Chances are you’re reading this with a cell phone next to you or right in your pocket. And if you have a smartphone, like 64 percent of Americans do according to Pew Research Center, you might even be reading this on your phone. Cell phones have become another appendage for many people, and if you don’t have your cell phone within arm’s reach, you probably feel out of sorts.
But the high costs of cell phone plans are making many people uncomfortable. Almost half of Americans have a cell phone bill of at least $100 per month, according to a recent CouponCabin study. That can take a hefty portion of your budget, and you might not even need to pay it. Experts estimate $50 billion is thrown away each year on plan features people don’t need or use, according to ABC News.
So, if you’re looking to save money on your cell phone plan, or at the very least get the most bang for your buck, here are some of the best ways to lower your cell phone bill.
1. Inspect Your Bill Closely
This sounds simple, but the fact is, many people don’t take a close enough look at their cell phone bills. Review your plan carefully for all the options included in your contract and make sure you’re not paying for voice, messaging and data features you don’t need. If you’re paying for services such as roadside assistance, voice-to-text voicemail and other extras you don’t use, strike them from your bill.
On average, according to a study by the Citizens Utility Board and Validas, many “sneaky charges” can cost more than $5 per month. However, when you look at the extra features AT&T offers, for example, including enhanced voicemail ($1.99 and up a month), insurance (up to $29.99 a month) and everything in between, you could spend an additional $100 per month just for added features. Next time your cell phone bill comes, check it closely for add-on features and contact your cell phone carrier to remove them if possible.
2. Control Your Data Usage
According to Consumer Reports, many people pay for more data than they actually need. And just as overpaying is expensive, regularly exceeding your monthly data cap is expensive as well. Take Verizon’s most popular cell plan as an example: You will pay $10 per GB if you go over the provider’s monthly 2 GB data allotment.
As for paying for what you don’t need, Mark Knapp, senior tech editor at The Cheat Sheet said, “If someone doesn’t spend a lot of time talking each month, there’d be little reason to jump into one of the many plans that include unlimited talk time. Similarly, if a user finds they never go over 500 MB in data usage a month, there’d be no sense in getting a plan that includes 2 GB of data because they will be paying for it.”
Pull out your last three cell phone bills and get a feel for how much data you’re using over time. Then, choose a cheaper plan — or provider — that is a better fit for your data usage patterns and stay within its limits. If you use a lot of data and go over your allotment each month, find an app like Morbidia’s My Data Manager that can help you avoid overage charges by alerting you when you’re close to going over your monthly usage limit. According to PC World, you can save between $15 and $35 — or more — monthly by keeping tabs on your data usage.
3. Use WiFi Whenever Possible
You can also cut down on your monthly data consumption and lower your bill by using WiFi to connect to services instead of using your cell’s phones data network. “When you are connected to a WiFi signal, then you’re no longer relying 100 percent on your data plan,” said expert Josh Davis, manager of the Apple Boutique at ABT Electronics. “If you or someone on your plan uses a lot of data, turn off cellular data. That way, they won’t be able to access any cellular data when they’re not on WiFi.”
WiFi is available in so many locations now that it’s easier to access than your phone’s data network in places like work and home where people use their phones the most. Using WiFi to access movies, videos, games, email and the internet instead of your carrier’s data network can save you from paying the top service providers’ usual $10 to $30 data overage charge if you exceed your allotment for the month, according to CNET. Connecting to WiFi curbs these data charges and allows you to watch Netflix or listen to Pandora for nearly free.
4. Know Your Discounts
Several cell phone companies offer discounts for teachers, government workers, students and employees of select companies. You usually have to ask if a discount is available because many providers won’t volunteer this information. It’s also a good idea to ask your human resources department if your company qualifies for cell phone discounts.
To check if your company, military or student status entitles you to plan discounts, check the major provider websites like Sprint, Verizon and AT&T. Consumer advocacy site BradsDeals.com also lists the last known discounts on its site, which range from 6 percent to 25 percent off. If you have the typical $100 monthly cell phone bill, you can save up to $25 a month if your organization qualifies. That’s a savings of about $300 a year.
5. Use an Alternative Cell Phone Provider
Most people know Sprint, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile, but “users who understand their usage needs may find these carriers are getting them to pay for a lot of extras they don’t need. Lesser-known carriers like FreedomPop, MetroPCS, Republic Wireless, and Ting offer some extra cheap plans that leave out a lot of the fluff,” said Knapp.
These carriers, considered mobile virtual network operators (MNVOs), provide their services through the network of a major carrier, Knapp explained. “So they can still be relied on for coverage around the country, although users should still be sure to check coverage maps to ensure they’ll still have service in the places they plan to be in the most.”
Knapp took his own advice and recently switched from T-Mobile — where he as paying $55 a month for a low data plan — to Ting, which lowered his monthly bill to just $26.
6. Buy an Unlocked Phone
When Knapp switched carriers, he did it with an unlocked phone. Locked phones are tied to one carrier and limit you to its service. For instance, a Verizon locked phone only works on the Verizon network, but an unlocked phone can jump from carrier to carrier, which can save you money.
“Users can switch plans as their needs change,” Knapp explained. “If you choose to go with an MVNO carrier at home but are about to go abroad for awhile, you can choose a different carrier — maybe even switch to a foreign carrier while traveling. This allows users to continue only paying for what they need when they need it.”
The catch is you’ll need to pay full price for the phone up front. Big cell phone companies offer lower-priced phones only if you sign a two-year contract. But affordable, unlocked and contract-free cell phones can be purchased at Amazon, Best Buy and resell sites like Gazelle.com. And this way, you can start reaping monthly savings immediately. As The Wall Street Journal reported: “Going with an unlocked phone and signing up with carrier StraightTalk cost $45 a month for 3 GB of LTE data and unlimited talk and text, which cost $65 monthly for the same plan on AT&T.”
7. Ditch the Contract
The biggest appeal of unlocked phones and MNVOs is the absence of cell phone contracts. Typical two-year agreements often restrict you to expensive terms, and early contact termination usually requires you to pay hundreds of dollars. Go without a contract and you have the freedom to choose lower-priced carriers and plans and to switch both when something better comes along.
Although the phone you get with a contract seems cheaper than paying full price, you are really paying off the full cost of the phone with higher monthly bills, according to Time Magazine. Time reported that, “plans without service contracts are almost always a better deal.” Republic Wireless for instance, a leader in the no-contract provider space, offers plans starting at $5 and going up to $40. Its most popular plan costs $25 a month and includes unlimited talk, text and data on 3G. In contrast, AT&T’s contract price is $80 a month. Whatever you choose, first compare cell phone plans to find the best value for you, taking into account the cost of paying for a phone up front.
8. Negotiate Every Few Months
Andy Abramson, CEO of strategic analysis company Comunicano, recommended speaking to your carrier every five months or so to see if they have a better deal for you. “It’s best to dial into the call center and not go to the store,” he said. “The store clerks are trying to sell you, and customer support is there to help you.” If you’ve been with a carrier for an extended period of time, use that fact to your advantage. Customer loyalty isn’t easy to come by these days, and companies might reward you for your continued business.
“I have a friend who’s been with a major carrier for over 20 years,” shared Verus Wealth Management Financial Advisor David Melnyk, “He called customer service and asked to be transferred to the supervisor, who then transferred him to a ‘special customer service team,’ who gave him a new iPhone and a much cheaper two-year contract.” By negotiating better terms, especially if you’re nearing the end of a contract, you can see some nice savings.
9. Forget the Insurance
Cell phone insurance ranges from $10 to $15 a month depending on your phone and carrier, and many plans carry a deductible of between $150 and $200. According to U.S. News & World Report, this might be a good investment at first, but the value of your phone will decrease after the first year, so it might not be worth it to continue coverage for older phones. Furthermore, “smartphones are dropping in price to the point where buying a new one is cheaper than paying premiums for a policy to replace a lost or damaged phone,” said Anthony J. Alfidi of research publisher Alfidi Capital.
In some cases, your phone will be carried under a warranty, and your provider will cover the phone’s replacement, making insurance redundant. Read the fine print to ensure you’re not already covered in some way and calculate the insurance cost over the life of your phone to see if insurance is really worth it. If you go with insurance, make sure it covers what you need it to. Some coverage doesn’t extend to lost or stolen phones. Finally, you might also consider what personal finance guru Dave Ramsey said: “If you need insurance for your cell phone, then you’ve bought a cell phone that you can’t afford.”
Your cell phone plan can be one of the most expensive bills you have each month. Putting some time into researching your options with carriers, phones and plans before you sign a contract — or deciding to forgo a contract altogether — can save you a lot of money. Considering cell phones aren’t going anywhere, a little preplanning is time well spent and money you’ll be saving in no time.
From GoBankingRates.com: 9 simple ways to cut the cost of your cell phone bill