5 Ways to Save on Your Cell Phone Bill

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Today marks the end of an era is cell phones – Verizon has joined AT&T and T-Mobile in dumping its popular unlimited data plan. That leaves Sprint as the only major wireless provider still offering a one-price-for-all-you-can-consume data. And who knows how long it’ll be before Sprint follows suit.

Starting today, new Verizon customers will have to sign up for what’s called a usage-based data plan. (Existing customers are grandfathered in, but Verizon hasn’t announced what’ll happen when those contracts expire. Most likely, they’ll have to go usage-based too.)

So instead of one price for all data, Verizon is charging $10 for 75 MB per month, $30 for 2 GB per month, $50 for 5 GB per month, and $80 for 10 GB per month. (For more details, PC Magazine has a really great Q&A.)

Even if you’re not affected by this move, it’s a good reminder to check your own usage and your bill for any potential savings. Here are five ways to save money on your cell phone bill…

1. Pay attention to where and when you use your phone

You probably already know that many plans offer reduced rates if you talk or text at different times and on different days. And you should know to watch out for roaming charges. But here’s something you may not be aware of: It’s not where you roam, but where your carrier sends the signal. For example, on a trip to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, last year, my eagle-eyed son reminded me to avoid using my cell phone for email or Internet – because we’d get charged as if we were in Canada, since that’s where the closest tower was.

2. Look at how you use your phone

Think less about cost per minute or per text and more about cost per month. If you live on your cell phone and have dropped your land line, then you might need a plan that lets you talk, text, and check sports scores on an unlimited basis – and that just leaves you with Sprint among the big providers. But if you just have your phone for emergencies, then look at a prepaid plan. Shop around and you could spend as little as $20 every three months. Best of all, since you don’t have a contract commitment, if you don’t like the model or your reception isn’t up to your standards, you can try a different one when your minutes and time run out.

3. Use a land line for local calls

This might seem counterintuitive, but if you haven’t ditched your land line, use it for your local calls. Most all wired phone plans charge a flat fee for local calls, and if you don’t use your cell, those are minutes saved at no additional cost. You can do the same at work, although some employers obviously frown on using company phones for personal use.

4. Eliminate unnecessary frills

Sure, you might really use text messaging, but what about roadside assistance or equipment protection? Many carriers offer roadside assistance for only $3 or $4 a month, which means your carrier will come to your rescue if you have car trouble and, say, tow your car to the nearest service station. They also offer equipment protection for around $5 a month. Truth is, those additional costs quickly add up.

Equipment protection sounds fairly reasonable, but unless you destroy the latest and greatest smartphone shortly after you get it, by the time you wreck or lose it you’ll probably have already paid for it in monthly fees and the deductible. In my case, an accident with my iPhone (it intersected with gravity and met my kitchen floor face-first) resulted in simply extending my plan another year – which I would have done anyway – and getting a brand new iPhone 3G for only $50.

And roadside assistance? Look to your auto insurance or motor club membership, or even a premium credit card. You don’t want to pay for something you already have or can get cheaper elsewhere.

5. Ask and ye shall receive

Say you have a plan that doesn’t include texting because you figure you’ll never use text messaging. Then you start getting texts from your friends. Or from work. Next thing you know, you’re texting back. Then you get your next bill and find you’re being charged $50 extra just for those couple of texts – OK, those 23 texts – you sent.

Yes, this happened to me. And when I went into my local AT&T office, the folks there quickly offered to switch me to a new plan including text for only an additional $10 per month, saving me $40 from that bill. Great customer relations.

That’s just one example. And you can be sure of one thing: Your service provider doesn’t want to lose you to a competitor. So ask about better deals. Don’t threaten, at least not at first, but it doesn’t hurt to tell your service rep that a competitor is offering you a better plan. Chances are they’ll do whatever it takes to keep you.

Ultimately, it pays to be aware and to shop around. Pay attention to what you are paying for.

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