Cell phones aren't named after the biological building blocks that make up our bodies. But with about 4 billion of Earth's people using cells, these phones might as well be integrated into our bones, because we take them everywhere we go [source: Digital Buzz]. And just as with any ubiquitous product, being financially careless with cell phone usage can cost a pound of flesh.
There is a multitude of cell phone consumers who just don't pay attention to their cell phone bills, and they pay a price, in spending hundreds or thousands of dollars that they could easily save. The good news is that with just a few minutes of your time and a little effort, you can get a better, budget-friendly perspective on your bill and immediately take steps to cut it down in size.
Let's get some of the silly stuff out of the way. For starters, don't buy insurance for your phone. Hardly any cell phone buyers ever tap into insurance, and there are all sorts of hoops you have to jump through to successfully receive any money. It's not worth the headache, or your cash.
Roadside assistance is another unnecessary frill. Your car insurance plan likely already includes assistance. Even a lot of credit cards offer side-of-the-highway help when you need it. So you certainly don't need a phone plan that includes it, too.
These tips are just the tip of the cell-phone budget iceberg. Keep reading and we'll show you how to chip away really huge chunks out of this complex consumer charge.
Employee and School Discounts
It's perhaps a given that Fortune 500 companies partner with phone service providers to offer their employees steep discounts. But many medium- and small-businesses offer discounts, too, even if they don't advertise those price cuts to employees. Student discounts often go similarly unadvertised.
You simply have to seek out those deals. Sometimes your employer's human resources department can tell you if there are discounts available from specific carriers. In many cases there are, and the savings can drop your costs by 10 to 30 percent every month.
You may learn that you can indeed receive a price break, but only through a carrier you don't currently use. If the savings are significant it may make perfect sense to switch.
Student discounts also go under-utilized because people aren't aware of them. If you're a student, call your phone company and ask for a discount. Be prepared to provide your school email address as proof of your enrollment.
Analyze Your Bill and Find a New Plan
One of the best ways to save money on your cell bill is to choose a plan that best fits your usage patterns. Otherwise you're probably paying for extra minutes, text messages, or data plans that you'll never use. No wonder about 20 percent of Americans point to high costs as their top gripe regarding cell phones [source: Fox Business].
Of course, tallying up your minutes and messages and comparing them to the confounding, continuously morphing array of provider plans can result in a freak-out level of frustration. Avoid exasperation by using online tools to analyze your bill.
Go to sites like BillShrink.com, FixMyCellBill.com, or Citizens Utility Board to see in-depth insights about your cell phone bill. These sites let you input information about your phone habits and current plan. BillShrink then e-mails you results that help you make better choices. FixMyCellBill (also called MyValidas.com) requires a $5 fee for analysis, but that price is a small one to pay for the potential of much, much bigger savings.
And did we mention that these sites do the heavy-lifting in terms of number crunching and plan comparison? You don't have to do much. Enter your usage information (or link the site to your online bill payment account) and the sites spit back the nitty-gritty on ways you can immediately start saving money.
Many cell phone users are so conditioned to the phone-contract concept that they can't even fathom switching to a prepaid phone. Fewer than 20 percent of Americans use prepaid phones [source: Entrepreneur]. But the reality is that prepaid phones can help some people save serious money.
Prepaid plans vary. Some charge a daily fee; others charge only for the minutes you use. If you're a light- to moderate phone user, you can save a lot of money when you compare the costs to a traditional contract plan.
As with all things in the land of cell phones, though, you have to read the fine print. Many prepaid phone minutes have an expiration date, and sometimes, just like their contracted brethren, they come loaded with confusing fees that can wind up costing you more in the long run.
Most prepaid phones that have a per-minute charge will cost around 5 to 25 cents for every 60 seconds [source: MSN Money]. Those phones often have a daily access fee of a dollar or two. You may also have a choice of buying blocks of minutes or a monthly plan, through companies such as TracFone, MetroPCS or even bigger companies such as Verizon and AT&T, among others.
With prepaid, you won't get to play with the latest smartphone gadgets. Instead, you'll get a more basic device. But what you lose in frilly and unnecessary fun can add far more in value to your savings account.
Find a New Family
Cell service providers compete relentlessly against each for new customers, to the point that they'll go so far as to blur the meaning of the word family. Case in point: You don't have to be blood relatives with people to sign up for a family cell plan, which can save you so much money that your piggy bank quivers with joy.
It's true; you can rope just about anyone into your phone's family plan. That includes friends, roommates, neighbors, anyone you trust enough to join you on the contract. Cell phone companies don't necessarily advertise this fact. But they don't hide it, either.
According to BillShrink, as many as 65 percent of Verizon's users alone sign up for multiple-user accounts, as opposed to paying for just a single line [source: The Consumerist]. That number alone should speak to the power of group spending.
The amount you save will always vary depending on the plans you select. That said, it's no stretch at all to say that in a family plan, you could very well spend less on a smartphone with a liberal data plan than you would on a single line that includes just a basic phone with no data plan at all.
So find a family and exploit it to lower your cell costs. It's what family ties are all about.
Ask for a Better Deal
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.
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More Great Links
- Citizens Utility Board. "CUB's Cell Phone Saver." Citizensutilityboard.org. (Oct. 21, 2011) http://www.citizensutilityboard.org/cellphonesaver.html#
- Henry, Alan. "A Bill-by-Bill Guide to Saving Money on Your Monthly Expenses." Lifehacker.com. Jul. 22, 2011. (Oct. 21, 2011) http://lifehacker.com/5823762/a-bill+by+bill-guide-to-saving-money-on-your-monthly-expenses#cellphones
- Johnson, Stacey. "5 Ways to Save on Your Cell Phone Bill." Money.MSN.com. Jul. 8, 2011. (Oct. 21, 2011) http://money.msn.com/saving-money-tips/post.aspx?post=b21513d4-3e2a-4a70-80db-320ea00c8439
- Roth, J.D. "Ways to Save Money on Your Cell Phone Bill." Entrepreneur.com. Mar. 22, 2011. (Oct. 21, 2011) http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/219354
- Torabi, Farnoosh. "5 Ways to Cut Your Cell Phone Bill." Moneywatch.bnet.com. Oct. 18, 2010. (Oct. 21, 2011) http://moneywatch.bnet.com/saving-money/blog/so-money/5-ways-to-cut-your-cell-phone-bill/985/
- Vasel, Kathryn Buschman. "How to Save Money on Your Cell Phone Bill." Foxbusiness.com. Mar. 1, 2010. (Oct. 21, 2011) http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2010/03/01/save-money-cell-phone/
- Villareal, Phil. "5 Ways to Save Money on Your Cell Phone Bill." Consumerist.com. Apr. 2, 2010. (Oct. 21, 2011) http://consumerist.com/2010/04/5-ways-to-save-money-on-your-cell-phone-bill.html
- Weston, Liz Pulliam. "How to Get a Better Phone Deal." Moneycentral.MSN.com. Feb. 12, 2010. (Oct. 21, 2011) http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/SavingandDebt/SaveMoney/weston-how-to-get-a-better-phone-deal.aspx?page=1