A smartphone may be smart in the sense that it can map your location, deliver your schedule and keep you in touch no matter where you are. Budget-wise, however, the high price of many smartphone plans can make owning one nothing short of a dumb move. A 2010 report by New American Foundation's Open Technology Initiative found that Canadians were paying more for cell phone plans than any other country in the world. And while competition among cell phone service providers has slowly been growing, keeping cell phone costs down remains a major challenge.
But worry not — there's no need to break up with your Blackberry just yet. Here are 6 ways to save money by outsmarting your smartphone bill.
1) Size up your services
Remember when cell phones used to just ring? In recent years, we've gotten so used to additional services and sparkly apps that we've forgotten that it's possible to live without many of these things — especially the ones that we rarely (if ever) use. Size up your cell phone bill to see what services you're paying for above and beyond the basics. If you find cell phone insurance, roadside assistance and other fancy add-ons, consider cutting them out. And if you're not using your phone for business, consider kicking voicemail to the curb as well. After all, your call log shows the name and number of incoming callers anyway — and it's free.
2) Go on a data diet
For many smartphone users, data can be a real killer. Choose a plan with too much data and you'll end up paying for a service you're not using; choose a plan with too little and the overage charges can suck you dry. If you're into data-sucking services like downloading apps, games and songs, or streaming audio and video, pay for more data upfront or look into getting an unlimited plan. Email, limited Web browsing and social media tend to be pretty easy on data, so if those are your main activities, you might be able to get by with as little as 1 GB.
If you're really looking to cut back, consider cutting out data altogether. After all, most big cities are filled with Wi-Fi hotspots (where data is not required); are you really out of range long enough to justify paying an extra $20 to $40 per month?
3) Ditch your carrier
When comes to choosing service providers, being loyal is more vice than virtue, especially when it means paying more than you have to. Smaller service providers such as Wind Mobile and Virgin Mobile are increasingly moving in and offering more competitive rates. Before buying your next smartphone, go online and take a look at what each carrier in your area has to offer. Then, find the least expensive plans that'll suit your needs. And remember that choosing a smartphone plan is like buying a pair of shoes — you have to find one that fits.
4) Go contract free
One of the best ways to cut your smartphone bill is to go contract free. No contract?! But that means you'll have to pay for the phone! Well, yes, it does. But when cell phone providers are willing to give away a phone in exchange for a specific contract, you have to wonder who's getting the better deal. In this case, you can bet that your provider has done the math. You can do the same by adding up the full cost of the phone and the plan you choose, then comparing it with the deal your provider is offering. The upfront costs will be higher, but in many cases this strategy costs less over the long run. Plus, you'll have the flexibility to choose — and switch out of — any plan you want on your own terms. That's worth something.
5) Leverage your apps
There's an app for everything and fortunately, that includes reducing your smartphone bill. For example, Onavo's free iPhone and Android app, Onavo Extend, can make data usage more efficient by compressing data and stripping out the extras. FaceTime for the iPhone allows users to engage in free video chat with other iPhone, Mac or iPad users in a Wi-Fi zone. There are also apps that provide texting services at no charge, such as Kakao Talk, WeChat and Nimbuzz, among many others. There are literally hundreds of thousands of apps out there, so keep an eye out for those that might help you cut your cell phone expenses.
6) Try VoIP
If you have an iPhone, FaceTime can be a great option, but there are other ways to talk over a Wi-Fi network, such as Fring, Google Voice and Skype. Using these services can take a little getting used to, but it's worth it: many of the options available here are free. You probably won't be able to dump your voice plan, but it might make a cheaper plan with very few talk minutes more feasible.
Why pay more than you have to?
The key to outsmarting your smartphone plan is to strategize about how, where and when you use your phone and then make choices that will help you to get everything you want for the lowest cost possible. Cell phone plans tend to be complicated, which dissuades consumers from doing their research. The reality is that with a little effort, you can slash your smartphone bill and avoid paying more than you have to. After all, you're way too smart for that!
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Nothing contained herein is intended to provide personalized financial, legal or tax advice. Before implementing any financial or legal strategy, you should obtain information and advice from your financial, legal and/or tax advisers who are fully aware of your individual circumstances, as well as fully aware of current laws and regulations.