If you’re close to 30, you remember a time when cell phones were a luxury. That’s no longer the case. With internet access and 24/7 communication — a basic need for things like employment and safety — you can’t cut costs by going back to a landline.
But that doesn’t mean that you can’t still lower your cell phone bill.
Here are some of the best ways to lower your cell phone bill.
12 Ways To Lower Your Cell Phone Bill
No single method will make a huge difference, but by combining as many as you can from this list of our favorites, you can save several hundred dollars per year.
1. Confirm Your Usage
It’s tempting to spring for an unlimited plan so you don’t have to worry about overage fees. But if you don’t use much data, you’re wasting money.
On the other hand, if you opt for an unrealistically low usage plan, you might spend more on overages than you would have for the unlimited rate.
Fine-tune your rate by knowing how much data you tend to use each month. On an iPhone, you’ll find that information in Settings > Cellular. For Android phones, it’s in Settings > Network & Internet > Data Usage.
There are two ways to determine what rate to get. The first is to find the month with the highest usage and use that to buy a plan. The second is to average your usage for the past six months, then take steps to keep yourself below that amount each month.
Either way, the key is to buy a usage plan that suits your needs every month.
2. Use Wi-Fi Whenever Possible
Mobile data counts toward your usage limits and can run up your bill with overage fees, potentially forcing you to buy a pricey unlimited plan. However, you can significantly reduce your usage by connecting to Wi-Fi whenever possible. Wi-Fi networks are free and easy to access in most places, and connecting to them isn’t as difficult as you might think.
Make sure you connect to Wi-Fi whenever you get home, check into a hotel, attend a party, or arrive at any place you’re likely to spend a few hours. Something as simple as listening to some music streaming or a movie can eat up your data plan quickly.
Remember that public Wi-Fi networks are rarely secure, and cybercriminals often take advantage of that fact. So only do your banking, make online purchases, or deal with sensitive data on a network you trust.
3. Sign Up for Autopay & Paperless Billing
Companies love autopay because it makes canceling difficult, and they don’t have to wait for you to remember it’s time to pay the bills. This streamlines their operations, improves financial forecasting, and cuts the cost of getting paid.
Similarly, paperless billing saves them printing, shipping, and labor costs for mailing statements to customers.
For those reasons, most cell phone companies reduce your statement by $5 or so if you sign up for one or both of those options. Assuming you can reliably pay the bill when it’s due, there’s no reason not to select autopay. And with paperless billing, you won’t have to keep opening and shredding your bill each month.
4. Turn Off Background Data Use
Another way to cut your data usage is to make sure only regularly used apps access data. Many apps continually make contact with the internet to bring you new information. For example, that’s how Facebook and Slack send you notifications in real-time. These brief but consistent pings use data unless you tell your phone not to allow them.
On an iPhone, go to Settings > General > Background App Refresh. This will show you to a list of apps that might use data in the background. You can turn off as many as you want or disable the feature entirely. The process for Android uses the same steps, though the interface looks different.
You can also choose to allow background data use only when you’re connected to Wi-Fi. This can be the best of both worlds since you’ll get updates without using up extra data.
5. Don’t Buy Insurance
Phone insurance comes by several names. AT&T calls it “Device Protection.” T-Mobile names theirs “Protection 360.” You can get “Apple Care” for your iPhone and “Premium Care” for your Android from the manufacturer. No matter the label, it’s all the same thing: insurance for your phone.
These insurance plans cost $10 to $20 a month for most options. That may not feel like much, but it’s frequently more than paying for your phone on a purchase plan. They also come with deductibles, exceptions, and similar policies.
If you feel like you need insurance because you can’t afford to replace your phone, there’s a better solution: Buy a less expensive phone and don’t insure it. You save on the price of the phone and by not buying insurance.
6. Buy No-contract Phones
Cell phone companies tempt you into long-term commitments with the offer of shiny, new phones on monthly payment plans. Those plans are typically interest-free, and they put you in the latest model. But, in exchange, you’re stuck with the same company and with no option to downgrade service for the length of the plan.
Buying your phone separately lets you control your plan. You can change or downgrade your service whenever you want and leave for a cheaper provider at any time.
It also helps you avoid overspending on the phone or springing for a pricey upgrade you don’t really need.
Thus, buying cheaper no-contract phones helps you lower your cell phone bill in more ways than one.
7. Consider Prepaid Plans
Prepaid carriers ask you to pay for your service in advance, then cut you off when you’ve used all the minutes and data you’ve purchased. This is the opposite of how your classic carriers work; they bill you at the end of the month based on the usage you ran up.
Paying in advance is cheaper and more reliable than paying afterward, so prepaid carriers operate with lower overhead. The best-prepaid carriers, such as Cricket and Mint, pass those savings directly to you. So it’s worth shopping for the prepaid options in your area.
Note: Don’t confuse prepaid plans for prepaid “burner” phones. Prepaid plans apply minutes to a phone you use consistently. Prepaid phones sell you the phone and the minutes at the same time. Although you can recharge the phone’s data and minutes, this is rarely less expensive than other options.
8. Claim Every Discount You’re Eligible For
Every major carrier provides a variety of discounts for people with specific jobs or situations. These usually take one of three forms:
- A percentage off the total of the bill each month
- A flat amount taken off each month’s bill
- A special rate
People who frequently qualify for these discounts include teachers, police, firefighters, EMS workers, military, reservists, and retirees from any of those professions. In addition, current students and government employees also often qualify for discounts.
Most providers ask you to prove your status, but they rarely have a policy against one person on a shared plan qualifying to get the discount for everybody.
Another discount opportunity is preferential pricing when you buy a phone or accessory on an installment plan. However, these are rarely significant enough to justify committing to a long-term contract, so approach these offers with skepticism.
9. Team Up With Friends and Family
The cost for two lines on the same plan is almost always less than two lines separately. Adding more lines reduces the price per line further. Large families save hundreds annually with this strategy.
But the deal isn’t limited to families. Any group of people who can trust each other to stay on top of the billing can go in on a cellular group plan. This works great for roommates, co-workers, and close groups of friends.
Teaming up is not without risks since a problem with payment hurts finances and friendship. If you have the right team, though, this can be a winning move.
If your team has people living in different states, investigate the tax and fee rates for each of your addresses. The differences can be startling, so you could save by having the person in the cheapest area set up the plan.
10. Threaten To Quit
Almost every cell phone provider offers excellent deals to new customers. They promise a low introductory rate, free or deeply discounted new phones, and perks and bribes of all sorts. But if you’re already a customer, you almost never qualify for those deals.
Sometimes calling the company and threatening to quit will get you access to the new customer deals or something close to them. In addition, the people who handle those calls have the authorization to negotiate your bill at a level regular customer service representatives don’t. So it’s worth a try.
If you love your carrier and they won’t negotiate this way, leave them for just a couple of months. Sign up with another carrier or a prepaid outfit, then call back to sign up as a new customer.
11. Check Your Bill
It’s illegal for your cell phone company (or any other company) to lie to you on your monthly statement or invoice. Unfortunately, it’s less cut-and-dry when it comes to adding optional services without asking. A surprising number of cell phone companies set the opt-in for extra costs as the default on signing up.
When you sign up, the representative you work with may or may not be open about how this works. Your best bet is to look at your bill closely the first time you get it and periodically throughout the life of your plan with that provider.
Make sure you understand what each line item is and why it costs what it costs. Then, if you have questions, call and see how to drop or reduce line items you don’t need, don’t want, or don’t use.
12. Stay off the Upgrade Cycle
One of the easiest ways to lower your cell phone bill is to avoid continual monthly payments on the cost of the phone itself.
Two facts for you to consider:
- Android and Apple each release a new phone, or a substantive improvement on the newest model, every single year.
- The average cell phone has a usable lifespan of two to four years.
Frequently upgrading your phones costs you more money than it needs to. That’s why the major carriers keep making it easy to do so, offering special “free” upgrades to keep you in long-term contracts. Even though you’re regularly upgrading, you’re also stuck in a never-ending cycle of monthly payments and you’ll likely never own your phone outright.
Simply sticking with an older phone until you need to upgrade gets you off the cycle of paying for the latest tech every time it comes out. Unless your phone is broken, you can get by with it for an extra year or two.
It’s very difficult to go without a cell phone in the modern world, even if you could do without the extra cost. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take simple steps to minimize that cost each month, adding up to hundreds of dollars saved every year.
Use a combination of the above tips to lower your cell phone bill and save yourself a bit of money.