On May 1st Ontario Hydro increased electricity prices across the province. It was the third major increase in the cost of electricity in 13 months. In addition to rising energy costs, Digital Home owners have seen the cost of television, Internet, landline and wireless telephone service all increase well in excess of inflation over the last five years.
If your salary has not kept up, then rising prices means cutting back on discretionary items in order to keep the family budget in balance. To help out, here are some tried and true ways to get more for less.
Saving on TV
The quickest and easiest way to cut your TV bill is to reduce the number of channels you subscribe to each month. While most Canadians tune into fewer than fifteen channels a month, most Digital cable customers load up with programming packages that offer hundreds of channels. My recommendation is to analyze your television viewing for a month, find out how many channels you actually watch and then look for a package that best meets your needs. Many Digital channels can be purchased individually so consider subscribing to your providers basic package and then pay for the few extra channels you need individually. In addition consider cutting back your programming packages during the summer when you're not watching a lot of television or cut back the premium movie channels in the winter when there is a lot on regular television. (Readers who like the idea of paying nothing for TV should consider an over-the-air antenna. I wrote about OTA in Goodbye cable, hello free TV last October). Why pay for more channels than you watch?
If you can't bear to lose a single channel then consider changing service providers. Most television providers offer new customers special teaser rates that can last as long as six months and can amount to several hundreds of dollars in savings. After a year, take advantage of the teaser rates from your old provider. Stuck with old equipment? Rogers is currently offering a free $499 HD PVR, two months of free digital cable and a discounted rate for former satellite television customers.
If moving to a new provider seems too onerous then you can threaten to cancel your service. Call up your existing provider and politely inform them the competition is offering you a better deal and can they match it. The customer service representative will often offer to lower the price you are paying or put you through to their retentions department who can offer you a better deal. Digital Home readers often report discounts of 20 or 30% although 10% is more common.
While threatening to cancel may seem extreme, remember it's your money. Digital Home readers who have employed these strategies often comment that the real suckers are the customers who don't demand deals from their services provider.
Saving on Internet and Phone Bills
In addition to saving you money on your phone bill, switching providers or threatening to cancel are also excellent strategies when negotiating a better deal on your wireless or landline phone bill.
Canadians in cities where new wireless phone providers -- Mobilicity, Public Mobile and Wind Mobile -- all report the big three wireless operators have been quite willing to lower subscribers monthly costs when it comes up to contract renewal times. Don't sign a new wireless contract with Bell, Rogers or Telus without a discount.
To save on your Internet bill, consider switching to a third party Internet access provider. I am a relatively heavy Internet user. Rogers wanted to charge me $100 a month for 175GB of internet usage. Instead I signed up to Teksavvy Cable and Primus DSL Internet service. Both services cost less than $40 a month. Teksavvy provides me with a 300 GB cap while Primus is Unlimited. For $20 less than what I would pay for Rogers Ultimate Internet, I have two ISPs and virtually unlimited capacity. In addition, I'm never without Internet service even if one provider stops working for a short period of time.
Reducing Electricity Costs
Once you've reduced how much you spend for digital services, it's time to find ways to reduce the cost of powering all the electronic devices used when enjoying those services. Here's five ways.
Turn it off: Did you know that a Playstation 3 or Xbox 360 video game console uses almost 200 watts of electricity when it's running? Televisions can burn between 100 and 400 watts even with no one using them. A monitor with a screen saver is still burning electricity. If you're not using it, then turn it off.
Have your computer turn off and on automatically: Computers, especially those with discrete graphics cards can burn hundreds of watts of electricity even when idle. During the day, have your computer go into sleep mode after 5 or 10 minutes from your desk. To save even more electricity, my computer automatically shuts down every night at 11pm. My computers BIOS is then set up to automatically start my computer up at 6:48am every morning along with all my favourite programs. The result is my computer is fully shutdown at night but still ready to go when I get to my desk at 7 a.m.
Shutdown your wireless router: A wireless router broadcast signals 24 hours a day even when no one is using the network. Many routers such as those made by D-Link let you turn off the wireless signals for portions of the day. Mine stops broadcasting from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. The result is a 25 per cent electricity savings for eight hours and less likelihood of hackers getting access to my wireless network while I'm sleeping.
Eliminate Vulture draws: Standby power, also known as vampire power, is the electricity consumed by electronic appliances when they are in standby mode. According to the makers of the Energy Smart power bar a well-equipped home theatre might use as much as $50 of electricity every year when left on standby for an average of 19 hours per day. To reduce consumption, the company has created a line of surge protectors that save electricity by automatically turning off outlets and preventing standby power waste. You can also eliminate the amount of electricity used by devices in standby power through the use of timers.
Install a programmable thermostat: Reduce the cost of heating your home or running your air conditioner by installing a programmable thermostat that allows Digital Home owners to set temperature settings for specific times of the day. You can raise or lower the room temperature during the day when nobody is home or at night when everyone is sleeping.
Know what electricity costs during the day: With the introduction of smart metres in several provinces, electricity producers have begun to introduce Time of Use pricing, which adjusts the price of electricity throughout the day. Take advantage of off-peak pricing through the use of timers. Put a timer on your pool, your hot tub or your outdoor lights. Heat the pool or your hot tub between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. and you can save money. Set your air conditioner to come on at 7 p.m. and run at night rather than run through the day when rates are higher.
Hugh Thompson is the owner and publisher of Digital Home , a consumer electronics news and information website. As a voice for the Canadian consumer, Hugh is a frequent guest on radio and television programs across the country discussing the latest in consumer electronics and the business of convergence in the Digital Home.
Hugh's column will appear on the first Wednesday of the month.