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Funny Money: Paying Too Much for Your Electronic Leash? Ways to Tame Your Mobile Bill

evilphoneYou don’t really own your phone. It owns you.

It makes you carry it around, commands you to whisper sweet nothings into its receiver, buy it expensive duds (those water-resistant cases) and lavish it with apps and accessories. And then there are the monthly charges. If you spend less than $600 a year on your plan, your bill is below average.

In our parents’ day, things weren’t as bad. Phones just hung on the wall, served the entire household and cost just a fraction of today’s monthly plans.

But over the last decade and a half, clever minxes such as AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint have teamed up with phone manufacturers to convince the world that everyone needs an extra-small phone in our pocket…and an extra-large bill to thin out out our wallet and make room for the phone!

Your choice is either to adapt to the way things are or invest in a corncob pipe and a rocking chair and go on grumbling about the ways of the modern world. Assuming you’ll stick with your phone and forgo the corncob pipe, here are some ways to tame your phone bill:

Don’t text

Service providers want you to accept an overpriced unlimited-everything plan, an overpriced text bundle or an overpriced pay-per-text plan. Ignore them all and don’t text at all. Problem is, everyone you know will still want to text you, which — without a texting plan — will cost you quarter or so every time they do. So transition them to texting your email account instead. To send messages back to them, use this handy guide that turns everyone’s phone number into an email address. Or you can opt for a free texting app such as txtdrop.

Take advantage of poor service to get a better plan

When a friend dazzles you with his tales of paying a pittance for his new cell phone plan, it’s usually depressing because you’ve got a year left on your contract and the usurious early termination fee forces you to stay loyal. You can get around the fee by whining to customer service that your network is poor at your home or work. Enough persistent complaining will get you a vastly reduced ETF or let you off the hook entirely. Just don’t expect them to roll over and let you out without something of a struggle.

Ask for discounts

You know how your mom constantly makes you prove her love to her by letting her take you out to dinner a couple times a year? Demand similar validation from your provider by asking for discounts. Check if the company has a sleazy back-room deal cut with your employer’s overpaid executives in the form of an employee discount. Also, like at In N Out Burger, there are secret menu items that are hidden from the public. Some phone companies will cut your bill if you’ve been with the company for a certain amount of time, and others will offer you secret lower-cost, reduced minute plans they don’t list on their websites.

If all else fails 

You could abandon the cell phone network entirely, refuse to go back to land lines and invest in paper cups and string to set up the type of phone network you were happy with at age 5.

Published or updated on February 21, 2013

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About Phil Villarreal

Phil Villarreal writes Funny Money weekly for Money Under 30. He lives in Tucson and works for the Arizona Daily Star. He's also an author, blogger and Twitterer.


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  1. Lucas says:

    Get an OOMA phone in your home and drop the cell entirely or go to minimal pre-paid. We pay ~$4 a month for taxes and fees on unlimited long distance on our OOMA phone (you do have to pay ~$150 initial fee), and ~$4 a month for minimal prepaid plan through Airvoice Wireless for emergencies only. That is less then 10% of what most people are paying for one smart phone, and our quality of life is much better because we actually spend time with each other, not just our phones.

  2. Bonnie says:

    Thanks for so many ways to cut my bills. I had so many messages to reply in the past, but later, I found some FREE softwares to replace it.

  3. With our technology right now, there are tons of ways to communicate. You can find hotspots almost everywhere and almost everyone has a smartphone. Take advantage of it and send an email instead. Prepaid is also good since you can control how much you would want to spend for your calls and text.

  4. Anthony says:

    Ting.com. Cut my smart phone bill by 2/3, without any dip in quality (because they use Sprint, and Sprint uses Verizon for free when they don’t have a tower close by).

  5. My husband uses Google voice as his primary number so he only pays for data and minutes (I don’t think you can get a plan without minutes…?) on his cell.

    I’m with a new provider and only paying $23/mo for unlimited everything, but I did have to buy the phone upfront ($250) and I didn’t have a choice of the model. It’s working great so far and is actually cheaper than what I was paying for my dumphone on a family plan (spreading the cost of the phone over 2 years).

  6. Phil Villarreal says:

    Prepaid can be great but you need to pay more upfront for a phone and be satisfied with the service. I agree that it’s not worth it to pay for minutes. Who uses their phone to talk anymore?

    • Cassie says:

      Personally, I don’t think the upfront phone cost is a problem unless you *have* to have the best phone out there. Mine was $200 and it’s more than nice enough. It is true the service isn’t as good though. I just wanted to make sure it was mentioned because I’m amazed by how few people realize it’s a viable option and it’s SO much cheaper!

  7. Cassie says:

    Definitely consider prepaid. I was stuck on my parents’ no-data family plan until the latter half of my 20s, because I was terrified of how much it would cost me to get my own plan. Now I’m on T-Mobile’s $30/month 100 min unlimited text/data plan and I wonder what took me so long. 100 minutes doesn’t work for everybody, but I’m amazed at the number and variety of prepaid options that are out there. The other genius thing about prepaid is you can fill-up your account with prepaid cards. Which can be purchased on ebay, etc. at a discount. I almost never pay more than $25 each month.

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