4 Ways to Save Money on Your Cell Phone Bill

Someone paying bills with a smartphone and checkbook on a desk
credit: Twenty20

If your family is anything like mine, your cell phone bill is significant. I'm now up to three phones on my family plan, making it more expensive than almost any of my other monthly utility bills. That's why I've been searching high and low for ways to cut the cost. Here's what I've found.

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It never hurts to ask

You never know what discounts your carrier might offer until you ask. Call and ask over the phone. Go into a retail store and ask again. Chat with a sales rep online and ask again. I asked for discounts, and found that my carrier offered $10 off per month if I set up autopay. So I did, and I'm already saving.

Ask about changing your plan, and see if your carrier is offering a new plan that might save you money. This is especially helpful if you've been a customer with the same carrier for a long time. They may have updated their plan offerings and switching to one of those could save you money. Most carriers, including the big four of AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon all detail their plans on their website, so take a look and see how they compare to your current plan.

Change your data plan

I used to have a cap on my data usage, and every month, with a couple of days to go, I would run out of data. I'd be forced to pay big overage fees, or cut off my data usage. And I hated it.

A sample set of data plans

So when I switched to unlimited data, I swore I'd never go back to life on a limited data plan. Until I spent some time analyzing my cell phone bill with my carrier. Turns out I could save $20 each month by switching to a plan with a data cap--an amount that I hadn't come close to using in the past several months. And my carrier assured me that I wouldn't be hit with big fees if I were to suddenly up my data usage and hit that data cap; instead, my speeds would switch from 4G to 3G. That's something I can live with.

Not sure how much data you use? Some carriers let you see your usage when you log into your account. Alternatively, third party apps like My Data Manager can help you keep track of it.

Change carriers

Wireless service providers are always looking for customers, so they often offer incentives to entice you to switch carriers. As of this writing for example, T-Mobile is offering prepaid Visa cards worth $150 for each line (up to 4) that you switch to their service. That's basically free money.

Of course the deal is only a good one if you can save money on your monthly bill. And you may be able to do that by switching to a prepaid carrier that offers wireless service at what can often be a steep discount. And I do mean steep: Boost Mobile for example offers voice and data plans that start as low as $30 per month. Switching to a prepaid carrier used to mean switching to an older model cell phone (yes, a flip phone), but that's no longer the case. Today, you can use iPhones and cutting-edge Android models with most carriers.

Bring your own device

Speaking of cutting-edge smartphones, it used to be easy enough to get them for free, as long as you were willing to sign a two-year service contract with your carrier of choice. Today, these service contracts are largely a thing of the past, which is good news for consumers who don't want to be tied to a certain service provider for any length of time. But it does mean that you pay more for your phone, often in monthly installments that can add anywhere from $5 or $10 to $20 or $30 to your monthly bill.

If you want to save, consider looking for a used phone or an older handset that you may still have around the house. If you're purchasing a used phone, just make sure it will work with your network of choice. Not all phones run on all wireless networks.

And never forget to look for any hidden discounts. Ask if your employer offers a deal, or if you can save by bundling services. You may not save tons of money at once, but, hey, every bit helps, right?

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