Common Cents: How to Reduce Your Cell Phone Bill


Cell phones seem to be the most expensive technological advancement used by the majority of people each day.
Hear me out. Between text messages, taxes and minute usage: I could take at least four flight trips from New York to California a year on what I spend on cell phone charges.

After a bill that exceeded $200, more than my cable, I knew it was time to have a talk with my cell phone provider. The family plan and its offerings were obviously not meeting my needs.

Since the proliferation and popularity of cell phones, it seems like more people are spending a lot more money on phone calls. Can you hear me now? Good.


Get the Right Minutes
To minimize your costs start by finding the right plan: That means avoid paying for too many minutes or too little minutes. For me, sharing 1,400 daytime minutes between multiple people has been a problem, and for the last few months I’ve been greeted by fees for going over the minutes. A recent $150 charge from exceeding my allotted usage by 382 minutes emboldened me to pick up the phone and speak with the dreaded customer service representatives at my provider. After less than 15 minutes, I discovered a plan that works for my family that costs $20 more monthly, but would have saved me $130 in billing. Previously, when I had a single line, I had the lowest billable minutes, and I managed to accrue 2,000 rollover minutes. Bottom Line: It’s important to find the best plan with the right minutes.

Early Start to the Evening
If you use a lot of anytime minutes, ask your provider if they offer an early start with early evenings. Providers charge around $0.45 a minute to those that exceed the allowable anytime minutes. For many, evening minutes are from 9:01 p.m. until 5:59 a.m. This arbitrary definition of evening has created a premium charge for “anytime minutes,” or what I call daytime or peak time, that is generally what you’re billed for. (Is it easier for cell phone towers to work at night?!) AT&T charges around $8.99 per phone to push unlimited or evening minutes to 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. and that can save you a few dollars if you find yourself consistently exceeding the allotted anytime minutes during a specific period of time.

Text Messaging
You’re generally billed to receive and send a text message. Based on the volume of messages, minimize your payments by choosing the text plan that suits you. At Verizon there is an unlimited plan that is offered for $20.00 and a pay-per-message plan that costs $0.20 per message. That means: If you receive and send a total of 300 messages a month than unlimited plan is $40 less than the $60 bill you would receive to pay as you go for text messages.

Make Customer Service Your Friend
You might not believe this but talking to a customer service representative in a polite manner can save you hundreds of dollars. After all the hysterics about sitting through a conversation with a sales provider, by explaining my desire to get a plan that worked for my family and informing the representative I was upset about my over usage charges in a calm and polite manner, the $150 charges were removed from my account as a surprisingly nice courtesy. Place yourself in the shoes of a customer service agent who are you likely to help: The person that shrieks or the person that is warm and friendly. Tip: When I call any customer service center, I always reply to an agent by their government name to reach them on a more personal level.

Consider a Land Line
Get rid of the cell phone. I know, it’s 2008 and the days of phone mobility are upon us. But, the future of the phone has come with ridiculous phone bills. If cell phones are so smart, why can’t the inform customers of the total amount of minutes used per day OR know that calling at 3 p.m. should be skipped since there’s no day time minutes left on a plan? If you’re not paying per minute, then you’re paying per text and then you’re paying more to talk at 4 p.m. than 10 p.m. Does it ever end? $150 bill for using too many minutes in my mind makes no sense. I would expect E.T. to phone home for that amount. And, it seems like prices are only increasing and mainly at the expense of our solo time. Remember when the costly part of a phone was calling long distance? Now many of us can call anywhere in the continental U.S. at a price. Oh, well, if you move towards a land line, you can purchase pay as you go phone to store in your car or handbag for emergency mobile calls.

What do you shell out for your phone bill? Did you shop around by plans for your cell phone?

Each Thursday, Common Cents looks at curing common money. Write to or place your story suggestions in the comment section below.

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