Mini-Money Challenge: Earn $1440 An Hour With A Phone Call

When the hell did my internet bill become $80 a month?

That’s not for some fancy bundled internet-TV-phone combo thing, you understand, although they would like me to do that (oh, yes they would!). No, that’s just for the internet service. We’ve been without cable TV and a home phone line for years.

We have just have this one service with Comcast, a fact that drives their bundle-happy sales people kinda nuts. It wasn’t always this expensive, the same service was $39.99 a month when we first started. But then the special new customer discount expired, $10 got tacked on for some kinda boosty super-fast internet, some other discount expired, and the rental of the internet modem went up to $7 a month.

Viola, $80 a month or almost $1000 a year.

Your Mini-Money Challenge

Two synergistically happy things occur when you do No Spend Month.

  1. You think more about your spending.
  2. You have some extra time on your hands because you aren’t going to the store to buy shit.

Together, these things mean you have time to look at your bills and pare them down a little.

Your Mini-Money Challenge for today is to pick one of your monthly “opt-in” services like your cell phone, cable or internet bill – something that’s not a straight usage-based utility bill like water or electricity – and get your monthly payment down.

Now, I’m not much of a wheeler-dealer. I don’t even like asking my neighbors to chip in for my kid’s school walk-a-thon. But today I’m going to tell you how taking this Mini-Money challenge earned me the equivalent of $1440 an hour.

Data/cell/cable/etc. type companies always seem to give their best deals to new customers. So if you have been a good customer and stuck with the same service provider for awhile, chances are you are paying more than you need to. I see this with my parents. They are paying almost the same amount for their two dumbphone cell plan while using maybe 200 peak minutes a month that Homebrew Husband and I are paying for two monster iPhone plans with generous data packages. They are long-term, loyal customers, and they are getting screwed for it.

The Simplest, Most Effective Way To Lower Your Bill Without Giving Up Service

Call up your service provider and ASK. It is that simple, and doing so doesn’t make you a douchebag.

First, you are probably paying for more than you use. We were paying for internet speed designed to keep online gamers happy and when all we needed was enough for me to post photos to Facebook and the kids to periodically watch a streaming show. The company that sells you the service knows how much you use, whether that service is measured in kilowatt hours, megabits or talk-minutes.

Second, there is almost certainly some good-deal internal promotional code available that will lower your rate. All you need to do is get to the person who can apply that discount code to your account.

Do not be an asshole. Don’t call up some hapless customer service rep making $8.95 an hour in a warehouse full of other call center reps and start accusing her of cheating you. Instead, be the nicest person in the world. You are, after all, asking a customer service rep to help you pay less money to the company that gives them a paycheck.

The Script

Here’s what I said. You can use this as your script if you want.

“Hi, I was looking over my most recent bills. I’m paying $80 a month for internet, and I think we can get that rate down.” (Happy, smiling voice!) “I’ve been a great Comcast customer for years, so can you help me get this rate down or would it be easier to transfer me to customer retention?

Note that last part. It’s very important. In almost all companies, Customer Retention is the department that is actually allowed to give you the internal “good deal” rates. The front-line customer service people are often not empowered to discount (and may not even have that option on their computer) so your goal is to get to Customer Retention as quickly as possible. By mentioning Customer Retention, you’ve also very subtly implied that you are ready to jump ship and go with another service provider if necessary.

After looking up my relevant info (reps often have to go through this step even if they are not actually empowered to help in order to log their call resolution time) my nice customer service agent transferred me to Customer Retentions.

I made sure to say thank you and wished the agent a nice day. It costs nothing to be nice.

Total Call Time: 3 minutes

Customer Retention picked up right away. After all, this is where they send customers who are about to cancel service. Most people who get here are really fucking mad about something, like a bill that was screwed up for 8 straight months and the 47 hours of their life they’ve already wasted trying to get it resolved.

Because of this, Customer Retention people get yelled at a lot for things that are out of their control. You, being a bright shining beacon of polite cheerfulness, will make their day and so they will be happy to help you.

Here’s what I said:

“Hi! I’ve been a great Comcast customer for years. The only service we use is internet and we’re not interested in bundling. But my bill for internet is more than I want to be paying. What can we do to bring it down?”

Customer Retention Guy (CRG) did attempt to tell me about the benefits of bundling, and how most of their specials are designed for that.

“I know,” I laughed, “You guys love to bundle. But for our family, internet is all we need.”

At which point CRG agreed that internet streaming was the wave of the future and we moved on to business.

After taking a look at the last six months of our usage, CRG said he would definitely recommend a lighter-weight plan that would still give us enough for everything we actually do. He gave us the best promotional rate available for that service for existing customers, $49.95 a month for 12 months (at which point the rate will increase to $60-something and we get to do this dance again).

I finished the call the way I do all such calls: “Thank you very much. That sounds great, but let me just confirm – is this the best available rate you can offer?” (Always ask this if you make hotel reservations too! It’s like the secret line to easy savings.)

He confirmed that yes, indeed, $49.95 was the best he could do (this is almost certainly true. He only has access to the discount codes he has access to). I verified that there would be no additional charges for changing my service and that the rate plan change would be implemented same day and with appropriate pro-rating. I thanked CRG and went on my way.

Total call time: 12 minutes

Here’s the bonus info I learned from my nice chat with CRG. The internal promotion codes that companies give out are constantly changing. The best deal this month may not be available next month, and the month after that something altogether better may come down the pike. The moral of the the story: it pays to periodically call up and just ask about the best available rate.

How One Phone Call Earned Me $1440 An Hour In Savings

When’s the last time you made $1440 an hour?

Total call time: 15 minutes

Total annual savings projected: $30 per month x 12 months = $360 savings

Savings per minute = $360 / 15 = $24 per minute savings wage

Savings wage per hour = $24 per minute x 60 minutes per hour = $1440 hourly savings wage

So, go take the Mini-Money Challenge. Call up your cable or internet provider or your cell phone company and see if you can negotiate a better rate. Be careful that in negotiating your humongo hourly savings wage you don’t inadvertently lock yourself into an expensive two year contract or something, unless you don’t mind being on contract.

How often do you evaluate your expenses for services like this? Have you saved yourself money with a simple phone call? What are your best tips?


    • says

      In order to squeeze the last $7 a month (modem rental) off your bill you have to buy your own modem. The same modem that Comcast provides us for “rental” is available used in its upgraded version on Amazon for about $40 here. This is probably what we will order as soon as No Spend Month is over. You can see the list of Comcast approved devices here but don’t buy from Comcast, they change you full new in box price. I found it reasonably effective to just search Amazon for Comcast Cable Modem and compare between that list and the Comcast approved list. Hope this helps.

  1. says

    We dropped home phone several years ago, but still have a cable/internet bundle costing us $99 a month. We have decided it’s time to drop cable, too, because we just don’t watch television enough to justify the cost. We are under contract until Nov. 6, but at that time we can make the change or lock in as we are for another year. I’m told dropping cable will bring our bill down to $57 a month, which in itself a decent reduction. However, I think I can get a cheaper rate from another provider, so I’ll be doing some price checking this month so that I’m armed when I make the call to the cable company.

    As for phones, I’ve already looked into it and we really are getting the lowest rate we can get for what we currently have (2 dumb phones, no data, no texting). We’ve always been with the same provider and we are grandfathered into a plan that’s no longer available to new subscribers. Granted, we might be able to get a bigger (i.e., smart phone) plan for the same or similar cost, but we don’t have or want smart phones. In our case, switching plans with our current provider or switching to a different provider would cost us more.

    • says

      For sure. Sometimes, like in your grandfathered-in scenario long time customers really DO have the best rate – that’s great! I am also very careful, esp. with cell phone plans, to not get in a situation where calling and negotiating a $5 a month savings locks me into another 2 year plan. At this point, there are a lot of options for pre-paid and alternate cell phone work-arounds, even for people like me who want an iPhone in their pocket 24/7. But I’m waiting to get too excited about that savings potential until I roll off contract with AT&T.

    • Homebrew Husband says

      Grandfathering can be a great way to keep a cheapo cell plan (no one offers those 150-minute-a-month plans anymore!). FWIW, though, if you are on a really old plan and have a really old device, old enough that the technology is one that the carrier wants to get off their network, you might be able to strike a bargain to get new devices and more current plans at a pretty good price (though probably more than you are paying now, so if that techno-bling don’t mean anything to you, you’re still making the right choice!). It is one of those offers-come-and-offers-go situations, but if the carrier is feelinga bandwidth pinch they will sometimes be pushing to get people off legacy devices. Good luck!

      • Vestpocket Farmer says

        I know a company that offers 250 minutes a month for $12! Comes with 250 texts and you can add another 250 of each for $10, if I recall correctly. Two LG envy phones in this house, one uses that plan and the other uses the $39.95/mo unlimited talk and text that comes with some amount of data (dunno, never use it). Search up PagePlus Cellular; no contract, no credit check. We’ve been quite happy with them. FYI—you do NOT have to buy one of their phones, just call them and check about using your current phone, chances are good they will.
        And I’ve been playing around with to make my “dumb” phone act smarter. Fun stuff, free, meets my needs….I suspect I will never really need a “smart phone”. :-)

  2. Max Morgan says

    I have been a Los Angeles Times subscriber for many years. The subscription fee kept inching up to the point of where I was paying $40 every 2 months. That’s a lot of money annualized. I called customer service and told them money was tight, I had lost my job, and was wondering if they had a cheaper plan. The rep told me they could lower it to $32.50 every two months. Not good enough I said. I wanted to cancel. The rep countered and asked me if $23.50 would work. Bingo! The lower rate, nearly half of what I was previously paying, is good for 26 weeks.

  3. says

    We’ve been steadily dropping subscriptions over the last year or so and trying to find the best possible deals on what we have left. We’ve never had cable, and we just stream the shows we watch. We ditched our landline ($30 per month) in favour of pay-as-you-go cell phones ($24 every four months) and a Skype account ($3 per month). We also switched Internet providers – we went from $65 to $48 per month, got more bandwidth for less money (Canada isn’t known for great Internet plans, but we need the fancy plan for work), and we bought the modem outright, rather than rent it like we had to do with our old provider. It paid for itself fairly quickly, especially when we factored in the monthly savings on the service, too.

    The key for me is to be aware of alternatives and willing to walk away. I hate the trouble of switching service, but if there are better options out there that will help to save me money, I’ll usually take them – I just need to have my ducks already in a row. Plus, I’ve found that by switching to smaller providers, I’ve actually gotten much better service, especially when it comes to the Internet.

    • says

      Once you learn the work arounds (like streaming shows and learning to not care about tv anyway) you realize that those things you used to think were essentials are actually not at all. Speaking of subscriptions, one of the huge benefits of being a blogger is the free books and magazines that find their way to me. Since reading material is one of the biggest entertainment expenses I indulge in, it’s a very nice perk. :)

      • says

        I teach at a university, and publishers are always sending books in the hopes that I’ll assign them to my classes and make 40 students or more buy them. It’s definitely a nice perk, especially when they send me interesting brand new stuff. As I move into doing some more work (and hopefully more teaching) on things like environmental and food issues, I’m hoping that the offerings will shift that way too. I also keep myself stocked with new fiction to read from the charity-run bookstore down the road, which I adore – it really helps to keep the costs down, especially when my reading time is so intermittent that it’s difficult to finish a library book before it’s due to be returned (well, that and $4 cookbooks really rock my world).

  4. Liz says

    I called first thing this morning, and without even having to be transferred, the first customer service rep got me down from $80 to $66. Not super huge savings, but we have four computer users in the house, so can’t really drop down in speed. Thank you for inspiring me to make the call!

  5. Sabrina says

    I called my internet provider last month to get the price reduced! As an FYI, I had Time Warner a few years ago and the CSR that set me up with my initial plan specifically told me to call back when my yearly promo rate ended and ask for the same promo rate to be reinstated or to suggest switching providers. He said “we would rather give you a promo rate than lose you as a customer.” I live in the boonies so switching providers isn’t an option unless I go with satellite. After modem and taxes, I still $45/mo for 1.5 mbps! Crazy huh? However, it is better than paying $80/mo for the same service. Another way I lowered my monthly spending is to cancel the dvd rental portion of my netflix account. The only “tv” we use is the netflix streaming or project free tv. If we want to see a movie that isn’t on netflix, we redbox for $1.50 (which we maybe do once a month). For us that is at least $6.50/mo savings not including all the TIME we get back to do other things.

    • says

      Great job! We have netflix streaming only too. It gives us free kids shows and the occasional documentary and that’s really all the tv we want.

  6. lisa says

    I’m in a car business family. Negotiation is just a part of life. My dad’s twinned axiom: It never hurts to ask/You never know until you ask. “Ask” is a polite, friendly and humble thing, whether you’re borrowing a lawn mower or trying to get a better deal.

  7. Tracy J says

    I did this on Friday with Century Link. They did the bundle dance with me as well, but we’re in the same boat, no cable, no home phone. I did mention we’re military, trying to make ends meet, etc, and we went from $54 a month to $14.99! Wahoo!! It’s a 6 month rate, so on my calendar I have the date to call back circled in red! What an amazing feeling!

  8. Homebrew Husband says

    One of the things I always keep in mind when working with customer service call center folks is that they are almost always evaluated and compensated based on CRT – Call Resolution Time. Other factors may play into a rep’s management and reviews, but in every call center I’ve been part of or supported, CRT has been the primary metric of rep’ performance.

    Practically, what this means is that if you can show a clear and reasonable pathway to end the call, you will get better service and are more likely to get what you want. Calling up and spewing about the 56 reasons you are unhappy might feel great for a moment but is easy for the person on the other end to tune out. Trust me, when I was working call centers phones I’d keep a paperback at my desk and sit there reading while people were busy ranting and blowing off steam (I was good at this – people would tend to forward me these sorts of callers). Once the rant had run its course, I’d try to solve the problem, of course, but the reality is the long enraged fuming part didn’t motivate me to try harder (if anything, it had the opposite effect…).

    Anyway, if you keep in mind that the rep’s primary goal is to GET YOU OFF THE PHONE, then things become a lot easier. Know what you want and propose it up front: call up and say “I’m very unhappy that my service was down for two days this weekend and would like you to refund me a pro-rated amount of my bill” and you’ll probably get that refund. Call up and spend ten minutes telling how irritated you were to miss American Idol and you are much more likely to just get an apology.

  9. says

    Hi Erica, I saw your insightful comment on MMM and jumped on over to let you know. Plus subscribe to your blog.

    Really enjoyed your comment on MMM, and looking forward to reading your blog. Thank you.

    • says

      Welcome, thanks for coming over and saying hi! :) I need to spend less time over on MMM. ;) That site and forums are addictive in their inspiration.

  10. Trish says

    Hmm, I am not sure if this would work for me, but I do know my small isp does have different speeds . If we find we are paying for more speed than we need, and go to a slower one, will that affect my Netflix streaming? I am not much of a tech expert, just enough to get by in this world. We are just about to get a dvr with Netflix streaming capability, so we can hopefuly drop cable.

    Speaking of which, when I was shopping for a dvr, the sales person seemed unsure of whether I would be able to handle setting it up, including accessing Netflix streaming and such. Is it that hard to do?

    • says

      We have never had difficulty setting those kinds of things up but I’m not sure I could say that it’s difficult or not universally. Your ISP is the best person to answer questions about usage and what you can do at what speeds – they will have your actual info to look at. I’d just ask. Good luck!

  11. Elaine says

    Several years ago I signed up for a first-year-no-fee American Express card where my purchases gave me points on an airline mileage program. When I was charged the $85 annual fee at the end of the first year, I called to say that I couldn’t afford the fee and would be canceling the card. Since they didn’t want to lose a customer, they offered to give me an $85 credit to my account after I used my card 4 or 5 times (I don’t remember exactly) within three months as incentive for me to keep the card. I agreed. That was two years ago. I have now called in and mentioned cancelation with successful results every year since then. And in November I’m flying Seattle-Portugal on miles!

    • says

      I am going to have to try this with my $75/year miles card. Thanks for the tip! On the other hand, since the credit card company never earns interest off me, ever, I’m not sure I’m really their dream customer anyway. :) We took the fam to France on miles a few years ago. Enjoy your trip!

      • says

        While the credit card company may not get interest off of you, it does make money from the fees it charges merchants for any purchases you make, and small businesses get hit the hardest. We’re charged at the very least, a percentage of your purchase, plus most likely a transaction fee, and possibly a monthly fee just for being able to run credit card purchases. So many people want to use credit cards these days that I am going to finally have to give in and sign up for a service, which means I have to choose between earning less or charging more for products- neither of which feel like good options to me. But yeah, your credit card company makes money off of your purchases whether you carry a balance or not.

        • says

          Excellent point. I have heard it is against credit card issuer policy to allow merchants to charge customers a fee for credit card use but I think overall higher prices and an appropriate “discount” for cash clients to get around this would be very reasonable. Good luck, and thanks for pointing out the error of my customer (not business) sided perspective.

  12. says

    Thanks for the reminder Erica, I just called my Cell phone provider and canceled a Tablet data plan that I wasn’t using! been meaning to do it for ages, and seeing you post forced me to call! that’s $22.54/mo savings for a 5 min phone call. And since I have a cell phone with a data plan I can tether to the tablet, I am not losing any services!

    now…. to convince the wife we need to cancel out home phone because we both have Cell’s…..

  13. Cheryl says

    My car insurance came up for renewal last month and I did some quotes online, found one $100 cheaper that I was happy with and called my current company to compare.
    The first person I spoke to offered me a $40 discount but ended up transferring me to someone in the customer dept. In the meantime I’d clicked the button online for the other company and was in the process of signing up. Told the new guy that and ended up paying half what I’d paid last year for the car insurance.

    It’s a pity they can’t just drop the rates each year as a loyalty bonus, instead of offering a bonus or prize to new signups.

    • says

      I totally agree. Although, we were getting No Accident discounts on our insurance there for awhile. They were dropping our rates because of clean driving record. Sadly, since I was recently in an accident, that is going to change. But it definitely pays to shop around for insurance, especially since quotes are so easily available online.

  14. Regan says

    A couple of months ago I was reviewing my home phone bill and decided I didn’t REALLY need call waiting, call forwarding, caller ID, etc. I cancelled those options and dropped my phone bill from $55/month to $35. I still wasn’t happy with that price, as this didn’t include any long distance calling.

    Recently, I was at Costco buying a new cell phone. I wanted to switch to Verizon, because I don’t have a signal at home with AT&T and I had just gotten a Verizon iPad for my birthday (score!). I wanted out of my expensive iPhone plan, since I now had an iPad, and so I just bought a dumb phone. The dumb phone rate plan was $35/mo. cheaper than my iPhone, but I spend $30/mo. on my iPad data plan, so it almost evens out.

    Anyway, while I was at Costco, the rep told me about Verizon’s service called Home Connect. We live rurally and feel it is important to have a land line at home for several reasons. I purchased the little Verizon Home Connect box that hooks up to the home phone for $39.99 after a $40 rebate, and I now pay $19.99/mo (about $26 w/taxes) for home service with unlimited calling nationwide. So, the Home Connect box I purchased will pay for itself with the savings in 4 months. Then I will be saving about $10/month on the home phone (or about $30/month from what it was!).

    Initial Bills:
    Home Phone $55 ($660/yr)
    iPhone $85 ($1,020/yr)
    iPad $30 ($360/yr)
    Total: $170 ($2,040/yr)

    New Bills:
    Home Phone $26 ($312/yr)
    Dumb Phone $55 ($660/yr)
    iPad $30 ($360/yr)
    Total: $111 ($1,332/yr)

    SAVINGS: $59 ($708 PER YEAR!!!!!)

    I can think of LOTS of things to do with an extra $700 a year!!!

  15. Cass says

    No. Bad math. Don’t do that again. Stick with gardening and writing a great blog.

    Loved the tip. We do this sort of thing too.

    I am a math teacher and that math made me cringe.

    “How I saved $360 in 15minutes” would be okay
    But you did not earn $1440 in an hour. You didn’t even save $1440 in an hour. Follow that math you could have written
    “How I earned $2.7million in a year” (using a very reasonable 40hr week with 4 weeks holiday). My headline is equally as flawed… And even more exciting.


    • says

      Well, when I describe my exciting math I do refer to it as a “savings wage” but I understand your point. If we’re going to get nitpicky, the actual comparison is really how much you’d have to earn to make this effort not financially worthwhile. What this tells readers is that, unless you normally earn more than $1440 an hour ($24 a minute or, I suppose, $2.76 M per year), it is worth your time to spend 15 minutes to save $360. If you earn more than $24 a minute, your minutes are better spent billing out at your $1441 + hourly wage and this effort is no longer beneficial to you. :)

  16. Dawn says

    Thanks so much for this. I used your advice and ended up lowering our Comcast bill by $200/year! Going to buy the modem next, to lower our bill even more. One odd tip I’ll share is that they actually gave me a lower price with a “special promo price” for both cable & internet which ended up being cheaper than if I dropped our cable and only went with internet alone. So dropping services wasn’t the route to the cheapest price. The key to getting the promo price, I think, was using your great how-to advice and lucking out in reaching a super nice customer service rep. Thanks again Erica. :)

  17. says

    Erica, you deserve a big sloppy kiss for this post. When it first appeared on your blog, I called up Comcast right away and got the same promotional deal you did. When that promotion expired, I called them up and followed your script again. And this morning I just did the same thing again. Each time I’ve saved about $35/month. Thank you for showing me an easy way to keep a tidy chunk of cash in my own pockets!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>