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Recession. Depression. Whatever the right expression. Times are tough. Were we once better savers? I remember, as a very young man, with a decent job that promised an old-fashioned, traditional pension, I still bought U.S. Savings bonds through my employer. The government doesn't seem to push them anymore. I was watching TCM late last night (Turner Classic Movies) and, between movies, they showed an old Rowan and Martin spot for Savings Bonds. I think they're still a way to save. I haven't bought one in ages. I know my late brother, Bob, gave savings bonds to his grandchildren rather than toys. Compared to my 0.07% passbook savings account (up 0.02% since last time I looked -- Wow!), are U.S. Savings Bonds a good, long term investment? I guess, if you don't play the market, Certificates of Deposit are a current favorite way to save over a longer period (CDs).
A permanent disability benefit I've enjoyed since I was forced to retire almost seven years ago turns out not to be so permanent. It will max out on my 67th Birthday, Labor Day this year. It means I am looking for ways to reduce even further my already reduced retirement lifestyle. Remember that old-fashioned pension? Well, it was promised and, when the disability benefit ends, I will begin taking the pension. It is worth half the disability benefit but, by not taking it when it was available (at 65), I will get "back pay" (but no interest) when the pension starts. I will pay off three high interest credit cards; pay off a family loan (not immediately paid back because of an unscrupulous realtor -- another story); get new tires for my 14-year-old car and get a major tune up. I will also give my three cats major physical tune ups to keep them healthy. My hope is there'll be enough of that "back pay" left to put it into my 0.07% interest passbook account to have for an emergency. Aging cats. Aging car. One never knows.
Oh. The title of this topic: Cable negotiating. Losing disability income and living on a smaller pension (along, of course, with social security benefits) means I have to find ways to cut expenses. I bundle DSL, my land phone and my TV cable. I've been enjoying a one year introductory rate. The rate goes up, almost doubles, in August. I've considered keeping the phone and the DSL because they are important social connections in my life. I thought about switching the cable TV to a satellite dish. Again, that meant an introductory offer that would end and rates would increase. I considered, with all this analog to digital talk, having an old-fashioned antenna hooked up in my attic crawl space. (My condo complex doesn't allow rooftop installations.) The antenna has seemed complicated to someone not tech savvy.
I decided to simply call my cable "bundler" and cancel TV. I didn't hesitate to tell my personal story. I was fortunate to get a live associate and one who was sympathetic. I enjoy television, especially Starz/Encore movies (my choice of a premium rather than a so-called free DVR -- my VCR works fine recording shows I don't want to miss). I didn't know what I was doing but told my story, that in losing income I had to make cutbacks and could not afford the impending cable increase. This negotiating business takes patience. I started with a billing associate. She heard me out and asked that I talk to an upgrade associate before canceling the TV portion of my "bundle;" the upgrade woman said I needed to speak to someone in Retention. Okay. You have to be cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, ... you know, all that good Boy Scout (or Girl Scout) stuff we learned long, long ago.
The Retention lady was Angie. She was superb as a sales person and as a human being. I haven't identified the cable company, so I think it's okay to mention her first name. She probably spent 20 minutes with me. She ended up offering me the exact service I now have for the very same price. It does not include the tax so I will pay about $12 a month more. It's another introductory rate and will expire in a year. If I break the contract, the penalty will be $100. I figure it's worth a try. If I cannot manage the monthly charge, I will "eat" the $100. For now, being alone, I get to keep the companionship of my cable TV.
If only I could get my bank's associates to be as considerate. Did the bail out money make banks cantankerous or what? I call to try and get credit card interest rates reduced and, being really foxy, I immediately ask for the Retention Department. "I AM the retention department," says the first "clerk" I get. "Can we talk about lowering my credit card interest rate?" I ask. "We can talk about it but we're not lowering it." Well, I'd appreciate any secrets you may have about finding banks that are willing to listen and willing to help. They do offer help but, for me, it's never been about reducing the interest they want to keep. "Open a line of credit but don't use it," opines one. "That'll immediately improve your FICO score and your credit record." Ouch. Wasn't giving in to credit card requests how I got into this trouble in the first place? No thanks.
For now, I just hope my pretty long story suggests getting along in this new and difficult world is as much about patience and perspicacity as it is about throwing in the towel. If Washington continues to be more flatulence than action, we do have one another.
This is an update to the post made July 16. I spoke of cable TV and possibly cutting it along with a land phone. Since I wrote the piece, I've had my first new discounted cluster bill. Reality shocks. Not only were the taxes higher than expected but the bill was simply difficult to manage. I'd paid cable, DSL and my land phone through three separate services in the past and three smaller bills seemed manageable. Clustered, it makes for one large and unwieldy bill.
I am calling today to cancel the cable TV at the end of my prepaid service (Sept. 15) and to cancel the land phone. I like the land phone because there's an extension in each room (4) and, with hearing issues, I can hear better on the larger corded units. For now, I am going to live exclusively with my cell phone. There's a penalty of $100 for breaking the contract but I don't feel I have a choice. I had considered giving up the DSL and just using my computer as a word processor but this AARP site, plus Facebook, are social outlets I feel are not luxuries. Also, as someone else mentioned, a DSL connection can provide free television programming through services like HULU. Giving up cable TV will reduce me to a very small selection of Broadcast channels. HULU will allow me to see cable channels that don't come through on the Broadcast band.
I admit, out of ignorance, I thought my fairly new TVs (4 & 5 years old) were digital and all I needed was a digital set of rabbit ears (no actual "ears;" just a 10" square black box). I didn't ask for a discount coupon for the analog to digital converter boxes because I thought I had digital TVs. I will spent about $200 for two each converter boxes and "rabbit ears." It is a one time expense. I did buy a first converter and the digital rabbit ears to disconnect my cable and try it out. If it didn't work, what would be the point? Surprisingly, the channels I DO receive are crisper, sharper and better than cable. They're digital. Just not as much channel choice.
I will reduce my cluster bill by about $80 a month. That's not peanuts.