Try to browse the Internet or watch a TV show without an ad touting the latest cell phone feature or calling plan. Smaller. Lighter. Faster. It will pay your bills, clip cyber coupons, even remind you to invite your in-laws to dinner. Love ’em or hate ’em, cell phones (not your in-laws) have become indispensable for most of us. The numbers are mind-boggling. More than 93% of Americans own them, using 6.3 billion minutes and sending 4.9 billion text messages per day. There are dozens of carriers, hundreds of models and, by some estimates, more than 100,000 rate plans. But you don’t have to stay unplugged or become unglued. Here are seven ways to save.
- Say no to cell phone insurance. If you lose or send your phone through the washing machine it’s going to hurt to pay several hundred bucks for a new one, but do you really need to insure a $200 to $500 item?
- Avoid activation fees. They average $35. You can’t always get them waived, but sometimes sympathetic sales staff will do so, especially to seal the deal.
- Turn it off. Even if you aren’t sending emails or checking the web, smart phones continue to download data every few minutes. Unless you have an unlimited data plan, if you won’t be using the phone for a while, switch off your data feature.
- Try Wi-Fi. Many smart phones have a way to upload/download data using a Wi-Fi hotspot. Learn how, find a free hotspot, and avoid data roaming charges, especially if you travel internationally.
- Share the love. Family plans let multiple people draw on minutes from the same account. You may be able to add an extra line for as little as $10.
- Lose the long-distance changes. If your plan doesn’t include free long-distance calls, if you’re willing to put up with a 10- to 12-second ad, you can make free calls (even international) using FreePhone2Phone.com. Dial a local access number, and after listening to the brief ad, you can call any of 55 countries (mostly landline numbers) for 10 minutes max.
- Dial 9-1-1 for free. Here’s a little unadvertised secret: Any cell phone, even one no longer under contract without a dedicated number, can be used in an emergency to call 911. That means if you want a cell phone only for emergencies and nothing else, a cheap one (or even one a relative doesn’t use anymore) will work as long as it is charged. The only caveat: Emergency services may not be able to automatically locate you. So if you call 911 from a cell phone immediately tell the dispatcher of your location.
Do you have any other tips for outsmarting your smartphone bill? Let me know.