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Do People With Mental Health Issues Overpay for Utilities?

If you're anxious or depressed, you might be paying too much for your internet.

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A study done recently in the UK showed that people suffering mental health difficulties, on average, pay more for essential services. Note that this research wasn't focused on health care. It was about services in general. People who said mental health issues impacted their day-to-day life paid, on average, between $1,400 USD to $2,000 USD more per year for basic services.

Navigating all the fine print for your essential services (e.g., electricity, internet, phone, banking products) is difficult for virtually everyone. It can be much more difficult if you're suffering a mental health problem. Getting the best prices on services like internet often requires comparing deals, and either switching companies or calling your existing company for a retention offer to match the other offers out there.

These calls are rarely simple, and even the smartest, least-vulnerable people can easily get bamboozled by all the "gotchas" in the terms and conditions, and the complex array of confusing options that are often provided by the company's sales team. Let's look at how mental health difficulties can make this undertaking even more challenging.

People with anxiety often don't like phone calls and don't like uncertainty. A strong preference for certainty can make anxious folks very reluctant to switch away from whatever they have now to a better offer. Anxious people often worry that there could be a "gotcha" they haven't managed to foresee, or some other problem with the new service provider.

People with depression often feel unmotivated, socially withdrawn, and have difficulty concentrating. It's obvious how those symptoms would impact someone's ability to wade through the fine print, phone calls, or a technician's visit to switch services.

What's more, there's some evidence that following a thorough, logical decision-making process with these types of consumer choices can actually make people (in general) feel worse than making intuitive, less thought-out decisions. Why? There are at least two things that might account for this. Firstly, the more you try to read the terms and conditions, often the less positively you feel towards the company involved. Secondly, even when people try hard, they typically still don't read all the terms, because they're so overwhelming. Sometimes it feels worse to try and fail than to not try!

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Tips for better deals and managing your emotions in the process:

  • Be compassionate with yourself if you know you've been overpaying due to avoidance of dealing with the issue. For instance, your new customer promo for your internet expired a year ago, but you've been blindly paying the new much higher price rather than having renegotiated it. Even if you've been putting off dealing with it, the best time to handle it is now. Forgive yourself for not doing it earlier.
  • Understand that switching is mentally difficult, for the reasons I've outlined. It takes time and concentration to research options, and coping with change is emotionally taxing. Give yourself compassion for this too! Over time, try to gradually become better at logically evaluating options, coping with changing providers, and the sense of uncertainty that comes with that.
  • Research your alternatives and your current company's new customer pricing online. Having this info can make you feel more informed when you call service providers.
  • Practice will make you feel more confident with phone calls. The more you call for retention offers and the more experience you have switching companies for better deals, the easier it will get. If you don't want to deal with actually switching, at least try to get a retention offer from your existing company that's close to your best alternative option.
  • If you have friends or family who are good at this stuff, you can learn by asking them how they handle phone calls to service providers and service and pricing negotiations.
  • If you're nervous about the quality of an alternative service, try Googling to see reports from people who have it.
  • This is a slightly advanced tip—if the company you are with uses 12-month promotions, start with the most basic service that suits you, with no extras or premium options. This way when your promotion expires, you should be able to get a good upgrade offer that will result in another 12-month promotional rate. Just go up one level at a time, since upgrade offers are usually the easiest to take advantage of and can often be handled without a phone call. You can often use this strategy to pay considerably less for better service than if you let your current service revert to full price when your initial promotion expires.
  • Consider dealing with companies that don't play constant shenanigans with promotional pricing, if you can find them. In some sectors this is difficult, but in some spheres (e.g., phone service where you bring your own phone or buy one outright), you can find simple, transparent options.
  • Don't assume all interactions with service providers will go badly. Sometimes you might get the runaround, but sometimes the process may be much easier than you expect.
  • If you're really struggling with your mental health, consider asking a trusted person for help with the financial decisions you feel overwhelmed by.

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