- To hell with the pig... I'm going to Switzerland.

Stop Getting Ripped Off! (Thursday, March 29, 2012)

So I was wandering through Barnes and Noble last week, and I noticed Stop Getting Ripped Off by Bob Sullivan. This is a book that explains how most Americans have difficulty with basic arithmetic and how this leads them to pay much more than they should for basically everything. As usual with financial self-help books, there wasn't a lot of material in it that was new or surprising to me (except some of the scenarios he described, which were surprising because I'm amazed that anyone could be so stupid in those situations), but there were a few reminders — namely, that you can often get discounts by asking for them.

To that end, I decided that I was sending Sprint and DirecTV way too much money, and I resolved to pay less. With Sprint, I have the advantage of being able to choose from any number of mobile phone providers. I don't talk on the phone a whole lot, and while I have a smart phone with a browser that I use, I don't need blazing speed for basic e-mail and browsing — I'm not a big bandwidth user with streaming audio and video and so on. So I looked up Virgin and T-Mobile's pay-as-you-go plans. Virgin has a plan with unlimited data ("throttled" down to the speed of my Sprint phone after a certain cap is reached) and 1200 minutes a month (less than I've ever used) for $45 per month. And T-Mobile has an unlimited everything plan for $50 per month.

Those are $25 and $20 less, respectively, than what I currently pay for what I consider to be no better than equivalent service. And I remember the days when I was on a friends and family plan with Sprint and it only cost me $20 per month, so I sort of hate the idea of paying nearly $80 a month. So I called Sprint, and discussed my issue with the representative. I'm starting to see why Sprint is struggling. When I explained to the representative my situation and my options, he said "sure, go ahead and switch to Virgin — we own them. Want me to transfer you over?" With that kind of attitude, I crossed Virgin right off my list, and pointed out that T-mobile had an unlimited everything plan for $20 less per month. At that point, he became slightly more cooperative, and he finally offered me the discount I used to have, based on my association with George Mason University. That is, an 18% discount!

Now that doesn't bring it all the way down to $50 per month, but it's close enough that I'm willing to pay it, rather than switching to a new provider. Loyalty doesn't mean as much as it once did.

And then there's DirecTV. I have HD and a DVR, which is what I'd consider to be basic baseline minimum for any modern TV service provider. DirecTV apparently disagrees, because they want to charge everyone an extra $18 per month for the privilege. And then there's the fact that I have a whole bunch of channels that I don't watch. In fact, the difference between the Choice package and the Choice XTRA package is about $5 per month, and there are only two channels on the XTRA package that I ever watch, and then only occasionally — the DIY network (when I'm really bored), and NBA TV (during All Star Weekend).

So anyway, I told the representative that now that my bill was over $90 per month, that I wasn't really happy with that, and I wanted to find a way to reduce it by about $15 a month. He offered me a $5 discount on my current service, and an additional $2 discount to downgrade my package. I told him that would be inadequate. After reminding him that Cox (who already provides my internet service) was offering discounts of $15 per month for comparable service, he decided to transfer me to the "discount department". Now we're getting somewhere.

The nice lady in the discount department was able to downgrade my package without affecting my HD DVR service, and offer me the HD part for free for six months (after which we're going to call back and renew the discount). So there's my $15 per month savings. Sure, it cost me two channels, but I really shouldn't be wasting time channel surfing, anyway. Now I get the shows that I actually want to watch, and I'm saving $180 per year.

So altogether, a half hour on the phone is going to save me about $33 per month, or almost $400 per year, and that is not spare change!

—Brian (3/29/2012 12:50 PM)


As a quick follow up, I should note that the Sprint representative lied to me, and did NOT apply the promised discount. And when I found the very well hidden part of their web site that would have allowed me to get the discount, it requires you to agree to a two year contract extension (on pain of death) BEFORE it will tell you what the actual discount is. I'm going to follow up with them about it this week, and if they don't make me very happy, I'm going to switch to Ting, which runs on the Sprint network, but will cost me about $33 a month.

-- Brian (4/23/2012 11:19 AM)

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