Whittling Away at the Expense Ledger
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?