10 Ways to Save On Your Cell Phone Plan
We’ve rounded up 10 techniques to cut expenses on both your cell phone plan and your device.
To use cellular phone service, Americans spend an average $849 a year for a single person, $1,278 for a married couple and $1,758 for a married couple with children, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Depending on the carrier you use and type of plan you have, you may be paying even more.
Luckily, there are numerous ways to trim the cost of owning and using a cell phone. Some are as simple as changing your bill-payment method or picking up the phone to negotiate a better deal. If you’re up for switching to a different provider, you may save even more money. We’ve rounded up 10 techniques to cut expenses on both your plan and your device.
Dial Back Your Data Plan
Maybe you don’t use your phone much for streaming videos, browsing social media or otherwise connecting to the web. Or perhaps you spend a lot of time at places where you can take advantage of Wi-Fi—say, at home or the office. Either way, your wireless data plan may be too big. Take stock of the amount of data you’ve used recently, then see whether you can find a plan to better suit your habits.
Two people on a basic unlimited data plan with Verizon Wireless, for example, may save $30 a month by changing to a Verizon plan with a shared 4 gigabytes of data per month. Before you shuffle plans, ensure that you’re making the right choice for the long term. If you got a special deal on your current plan or are grandfathered in to a plan that’s no longer available to new customers, you may not be able to switch back to the same plan or pricing that you previously received, says Tina Chang of WhistleOut, a phone-plan comparison website.
Join (or Add to) a Family Plan
If multiple people use one wireless plan, the price per line is often less than for a plan with a single line. With four lines, for example, AT&T’s Unlimited Extra plan is $40 per line, compared with $75 if you have the same plan with just one line.
If you already have a family plan with, say, your spouse, you may reduce the per-line cost by adding your parents or other family members to the plan, too.
Switch to a New Carrier
Switching carriers may save you money if the new provider cuts price breaks for new customers or if it offers lower-price plans than your current carrier. For example, for one person, a basic plan with unlimited calling, text messages and data from Sprint was recently $60 per month and included a Hulu subscription, compared with $65 for AT&T and $70 for Verizon to get a basic unlimited plan (neither plan offers Hulu).
See whether you can get a rebate on the costs associated with changing carriers, too. Companies including Sprint and T-Mobile recently offered to reimburse new customers up to $650 per line in contract early-termination fees or for any remaining balance the customer owed on a device-payment plan with the previous carrier.
Before you jump ship, make sure the new provider that you’re considering has strong coverage in your area. With this map from RootMetrics, you can check coverage at your location from each major network (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon).
Consider a Small Provider
Companies known as “mobile virtual network operators,” or MVNOs, offer coverage from the networks of major carriers, but they often have lower-price plans. Mint Mobile, for example, charges $15 per month for the first three months for 3GB of data and unlimited calls and texts. After that, monthly prices range from $15 if you commit to a 12-month plan to $25 if you get another three-month plan.
Another MVNO worth a look is Tello, which lets you patch together the quantities of minutes, text messages and data that you need. For instance, you can get unlimited minutes and text messages plus 1GB of data for $10 a month, 2GB for $14 or 4GB for $19.
Ting also lets customers cobble together minutes, text messages and data a la carte. If you’re a very light user—with monthly usage of up to 100 minutes, 100 text messages and 100 megabytes of data—you’ll pay $15 a month.
Ask Your Carrier for a Better Deal
Even if you don’t want to depart your current carrier or change the type of plan you have, you may be able to talk your provider into a better deal. “A great question to ask is what they’re offering to new customers versus existing customers,” says Andrew Moore-Crispin, director of content for Ting. “One conversation with your provider could mean a lower bill for you.” Ask about retention offers for current customers, too, says Moore-Crispin.
Sign Up for Automatic Payments
All the major wireless carriers offer a monthly discount-—often $5 to $10 per line—on eligible plans for customers who use automatic payments. That can add up to significant savings, especially if you have a family plan with several lines.
Make sure you read the fine print. With Verizon, for example, you must have your payment drawn from a checking account or debit card to qualify for the discount. Credit-card payments are not eligible unless you use the carrier’s own Verizon Visa card.
Check for Special Discounts
You may be able to get lower prices based on your age or affiliation with certain groups. Carriers commonly offer price breaks to military members, first responders, educators or certain employers that participate in a carrier’s discount program. Membership with an association such as AARP or AAA may also score you deals.
All the major carriers offer dedicated plans for seniors. With T-Mobile, for example, those 55 and older pay $55 a month for two lines with unlimited data, talking and texting through the carrier’s Essentials plan, compared with $90 a month for two people using the standard Essentials plan.
Skip the Insurance Plan
When you sign up for a wireless plan and buy a phone, you’ll likely be offered insurance in case your device is damaged, lost or stolen. For those who are accident-prone with their phones, insurance may be worthwhile—especially for a pricey device. Otherwise, a protective case, which helps shield your device from everyday bangs and bumps, may be enough to get by. You can set aside the money you would have spent on insurance premiums—often about $10 to $20 per month—for backup in case you need to repair or replace your phone at some point.
Plus, your credit card may provide coverage for damaged or stolen smartphones. Certain Mastercard World and World Elite cards as well as all consumer cards from Wells Fargo, the Chase Ink Business Preferred card and the U.S. Bank Platinum Visa card offer cell-phone insurance as a free benefit if you pay your wireless bill with the card. However, insurance coverage is typically more limited with credit-card plans than with those provided through wireless carriers.
Buy a Budget Phone
If you can live without the hottest high-end phone—which likely runs close to $1,000 or more—you can find plenty of good choices among less-pricey models. “The difference between what a $300 phone can do and what a $1,000 phone can do today is much narrower” than in the past, says Moore-Crispin.
Among well-regarded phones with price tags significantly lower than $1,000, Google’s Pixel 3a and Apple’s iPhone SE both have a reasonable $399 starting price, and the Android OnePlus 8 starts at $699. Motorola’s Moto G Power features a long battery life, and you can buy it for just $250.
Look for a Pre-Owned Device
A phone that has been previously used but inspected for quality by the wireless carrier or manufacturer may do the job just as well as a brand-new device—but for a lower price. Sprint, for example, recently sold a pre-owned 128GB Samsung Galaxy S10 for $400, and Verizon sold one for $450. Both carriers charge $750 for a new device. Keep in mind that a pre-owned phone may come with scratches or dings, but it should be functional.