Wireless providers thrive on peddling a myriad of extra features and services on top of your basic service plan. Early nights and weekends, roadside assistance, mobile TV, hotspots and GPS are all fair game and can add anywhere between a couple of bucks to $10 or more to your wireless bill each month, per service.
What’s even more concerning is that many people don’t even look at their monthly bill. Checking your bill and eliminating some of these unnecessary perks can go a long way to putting some extra dough back in your pocket each month. Here are 12 ideas to help cutting back on your wireless cell and data plan:
A most obvious tip yet equally rewarding as well... using Wi-Fi whenever possible will help cut down on data usage, especially when streaming music or video to your smartphone. I realize that some may disable Wi-Fi when not in use due to extra battery drain but forgetting to turn it back on could be a financial mistake if you don’t have an increasingly rare unlimited data plan. Just use caution when submitting sensitive information over public hotspots and you should be fine.
Despite what you’ve probably been taught, everything is negotiable. Your mileage here will vary but you’ll never know unless you ask. This usually works best in person at your local authorized retailer, but deals can be arranged over the phone as well. One way to segue into a negotiation is threatening to take your business elsewhere. I had one wireless carrier offer me a high-end phone free of charge if I agreed to sign another contract. Normally I would have had to pay $200 for said phone but I got it free simply by mentioning I was interested in another carrier.
Thousands of companies, organizations and educational institutions have partnerships in place with wireless carriers to offer discounts to employees, members and students. The problem is that most people don’t know about these as wireless providers don’t exactly advertise them front and center.
Most simply require you to enter your organizational or school e-mail address to see if you qualify. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon all have discount pages for your convenience. I’ve personally seen discounts range from 10 percent to as much as 25 percent.
True unlimited data is a rare commodity these days. As smartphones became more widespread, carriers quickly realized they could make more on average by charging less for fixed data packages and banking on the notion that at least some would go over their data allotment and have to purchase additional data at a much higher rate each month.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are those of us that are grandfathered into comparatively expensive unlimited data plans that don’t need to be. I was a perfect example of this not too long ago. After analyzing my data usage over the past two years, I realized I never once exceeded 2GB on any given month. For me, it made more sense financially to drop the expensive unlimited plan in exchange for a cheaper 2GB plan.
If you aren’t obsessed with owning the latest and greatest phone, you can save yourself a lot of money by purchasing an off-contract phone or even better, a used handset from eBay or Craigslist. While most Apple products tend to hold their value over time, you can find some fantastic deals on an array of Android handsets if you spend a little time digging around.
But before you go shelling out money on a deal that seems too good to be true, there are a few things to be aware of. It’s entirely possible that a second-hand phone could have a bad ESN / MEID / IMEI, which would render it useless. This can happen for any number of reasons such as if the device was reported lost or stolen, if it’s still active on the original owner’s account, or if money is owned on the account to which the device is tied to.
Additionally, if your wireless provider doesn’t provide an off-contract discount, there’s no reason to take advantage of off-contract phones. AT&T, for example, rolls their carrier subsidy into the price of service each month. Even after you’ve “paid” for your smartphone, you’re still being charged that same hidden fee each month.
Early upgrade plans for AT&T, T-mobile and Verizon may seem like a great idea at first glance – get a new phone every six months or one year – but once you do the math, they are little more than a rip-off phone rental service. If you haven’t done so already, I’d encourage you to read over my previous analysis of these programs and save yourself a ton of money over the long haul.
The big four are responsible for providing the majority of wireless service in the US but there are alternatives. Regional carriers like C Spire and U.S. Cellular are great places to start your search if they provide service in your area. Optionally, pre-paid carriers like Virgin Mobile, MetroPCS and Aio Wireless all piggyback off the major providers’ networks (usually Sprint). It’s not uncommon to find a great deal here but be sure to read the fine print as some carriers don’t offer high-speed 4G LTE just yet.
If you are paying for more than one line of service, a family plan is certainly worth looking into. Most plans allow you to add an additional line for as low as $9.99 each and the more lines you add, the more you save overall. The savings sure beat paying for lines individually but take note of what each carrier offers. While some provide unlimited packages, others rely on a shared pool of minutes or data which could present a problem if you have a talkaholic or data hog in the family.
If a family plan isn’t in the cards, perhaps the next best thing is to sign up with a carrier that the majority of your friends and family use. Most carriers offer free in-network calling and texting to other subscribers on their network. If the majority of the people you keep in touch with all use a certain carrier, you could save some by joining them and opting for a smaller bundle of voice minutes or text messages.
Just as insurance companies offer multi-policy discounts, telecoms will throw a discount or two your way if you bundle multiple services under one account. It seems like every time I have to call Comcast, they offer me a bundle that includes Internet, voice and television at a discounted rate. The same type of deals can be had with AT&T, Verizon and probably several others I can’t think of at this time. As mentioned earlier, it never hurts to ask, especially if you have multiple services through different providers.
Free texting apps like WhatsApp, TextMe, Viber, Nimbuzz and GroupMe have exploded in popularity over the past few years. Much like iMessage and BlackBerry Messenger, these services all use data to circumvent traditional text messaging delivery methods. This simply means messages sent using these programs count against your data plan (or nothing at all if on Wi-Fi) instead of a text messaging plan. If your friends and family are on the same programs you use, you could ditch your text messaging plan and save anywhere between $5 and $30 per month.
Another method to extend the life of your capped data plan is to try a data compression app. One such example is the Onavo Extend app for Android, iPhone and iPad. Onavo Extend has garnered excellent reviews on both platforms though be aware that like Amazon's solution to speed up the Kindle browser and Opera, it works by directing all traffic through their servers to compress data. The app provides a breakdown of your data usage so you can see which apps are consuming the most and make more informed usage choices. Best of all, the app is free of charge.
Image credit: Money flying out of smartphone by Shutterstock.