6 Smart Ways to Save on a Cell Phone Plan
Having a cell phone is almost a necessity. It’s an expensive one, too.
The average American spent $1,188 for a year of cell phone service in 2018, the latest data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey. That’s $99 per month.
For those between ages 25 and 64, the average monthly spending increases by about $15.
Costs can be cut, though, with a little work by phone users. Here are six ways to save on your cell phone plan:
1. Start a Family Plan
Instead of each person in a family having their own plan, a couple can cut their costs by sharing a family plan.
Add a child and the cost can drop more. If you already have a family plan with your spouse, you may be able to reduce the per-line cost by adding your parents or other family members to the plan.
2. Check Your Data
There are a few ways to save on data charges from your cell phone company.
The first is one you’re probably already doing, but should double check anyway: use Wi-Fi when you can.
Wi-Fi from your home or office that’s secure lets you connect to the internet without using expensive data from your wireless plan. Streaming videos uses a lot of data, and you could hit your monthly cap within days if you don’t use Wi-Fi.
And if you do hit your data cap, then most cell phone companies will throttle back the speed of your connection until a new month of service starts.
Unlimited data is more expensive than a data cap. A second way to save is to see how much data you use on average per month and buy only as much as you need.
Most people use less than 10 gigabytes, or 10 GB, monthly, according to a survey by a phone trade-in site. People with a plan that capped their data spent $22 less per month on their cell phone bills than those on unlimited data plans, and used about 5.2 GB of data.
Track your data usage in your phone’s settings. Apps such as Data Usage and My Data Tracker also help monitor usage.
All of the major wireless carriers offer monthly discounts of $5 to $10 per line on most plans by making automatic payments. This can add up on a family plan with several lines.
Autopay is set up by giving your credit or debit card number to the company, which charges your card each month for the amount due, minus the per-line discount. Some companies don’t allow credit card payments to be discounted, so make sure you have enough money in your checking account on the due date if you’re using a debit card.
4. Switch to a Low-Cost Carrier
The Big Three of AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile (which owns Sprint) aren’t the only cell phone carriers.
Smaller, prepaid carriers such as Cricket, Mint Mobile, Metro PCS, Tello and Ting help consumers save with data limits that are often much cheaper than what big carriers offer.
Many of them rent bandwidth from the big networks, so you’ll be getting comparable quality and speeds, but at lower prices. Some of these small carriers, however, will slow data speeds if the network is congested.
Also, you might not find the same large coverage areas as the big companies offer, so check their online maps to see if your area or places you often visit have cell phone coverage.
Setting a data limit with a small carrier and then going over it doesn’t mean your phone will stop connecting to the internet. Instead, online speeds will be slowed until your next month of service starts.
Some offer discounts for signing up for a year of service. Mint Mobile offers discounts for three-month or year-long contracts.
If you don’t talk on the phone much, companies such as Visible let you build your own plan with unlimited texting, 8 GB of data and 300 minutes of talk per month, all at a much lower price than unlimited talk plans cost.
5. Ask For a Better Deal
Instead of switching to another company, ask your current provider if it can move you to a better deal.
New customers get deals all the time, why shouldn’t you as an existing one?
It can’t hurt to ask. If the customer service representative can’t help you, ask to talk to a retention specialist for current customers.
6. Seek Discounts
If you’re a member of the military, a first responder, educator, AAA member or over age 55, you can likely find a discount program from some cell phone carrier.
Look on company websites or call to ask if membership in AARP and other programs, or certain jobs or employers, can get you a discount.