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How to Shrink Your Supersize Smartphone Bill

Smartphone bills are getting out of control; here are some ways to mitigate the damage that new data plan does to your budget.These days, it seems almost everyone has some kind of fancy phone glued to their palm 24 hours a day.

We just can’t live without our status updates and tweeting and texting and e-mailing. We’re using our phones to cook dinner, pay bills, make reservations, and even change our thermostat.

But these little luxuries come with a big price. And even though many of us struggle to make ends meet, some of us are spending more on our cell phone bill than groceries! Seems a little crazy, right?

I know I don’t want to be one of those people paying $200 a month to Instagram photos of my puppy. So if your smartphone bill is creeping out of control, here are some steps you can take to keep it in check (and, you know, free up a few bucks for expensive groceries.)

Embrace the employee discount

More and more companies are offering employee discounts with various cell phone providers. A typical discount can run between 10 and 20 percent. When you’re paying a more than $100 a month for your phone bill, that adds up.

In many cases, all you have to do is simply call your provider and ask them about the employee discount. Provide your employer information and they’ll usually provide instructions on how to snag the discount.

Be warned, though, that companies may make it tricky to sign up for the discount. Recently, Sprint decided to cancel your employee discount each time you upgrade your phone. So, if you upgrade yearly, be ready to provide employer information every year.

Pay for what you use

Even if you have the holy grail of cell phone plans known as “unlimited everything,” you probably don’t actually need “unlimited everything.”

I’m one of those people that hates talking on the phone. I prefer to talk in person. I’d rather send a quick text or e-mail instead. In fact, I could probably rely solely on a data plan if I wanted to – especially with programs like Skype for phone calls and iMessage on the iPhone for texting (and many more options!). So, I have always tried to limit the minutes on my phone plan to save money.

Other folks may live and breathe by their phone calls, so they would need to up their minutes and stick to WiFi for data. WiFi hotspots seem to be everywhere we go these days, so it’s possible to use data only on WiFi and skip the hefty fees at the cell phone providers. Amp up the savings by buying an older model phone that doesn’t require a data plan but can still text and make calls.

Track your usage…

…then you can determine the plan that works best for you. It might mean making a switch to a cheaper plan or paying the same amount for different options that work best for you.

This LifeHacker article offers a list of how to track your usage on both the iPhone and Android platforms. Once you start tracking, you could be surprised just where you’re spending the most amount of time, whether it’s data, text, or calls.

Get to know the retention specialist

If you’ve ever tried to negotiate with your cable company, you’re probably familiar with the so-called retention specialists. Their one and only job is to keep you as a customer. So if you’re with Verizon and that unlimited everything plan over at Sprint is looking mighty fine, call up Verizon and ask to speak to the retention department (or threaten to cancel and you’ll usually be sent directly there).

Ramit Sethi outlined some guidelines for talking with retention specialists at cell phone companies in this article, but he warns that it’s not easy. So, go into it prepared for a fight. Even if you don’t get any discounts, you could get some free (albeit, usually temporary) add-ons.

Choose what’s best for you and your family

Everyone uses cell phones and smart phones differently. The new and highly-coveted unlimited everything plans may sound dreamy, but are they really necessary for you? Use the tips above to determine how you use your phone every month, then switch your plan accordingly. Most carriers will allow you to switch your plan without breaking contract, but be sure to check with them first.

As a final note, if you happen to be worried not only about your phone bill but that of your kids’, I’m sorry. The Verizon ad where the exasperated Dad asks his kids to please “stop liking everything” about sums it up. Here’s the good news: Many carriers now allow limits parents can use to their advantage. No more $500 phone bill because your daughter sent 1,000 “I ♥you” texts to her boyfriend. Cap her texts at a number decided on by you. Her boyfriend will survive — assuming you care.

How much do you spend on your cell phone bill every month? What other tips do you have for cutting back?

About Amber Gilstrap

Amber is a twenty-something CPA from Kansas City, Missouri who loves writing, working out, and---of course---finding fresh ideas for saving money. Follow her on twitter @ambergilstrap.

Comments

  1. Great tips! Definitely have to say the employee discount is key.

    I’m also a fan of finding apps that help you save money for free SMS text and phone calls. Another suggestion is to stay loyal to a carrier, you get locked into some great discounts.

  2. Hi Amber et al,

    There is an alternative. I am an independent social member with a company called solavei. It is a social commerce network company whose goal is to make commerce less expensive for consumers.

    The first product launch is an unlimited 4g (data, voice, text) for $49/mo. No contract.

    Visit my website for more information. Besides saving on wireless bills, there is also the oppotunity to earn while referring friends to the service.

    Best Regards,
    Mathew

  3. These are some great tips. When I first got my iPhone, I had unlimited data. I didn’t know that when I was on a wifi network, I could do everything for free, meaning it didn’t count against my data. Once I found this out, I switched to a lower data plan.

    I then looked over my texting habits and reduced that as well. Recently I decided to cut that plan lower since my friends and I all have iPhones. We can iMessage for free – those texts don’t count against you.

    It’s crazy with how pricey plans are now. You really need to step back and review your plan to cut out some fat. There are very few reasons why someone should be paying $200/mo for a cell phone.

  4. Speaking as someone who usually lives outside the US, Americans are getting scammed on how much they pay for their phones compare to the rest of the world. But consumers will bear the cost, so why wouldn’t the companies charge double if they can get away with it? Telecoms are an oligopoly so free market principles do not apply…

  5. Looks like my earlier post from yesterday did not come through.

    Long story short, do check out my website. I am an independent social commerce member from solavei. Our goal is to make commerce less expensive for consumers. We do it by moving advertising dollars and using a word of mouth referral systems. So enroll friends and you get paid. They do the same and they get paid. The product : unlimited 4G for $49/mo. No Contract. I am a consumer and I love the 4g in Kansas city. Simple straight forward affordable pricing that also pays you every month your friends use it.

    A revolutionary way to not save on your phone bill and but also get paid for using it. When was the last time your phone company paid you.

    Sign the guestbook and look forward to developing relationships, one person at a time.

    Take care,
    Mathew
    913.232.3398

  6. I have worked for the same company for years and just learned of their employee discount the other day. I went and got signed up to get 10% off our bill ($15) if had known this almost 2yrs ago we would have save $300!

  7. If you are in a 2yr contract with a hefty ETF, can you still contact the retention department? Or will they shrug their shoulders and say “enjoy paying the ETF, buddy!” and hang up?

  8. One more idea would be to enroll for solavei at 49 $, throttle down your existing plan with your carrier to the minimum possible. Add the two costs together and see whether it is still less than what you pay now. So basically with this approach, you ride it out at the lowest cost possible.

    Hope this helps,

    Mathew

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