5 Little Phone Hacks That Will Save You BIG Money

Photographed by Bek Andersen.
Everything about our smartphone habit is expensive. The phones cost hundreds of dollars. The monthly bill is often more than a hundred dollars. And some of the best apps require a subscription, too (maybe that's why we like free ones so much).

There are ways to cut down these costs — even if just by five dollars a month — which can help you save in the long run. The phone bill is the first, although perhaps not the simplest, way to start. By glancing through your past text, call, and data use; looking at the options your wireless carrier offers; and even considering switching to a new carrier's plan, you could cut a good chunk of change from your monthly cellphone bill.

But before we dig into the how's, let's clear up some terminology.

Anytime you're sending or receiving information on your phone, whether it be an email, sending a Snapchat, or watching a Netflix stream, data is being transmitted wirelessly through the air. The amount of data you use is quantified into megabytes (MB) and gigabytes (GB). One GB is 1,000 MB. On your phone, you can either use data over a Wi-Fi network, or over your carrier's cellular network. Your carrier can only charge you for the data you use over its cellular network. You can check which you're on by looking at the top of your handset and whether it says "4G" or "LTE" —which means you're on cellular — or if it shows the Wi-Fi symbol.

Now that you know the basics, here's how to start saving some money on that bill.
Look At Your Past Data Use
To know what plan you should be on (and if you're currently overpaying for what you need), you first need to have a good idea of how much data you use each month.

To do this, log into your wireless account online, or visit your carrier's mobile app on your phone. There should be a section for Billing and Usage, then navigate to the Usage section. Write down your data, text, and phone usage for the past three to six months to get an idea of your average usage. Did you go over at any point? A tiny bit, or a lot? Or are you regularly way under your limit?

Looking at my own stats, I found that I regularly use around 1.3 GB of data each month, but I did exceed my data limit on several occasions last year during the months I was traveling a lot.

Compare and Adjust Your Plan Accordingly
Next, head to the "View or Change Rate Plan" section (which may also offer a snapshot of your average data use) to see how your data use compares with your current plan, versus others.

For me, it's pretty clear that my current 2 GB limit is reasonable for my usage habits — the next level down, a measly 300 MB a month, would not cut it. If you regularly exceed your monthly allotment, it might make sense to spring for one to two more GB a month; if you're paying for 3 GB and using less than 1 GB month each month, it could also make sense to drop down to a lower tier.

If you're open to switching carriers, check out Wirefly or a similar site to compare rates for different wireless vendors. Here is a quick guide as to what phones work on what wireless networks. In my case, both AT&T and T-Mobile have plans that work for me, and are cheaper than what I'm paying for now. Score!

If you're locked into a two-year data plan, some carriers will pay your cancellation fee (or a portion of it).
Don't Go Over Your Allotted Data
Once you've got a plan that makes sense for your usage levels, don't blow it. It can be easy if you're constantly jetting from meeting to meeting to live on that cellular connection and exceed your data limit. But when you do, you're wasting more money than if you'd just ponied up for a bigger plan in the first place.

On Verizon, for example, you can get 1 GB per month of data for $30 and 3 GB per month for $45. But if you exceed that limit, you'll pay $15 per GB you go over. If you have the 1 GB plan and accidentally hit 3 GB, you'll be paying $15 more than if you had just signed up for a 3 GB option in the first place!

Try A Pay-As-You-Go Plan
Why pay for what you don't use? With a service like Ting, you pay only for the data, minutes, and text messages you actually use. Your bill will vary each month based on how much you use your phone, which can save you a lot of money compared to a traditional plan. You can enter your phone's unique ID into Ting's website to see if your phone is compatible, and then you'd just need to purchase a new SIM to get started.

When I estimated what I'd pay, it looked like I could shave at least $15 a month off a traditional plan. (And knowing that I'd be paying for each gig I use, I'd likely be more apt to stick with Wi-Fi and save even more money.)

A pay-as-you-go option does not make sense if you regularly use more than 3 GB of data each month. Heavy data users, stick with the big carriers.

Turn Cellular Data Off
Lastly, if you're concerned about going over your data limit, you can also be judicious about turning cellular data off. When you do this, it'll restrict all your non-call and text phone activities that require an internet connection to Wi-Fi. To do this, head to Settings, Cellular, and switch off Cellular Data.

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