7. Go contract free: It may seem counterintuitive, but one way to lower your monthly cell phone bill is to go contract-free. This isn't the same as buying a prepaid cell phone (we'll get to that next); here, you still pay your carrier month-to-month for cellular service, but you pay less. The trade-off is that you pay more for the phone itself up-front. But depending on the phone you choose, you could save big in the long run with this strategy.
How much can I save? You'll pay T-Mobile $350 for its MyTouch Android phone, but you won't sign a contract. A monthly service plan from T-Mobile with unlimited talk, text, and data costs $59.99 per month, so the cost of buying and using this phone (spread over two years) is about $1790.
That may sound like a lot, but consider this: It's actually a savings of $180 over buying the phone with a two-year contract. In the latter case, T-Mobile subsidizes the cost of the phone, so the same myTouch device will cost you just $50, but the monthly service charge rises to $79.99 (or roughly $1920 over the life of the contract). So over two years, the total cost of the same phone and service comes to $1970--and you're locked into a 24-month service contract.
8. Go prepaid: Paying for your phone service ahead of time is a sure-fire way to save money. After all, it guarantees that you pay only for minutes that you'll use. And prepaid phones have come a long way in recent years, with carriers offering various cell phones and smartphones with prepaid plans.
How much can I save? With one of Virgin Mobile's prepaid "PayLo" plans, you can spend as little as $20 per month for cell phone service. The lowest-cost plan includes 400 voice minutes.
Virgin Mobile charges messages (at 15 cents per message) and data (at $1.50 per megabyte of data used) on this plan against your $20 balance, and your credits are valid for 30 days. In one month, a light user could save as much as $40 off the price of a standard cell phone plan with messaging and data from a major carrier.
9. Dump the smartphone: Sure, your smartphone is cool. And you may think that you can't live without it...but giving it up can be surprisingly easy. If you can't bear to surrender access to the Web, email, and apps, try using a Wi-Fi-device, such as an iPod Touch, instead.
How much can I save? $15 to $50 a month--that's how much you're likely paying for the data plan on your smartphone.
Use the Web to Your Advantage
10. Go VoIP only: If you're paying for a data plan on that smartphone, why not put it--and your phone's Wi-Fi access--to good use?
Dump your voice plan (if your contract permits you to, of course) and use a voice-over-IP service, such as Fring, Google Voice, or Skype, to make calls. A PCWorld writer took the plunge, and lived to tell the tale. Voice quality may not be perfect, but when was the last time your cell phone offered perfect voice quality?
How much can I save? $40 a month, or more--whatever the monthly cost of your voice plan is.
11. Get texting help: When it comes to texting, you probably think that you have to pay for a texting plan (at anywhere from $5 to $20 per month) or have to pay a per-message fee (of around 20 cents).
But you have a third alternative, and it's free: Use an app to text at no charge. Free texting apps--which include Nimbuzz, WhatsApp, GroupMe, among many others--let you text and IM for free, using popular messaging networks such as Facebook and AIM.
You may have to get your friends or family to sign on in order to obtain completely free texting, but convincing them of the app's merits is likely to be worth your while.
How much can I save? When you kiss your texting plan goodbye, you'll be able to pocket an extra $5 to $20 per month.
12. Get outside help: Not sure which path will save you the most money? Get help at BillShrink.com. This very cool site analyzes your cell phone usage (you can grant it access to your account or enter the information manually), and points out plans that will save you money while meeting your needs.
How much can I save? BillShrink alerted me to a $30-per-month plan on T-Mobile that would save me about $50 per month.
And when I requested to keep using an iPhone, it alerted me to a $70-per-month plan on Sprint, which would save me $10 per month or more. (AT&T charges for data overages, while Sprint offers unlimited data.)
I think it's time to make a change.