The average cell-phone user spends about $600 a year on mobile service, while families that talk, text or use other phone features more than average can spend upward of $1,800. And the bigger your bill, the more you get tapped for service taxes and surcharges, which tack on an average of 14.5 percent.
But according to the editors of Consumer Reports Money Adviser, you can pay less and keep on talking following the strategies shown below. Sample savings are per year, unless otherwise noted.
• Go prepaid (save $100 to $1,080). Prepaid is just like a traditional monthly cell-phone plan except that you only buy what you need, you pay in advance and there’s no contract. Compared with the cheapest monthly plans, CRMA’s experts found annual prepaid savings of $240 to $360 with T-Mobile’s Pay As You Go plan, $100 to $220 for an average two-phone family buying Virgin Mobile per-minute packs, and $600 to $1,080 for big talkers using Boost Mobile’s unlimited national plan.
• Don’t overbuy minutes ($240). Review your bills for the last six months with an eye on the billable daytime minutes. You might have bought a plan that included more daytime minutes than you need. Switch to a less-expensive plan with fewer daytime minutes.
• Don’t buy unneeded services ($120-$360). Voice service is now a cheap commodity, so carriers are pushing smarter, sexier, phones and services to wring more dollars out of consumers. For example, Sprint’s 450-minute plans cost $40 a month for just Talk, $50 for Everything Messaging, and $70 for Everything Data, including talk, messaging, Web browsing, e-mail, Blackberry Internet services, music, TV and GPS. Unless you really expect to use those features, save by sticking with basic talk service.
• Buy enough of what you use ($120-$240). At 20 to 25 cents for a la carte messaging, buy a bundle if you send a lot of text, picture, or video messages per month.
• Check for employee discounts ($96-$432). AT &T;, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon offer discounts to the employees of companies that use their service. To see whether you qualify, do a Google search for the carrier’s name and “employee discount.”
• Make temporary adjustments ($140-$295 in one month). Avoid hefty overage charges of up to 45 cents per minute by temporarily switching to a plan with more minutes if travel or a family crisis will cause a spike in usage.
• Have your usage analyzed ($300). Upload an electronic copy of your monthly bill to www.billshrink.com for a free analysis. The company will then check available wireless plans and recommend those it says are probably cheapest for your needs.
• Get local service ($240). If you mostly use your cell phone locally, consider Metro PCS, which offers plans in 11 areas including Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit and numerous cities in California and Florida.
• Choose the best carrier ($50-$200 per phone). Avoid huge early-termination fees and unsatisfactory service by first checking ratings on ConsumerReports.org. Then be sure to test the phone and service during the carrier’s 15-30 day trial period. If you’re not happy with the carrier, you can quit and port your number elsewhere without an early-termination penalty.
• Say no to phone insurance ($120-$168 over 2 years). If you upgrade your phone, save the old one as a backup replacement in case you lose or damage the new one. You can eventually get another new phone at little or no upfront cost when your contract comes up for renewal.