Don't renew your contractSaving money on your cell phone bill will take some time and research, and the last thing you want to do is get locked in again to your overpriced contract. You'll want to be especially on your guard against "deals" your wireless company may offer, such as the ability to get a new subsidized phone by renewing your contract as early as six month before it expires.
Shop aroundOkay, maybe this sounds like common sense, but you'd be surprised at the number of people that renew their overpriced cell phone contract because they haven't taken the time to look around for a better deal. The carriers are taking advantage of this, particularly Verizon and AT&T, whose prices are, well, not very competitive (yes, I'm saying they're expensive ;)).
This part will take some time. Here are some things you'll want to consider:
Look at coverage mapsMost major carriers in the US cover at least 95% of the population, but it never hurts to get an idea of how good your reception will be at work, home, etc.
Consider what carrier your friends and family haveYou have to be careful with this one, because it could cause you to get locked in to an overpriced carrier because they offer free mobile-to-mobile and most of your friends and family have that carrier. Having said that, if most of the people you call are on a certain network, even if that network is overpriced (Verizon, AT&T), you still might be able to save money if you can get away with a plan with fewer anytime minutes due to free mobile-to-mobile calls.
Don't leave out the small guysThere are many smaller carriers out there who offer much better prices than the big guys like Verizon and AT&T. Some of them actually operate on the same networks as the larger carriers, and so you'll get the exact same coverage for a cheaper price. Here are a few examples:
- Boost Mobile (Sprint)
- H2O Wireless (AT&T)
- Simple Mobile (T-Mobile)
- Virgin Mobile (Sprint)
- Walmart Family Mobile (T-Mobile)
There are also other carriers that operate their own smaller networks, but have roaming deals with the bigger carriers, so once again you still get coverage areas comparable to the major carriers:
There's a more comprehensive list of US wireless companies that operate on the larger companies' networks here:
Here's a similar list for Europe:
Stay away from contractsThis might seem tough considering all of the major carriers will try to push a contract on you, but if you can get on a plan without a contract, you can potentially save some money, for a couple reasons:
Freedom to changeThe fees carriers charge for breaking contracts are quite ridiculous and only getting higher, especially for smartphones. Most of the time breaking a contract isn't a viable option. If you're not on a contract, then you don't even have to worry about those fees. If you happen to see a better deal with another carrier, you have the freedom to make the switch right away and start saving money.
Lower monthly billsMany carriers, even some of the major ones (like T-Mobile) offer cheaper plans that are contract-free. The catch is you either have to buy a phone at the unsubsidized full price (which can be incredibly expensive), or provide your own phone, which brings us to the next point...
Consider a used phoneI know, I know, you're thinking, "Used!? Are you crazy?" That's why I said "consider." ;) If you're really serious about saving money on your cell phone bill long-term, buying a used cell phone can save you tons of money. A brand new basic cell phone can cost you upwards of $200. For smartphones, prices easily go above $500. You can literally save hundreds of dollars buy buying a used phone.
There are tons of them on ebay, but you can normally find a better deal on craigslist if you're willing to put in a little more work. There are plenty of folks out there who get new subsidized phones every year or two, and since they didn't pay much for them, they're willing to part with them for a relatively small amount.
Just make sure that it's compatible with the carrier you picked earlier. Most of the small carriers will list what major carrier's phones they're compatible with. If you're not sure, just ask. Also, if you buy a GSM phone (AT&T, T-Mobile) and want to use it on another carrier, you may need to get it unlocked. If so, see here: Cheapest way to unlock GSM phones
Maybe you're thinking that it's cheaper to just sign a contract and get a really nice phone really cheap, or even free. The thing is, you're not really getting a deal, in particular if you're buying a smartphone. Do the math: most carriers require you to have a data plan for your smartphone. Data plans average around $30 a month. Over two years, this means you're paying an extra $720 for that "free" or "cheap" smartphone of yours. Capiche?
Which once again brings me to my next point...
Can you live with less data?If you get a subsidized phone on a major carrier, you may not have much of a choice. but you may be able to choose a much cheaper data plan if you're willing to live with less data. Some of the smaller carriers mentioned earlier even offer pay-as-you-go data plans, or will even let you put a smartphone on their network with no data plan at all, provided of course you buy the phone up-front or provide your own (most major carriers won't let you put any smartphone on their network without a data plan. Just ask them).
And think about it, do you really need unlimited data? You probably have wifi at home, and you probably have it at work. More and more coffee shops, restaurants, and other businesses are offering free wifi. The majority of the time you don't even need data.
You might even be able to get rid of data altogether. Either way, there are plenty of alternative apps that don't require any data at all. This post isn't getting any shorter, so I'll post about those later. (Edit: you can see that post here: Living with less (or no) data on android).
Trade your contractIf you do happen to be locked in a contract, but want to switch to another wireless provider, your options aren't limited to waiting it out or canceling your contract. Most providers will let someone else take over your contract. If someone using the carrier you want also wants your carrier, you may be able to simply take over each other's contracts. There are several sites that help facilitate this, but I recommend Cell Escape because it's free.