You like chatting online and you spend too much time on YouTube. You're addicted to your cellphone. And what's a Sunday night without HBO? But even if you're tied to your Internet, phone and TV services, you can still find ways to pay less for them.
As cable, satellite, telecommunications and wireless carriers duel over your business, some great deals are out there. Companies throw discounts and perks to win your business from competitors, and your existing providers might even fight harder to keep you. Use this tip sheet to help you trim your technology bills.
The days of getting TV, phone and Internet services from two or more providers are over. Most cable companies offer "triple-play" packages with cut-rates, including broadband Internet service, TV and voice-over-Internet Protocol phone service, with the added convenience of one bill a month for three services. New York-based Cablevision, for example, boasts that you can save $500 over comparable services based on average rates by switching to its Optimum Triple Play package, with first-year plans starting at $90 per month.
Triple play is working. Cable giant Comcast said this month that it has attracted a million customers to its telephone service. Telcos like AT&T and Verizon Communications feel the burn and are shooting back with TV service in some markets. Satellite companies like DirecTV have teamed up with phone companies to offer voice and Digital Subscriber Line broadband. Sprint Nextel, the fourth-largest U.S. wireless provider, has teamed up with some cable companies, including Comcast and Time Warner, adding wireless service to create a "quadruple-play" option in some markets.
Similarly, consolidating several cell phones on a family plan with a shared pool of minutes can save money too.
…or bundle down
Triple play isn't for everyone. If you are a heavy — or light — Internet, TV or phone user, you might get a better deal mixing up your providers. Noah Daniels, a Waltham, Mass. computer scientist, started with a triple-play pack from RCN, his local cable provider, for about $120 per month. But adding a few upgrades, such as a Tivo-like digital video recorder and premium Internet service, pushed his bill north of $175 per month.
After a recent move, Daniels evaluated his situation and discovered he could save about $50 per month by going with three different providers: RCN for Internet access, DirecTV for television and Vonage, an upstart that delivers phone service over an Internet connection. "I decided that since we barely use the phone at all," Daniels says, "I'd go with basic Vonage for $15 a month." He says he doesn't mind the extra bills because he pays everything online. "I enter three amounts rather than one onto my bank's Web site."
Other Internet-based services can save you even more. If you make a lot of international calls, consider using Skype, purchased by online auction company eBay last year. Starter kits sell for as low as $8, and you can use your broadband Internet connection to make international calls to other Skype users for free, and to real phones for much less than a telco will charge you: calls from the U.S. to Paris, for example, start at 2 cents per minute.
Read your junk mail
Shop around. Service providers are constantly advertising promotions in newspapers, on TV, online and in your U.S. mailbox (remember that?). While many promotions are for new customers, some aren't. You could get a price break, a service upgrade or a new gadget, such as a DVR. And if you don't mind the hassle of waiting for a technician, switching companies to take advantage of introductory offers can save some cash, too. "I used to throw away all my junk mail," says Jeffrey Strain of Cupertino, Calif, who runs the personal finance blog Pfadvice.com. "I love my junk mail now."
A host of Web sites also track deals for various tech services. Myrateplan.com focuses on cellular services. Dealnews.com posts deals daily for Internet service and cellphones. With number portability, for a minor hassle, you can take advantage of heavily-subsidized phones for new subscribers, switch mobile providers as often as your contracts allow and keep the same number. E-commerce sites like Amazon.com also feature rebates on some phones: a Motorola RAZR on Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile service goes for 1 cent with an extra $50 rebate for a small profit if you're a new subscriber.
Call and ask
Fierce competition, especially in urban areas, means providers don't want to lose your business. Most companies staff persistent customer-retention operators that will try to keep your business by offering reduced rates for continuing subscribers. "If you like the service that you're getting currently, then what you say is 'I have this competing offer, is there any way that you can match it?' If they can match it, they will; if they can't match it they'll usually lower your bill so it's at least competitive," Strain says.
Strain says he called his mother's cable provider and cited a recent ad for satellite TV service in her area. The cable company countered by offering a $25-per-month discount for three months — from $65 to $40 — and all it took was a five-minute phone call. When the deal lapsed and she added more services, her bill hit almost $80. Strain called back and asked for a better deal. The company shot back with a $40 plan for six months- — including premium channels. And it's not just Strain's luck: responders to an informal posting for this story on an Internet message board shared similar stories.
If your cellphone plan offers free minutes at night or on the weekends, use that instead of a land line. Some companies offer free cell-phone usage within the network: get all your friends on the same wireless carrier and save. If you text message a lot, get a monthly messaging subscription instead of paying up to 10 cents per message. Similarly, if you're responsible, you might not want to pay extra for insurance on your phone. If you live near a public library or city park in some areas, there might be free, basic Internet access available. Some places, such as Google's hometown of Mountain View, Calif., have free or cheap Wi-Fi networks covering the entire city. Also, if you do a lot of work from home or on the road, ask your employer if they'll reimburse you for home Internet access or wireless service.
It's tricky to share your cellphone with a neighbor, but if you're both light Internet users, a $50 wireless router (free with some providers) and a common access password will suffice. Some cities have informal groups that allow wireless sharing, and a Spanish startup called FON is looking to cover as much space as possible worldwide with common wireless access, offering a wireless router for $5 if you share your service. But be discreet and careful: sharing access is often against your provider's terms of service, even if they don't monitor or enforce their rules.
© 2012 Forbes.com