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Slice down that absurd cell-phone bill with these simple money-saving tips

The cost of owning and operating a smartphone is high, particularly in the United States, where monthly bills topping $80 are not unusual. If you don’t shop around and do your research to find the best deals, then you’re paying more than you really need to pay. We’re going to run through some of the ways you might be able to reduce that monthly bill without significantly changing the way you use your smartphone. Let’s see if we can save you some money.

Check your plan and usage

The first thing to do is to look at the plan you are on very carefully. What is your allowance for calls, texts, and data each month? How much of that allowance are you actually using? The vast majority of people don’t come close to consuming what they’re entitled to use. The average smartphone user will need around 1GB per month.

How good is the coverage in your area? Are you paying for a 4G contract when you only get 3G at your home? Are you paying extra for features like visual voicemail or ringback tones? These are all good questions to ask yourself.

Most people are over paying for smartphone service.

If you want to check out your usage, log into your account or use your carrier’s app. They all offer a breakdown of what you are actually using each month. Calculate what you think you really need in terms of texts, call minutes, and data each month and write it down. Now you can start to comparison shop and check where the cheapest service is available. For some people, especially light users, a prepaid deal will make the best financial sense.

Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) can also offer some great deals, though you’ll have to provide your own smartphone or buy one at full price. They contract piggyback off of the major carrier networks and often resell service at much lower rates. For example, Ting (which uses Sprint’s network) revealed in July that an average customer was paying $26 per month and using 314MB of data, 365 texts, and 250 minutes of voice calls.

Call your carrier if you find that you’re not coming close to using your allowance and ask them to change your plan. You may even be able to change it yourself through your online account. Just make sure you do your homework first so you know what you need and how much it should cost. And watch out for the terms and conditions. You need to make sure that the changes you make don’t commit you to a new two-year contract term.

Saving money on data

Carriers used to offer unlimited data and meter call minutes and texts, but since we started consuming more data they’ve switched this arrangement around. Data is the most likely unnecessary cost you are incurring and there are two major ways to avoid paying so much for it:

1. Use Wi-Fi everywhere you can

You’ll spend the bulk of your day at home or in the office and both places should have Wi-Fi networks. It’s also possible to find hotspots when you are out and about. Check WeFi for a map of free hotspots. It also has Android and iOS apps that will connect you automatically. Carriers and Internet service providers also offer free hotspots, so make sure you’re taking advantage.

2. Never exceed your data allowance

On Android you can go to Settings > Data usage to track your data usage and set a limit for the month. On iOS you’ll find the stats in Settings > Cellular, but you’ll have to keep an eye on it and remember to reset it at the beginning of each month. Some carriers also offer alerts when you hit a certain percentage of your data.

You can find more tips for saving money of data in our guide on how to reduce your data usage.

Saving money on calls and texts

If you have an iPhone then you’ll find that iMessage and FaceTime can both be used over Wi-Fi networks, giving you a way to make calls and send texts that doesn’t require you to use any of your allowance. Apple has also introduced Wi-Fi calling in iOS 8, but a lot of the carriers are dragging their heels about supporting it. That’s great if the person you’re texting or calling also has an iPhone.

If you want an alternative solution that works with other platforms like Android then you should check out one of the top VoIP or messenger apps. There’s Skype, Talkatone, Tango, WhatsApp, BBM, Facebook Messenger … the list goes on and on. The problem is that you’ll need the people you’re contacting to have the app installed too.

RelatedHow to escape your phone contract without paying a dime

If you’re a heavy smartphone user you might think you need an expensive service plan, but if you work to substitute Wi-Fi where you can, you’ll find that’s rarely the case.

Do you need insurance?

It can be sensible to get smartphone insurance, but it’s very easy to get ripped off. If you read the terms and conditions then you’ll often be surprised to find how limited the coverage is. You should also calculate the cost of the insurance over the lifetime of the device. Is it really worth it? Accepting smartphone insurance through your carrier will rarely offer the best value for your money.

You may already be covered or be able to get a better deal from your existing insurer. Check whether phone insurance is offered as part of your bank account (it’s quite common in the U.K.). See if your home or auto insurance provider offers smartphone insurance. They’ll usually offer discounts if you bundle coverage.

If you really do need insurance, always do a proper comparison. Make sure it covers you for the things you are most worried about. Most insurers will not pay out if you lose your smartphone or it’s stolen after you left it unattended. Accidental damage might have an excess amount that you have to pay. Don’t make any assumptions. Read the fine print.

Employment, affiliation, and student discounts

Some companies have deals with the carriers that include discounts for employees. If you’re a student it may be possible to pay less. If you work in the military or with the government, then you may find you’re entitled to a discount. You’ll have to check your eligibility and register to get the discount. Check with your carrier about how to do it, but most of them have a webpage with further details, for example here’s the Verizon one.

Most people are over paying for smartphone service. Carriers won’t highlight that fact, so it’s worth checking to see if you could save some money.

If you have any other good tips then post a comment and share them.