8 ways to cut your cell-phone bill
Dec 8, 2009 1:39 PM
- Don’t overbuy minutes. Two-thirds of respondents to our informal poll revealed they were using fewer minutes than their plan afforded them, and that only one-sixth of the time they used was actually billable. Review your talk time, and be sure to subtract the “free” minutes you use on, say, nights, weekends, or calls to friends with the same carrier. If you're leaving lots of paid minutes on the table each month, downgrade your plan.
- Maximize family-plan calling. If you have a family plan and you know your relative is at home, call them on their cell phone instead of the landline. The former is probably free (being in-network). The latter will cost you.
- Use the freebies available to you. Based on its analyses, BillShrink reports that consumers make 65 percent of their calls to the same five numbers. If your plan offers free calling to some type of “calling circle” (e.g. Verizon’s Friends & Family or T-Mobile’s myFaves) make sure you include your most frequently dialed and incoming numbers.
- Consider adding a texting package. If you text a lot, add a texting package to your plan. Without one, individual texts can cost as much as 20 cents each. For $5 to $15 a month, you can have a large, set number of messages to use —between 200 and 1,500—but be careful not to exceed them, or you’ll be hit with overage charges. Unlimited text packages are also available. If you text more than you talk, check to see if the ratio is reflected in your plan.
- Call customer service before you pay overage chargers. You might be able to work out a smaller fee by retroactively changing plans. The rep might even waive the extra charges if you can provide some compelling reason. (I was once forgiven an early termination fee after I called the carrier and explained I would be doing a year of service abroad.)
- Get a data plan if you use the Web. Unlike minutes and text messages, which are fairly easy to count, data measured in megabytes can be tricky to estimate. If you frequently check e-mail and surf the Net on your mobile phone, paying for megabytes a la carte could cost a fortune. Instead, get an unlimited Internet package—maybe with messaging thrown in—for a fixed price per month, usually no more than $60.
- Shop around—and consider prepaid. BillShrink (a free service ) and Validas are examples of services that analyze your usage patterns and help you choose from among various phones and carrier plans. We’ve found, however, that many prepaid phone plans are often cheaper than their contract counterparts.
- Avoid big termination fees. Try not to switch carriers mid-contract, or it could cost you. Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T have maximum early-termination fees of $350, $200, and $175, respectively. That said, carriers now prorate termination fees, so your fee may not be so high if you're nearing the end of your contract. Also, if you feel you have a good reason to have the fee waived (as I did in #5, above), call the carrier and pitch it. The worst they can say is no.