Your wallet may feel the pinch of higher prices on everything these days, leaving you wondering if there’s a way to save money in your monthly budget. Your cell phone bill might be a good place to start looking.
We’re not talking about completely getting rid of your smartphone bill. For many of us, our mobile phone is our primary, if not our only, means of making calls. Add text and data, and having a cell phone handy is pretty much an essential expense.
No, what we had in mind was to review what you pay each month and find out if there are ways to save a few bucks here and there. It might be as simple as changing the amount of data you pay for or finding a hidden cost that’s charging you more than you need to. In the most extreme cases, you may need to take your business to another wireless service to find the best cell phone plan for your needs.
Whichever solution you choose, there are plenty of ways to save money on your smartphone bill. Here are seven tips that could reduce the amount you pay each month for your wireless service.
Make sure you’re paying for the right amount of data
Since the majority of mobile phone plan bills these days include unlimited calls and texts, data plays one of the most important roles in determining what you pay your service provider each month without thread. And chances are you’re paying for more data than you probably need.
Major wireless carriers tend to push you towards unlimited data plans, which certainly means stress-free streaming and binging, but can also lead to expensive monthly bills. If you can get away without needing an unlimited data plan, why buy one?
To find out how much data you need, dive into your wireless account to find out how much you’ve used on a monthly basis. This usually involves logging into your wireless account and heading to the billing section. Some wireless carriers even allow you to check from your device, either in their mobile app or by calling a specific number. (Dial *3282# on AT&T, #932# on T-Mobile, and #3282 on Verizon.)
If you use more than 10 GB of data, you should subscribe to an unlimited plan. If your data usage never exceeds 5GB, you should start buying tiered data plans that are cheaper than what you’re paying now.
Sign up for automatic payment
Paying your bill electronically is not only convenient and saves a tree or two by going paperless, it can also shave a few dollars off your bill. For example, T-Mobile’s Magenta unlimited plan will cost you $75 per month, but sign up for autopay and you can reduce that cost by $5 to $70. AT&T and Verizon offer their own discounts with automatic payment on their unlimited plans.
In most cases, you can expect around $5 in savings from autopay, which can add up over the course of a year. In some cases, you can save even more. (AT&T’s unlimited prepaid plan cuts its costs by $15 to $50/month after signing up for autopay, for example.)
Chances are you’ve already signed up for autopay, but if you haven’t, check with your carrier to see if it can lower your monthly bill. And if you’re shopping for a new plan, be sure to check your new wireless provider’s auto-pay options and discounts.
Look beyond the big carriers
So far, we’ve only mentioned the big three – AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon – but there’s a whole world of options for cell phone service if you’re willing to think outside the box.
MVNOs – short for Mobile Virtual Network Operators – use the networks of major carriers to offer a service, usually at a lower rate. The trade-off for a lower bill is fewer benefits than you might get with a more expensive plan from one of the larger wireless service providers. It’s also possible that your data speed will be slowed if the network is congested, as major carriers prioritize their own customers first. Still, these are reasonable sacrifices if it means cutting your bill in half.
Some MVNOs rank among the best phone carriers we’ve tested. These lower cost options include Mint Mobile, Visible, Google Fi, Boost Mobile, Xfinity Mobile, Consumer Cellular, and Metro By T-Mobile. Look to these carriers and you’ll usually find plans that are cheaper than those charged by the biggest mobile carriers, even for unlimited data.
Choose plans where taxes and fees are included
Have you ever looked at your monthly cell phone bill and thought, “Well, that’s more than I thought I was going to pay when I signed up for this plan?” These are taxes and fees that you are charged in addition to your monthly rate. They can fluctuate from month to month and, even worse, increase, even if your base rate is locked in.
Some phone carriers have made it a habit to include taxes and fees in your monthly bill, so you always pay the same rate. At the very least, it locks in your monthly phone expenses, so you can expect to pay the same amount each month. And it could save you money, if those local taxes go up.
T-Mobile has been a pioneer in this regard, including taxes and fees in the cost of its Magenta and Magenta Max unlimited plans. (Alas, the lower-cost T-Mobile Essentials and T-Mobile Connect plans don’t include taxes and fees in their price.) T-Mobile-owned T-Mobile Metro MVNO also covers taxes and fees. , as are Visible, Boost and Wireless Cricket.
Pay in advance for a lower monthly cost
Bulk buying works when you buy toilet paper and other household items. Why not apply the same principle to cell phone service. Some mobile carriers allow you to prepay for services months in advance for lower overall monthly charges.
Mint Mobile is the best example of this practice. The discount carriers offer some of the lowest charges we’ve seen on its monthly plans — starting at $15 per month for 4GB up to unlimited data for $30 per month. But to keep those lower rates after an initial three-month trial, you have to pay for 12 months of service. It’s a big upfront expense, but the lower monthly cost over time is worth it.
Even the biggest carriers are starting to offer this approach. AT&T’s prepaid service includes an 8GB monthly option that costs just $25 per month. To get this rate, however, you must pay for the full year of service, an expense of $300. Still, that monthly cost is much cheaper than what you’d pay with other carriers if you opted for monthly bill payments instead of a lump sum.
Add more lines to your account
When shopping for cell phone plans, especially the best family cell phone plans, it’s important to pay attention to the cost per line. Most carriers reduce the cost of each data line you add to your plan, with discounts increasing the more you add.
For example, Verizon’s 5G Play More plan costs $80 for a data line. (That’s after a $5 discount for signing up for autopay, by the way.) A second line of data adds $60 to the total bill, but reduces the cost per line to $70. The moment you add a fourth line of data, you pay $45 per line. AT&T, T-Mobile and several MVNOs are taking a similar approach with multi-line discounts.
It might not save you much money if everyone on your family plan lives under the roof, but who’s to say a family plan is limited to one address. Add parents, siblings or anyone else to your wireless plan and you can all enjoy the benefits of a lower cost per line.
Visible has the best approach to this with its Party Pay option. With Party Pay, you can reduce the cost of unlimited data from $40 for a single line to $25 per line for a four-person plan. These people do not have to be part of your family. Visible encourages you and your friends to pool your mobile phone coverage, even offering to send the bill electronically to different people.
Call your carrier and ask for a lower rate
Sometimes getting a better, more affordable cell phone plan just means calling your provider and asking if they can offer you something cheaper than what you’re currently paying. It doesn’t always work, but it’s worth the phone call.
Last year, I had to contact Verizon to fix an out-of-control data usage issue on my wife’s iPhone. During that call, the Verizon rep directed me to a different plan that nearly doubled my data allowance, while lowering my monthly bill when I signed up for autopay. I now pay about $5-$10 less every month for coverage, and while that’s not a huge reduction, it’s definitely better than what I was paying before.
Large carriers have an incentive to keep you as a customer because declining subscriber numbers can increase the cost of attracting new business. Call your current provider and politely ask if you can upgrade to a cheaper plan. You might be surprised how willing they are to keep your business.