009

Times are tight and getting tighter across America, and every household I know is looking for ways to slash fat from the budget. Those of us caring for older family members find this kind of belt tightening unavoidable, because most of us can't just work longer hours or take on some extra work to make ends meet -- our time is already spoken for. In the past couple of weeks, as folks took stock of their finances during tax paying season, I asked everyone I know a simple question; have you managed to lower any of your bills lately? I was surprised at what I found out: the answer was yes, all around. My next question, of course, was how? Here's a roundup of what I found: Five bills you may be able to lower with a single phone call.

  1. Your cell phone bill. The next time your bill comes, look it over with an eye to understanding where you're going over, and what services you're using or not using. Then call your cell provider's handy 800 number with your bill in front of you, and ask the representative to go over it with you. Don't be afraid to be blunt; explain that you need to lower this bill significantly, and that you're willing to switch to another provider if your company won't help you. Do some research ahead of time, comparing calling plans with a service such as that offered by [] ( Then, with the representative's help, check everything -- minutes, texts, data, etc. Are you rolling over minutes every month? You may be paying for more minutes than you need. Are your teens running up text charges? It may be worth it to add unlimited texting to their phones. If you have several lines, can you save money with a family plan? Don't be afraid to lay it on the line -- at this point, utilities are used to this type of call and should be willing to work with you to retain your business.

  2. Your cable bill. I don't know about yours, but my local cable company is not exactly a well-loved institution. However, when I called them last week to cancel my so-called "premium" service, they were suddenly incredibly helpful. Who knew -- turned out there were all sorts of "bundling" options available that no one would have bothered to alert me to if I hadn't complained. I had saved more than $40 a month by the time I got off the phone by switching to a plan that combined my computer and TV cable into one new "package." That extra charge they'd slipped onto my bill for on-demand recording? Gone. My advice? Call your cable company and don't mince words. With many Americans shedding channels and watching their favorite shows online, they're motivated to keep you as a valued customer and should be willing to come up with a package of options that works for you.

  3. Your utilities. For most of us, these consist of power, water, and garbage. Some of these are tough to fix; at least where I live, you don't have much flexibility with your water bill unless you let the garden die. But others have plenty of wiggle room. Your garbage company might, for example, offer a smaller can for a lesser monthly fee. One friend of mine recently got her family to start recycling vigilantly and was able to switch to a half-size garbage can for half the price. Power and heat are trickier, but most utilities now have special options for seniors and families with low and fixed incomes. Call and negotiate; you might be surprised what they can do. After all, they don't want to turn off your power any more than you want them to.

  4. Your landline. You could get rid of it altogether, of course; many folks are doing that now. Even if you don't want to do that, your phone company doesn't know that -- and they're running pretty scared. Research local and long distance rates with a service such as

  5. Your Internet provider. If this isn't the same as your TV cable company or your phone company, consider lumping your Internet service together with one of these for considerable savings. But switching Internet providers may require changing your e-mail address, something many of us are understandably loathe to do. If you don't want to do that, call your provider and be assertive. Insist on speaking to a supervisor, and ask what they can do to help you. Take notes, and don't feel pressured to say yes or no on the spot. Remember, the more you hesitate, the more bargaining power you have. If the initial answer is a no, follow up with, "Is there anything else you can do for me?" Sometimes you don't get the deal you asked about but are offered an even better deal if you keep your ears open.