The Husband and I were looking for ways to save money since I quit my job at the high-end kitchen store. “Do you have any ideas?” he asked. “Well, we could call all the different companies we use, like phone and TV, and see if they have any special plans?” I offered tentatively.
He was nodding as I was saying it, and that was the moment I knew I would be the one forced to make these calls.
I am not a fan of bargaining. If I go to a garage sale and see that a cute wood side table with real marble top is priced at $18, I get a crisp 20 dollar bill out of my pocket and say “Keep the change.” If I am in Mexico buying hand-woven wool blankets while I am waiting in line to cross the border back to America, there is no back-and-forth discussion: I end up buying three blankets for four times the original price. The bargaining gene not only skipped a generation, it galloped, jump-roped, and hopscotched right past my DNA cells, looking for someone else to help save money.
Don’t get me wrong: I love sales, and I love Target. The difference is: someone else (a store employee or God) has already predetermined the (fair) price; no disputing the price or value is expected. The only negotiating taking place occurs in my brain: Should I pay cash or should I pay with my Amex and earn points? Should I hold up the line by running out to my car to get the plastic bags I forgot, or should I resign myself to being stuck with more plastic bags that will kill all the starving baby dolphins in Africa?
I went online and looked up the phone number for Direct TV. I cringed as I pressed the number into my phone, wondering why The Husband could not do this dreaded task. I replayed our earlier conversation in my mind:
“Sweetie? Since I hate to negotiate, can you make the calls?”
“Really? Are you kidding me? I am at work nine hours a day, and you are at home while the kids are in school and you’re doing what, blogging?” He said the word blogging with bitterness and contempt, like one might say the words shooting up heroin. “You can’t pull yourself away from your precious computer for 10 minutes to make a couple of phone calls?”
Larry answered almost immediately and sweetly asked how he could assist me today. I braced myself for his reaction to my script I had written out between blogs: “Hello! My name is MOV, and I would like to discuss a way to enhance my television plan by reducing the overall cost! Is that a possibility?”
Larry surprised me, “Absolutely, ma’am, I am happy to help you find ways to save money.”
After about 45 minutes of intense negotiations where Larry listened carefully to my needs and I suggested to him several times that he had a bright future as a hostage negotiator, we came to a truce: my family could survive with only three channels—HGTV, Cartoon Network, and some sort of sports channel. Larry told me that ESPN would add another $50 to our plan; I quickly decided that I have seen Road Runner and Bugs Bunny holding tennis racquets from time to time, and that could count as sports. The Husband would surely understand. Our bill plummeted from $189 a month to a much more affordable $26.
Next up: Verizon Internet. Alta said she’d be happy to help me. We went through the list of services one-by-one. It was determined that high-speed Internet was not crucial for my day-to-day life, and Alta finally got me to relent and go to sort-of-medium-maybe-a-little-bit-slow-speed Internet. My bill dropped from $118 to a quite reasonable $39 plus tax.
I was getting good at this.
Finally, I called Verizon wireless about my cell phone service. This was the call I was dreading the most because there are so many phone service options. The woman on the line was named either Saprana or Zaprana, I couldn’t be sure. Either way, it sounded like the name of a vacuum cleaner or an anti-depressant. She was kind enough to go through my existing plan with me step-by step.
“I see that your current plan, The Golden, is all encompassing,” said Zaprana, “in fact, we no longer offer that particular plan because it is not making any money for the company. If I were you, I would stay with The Golden since you are grandfathered in.” I could hear her clicking away at her keyboard, and I was sure her screen was flashing, Sales Rep! $50 bonus on your next paycheck if you make customer keep The Golden!!!
“Zaprana, The Golden is too good for us. We don’t actually deserve The Golden. We’re more a Brass kind of family, or Tin. Do you have anything in Aluminum Foil?”
“The next level down from The Golden is The Silver,” said Zaprana, not surprisingly. “But honestly, The Golden is a much better value.”
“Really, Zaprana, I’m allergic to gold. It makes me break out in 20 dollar bills. I need to get this rate down, maybe to half. Or less. Maybe 50%.” I was never good at math.
“Oh, I see …” she murmured, “do you mind if I put you on hold for one moment?” The phone clicked to soothing country elevator hybrid new-age music while Zaprana played a game of computer solitaire or possibly bought a new handknit sweater on etsy.
She came back just as I was starting to nod off. “Mrs. MOV? I spoke with my supervisor, and she is going to listen in on the line. I’m new, and I want to make sure I don’t #*%@ this up.”
“Excuse me?” Did she just say the F-word?!?
“I said, I want to offer you all your options.” That was soooooo not what she said.
“Do you need call-waiting?”
Did I? Did I really? When another call beeped in, I did not know how to answer it anyway without hanging up on the first person. Hmm. I could do without it.
“No, Zaprana, you can delete call-waiting,” I said confidently, knowing I had shaved at least 50 cents off my bill.
“No. Delete it.”
Conference calling? I never used that feature! I didn’t even know I had conference calling! “Definitely not, get that off of there.”
“Three way calling?”
“Isn’t that the same as conference calling?”
“No, it’s not, the difference is that—”
“No, get rid of it.”
This was trickier. I did actually listen to my messages from time to time. “Maybe I should keep voice mail? It’s good to have the ability to check messages.”
“Great choice. Voice mail only adds $78 to your bill each month. And it is part of our Copper Club Pro Plan.”
“What? Did you say $78? Forget it. Get that off of there.”
“Zaprana, what about limited distance?”
“Mrs. MOV, we have unlimited, or semi-limited which includes 500 minutes per month with unlimited nights and weekends, or 350 minutes with half-price weekends, or finally 30 minutes with no weekends and free incoming calls on alternate Tuesdays between 2 and 7 PM, Eastern time.”
“How much is that last one?”
“Really? The last one?”
“Well, that one is bundled as part of our Skeleton Plan. It costs $11 a month.”
“How much am I paying right now, all together, with The Golden?”
“Let’s see,” I could hear more clicking, probably of her abacus this time. “Looks like you are currently paying $409 a month, so if you got it down to $11, I might lose my job, but you would save a lot of money.”
Did she just say she’d lose her job? Where was her supervisor now?
“Are you going to lose your job?”
“No, no, ha ha! I didn’t say that! I said, The Skeleton looks like the way to go.”
“Perfect, then, Zaprana, sign me up for The Skeleton.”
She went over the terms and conditions, which basically said I could only make a call if it was to 911, and that I was on my own if I ever dropped my phone or broke it, either accidentally or intentionally. I agreed to everything she said, because the bottom line was: a cut-throat deal of $11 per month.
Right after I got off the phone with Zaprana and I was mentally congratulating myself on my newfound negotiating skills and huge amounts of cash saved, my cell phone rang. I recognized The Husband's husky voice.
“Hi Hon! How’d it go today with—”
I hung up on him. I can’t risk being charged for incoming calls except on alternate Tuesdays between 2 and 7 PM, Eastern time.
("Misses Our Verizon")