Whittling Away at the Expense Ledger

May 11, 2009 by  
Filed under Spending

Mrs. ToughMoneyLove and I are continuing to look at our monthly expenses for the purpose of eliminating or reducing those for which we receive little benefit. Part of this process is a natural consequence of becoming empty nesters (almost). Another part arises from our desire to re-direct financial resources to expenses that we anticipate will bring us the greatest pleasure now and into our retirement future.

So this past week we ended weekly newspaper delivery, except for Sundays which actually brings us benefits and saves us time beyond the cost of the print edition.

We have also been talking about eliminating our landline telephone. Mrs. ToughMoneyLove is not ready to go cold turkey on that which I understand. We have discussed using a VoIP service instead of traditional landline but I think that eliminates one of the real benefits of a landline: true 911 service.

So this weekend I decided to explore lower cost options with our existing landline provider, AT&T. I set up online account management, thinking that I could investigate and make changes as needed. After all, I made AT&T’s life easier by agreeing to electronic bill delivery. Surely it would reciprocate by allowing me to use online account management to quickly and easily downsize our landline services. Not exactly.

 We don’t have a long distance plan as we use either our cell phones for long distance or a cheap calling card purchased at Costco. I thought that we had the most basic local dialing plan. I was mistaken.

After wading through various menus inside our account, I learned that we have been paying an extra $12/month just for the “privilege” of being able to add “up to 14″  additional calling features to our existing service. Are you kidding me? We don’t use any of those additional features so why are we being billed for the right to request them? I killed that option and went to what appeared to be the most basic plan available.

I then discovered that we would still be paying for caller ID and call waiting. I could eliminate the call waiting (which I hate) but since it comes with the plan, the cost doesn’t change. I could not eliminate the caller ID even if I wanted to. Something didn’t seem right.

My next step was to connect to the AT&T site and pretend that I was a new customer. By doing that, I discovered that there was actually a more basic local calling plan that did not force-feed me caller ID and call waiting, saving $9.00/month in the process compared to our existing “basic” plan.

Why didn’t AT&T present me that option from inside my account? Obviously, it was hoping that if I didn’t learn about it, I wouldn’t choose it. As a captive customer, I am not entitled to the same easy menu of all plan options that is presented to a prospective new customer. How is that for customer-friendly logic?

This means I will need to get on the phone with AT&T to further downsize our landline service. (After discussing this with Mrs. ToughMoneyLove, of course.)

So what is the takeaway from this experience? For me, it means that I am not as clever as I thought in avoiding being billed for services I don’t use or need. For all of us, it is a reminder that if you are an existing customer and want the best deal, it pays to pretend you are a new customer. Finally, “online account management” can actually be an obstacle to a goal of saving time and money.


Has anyone had similar experiences? Am I way late to the party on this lesson learned?

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8 Responses to “Whittling Away at the Expense Ledger”
  1. Kacie says:

    If you’re keeping your landline solely for the benefit of being able to call 911, I do believe you can cancel your service altogether. A phone plugged into a wall jack will still be able to dial 911, and the operator will be able to know your location.

    The same is true for cell phones (charged, of course) that no longer carry service. Old cell phones are routinely given to battered women for this purpose.

    Call your phone company to verify it or maybe your local emergency services.

  2. Rob Bennett says:

    The companies with which we do business have far more in the way of resources to make us pay more than we should than we do to protect ourselves from doing so. Over time their edge is going to grow greater and greater unless there is a cultural change pushing things in the other direction.

    In the old days, there were cultural considerations that prevented companies that wanted to be thought of as respectable from pushing the marketing envelope too far. That line has been moved. I believe that it is in everyone’s best interest that it be moved back a good bit. If it’s not moved back by private efforts, my guess is that the government will be forced to intervene and we will lose freedoms because we failed to take action on a problem in the name of freedom (it is libertarian thinking that causes many people to tolerate this sort of thing). Hoo boy!


  3. PT Money says:

    Good analysis, TML. An area I’ve always found to be more kind to the new customer is the cell phone. Opening up a new line and plan through Amazon can get you a really nice phone for free. Of course the downside is that you have to sign a plan and get a new number. But for people who don’t care, it’s a better deal financially. If you think about it, the biggest (per sale) sales commissions are given out to third party companies. Therefore they can pass more of that along to you in a better deal.

    Looking forward to running this in the Carnival of Money Stories next week.

  4. My Journey says:

    2 Thoughts:
    1) It really is great when a company lets you handle that stuff all online! For instance I can play with my sprint cell phone right from admin page, after I check my useage stats

    2) There is nothing that makes me more furious then when I see new customers paying less than a customer of multiple years. I get so angry, but that usually subsides when I am bought off by some CSR

  5. Rick Beagle says:

    Mrs. Beagle is also my household’s holdout for the land line. You would think with the erosion in their customer base coupled with a failing business plan would make them rethink their pricing strategy (phone companies). If you like having the ability to go online and manipulate your telephone service, try Vonage. I am not a big fan of the canned sound coming out of a VoIP service, but they should get an award for their web interface design.

    Rick Beagle

  6. FV says:

    When I recently called Windstream to cancel my landline they said they could not do it because it was necessary for my DSL internet connection. They did, however offer me their bare bone phone service which shaved off $16 of my monthly bill.

    Similar thing with Verizon for my cell phone. Another blogger pointed out a “secret” Verizon 550 min Family share plan. This plan is closer to my actual usage than their minimum 700 min plan. The interesting thing is that Verizon CS people claim they do not know anything about it if you call and ask for it. They only offer it when you call to quit their service. So I called to tell them I’m quitting and presto! they offered me the plan. That’s a saving of $10/month!


  7. Pattie says:

    TML, I never thought I could do away with my landline, but after downsizing the roughly $45/mo. I was paying, to the most basic of plans, which still ran me about $12/mo., and having online account management, and auto pay, we still didn’t utilize the landline enough that would justify keeping it. Since I use Satellite Internet, VOiP isn’t an option due to latency factors, BUT, since everyone in the house has a cell phone (Verizon), I took the final leap and did away with my AT&T landline in December. You know what? We don’t even miss it; I can’t say I miss telemarketers calling, either. Yes, it took a little extra work redoing account information, billing info., etc., but it was worth the monthly savings, which of course over the long haul, will add up to some serious bucks.

    Having all the bells and whistles on your landline really isn’t worth the cost, but it’s a hard sell on your provider’s part to get you to keep them. It’s pure profit for them! A notice late last year that the most basic of services was going up, and for no good reason, is what prompted me to do away with it. When I called AT&T, because I couldn’t disconnect from the online management (don’t know why that is), they wanted to know WHY I was cancelling their service. When I said it was due to cost, the first Rep hung up on me; the 2nd one tried to give me a $3/mo. discount for 6 mos., and when I said “Thanks, but no thanks,” they hung up on me as well. My 3rd call I went straight to requesting a Cust Service Manager, who again tried the hard sell to get me to stay, but I (finally) prevailed and did indeed get my landline disconnected. They raise rates, offer poor service, it’s not worth the money spent when you’re carrying cell phones, but try to cancel it and see what happens. Try it cold turkey; disconnect your landline for 6 months; use cell service only and I’ll bet you never miss your landline and you’ll wonder why you kept it so long :-) Take it from someone who simply never thought I could not have a landline. Friends had done away with theirs ages ago, but I hung on because it has a certain “comfort” to it, but now…don’t miss it at all, and it was the best thing I ever did. BTW, my cell usage/costs DID NOT go up as a result of disconnecting my landline. With 6 cell phones in the family you can imagine what the bill would be anyway, but I’ve seen no increase in usage or cost. Try it…if it doesn’t work out for you, go another route as a new customer with another carrier and you might get an awesome “welcome to XXX” offer and package. Good Luck!

  8. TStrump says:

    It’s sad how most companies treat their current customers like crap, but if you’re ‘new’ they’ll bend over backwards to give you a good price.
    Mark my words – when it comes time to renew (especially my cell phone) I’ll be getting the ‘new customer’ deal.
    Thankfully, my roommate works at the local cable company and we are getting our phone through them … so I don’t pay anything!

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