If you've already got a cell phone plan, chances are, some months you wonder just what it is you're paying for. Here are some ways to cut your bill and save hundreds of dollars without changing providers!
Stop Buying Defensively: Cut Minutes (or Messages)
I recently saved $40/month (i.e., $480/year) by reducing the number of non-night or weekend airtime minutes on my cell phone plan. I was so obsessed with the idea that I would go “over” my minutes that I never stopped to analyze my actual usage—which was rock-bottom, far less than the unlimited minutes I had signed up for at the store. The fact was, I talked more on the weekends, and I made a lot of mobile-to-mobile (in-plan) calls, both of which were free with my rate plan.
Reduce your minutes to match the calls you actually make, and sign up for alerts when you’re nearing your monthly balance, instead of paying up-front for minutes you’ll never use.
Analyze Your Actual Usage
The only way to get over your fear about incurring overages, roaming charges, and extra data-related charges every month is to make sure that, no matter how long your contract is, your plan itself is flexible. I use AT&T, one of the “Big 4” providers, and although I signed on for a two-year contract, all that means is I pay a fee if I switch providers – not plans with that provider.
Chances are, your rate plan is customizable after you sign on the dotted line. You can adjust minutes, data, MMS (Multimedia Messaging Services) and SMS (text message) quantities, among other add-on services.
It can’t hurt to sit down and look over your last two or three months’ worth of cell phone bills and calculate your average usage. If you’re using 750 text messages a month and only 400 non-weekend minutes, your unlimited talk/text plan might be ripping you off – to the tune of several hundred dollars every year.
Buy what you need, and stop planning for “overages” that never occur.
Take Advantage of Deals
A lot of rate plans come with options to designate the phone numbers you call most, or provide totally free minutes for calls made to other people with the same service provider. If you’re calculating your average usage without taking that into consideration, you’re selling yourself short and overpaying.
There may also be deals if you are still a student, and there is almost definitely a family or shared minute plan, regardless of your provider of choice. Parents can reduce their students’ cost of living while on campus by making sure to keep them on a family plan.
Students and even 20-something college grads can probably work out a deal with mom and dad if they’ve been dropped from their plans, too. Maybe you can promise to stop bringing your laundry along when you visit? That usually works. Or just the truth, which is that a single-line cell phone plan can be cost-prohibitive on an entry-level salary budget.
Compare, Compare, Compare
The only way to make sure your plan is the best one for you is to compare it with others on the market. Figure out which phones you’d be happy using, and then spend an hour or two researching rate plans.
If you’re on a rural campus, or if you’ve had trouble with crappy reception in the past, compare your provider’s signal strength to others in your area, too. (Because even if the plan’s dirt cheap, dropped calls are not fun.) See:
And for my two cents, the mother of all cell rate analysis tools for those of you on contractual cell phone plans is, far and away, the amazing BillShrink.com.
You can even import your actual cell phone bill and get recommendations that consider how many lines you need, how many minutes you use, how much texting you do, and combine all that personalized data (including the termination fee you’d pay if you switched providers) with a rating for signal reception in your main areas of use. Whew. Taking notes?
What’s more, BillShrink calculates how much money you’d save over a 2-year period if you switched plans or providers (or both).
Or Ditch the Contract and Go Pre-Paid
Finally, an extremely thrifty option that used to be the province of the credit-strapped is the pay-as-you-go or prepaid talk/text/data phones and plans. Recently, these have become so competitive that they are changing the marketplace – Cricket, Boost, and even large providers like T-Mobile are changing the landscape and turning pay-as-you-go into smarter choices. Without the contract and fees.
Other iGrad articles on cell phones:
How do you make sure your cell phone bill is reasonable? Have a phone bill horror story? Let us know in the comments!