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The Backyard Blog

Unique take on popular topics, useful resources and financial advice by renowned writers, specialized experts and experienced bloggers.

smartphone
By:

March 3rd, 2016

How To Save Money On Wireless Plans & Devices

Smart phones are ubiquitous in today’s world, and for good reason. You’re always on the go! Having a mobile device that can do everything from get you the information you need to connect you with the people in your life to keep you entertained is more than a luxury — it’s practically a necessity.

Of course, having a smart phone and access to the wireless service that’s needed to make it work are not necessarily easy on your budget. With some of the higher end phablets (that’s phone plus tablet — a smart phone with an extra-large screen) running upwards of $500, and with monthly plans running at least $25 per month (and often much more), it can cost a lot to own and use a mobile device.

Does this mean that you’ve got to break the bank to be a smart phone user? Absolutely not! There are loads of viable ways to save on both your wireless plan and your mobile device. While few of them will save you huge amounts of money upfront, using a just two or three of these tips can easily save you a few hundred bucks per year. Here are some approaches to saving money on your phone and plan.

Pay For What You Use
If you’ve got a contract, it’s always a good idea to take a look at your wireless plan from time time and review what you’re getting versus what you’re using. Chances are good that you’re not using everything you’re paying for. If that’s the case, it’s time to cut down on your plan. This will save you a little bit each month.

If you’re confused, or if you’d like a bit of help in analyzing your wireless bill, services like Bill Monitor can help. You can enter your billing information into the website, and Bill Monitor will give you all sorts of helpful money-saving information, like if there’s a more economical plan for you, when your contract is up, and more.

Prepay
If you’re on a super strict budget, or if you’re a relatively light user of cellular voice and data services, then a prepaid plan might be right for you. What many people like about these is that you’re paying for exactly what you use, not for what you might use. There’s no contract to lock into, and there are no overage charges (since you simply prepay for another block of minutes and data). Plus, with a prepaid plan, there are no credit checks, making them ideal for individuals whose credit is less than perfect.

Prepaid plans can also be quite affordable, especially if you rely on wifi for most of your mobile web surfing; the lowest priced plans on all of the major carriers run under $50 a month. You get quite a lot for that, though you will still want to shop around to get the best deal. For example, with T-Mobile, $40 per month buys you 4GB of data with unlimited talk and text — a pretty solid plan. On Verizon, though, it’s $45 per month for just 1GB of data, Sprint and Boost Mobile both charge $35 for 1GB, and with AT&T, $40 per month buys you only 500MB of data (with the same unlimited talk and text on both plans). Clearly, it pays to take some time to grab the best price you can.

Pay Attention to Plan Discounts
Did you know that all of the major wireless carriers offer a variety of discounts to all types of people, simply based on their line of work? It’s true: active military, government employees, individuals who work for certain companies, and even teachers may all be eligible for a percentage off of part or all of their monthly wireless bill. For example, AT&T offers 17% off per month for anyone who works in education. It’s not a ton, but when you’re on a budget, every little bit helps. When you sign up for a contract, ask about available discounts — you may be pleasantly surprised at what you qualify for.

Or, to see if you qualify, there are pages on the major carriers’ websites that will let you know if you qualify. AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile all have pages specifically dedicated to helping their customers get the discounts for which they’re eligible.

Limit Data And Rely on Wifi
It’s amazing how quickly you can run through a monthly data plan. Even if your plan includes a gigabyte or more of data per month, you can easily tear through that in a few days with heavy browsing. Having cellular data is certainly convenient, but with the prevalence of wifi, using cellular data seems so wasteful.

The big thing you can do is cut way back on your monthly data plan. It will take some planning and diligence on your part, but you can get most of your mobile browsing done over wifi and save the small amount of data you do have for emergencies only. You just want to pay very careful attention to your data usage to make sure you don’t go over your limit and incur overage charges.

If you’re getting close to your limit, or if you want to make absolutely sure you’re not using cellular data unless you absolutely have to, you can simply turn it off in your phone’s settings. This way, you won’t be able to automatically surf the web on your device if you don’t have access to a wifi signal. And if you really do need to access something when there’s no wifi around, it’s easy enough to turn cellular data back on.

Text Smarter
When it comes to texting, you’ve got a few options: pay per text, get an unlimited texting plan, or utilize free texting apps and not pay for the service at all. Obviously, if you’re looking to save money, the free option is the way to go. This will work only if you’ve got wifi access, however, and you’ll need a free texting app like Heywire or Textfree to do it. There’s a very slight learning curve, but once you’ve got one of these apps figured out, free texting is all yours.

Or, if you prefer to text using your wireless provider’s service, unlimited texting really is worth it. It actually does not cost all that much, and with individual texts priced as much as 10¢ each (both to send and receive), a texting habit can add up quickly; you may very well end up paying more than if you had just paid for unlimited texting in the first place.

Limit Your Minutes
With all of the things that smart phones can do, talking on the phone seems like an afterthought. As a way to trim your monthly bill, consider cutting back on your minutes; chances are, you’re not really using them anyway. Besides, texting plans are cheap, email is free, and wifi is everywhere.

Just about all monthly plans come with some talk minutes, but as part of your bill assessment (mentioned above), take a look at how much you’re actually using on an average basis, and then trim the excess. It’s also good to remember that there are several ways to talk on your smart phone for free, such as Skype Mobile and Viber. Plus, if you’ve still got reliable access to a landline, use that for your voice calls, especially if they are local or toll-free. (Of course, if you’ve got unlimited minutes, you probably don’t have to pay attention to your talk time.)

Go In With The Family!
As a general rule of thumb, family plans cost much less per person than individual plans. With most carriers, the more lines on a single plan, the less you’ll pay per line. Aside from the small discount you’ll get for bringing in more paying customers, you’ll save on lots of little billing costs. Also, because you’ll be sharing minutes and data, you compensate for uneven usage habits among family members (like talkers versus texters) and actually use everything you’re paying for.

This helpful web tool from My Rate Plan allows you to compare the cost of family plans on all of the major and some of the smaller wireless carriers. Simply enter your parameters, such as desired data and number of lines, and you’ll be given the monthly cost of dozens of plans.

How can you take advantage of the savings on a family plan if you’re single? Recruit a few responsible friends to go in on your wireless bill with you. The key phrase in that previous sentence, by the way, is “responsible friends” — remember, you want people who you know will pay their share of the bill every month. If they can’t come up with the cash, then you’re stuck paying their portion. Family plans are also a good way for roommates to save money on their wireless plan, but only if everyone will reliably pay their portion each month.

Haggle On Price
Any savvy saver will tell you that everything is negotiable. Those monthly fees? They’re just a starting point to hanggle for a lower price. Remember, there’s lots of competition out there in the wireless world, and in the eyes of the providers, your business is the most valuable thing you can give them. Therefore, don’t be afraid to ask your provider to match a lower price, and let the customer service representative know that if they won’t you will go to a different provider that charges less. This can often get you the lower price, but if it doesn’t, don’t hesitate to jump ship to another provider. You have the most leverage to do this when your contract is almost up. See what your provider is willing to do in order to keep you as a customer.

Go For The Cheap (Or Free!) Device
The latest smart phone models can certainly be alluring. They’re fast, they have all the latest technology, and there’s always such a wow factor when you pull one out in public. However, they are also quite expensive, and if you’re trying to save money, a brand new phone probably doesn’t fit in your budget. If you need a new mobile device and don’t want to pay a lot, go for one that’s about a year old. It will still be fast, cool, and brand new, but you won’t suffer the price hit that early adapters take by being the first to own a particular device.

Your other, more wallet-friendly option is to get a device for free. No, not a flip phone — a genuine smart phone with all of the mobile and interactive capabilities you want. The catch is that the technology in free smart phones is generally about a year to two years old, and the storage capacity on free phones is usually under 10GB. Yes, that’s a long time in the evolution of mobile tech, and it’s not a lot of space, but the price is definitely right.

For example, if you want an iPhone but just don’t have room in your budget to justify the cost of an iPhone 6 (which starts at $199 for the smallest capacity and goes up to $399 for the biggest), consider an iPhone 5c. Yes, it has a capacity of just 8GB, but if you get it with a two-year contract, the phone is free. Or, if you want something a big spiffier, a 16GB iPhone 5s is just $99 with a contract.

Get The Contract With Your Brand New Device
If you’re set on getting the absolute latest smart phone model and you don’t have a lot of cash on hand, then it’s probably best to get it with a contract. Locking yourself into a year or two with one company may seem uncomfortable, but it can save you a lot on the price of your shiny new phone. For example, if you get an iPhone 6 with a two-year contract, you’ll pay $199 for the 16GB model. However, that same phone without a contract costs $649. Of course, over the course of two years (contract versus no contract), the price is roughly the same. However, your upfront device cost with the contract is less than a third of the no-contract price.

Skip The Device Insurance
When you buy a new device, most carriers will try to sell you device insurance to replace it if it’s ever broken or stolen. Say no. It can be tempting to get insurance when you’ve got a brand new glimmering smart phone in your hand, but still: say no. Instead of preparing for replacing, take it upon yourself to be extra careful with your phone. Remember how delicately you protected your very first smart phone? Continue that ethic: get a protective case, don’t drop it, pay attention to where it is at all times, and don’t use it anywhere near water. All of those precautions can all go a long way in making sure your phone is always safe and sound.

Still worried about protecting your phone? Then self-insure. Instead of giving that money to the provider that sold you the phone, save it. Within a year, you should have enough money to replace your device if it’s broken. If your phone is still going strong, that money stays in your pocket.

 

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