Dollar Signs At HomeWhen your two-bedroom bungalow gets a water bill big enough for an aquarium, of course your antennae are going to go up. But keeping your eye on every household bill on a monthly basis can be more of a challenge. Still, it’s worth it, as one woman discovered.

The error on Linda Sacash’s cable bill wasn’t huge, but it added up to a big difference in her bottom line. And even though the company told her she couldn’t do anything about it, she kicked up a fuss and got what was coming to her. Here’s what happened ...

When Sacash signed up with Time Warner Cable, she got a special three-year promotional deal that gave her bundled service for $89.95 a month. But after just two years, the bill jumped to $179. She called to ask what was up, and they told her they had decided to end the promotion one whole year early.

Sacash got a consumer-assistance TV news show to intervene on her behalf -- and won the extra time she was owed -- but even if she hadn’t, she would have been right to insist she get another year of the deal. Would she have gotten it, though?

I’ll admit, it’s harder and harder to get companies to stick to their promises these days. As they worry more and more about their profits (because God forbid their CEOs don’t get their bazillion-dollar bonuses), they tighten their hold on each penny that comes in, and look for nasty ways to slip a few extra bucks past us. But they’re not getting past me.

My stepson Max loves it when I get on the phone with a company that has made a billing mistake. He sits outside the office door and reports to everyone else exactly how mad I’m getting (for the record, these discussions rarely get heated, because politeness gets me a lot further), how many supervisors I’ve spoken to, and how much credit we’re getting on our next bill.

I’ve had a health-insurance company change their policy so that my bill was one penny more per month, and when my check was one penny short, they tried to cancel me (while I was pregnant, no less). That time, I called the Department of Labor and they advocated for me 'til I was reinstated. On a smaller scale, I’ve gotten partial credit on my cable bill because of a weekend-long outage, a credit to my ZipCar account because of a weird situation at the parking site, and a $25 credit to a store whose site crashed during a big sale (yeah, it was Missoni). And that’s just in the past few months.

I’ve also found out that I was in the wrong, in which case I always politely thank the customer-service rep for straightening me out -- because their time is worth a lot, and it’s not their fault I made a mistake (or their company is being a jerk).

Of course, I’m a master negotiator -- I come from a long line of hagglers on both sides of my family. After listening to me finessing the purchase of our car, my husband told me, “I’m going to make sure I never have to get divorced from you.”

As I said, though, companies are getting harder and harder to deal with. It used to be a sure bet that I would get a replacement pan if I sent in one from my guaranteed-for-life set, but the last time I tried, I got my same old pan back (and was out shipping). When Amazon didn't extend their free Prime service as I asked them to, I canceled my most recent order and bought my daughter Penelope's bike at a local shop -- which I shoulda done in the first place.

But if you don’t ask, they can’t say no. There are people who say their time isn’t worth it, but I’m not one of them. If your bill seems wrong, speak up. Ask why it’s different this month. Ask if there’s anything you can do to bring it down. Mention how long you’ve been a customer. Tell them what a good experience you’ve had with the company, and how you’d hate to leave it. Be nice. Be persistent. It works. Keep your money!

Have you fought a company over an issue like this and won? What worked for you?


Image via kate*/Flickr