Believe it or not, your monthly cell phone service bill is now your second highest monthly expense. To put that into perspective, that means you're paying more for your cell service than you are for gas, food, heating, or electricity.
In fact, according to Nielsen, a global consumer research company, Americans overpay more than $300 per year on their cell phone bill on average. For instance, one of their recent reports showed that Americans estimate that they use 711 minutes per month, but in reality, only use 651 minutes per month. Over the course of a year, that means we're paying for, but never using about 720 of our minutes.
Here are a few quick tips that you can use right now to take back control on your cell phone bill:
1. Switch to a pay as you go phone
If you don't need "unlimited" plans on your cell phone, sometimes it makes sense to switch to a pay as you go phone provider like Ting (review here) or Virgin Mobile. Take out a few of your past bills, and calculate whether or not you'll save by switching to a pay as you go service provider.
When I did this, I was completely taken aback by the number of extra minutes, data, and texts that I was paying every month.
2. Install a VOIP app on your smartphone
If you have a smartphone, one of the easiest ways to save minutes is by installing a VOIP (voice over IP) app on your smartphone.
In a nutshell, these apps allow you to call anyone in the United States for free, as long as you have a WiFi connection. If you usually use your phone at your home, office, or coffee shop (anywhere you have free WiFi), using a VOIP app can shave hundreds of minutes per month off your cell phone bill.
3. Track and limit your monthly data usage
Data management apps like My Data Manager (download the app for Android or iPhone) and Onavo, can track your monthly data usage, and let you know once you hit a predefined data threshold. That way, if you have a 1GB data plan, you can tell your data management app to warn you when you hit 800MB in data, so you can ration out the remaining 200MB. Some apps (like Onavo), can limit data-hungry apps so that they only run when you are connected to WiFi.
4. Ask friends and families for discounts
If you have a friend or family member that works for a cell phone service provider, they can usually get you a $10-$15 discount per month on each phone you have. That way, if you have 4 smartphones in your family, you can save anywhere from $40-$60 per month.
Alternatively, try calling your service provider and asking for a discount on your service. Usually, if your service provider has some kind of special going on, you can get some money knocked off of your monthly bill, in exchange for renewing your contract. Or, if your company has a special arrangement with your service provider, they can get you a discount on your monthly plan too.
5. Wipe out your fees
If you ever get a fee on your bill, like an overage fee, or a 411 fee, call your cell phone company's customer service department. Cell phone companies pay about $70 to acquire each of their customers, and make hundreds of dollars over the stay of each customer. They're not going to let something like a $30 fee make you switch to another provider.
Usually, if you call your service provider and show them that you've been a paying customer for X number of months, and that you would like them to waive your fees, they'll do so immediately.