Even economists have a hard time understanding why cell phone companies charge what they do and, perhaps more importantly, why we pay it…all the while enduring spotty reception, abysmal customer service, and two-year service contracts.
Although the specifics of cell-phone pricing are intriguing and may remain a bit mysterious, the answer to the “why we pay” question really comes down to two points:
- We’re suckers for the latest and greatest gadgets (especially phones, which we can show off to all our friends), and we’ll pay anything to get them.
- We’re risk averse. We’re so afraid of going over our data allowances one month and getting hit with a huge bill that many of us are willing to pay $100 every month for unlimited data even if we only use, on average, 3 GB.
How to Buck the Trend and Save on Cell Service
Going with plans that have less data is quick way to cut your monthly costs. Unless you are streaming movies over 4G you probably don’t need much data. Just checking your email or looking at Facebook while you are not on wifi doesn’t use much data. You can call your current carrier and have a customer service rep check your average monthly data usage. Get a plan that is close to what you actually use. Your carrier may also offer a way to add on to your data for just one month for a flat fee if you are getting close to the limit.
Some carriers are now offering rollover data. So if you don’t use all your data one month the leftover data is rolled over to the following month. Helpful if you are going on vacation or have an upcoming period of time when you will be away from wifi quite a bit.
Consider Prepaid Phones
There are a lot of options for prepaid cell phones. Even the mainstream carriers now offer prepaid options. You do have to purchase your phone outright and then add a carrier, which makes it more difficult to get started. But even if you want a $500 phone, if you plan to keep it for 2 years, it only comes out to just over $20 per month for the phone. So if you look at it that way the prepaid plans can be significantly cheaper.
Look Beyond Major Carriers
There was a time when it mattered which carrier you chose. Service and phone selection between the major carriers varied quite a bit. Remember when only AT&T had iPhones? But that’s just not the case anymore. Today you can get pretty much any phone on any carrier and the differences you find in service is negligible. That said, there are huge savings to be had by going with a generic carrier.
For example, did you know that Walmart offers two very affordable nationwide plans through Straight Talk that have no contract? You can choose between:
- 1,500 minutes, unlimited texts, and 100MB of mobile web access for $30 a month
- Or $45 a month for unlimited everything
Typically, when Walmart competes on price, Walmart wins. That can sometimes be a bad thing, like when they drive small-town hardware stores and pharmacies out of business, but this time, I won’t be crying for the big wireless carriers.
What about you? How do you save on your cell phone service?