Are you paying too much for cell phone service? Unlimited plans from the major wireless providers cost around $50-$95 per month for one line, which means millions of Americans are spending $600-$1140 per year on cell phone service.
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to help lower your cell phone bill.
This article was updated in May 2023 and I review it every year.
How To Save Money on Cell Phone Service
Changing up your cell phone service can be intimidating. Instead of dealing with poor customer service or shopping for a new plan, many people just end up paying whatever their current service provider bills them each month. However, setting aside a couple of hours to jump through the hoops can really pay off.
In this article, I’ll share my top tips for saving money on your cell phone bill. Apply one or more of these tips, and you may be able to save hundreds on cell phone service throughout the year.
- Switch to a New Cell Phone Carrier
- Know How Much Data You Need
- Add Lines or Join a Family Plan
- Sign Up for Autopay
- Ask About Additional Discounts
- Don’t Upgrade Your Phone
- Drop the Cell Phone Insurance
1. Switch to a New Cell Phone Carrier
Unlimited wireless plans from The Big Three cell phone service providers (AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile) are the most expensive options on the market. However, people keep paying for them because they trust the name and they’re happy with the network coverage.
What you may or may not know is that each of The Big Three companies owns discount brands that use the same towers to provide network coverage.
- Verizon owns Visible (Review)
- AT&T owns Cricket Wireless (Review)
- T-Mobile owns Metro by T-Mobile (Review) and Mint Mobile (Review)
The major players also have relationships with many other low-cost cell phone providers, typically prepaid carriers.
These low-cost phone providers are called mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs). They don’t own any cell phone towers themselves, but they partner with companies that do to offer affordable wireless service. You can check out a full list of AT&T MVNOs, Verizon MVNOs and T-Mobile MVNOs on our website.
Many of these discount service providers, prepaid plans and MVNOs are recommended on our website because they’re so much more affordable and they provide access to the same network coverage that you’re already familiar with. I’ve tested out many of these providers by buying a cheap plan for 30 days, and you can do the same thing! Monthly plans begin as low as $5-10, which is worth paying to see if you’ll be happy with the service.
I’ve personally had a great experience with nearly all of the MVNOs and discount service providers I’ve tested. In fact, I convinced my spouse to switch to Mint Mobile, where he’s now paying $360 per year ($30 per month) for unlimited data on T-Mobile’s network. I also helped my grandparents switch to Lively (Review) where they’re paying $55 monthly for two lines on Verizon’s network. So far, everyone has been happy with the service and the lower bill!
For even more options and help on where to get started, be sure to read our guide to find the best cell phone plans and deals! Also, be sure to read Clark’s tips on how to switch.
2. Know How Much Data You Need
AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile tend to push customers toward unlimited data plans, but do you actually use that much data per month?
Whether you’re shopping for a phone plan at a new company or you have decided to stick with your current provider, opting for a plan with limited high-speed data is a great way to save.
If you regularly have access to Wi-Fi (or if you’re just not a heavy data user) then you likely don’t need unlimited data. Each of The Big Three providers offer prepaid phone plans with limited high-speed data for a fraction of the cost.
- AT&T Prepaid (Review) offers monthly plans from $30 per month for one line for 5GB of data. If you prepay for a year, you can get an even better deal ($25 per month/$300 for 12 months upfront for 16GB of data). Both options are a great deal compared to AT&T’s unlimited postpaid plans which begin at $65 per month for one line.
- Verizon Prepaid (Review) starts at $35 per month for one line (with autopay) for 15GB of high-speed data. Unlimited plans with Verizon Prepaid begin at $50 with autopay for one line, which is still a huge savings compared to Verizon’s postpaid unlimited plans ($70-$90 per month for one line)
- T-Mobile Prepaid (Review) has plans from $40 per month for 10GB of data while unlimited postpaid plans range from $50-$90 with autopay for one line.
I recommend checking your phone bill after an average month of data usage to see how much data you actually use. If you can’t find the amount of data on your bill, contact your service provider and they should be able to help you figure it out.
Once you know how much data you need, shop for phone plans that offer just enough to cover you. Even if you’re using 30-40GB per month, there are several prepaid options to choose from that are much cheaper than a postpaid unlimited plan.
If you’re looking to reduce how much data you’re using, I have two tips: Use Wi-Fi whenever you can and limit your background data usage. Apps may be using data even when they aren’t open, which can slowly add up over the course of a month.
3. Add Lines or Join a Family Plan
It may seem counterintuitive to add lines in order to lower your bill. However, with many plans, you’ll get a significant discount for having two or more lines.
For example, Cricket Wireless’ unlimited plan costs $55 for one line. If you have four lines on your plan, the price per line drops to $25!
Similarly, T-Mobile’s cheapest postpaid unlimited plan (Essentials Savings) costs $55 per month for one line ($50 with autopay). If you have four lines, the price per line drops to $25.
Check with trusted friends and family members to see if they’d be interested in getting a family plan together. The multiline discounts can payoff big in the long run!
4. Sign Up for Autopay
I’ve mentioned this in passing a few times throughout this article already, but many plans offer autopay discounts. Putting your cell phone bill on autopay is perhaps the easiest way to save a bit of money. When you sign up for autopay with a postpaid carrier (often called “auto-refill” with prepaid carriers), you can usually get a $5-10 monthly discount.
5. Check for Additional Discounts
Have you checked to see if you qualify for additional discounts? The major wireless providers may offer special deals for members of the military, teachers and seniors. There may also be discounts available through your employer.
T-Mobile’s Essentials 55+ unlimited plan is a great example of a senior discount. Customers 55 and older can get two lines for $55 per month — a big savings compared to the $80 per month Essentials Savings costs for two lines without a senior discount! Check out our guide to the best cell phones for seniors to find more senior-friendly savings.
Be sure to talk to both your employer and your cell phone service provider to see if you’re eligible for any discounts that you aren’t currently taking advantage of.
6. Don’t Upgrade Your Phone
If you regularly upgrade your phone to the latest, most expensive device on the market, you may be paying it off over time through your carrier. Many carriers will offer device deals for “as low as $X per month” over the course of 24-36 months.
Not only does this raise the cost of your monthly cell phone bill, but you’re now locked into that carrier. If you want to switch to a cheaper phone plan or service provider, you’ll have to pay off the remaining balance on your new device before you can unlock it.
Instead, try to keep your current phone for a longer period of time. If you take care of your device, you can keep a fully-paid-off smartphone in your pocket for years. Once it’s paid off and unlocked, you can switch to any new service provider to get new customer deals, limited-time promotions and overall cheaper plans as often as you’d like to save money.
If you do need a new phone, consider buying a phone that’s already unlocked. You can check out my top recommendations for where to buy an unlocked phone here. Alternatively, you may be able to get a free phone when you switch providers. Just be aware of these deals as many of them lock you into a multi-year “installment agreement” to actually get the device for free.
7. Don’t Pay for Cell Phone Insurance
If you’re currently paying a monthly or annual fee for cell phone insurance, stop! Dropping your cell phone insurance is another way that you can lower the total cost of your cell phone bill. While it may seem scary at first to drop the insurance or to turn it down when you first buy a new phone, you really don’t need it.
“It is a horrifically terrible idea to buy cell phone insurance from T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T or any other cell phone company,” warns Clark. “It is a rip-off, rip-off, rip-off. Don’t do it.”
Cell phone insurance adds an additional charge to your bill and you may or may not ever actually use it. Plus, you’ll still have to pay for most damage, even with insurance (up to $49 for screen repair), and a standard deductible ranges up to $499 on top of what you’re already paying for insurance.
Instead of insuring a smartphone that’s going to rapidly lose its value as soon as the next device is released, consider one of these alternatives:
- Get free cell phone insurance from a credit card that offers cell phone protection
- Invest in a good case
- Try a repair shop if your phone gets damaged
- Check your homeowner’s policy to see if your cell phone is covered
- Pay yourself the monthly insurance cost instead and build up your savings in case of an emergency
To learn more about these options, check out our cell phone insurance guide.
Switching to a new cell phone carrier is likely going to be the biggest money saver, especially if you’re currently with one of The Big Three. Many discount providers and MVNOs offer prepaid monthly plans. I’ve often signed up for a month of the cheapest plan available from these providers just to test out the service for myself without actually leaving my current phone plan. I recommend this method to make sure you’ll be happy with the service before making the decision to switch.
Of course, shopping for a new plan can be intimidating. The first step I recommend is figuring out how much mobile data you use on an average month. If you don’t use a very high amount of data, you can look for prepaid, limited-data plans for a fraction of what unlimited plans cost.
If you aren’t willing to switch to a new carrier, combining a few of the other tips on this list can still help you save big over time. By signing up for autopay and finding one other discount you qualify for, you’ll be able to reduce your current bill a bit. You may also be able to drop your cell phone insurance or opt for an unlocked phone instead of buying the latest device when you’re ready for an upgrade.
At the very least, be sure to review your current phone plan. Make sure you know what all of the charges on your bill are for. You can always call and talk to your current provider about additional ways to lower your phone bill. Also, reviewing your current plan is a great way to find out if you’re paying for any perks you may not be taking advantage of (like a streaming service subscription or digital storage).
How have you lowered your cell phone bill recently? Let us know in our Clark.com Community!