How to cut your phone and Internet bills. (Hint: Go on vacation.)

My phone provider, Qwest, is now called Century Link. Today a customer service rep phoned to see if I am getting the best deal possible. Turns out I am, but the lovely and talented Jason suggested a new frugal hack.

I mentioned that one of my upcoming trips might last as long as seven weeks. He said, “Then you’ll be turning off your phone, right?”

I didn’t know you could do that. Some frugalist I am.

Temporarily dropping service will cut my bill in half. Calls will go to voice mail, which I can check from wherever I happen to be. Best of all, there won’t be a fee to dial back the service or to ramp it up when I return.

This is so cool that I’ll forgive Century Link for the hideous neologisms it coined to describe the service: a “vacational suspend.” Ack.

There’s not much else to cancel since I don’t have cable or satellite television (in fact, I don’t have a TV). But I contacted my Internet provider, Clear, to see if it would suspend me vacationally.

Yep. If I shut down service temporarily I’ll be charged only $9.

I always hold my Seattle Times newspaper delivery whenever I’m away. Yes, I still read newspapers. If it’s a short trip, I request the periodicals be delivered all at once upon my return. If I’m away more than seven days, the Times will simply extend my subscription.

If you’re a cell-phone customer, talk to your company before you travel outside the country. Right before my UK trip last year I found out that any calls that went through would incur roaming charges — even if I didn’t answer them. So I had that option turned off, figuring that Seattle-to-London is a really big roam.

Too soon old, too late smart

I sure wish I’d thought about this before now. Since last summer I’ve taken six trips that lasted anywhere from three to eight weeks. Think of all the money I would have saved by shutting down those services.

Well, I know about it now – and so do you. If you’re planning a decently long trip, contact your own phone, Internet, cell, cable or satellite companies to see what kind of deal you can swing.

The only thing I won’t change during these longer trips is mail delivery. Although I originally thought it cost money to have it forwarded, a reader pointed out that you can get a temporary change of address form and have mail redirected free of charge. You still have the option of the “premium forwarding service,” which costs $15 to sign up and then $14.75 a week.

After talking with someone from the postal service about the ins and outs of forwarding (both the free and pay varieties), I’m going to stick with what works for me. If I’m gone less than a month, I just have the mail held. For longer trips:

  • I have it held for three or four weeks.
  • I arrange for it all to be dropped off on a day my neighbor chooses.
  • I let ordinary delivery resume for a few days and then arrange for another hold, which lasts until I get back.

My neighbor also checks my front door to see if any packages have been delivered. Yes, she is swell.

Saved from house-sitter hassles

In return, when M goes away I watch her cat. But I’ve been traveling so much that I feel she’s doing more for me than I am for her.

This perceived inequity makes me a little nervous, even though she swears it’s a fair trade. She doesn’t want someone just to check the water dish, scoop the litter box and skedaddle, but rather someone who will pet and play with Kitty for a while.

Suits me. I just take a book along, and when both Kitty and I are tired of the catnip mouse or the ball we sit on the couch together. She purrs, I read and we both relax.

I still think M’s getting the short end of the stick, though, especially since she’s saving me from another house-sitter hassle. I’m going to find out whether she shops on Amazon.com. If she does, I’ll give her some Amazon gift cards as a thank-you.

Of course, I get these cards free from Swagbucks. Some frugal hacks just never get old.


19 Comments

  1. Brilliant! Very timely advice as I am going out of town for an extended stay in a couple weeks. Thanks!

    • Donna Freedman

      You’re welcome. Hope your various service providers are as accommodating as mine were.

  2. This is great news Donna! Never would have thought to have done this. We travel a few times a year, so surely this will add up across the utilities. Thank you so much for the tip! Blessings~ Tammy

  3. Another added bonus of being away is your electricity bill drops significantly :)
    Glad your cat sitting went well – hope there wasn’t any butt brushing involved this time!

  4. I shared this on face book and on twitter. I had no idea you could do this! Thanks for the tip.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Tammy and Donna: You’re welcome. I was thrilled to find out myself…sure wish I’d known sooner.

  5. I dog sat for the neighbors and I do agree it is sooo relaxing. It’s nice to be in a house and not have a project staring back at you. I woke up and both dogs were asleep on my chest. Thank goodness they were tiny dogs.

  6. Great info! Had no idea about the “vacational suspend.” I’m laughing at the suspending of newspapers…I still subscribe to a few “papers” and often for get to suspend when I travel..I come home with stacks on my door from my neighbor. I know WSJ allows you to donate the papers to a local school if you’re out of town, so I’ve tried to be good about that.

  7. Watch out. In my experience Qworst CSRs are actually sales reps, and they…shall we say, dissemble. Their job is to upsell you to more expensive plans, and if they mislead you into thinking you’re getting a cheaper deal when they say it will “save” you money, Qworst regards it as a case of caveat emptor. Better be sure that when you come back you won’t find your bills jacked up, with the excuse that restarting your service voids the old plan you were on. Or some such.

  8. I never knew you can do that. I wonder if there is something to be done for a cell phone bill as well? If you are out of the country for a few months can you “pause” your service?

  9. Thanks for the article Donna. I had no idea these options were available. Just a heads up or maybe a suggestion for a future article….cell phone plans. DD is away at school and the service we have ( a pay as you go) has been less than adequate at her campus and then the phone died. My DM offered to let my daughter “piggyback” on her plan a significant savings. Simply put the plans and their costs for new subscribers was “breathtaking”… it would seem like this would be good “fodder” for a future article.
    Thanks again for your timely article!

  10. Holly Samlan

    These options are NOT always available. Here in IL ANY change to my AT&T phone service triggers an internal paperwork fee of at least $20 to my phone bill:
    $20 to turn off
    $20 to trum back on

    $25 is approx what my phone bills avg/month so likely NOT worth it for me especially since that was the fee 15 or 20 years ago and its probably significantly higher now.

    I don’t have cable and my internet is a cheap dial-up.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Holly: YMMV, for sure, which is why I suggested people ask about the options vs. making a blanket “Anyone can do this” statement.
      Too, I’m talking about a “suspend,” not an actual turn off/turn on. Are we discussing the same thing, do you think? And is it possible that policies from 15 or 20 years ago have changed?
      Of course, they could have “changed” in that they got more expensive. Sigh.

  11. lostAnnfound

    My folks do this when they go to Florida for the winter, saves them a few $$ for sure.

  12. As a once (and hopefully future) cat owner, I’ll reiterate that you’re doing your neighbor a good service with your kitty-sitting. I’m sure she comes home to a happier cat if you spend some quality couch time with Fluffy each day.

  13. local guy

    i do this for my car insurance. since car sits in garage when i am away, i tell ins. co, get refund on unused insurance, as car ins. is prepaid.

  14. factchecker

    Donna, you probably don’t need a landline at all, services like google voice using your own cell phone with another free number.

  15. So you pay $9 a month for nothing. Can’t use it, can’t do anything and they still bill you $9 for what? Holding your number??? lol

    Do what I did. Drop home phone service! Use your cell phone for $30 buy a gizmo made by cobra that links your cell by Bluetooth to your phone jacks – in other words all your phones in the house work using your cell. Save all that money a month!

    I don’t know about anyone else, but I used to pay $25 a month for a home phone I literally never used. $5 a month I would keep it, $10 I would keep it – but $25? The hardware has been paid for 10000 times over by me and every generation before and the government taxes on a home phone is insane – you pay for others phones.

    Welcome to the new obama economy. People can only afford to pay for certain things. Now century link loses, the government loses tax money, etc Before I could keep a phone for no reason, but now they Amerika is a 3rd world country full of low paying service jobs? Not so much.

    Nice future folks. You voted for it and worse of all you allow it to continue because your tv shows are more important.

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