The cutthroat competition between the four biggest cell phone companies -- Verizon, Sprint-Nextel, AT&T and T-Mobile -- can be good news for budget-conscious customers. You just have to be willing to do some haggling and maybe even a bit of threatening.
Don't think of your cell phone plan as a contracted list of services that's set in stone. Instead, think of your provider as just one of several companies at a big bargaining table. They all want your business, and they'll all go further than you think to get (or retain) your loyalty.
Keep one major point in mind: Cell phone plans change constantly. So the best-bargain plan you opted for six months ago might already have been replaced by something even better. Your cell company isn't going to tell you that, though, so you have to call and ask about promotions and changes that might help lower your monthly costs.
If you do wind up asking the sales representative to make changes to your account, be sure to confirm that doing so doesn't extend your contract. Ask twice. Otherwise, you might wind up with a great deal, but a contract that last much longer than you like.
If you're near the end of your contract, call your company and ask for specials, upgrades, and other discounts. Tell them you are considering taking your business elsewhere, and you'll be surprised at how far they'll drop prices to keep you in their system. Most companies even have unadvertised plans just for customers who threaten to sign up with other carriers.
By now you realize that cell phone services are flexible and negotiable. If you take the time to think about the way you really use your phone and how much you'd like to spend each month, you'll have the leverage you need to make changes to your spending habits -- and to your carrier plan -- that can make your phone plan more manageable and affordable for years to come.