How I Saved $15.99 for the Next 11 Months

by Kevin on February 26, 2009

I am dedicating this post to Ramit. He should be proud. You see Ramit likes to focus on saving money where it really counts. He focuses on the big things in life that we waste money on rather than toiling away for three hours to save $4. I wrote about this in the past and called it The Big or Little Difference (FYI: I am terrible at coming up for blog post titles).

On Tuesday Ramit issued a challenge to Trent from The Simple Dollar to, as we say, put one’s money where one’s mouth is. You can read all about it over on Ramit’s site and trust me it’s entertaining. He’s trying to make the point that you can save more money by going after a smaller number of issues in your life as long as those issues are really costing you a lot of money.

I feel like I belong in both camps. I like calling my credit card company and asking for removal of fees. But I don’t mind living the frugal lifestyle and have recently started the drug store game. More on that next week.

I thought Ramit’s challenge was pretty funny, but who cares about funny? The key is the premise of his article stuck in my mind as I left work today.

Then I made a decision to do something I have had on my list of to-dos for weeks now. Something I have asked my wife to nag me into doing. Something that would potentially save us a decent chunk of money.

It was time to call DirecTV.

Why I Targeted DirecTV to Save Money

We’ve had the service since we moved into our new home back in 2007. We like the service just fine. No reception issues, thankfully, as this was one of my biggest concerns. Reception has gone out once in a really bad storm with very heavy wind so we kind of expected it. We’ve happily ditched cable and the dish is here to stay.

The service isn’t exactly cheap and I know there is room for negotiation on the price. Basic cable is $13 from the local cable company. Our awesome, mega, enormous, ridiculous package is $63 or so after taxes every month. (Oh, how I wish I could buy the ten channels we watch and that be it.)

Yet all is not well in DirecTV land. I had three issues I wanted to address with the customer service representative. My complaints:

  • Our DVR is essentially a VCR. Our home was pre-wired for satellite, but only for one satellite line. DirecTV needs multiple lines to record multiple channels at the same time. Thus, we can record one thing and watch something else already recorded. Or we can record one thing and watch something on the other receiver in the bedroom. But we cannot watch TV and record a different show at the same time.We might as well have a VCR. We had a DirecTV installer come out to look at it and he said he could try to run a second line for us, but he wasn’t convinced he would be able to do it without damaging the ceiling. And he would have to drill another hole in the wall.
  • They just sent out an e-mail saying rates were going up for everyone by $3-5. Same product plus higher price equals unhappy customer.
  • New customers are getting good deals right now. Our package costs us $63 per month and a new customer can get it for $40 plus taxes and fees. Sure they are trying to snag new customers with this price, but there is obviously a good $20 or so of wiggle room here.

Just Pick Up the Phone and Call

Seriously. I had put this off for weeks. Why? I have no idea. Call me lazy and unmotivated. I suppose I wanted to avoid getting into an argument on the phone with a representative.

My goal was a reduction of our monthly bill. I planned to stay polite and somewhat friendly, explaining my three points above clearly. Here’s how it went.

The first representative I spoke to was a very friendly guy.

Me: (I explained my three issues.)

Rep 1: “I will be glad to assist you with your problems. I can’t fix the DVR issue, I would need to send you to technical support for that, but I can help with the bill. Let’s look up what sort of promotions I can get you on to satisfy you.” After a minute or so of waiting and apologizing that his system was running slow, he offered me $5 off the next three months and during that time I would also get Cinemax (or one of the other movie channels) for free.

Me: “No thanks. We don’t watch that stuff. I would really appreciate some additional help on the rate.”

Rep 1: “Let me see if there is anything else we can do.” After a few more minutes, he told me that was the best he was allowed to offer.

The key point here is I didn’t get upset with him. I know how the system works. This is Tier 1. Other tiers can help me out.

Me: “That’s not going to work for me, Rep 1. Can you send me over to customer retention or cancellation… whatever you guys call it?”

Rep 1: “Sure thing. Just one moment.”

At this point I was a little bit unhappy and frustrated. I wasn’t planning on spending a long period of time on the phone.

The second representative was just as nice and polite as the first one. She also said she was willing to help me with my issue. However, she appeared to have more knowledge than the first representative. She countered some of my arguments. I thought that was good training on DirecTV’s part. She told me that yes, their rates were going up (and she gave me the exact amounts for the various plans) and told me that they were going up the least of all of their competitors. Of course I can’t verify that, but it was a good sell. She also told me that yes, new customers got a lower price, but they had to send in a rebate. She reminded me that when I was a new customer I got a rebate, too.

However, she did say that because I was having a serious DVR issue she would definitely be able to help me. While she pulled up things in her system we chit-chatted as I tried to figure out where she was located (I work in the IT staffing industry). She couldn’t tell me the city, but she confirmed it without saying the name. Who knows, maybe this helps me out in the business world, too?

She came back and offered me $10 off my monthly bill plus waiving of the DVR service since it wasn’t working as expected. A total of $15.99 per month for the next 11 months. I gladly accepted and we got off of the phone.

Small Effort, Decent Gain

I spent less than 30 minutes on the phone and saved $175.89. Much better than the money I saved at CVS yesterday.

Again, I favor both ways of frugality — saving money where it really counts, and doing small things that make sense for our situation.

What do you readers like to do — do you focus on the huge bills and cut them out of your life? Or are you growing a garden, making your own laundry detergent, and cutting out coupons?

Update: Welcome IWillTeachYouToBeRich readers! I’ll be writing a post tomorrow with guidance on how to maximize the savings that you worked so to earn from these type of calls. Stay tuned! (Or subscribe via RSS :))

{ 3 trackbacks }

I Will Teach You To Be Rich » What I’m reading: Automation, big savings, saving on rent
February 26, 2009 at 12:16 pm
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My Life ROI February 26, 2009 at 8:15 am

I actually have a post going up Monday about what I do every year to save $4,000 +. Pretty much basic frugality stuff… but another example of them working.

As for what I do.. Generally I order my expenses highest to lowest and start from the top. The higher the bill the larger opportunity to save money (usually). For the amount of money I spend on groceries a month, clipping coupons and coordinating all of that stuff just isn’t worth it for me for the time I would put in. But like you said, making a 20 minute phone call to save money every month over an extended time frame usually is worth it.

I guess it just depends 🙂

Garry - thisimprovedlife February 26, 2009 at 8:21 am

Great that is the same as working for 30 mins and earning $175.89. Not bad going.
Personally I tend to save small amounts on things I do often and large amounts on the things I do less often. For example I just saved over £100 pounds on my car insurance just by visiting a website and quite often save a few ££ here and there while shopping. I have just posted a short article on how to save money while shopping on my blog.

the weakonomist February 26, 2009 at 8:40 am

I used to bully my cable company around when they would drop service randomly. 1 day lost of internet or cable = a free month of service.

Once I gave a guy coming to hook up our cable and old table, and he gave us free HBO. Is this bartering?

Corporate Barbarian February 26, 2009 at 11:52 am

I, too, feel like I “walk in both camps.” We’re trying to live a more frugal lifestyle all around, but it’s nice to make a killing with a big savings on a high-dollar item. Whether it’s coupon clipping or haggling with an appliance salesman, any way that I can save some money, big or small, is fine by me.

Rich Lykyu February 26, 2009 at 8:08 pm

Good stuff, I actually saved $1,200 today in less than 30 minutes. Ramit is right about going for the big hits, at least that is my current approach. IT feels good to know you are going to increase your annual savings for such little work.

It is amazing to take a look and actually see where our money goes and how much of it is just squandered away. By taking a little action we can hold on to some of that $ and still get the same enjoyment from life.

Jenn February 27, 2009 at 8:52 am

I just did something similar – and like you it took me a few months to get around to doing it!

We each have cars that came with XM radio from before we got together, and I’ve always had a feeling we could save money by combining our two accounts into one account. I finally made the call yesterday and found out I was right – it’s only a $6 a month savings, but that is $72 a year! XM is one of our splurges and I am sure there are people who would consider having it, let alone on two cars, is wasteful, but we really enjoy it and I am thrilled to have found a way to save some money on it!

Sarah Eliza February 28, 2009 at 9:06 pm

My resources are so limited at this point in my life that I have very little of the Ramit-style “big things” to hone down to the tune of huge savings… (unfortunately! I wish I did lol) I see the value of both though, depending on the circumstances and stakes. I was actually kind of indignant about the Ramit’s “challenge” and twittered about it… to my shock he responded, so I ended up writing a whole post about why I thought it was either not well-intentioned or not well thought through. I’d be curious to hear your opinion…

Chris March 1, 2009 at 12:46 pm

I like Ramit’s style of saving the best. You don’t have to constantly think about the little things you spend your money on (though I do anyway…), and a 30-minute call can make a big impact.

Case in point: I am in the process of refinancing my mortgage with Wells Fargo. Since I am a current customer, I can get a $0 closing cost re-fi. I will be wrapping two mortgages (with a rate of about 6.54% combined) into one. When I first called, the new rate was going to be 6.125%, saving me about $90 per month. Great! A few weeks later, I thought I would try again. I called them up and asked if the could make it even better. Well, rates had changed, and they offered to make it 5.75% instead. That’s and extra $35 per month, for a total annual savings of about $1,500! All for no more than two hours of work. All I need to pay for out-of-pocket is a notarization of my signature on the closing docs.

Kevin March 3, 2009 at 4:19 pm

@My Life ROI: Good idea with the ranking and calling. $4,000 isn’t shabby!

@Garry: That’s exactly how I look at it. Now if I could only earn $175 every thirty minutes…

@the weakonomist: sounds like bartering, but doubtful on whether or not he should have done it. How often does your cable/internet drop? Hopefully not too often!

@Corporate: That’s how we see it. The frugal lifestyle isn’t bad… I find it quite useful. But big ticket items can save a lot of money in a very short amount of time.

@Rich: Do tell! $100/month off of what service?

@Jenn: What is it about saving money that we don’t want to do? Very odd. Glad you did it.

@Sarah: If you have cut all you can cut, the only thing left to do is earn more income. Is this possible for you?

@Chris: I see your point, but do you waste money on little things? Pennies add up to dollars. Dollars are easier to cut, but what if you are in Sarah’s position above and you’ve cut all the dollars you can cut?

the weakonomist March 3, 2009 at 4:33 pm


We had it drop out every few months while I was in college. It was a poorly managed system in an area prone to damage from the weather. We had to threaten to cut service many times in order to get any kind of work done.

Part of the problem was dish coverage also sucked in our area.

rich March 3, 2009 at 5:22 pm

I cut $40 off of my cell phone bill and
dumped my unused gym membership and music subscriptions. I wasn’t using any of these services and explain it more here I am planning to call and consolidate my auto and home insurance once i call around and get quotes. Both are prepaid for the next few months so I am just going to try to get something in place before renewal time.

Kevin March 5, 2009 at 9:23 pm

@the weakonomist: Sounds like that really sucked. 🙁

@rich: I actually wrote a post about gym memberships (search for “dumb money the gym” on the site). Good luck with consolidating your insurance!

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