Whether you've joined the ranks of smartphone users or you're still gripping a cell, what was once a luxury now feels like a complete necessity. But with that dependence often comes a shockingly expensive bill that can make you question whether or not you really need to Tweet from the dock at the cottage. Luckily, we've come up with few to save you money while you stay connected.
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If you still don't know the ins and outs of the plan you signed, sit down and get to know it. Some plans offer free calls after 5 p.m., others after 7 pm. Keeping an eye on how many daytime minutes you're using can be a pain, but remembering to keep your phone use to after a certain time is much easier - and it will make a huge difference to your bank account. That includes checking your voicemail!
The same goes for texts. It's difficult to keep track of how many texts you've sent each month, but you can just cut down on the useless ones. Sending messages that just have one or two words, like "Thx" or "okie dokes", are useless and can add up on your bill.
Lastly, voicemail and call display normally come at an additional cost, so if you think you can do without, ask your provider to remove them from your plan. And if you can live without call display or voicemail, then you, ma'am, are a rare breed. (For more, check out Top 6 Mindless Money Wasters.)
Many who have entered the smartphone phase of their lives out of curiosity, a love of gadgets or because of a busy career, have also had the terrible experience of opening their first bill for said iPhone or similar device. And most of the time that shocking amount you owe is due to your data use. Remember to join a wireless network whenever you possibly can to avoid using up data. Or, if you're really brave, don't buy a data plan at all. Then you have no option but to go online only when you're in range of a wireless network.
Conversely, just because texting is simple doesn't mean it's the cheapest form of communicating on a smartphone. If you bought an unlimited data plan but your provider is still charging you to text, then send an e-mail - preferably an angry email to your provider for having the gall to charge you extra for texts.
Many providers now offer a "favorites" list of numbers that you can call for free as part of your package. Make a list of the people you call the most locally during the day or long distance during any time. These are likely the numbers you'll want to add to the list. Just make sure you keep a copy of those numbers handy so you don't forget who you can and can't call.
For long distance numbers you call less frequently, buy a calling card or sign up for a VoIP account.
VoIP (which stands for Voice over IP) uses the internet to make calls. Many people are already familiar with Skype and similar networks where you have to be at a computer to make a call. But for a small monthly fee, you can make calls to any number using the technology. And those calls aren't included in the minutes you've paid for with your provider, so you can make those calls any time of the day.
Don't let people make you feel guilty for wanting to use your phone when abroad - being able to communicate with new friends or using online maps can enhance your travel experience and offer you more freedom. But exorbitant roaming fees do not. Before you go, you can buy a prepaid SIM card for specific geographical areas. But make sure your phone is unlocked, meaning it isn't restricted by a specific network or country, before you fork over cash for a SIM card.
If your phone is locked, try Googling your phone's model and the word "unlock," because often this process is extremely simple. If that doesn't work, most providers offer an international roaming service which allows you to make calls worry-free. But again, make sure your phone is compatible with your destination. Sometimes your phone will not support the frequencies that are used wherever your travels take you. (For more travel tips, see Globetrotting On A Budget.)
Just Call and Ask
If you find that even when you follow all of the rules of your contract, you're still getting hosed by your provider, simply try asking them for help. First, call and say that your last bill seemed high, and you'd like to see if there is anything they can do. You may find that you're not even using close to the number of minutes included in your contract, but that you are over-using texts or data. Your provider can make changes to your plan that could bring that bill down to a much more reasonable rate.
If that fails, try taking a tougher stance. Threaten to switch providers if they can't offer you a cheaper plan. Customer service reps are trained to do anything to retain your service - so go on, test their patience! Just remember to make that call on a weekend or in the evening. It will be a long one. (For more, see Cell Phone Evolution.)
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