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How to save money on your mobile phone bills

Richard Bayston

Richard Bayston
Jan 7, 2016

An ever-increasing sum of cash is being splashed on mobile phones. If it's not the latest handset, its an add-on, unexpected data charge or new tariff option like 4G.

Before you know it, you're forking out £100s a year on your mobile.

Read on for tips and help to save on your mobile bills - including a Facebook hack that could save you a ton on data usage!

First things first, compare mobile phone deals online to find a cheap deal. 

 

1: Compare Your Usage to Your Tariff

Most people are using the wrong mobile tariff. 72% of UK residents could save an average of £159 per year each by switching to a tariff that suited their actual usage, according to Which?. 

It’s a misfit problem that cuts both ways: while some of us are paying for minutes, texts and data we never use, others are skimping, chronically overrunning their minutes or data and paying the price - literally, in penalties.

Check your last three months’ bills, either in paper form or online from your provider, and compare what you use with what you pay for. Then look for another tariff that seems to offer a closer fit with your actual usage.

You could talk to your phone provider about switching tariffs. They’ll usually be pleased to help. If you’d like to get more info on the best deals available in the market right now, mobiles.co.uk* has a huge range of tariffs on the latest phones.

 

2: Choosing a New Contract

Don’t think you have to go for a full contract. That’s a two-year commitment. Consider whether you really need a new handset that much. Look around for shorter contracts or for sim-only deals that will allow you to save cash and leave you with more room to move.

Some networks will give you month-by-month sim-only services. Look around for lower-cost networks like iD Mobile too. Remember, you can probably get a year out of your current handset if it’s not too badly damaged.

What should you expect to pay? Sim-only plans start around £5 per month and can go as high as £27 a month or higher with high data, 4G and add-ons. Throw in a handset and all bets are off: £20 - £30 is normal, £45 or more not unheard-of.

 

3: Cashback and Discounts

There are deals available even on standard tariffs if you know where to look. Mobiles.co.uk often offers mobile tariffs cheaper than the provider, while some providers offer discounts to students, the elderly and other groups.

Cashback comes in three basic types: redemption cashback, automatic cashback and cashback from cashback sites.

Redemption Cashback

This comes in the form of a cashback offer direct from the retailer. Usually you’ll get cashback on your monthly fees.

You have to claim back the cashback in installments by sending the retailer specific information from your bill within a set deadline. Miss one deadline and you can’t claim for the rest of the cashback. It can be a good deal if you’re an organized person, but it’s not for everyone. If you do opt for redemption cashback, make it an extra, not the basic reason why you chose that contract.

Automatic Cashback

These are far and away the easiest cashback deals for the consumer. You sign up for a mobile deal and the retailer sends you a cheque.

Automatic cashback doesn’t offer anything like as much money off as the ‘redemption cashback’ that you have to claim, but they are more reliable as you don’t have to claim the cashback in installments.

Cashback From Cashback Sites

Third-party cashback sites can offer deals that leave the competition standing. They sell traffic - digital feet through the door - to the provider, and pass some of their earnings on to you as cashback.

You usually have to sign up to the cashback site.

Friendly warning: If there's a fee to sign up to a cashback site, run a mile - it should be free, you're not their revenue stream.

Whichever cashback route you decide on using, remember cashback is a bonus. Use it to get a little extra after you’ve found the best, cheapest contract.

 

4: Trade in Your Handset

A big part of the average mobile phone contract is the handset. But if you’re looking for ways to save money, selling that paid-off handset or trading it in might just work.

Trade-in Sites

Trade-in sites will buy your old phone from you. It needs to be in reasonably good condition, and the two parts that are most likely to be wrecked, the screen and the battery, are also the most expensive.

There’s no point putting a new screen in an old phone, so if your screen is cracked you won’t get much for it. It might be worth replacing the battery before you sell, but check battery price against what you expect to get for your phone.

Trade-in sites will offer you a price. If you agree, they’ll send you a padded envelope to send them your phone in. Reset it to factory settings so there won’t be any passwords active on it,  and then switch it off.

About 20% of phones are rejected, meaning you’ll be offered a lower price and if you refuse it, your phone will be returned to you. To keep it safe en route, the best choice is to send it by recorded delivery, meaning it’s signed for at every stage.

Auction Sites

Ebay-ing your phone might be the best way to turn it into cash.

Search for your phone make and model on auction sites to see what you’ll get for it: buyback sites charge you for convenience, while auctions will pay better (usually) - but only if you make the sale.

 

5: Handset and Sim Deals

Standard contracts give you a sim and mobile usage, and a handset to plug all that into. But you can get each part separately and save money.

Sim-Only Contracts

Sim-only contracts tend to be cheaper than regular handset-and-sim deals, because you’re not paying for the handset.

Check out our handy video to make sure you're not paying for a phone you've already bought: 

 

They also leave you free to buy your own handset second hand or bargain-hunt a new one, matching it to your needs.

Sim-only plans can call back memories of mid-naughts pay-as-you-go arrangements, but many sim-only tariffs are affordable and come with a wide variety of minutes, data and texts. Sim-only contracts usually start around £5 per month.

What about locked handsets?

If you’re at the end of your contract and you want to keep the handset and switch to sim-only, your handset is probably locked to the original network.

But you can get it unlocked, which is entirely legal, usually costs up to around £20, and can invalidate your handset’s warranty - all good things to know if you’re considering it.

Sim-free phones

Sim-free phones let you build your own phone package if you don’t already have a handset. Usually you pay upfront, and the price of a phone can seem higher when you’re contemplating paying it all at once.

But it’s often cheaper to just buy it outright than through a phone company’s contract, which is basically a two-year finance deal.

Sim-free phones typically aren't net-work locked or branded, so you get the ‘manufacturer's cut’ of the phone. But sim-free just means there’s no sim card.

It doesn’t guarantee that the phone isn’t locked to a network, so make sure that you’re certain about what you’re buying.

 

5: Data Usage

Your phone plan will include a data allowance.

This is how much data you’re allowed to move through the phone company’s 3G or 4G network without paying any extra, without counting voice calls and texts.

One problem with data plans is it can be hard to know what they mean in terms of what you use them for. Say you have 5GB to play with.

How many images, how much video, how many songs, is that?

Here’s how data usage works out:

* View a webpage: 100kB
* Read one email: approx. 100kB
* Use an IM app: 100kB per session
* Download a document: 100kB per page
* Download a song: 5MB
* Download a photo: 2MB
* Watch an episode of a TV show: 100MB
* Watch a YouTube video (approx. 4 minutes): 15MB

Stat: A gigabyte (GB) is a thousand megabytes; a megabyte (MB) is thousand kilobytes (KB).

High definition video, very large images or very high quality audio files will all result in higher data usage, sometimes double the amount shown here.

Many phone providers offer their own data calculators. Knowing the basic sizes of different types of content can let you work it out for yourself easily enough, though.

One of the biggest money leaks on your phone is going over your data allowance.

Like going overdrawn, you’ll be hit with charges that multiply the original problem, resulting in big fees at the end of the month: on average the 23% of us who exceed their data limit monthly pay over £90 a year in extra charges, according to uSwitch..  

You can monitor your data use to stop this happening.

iOS phones: Go to Settings>Mobile, then scroll down til you see Mobile Data Usage.

That will tell you exactly how much data you’ve used since the last time you reset it. Reset it monthly and there’s your monthly usage in real time.

Below it you’ll see an app-by-app breakdown of mobile data use, so you can kill mobile data access for specific apps.

Android phones: Go to Settings>Mobile Data. You’ll see an option to cut off mobile data, and a graph that shows you your data usage on a day-by-day basis. Want to see a monthly figure? Tap the Data Usage Cycle box to see a month’s worth of graph at once.

Windows phones: Go to Settings, then scroll to Data Sense. You’ll see your mobile data usage as well as your wifi usage. Go to Mobile Data Settings and you can set a cap after which your phone won’t try to connect to mobile data. There’s also an option to Restrict Background Data Usage, which stops apps that you aren’t actively using from connecting and using up your data allowance.

Uploading

When we think of using the internet our first thought is of viewing and downloading.

But we should consider uploading too.

Whenever you send an email, make a comment under a blog or post a picture to social media you’re uploading. Uploads are simply bundled with downloads for billing, but they eat into your allowance. What do uploads look like?

Post a tweet: only a few kB

Send an email: 20kB (plus the size of any attachments.)

Put a photo on Facebook: About 2MB

Put a video on Facebook: About 20-50MB per minute

(Sources: Tested.com, Facebook.com, Sasktel.com)

Data Roaming

Data roaming happens when your phone uses a different mobile network than yours to connect to the internet.

It doesn’t happen a lot in the UK but it’s a major issue abroad.

In the EU: Data charges are capped by EU law at €0.20 (£0.16) per megabyte.

There’s VAT to consider too, so expect to pay around 20p per megabyte. They’re about to be phased out. In April 2016 the law will change to cap charges at €0.05/MB, €0.05/min and €0.02/SMS. Then in 2017 they’ll be scrapped altogether.

Outside the EU: There’s no cap. Expect to pay data charges that can go as high as £8/MB or more - meaning streaming a song could cost you £40.

How can you cut your data costs?

Use wifi, not mobile data

Turn mobile data right off on your phone and only connect using wifi.

You’ll find wifi on busses, in train stations, on trains and in cafes, shops and pubs now, so most of the time you’ll be in range of at least one network you can use.

You don’t pay to move data over wifi. No data use, no charges. (Don’t do your internet banking on an unsecured wifi network. Anyone around you could read what you download or upload.)

Check your browser

If you’re using Chrome, you can compress Chrome pages and slash about 35% of their data cost.

If you’re using Opera for Android, go to Settings>Data Savings>Video Compression and make videos load faster even as you save on data.

Facebook

Facebook’s mobile app is one of the hungriest data-munchers on your phone.

(It also eats batteries and CPU.) Replace the official Facebook app with the Lite version and cut your data usage in half - but you’ll still chew through hundreds of megabytes every month.

Try just adding Facebook to your homescreen in your browser instead; the web page is much less data hungry.

Facebook again!

The other way Facebook consumes your data is with video autoplay. When you scroll down your Newsfeed, you’ll see that when videos come on the screen they play automatically. If you’re using mobile data, they’re eating it up in front of you. The solution? Choose Wifi Only or Off from the >Settings>Videos menu in Facebook.

Apps

Apps do things in the background.

They communicate with their home servers, send and receive information and generally scarf down your data allowance without you realising.

On iPhones you can turn off apps’ data access individually under Settings>Mobile>Mobile Data Usage. Using Android? The equivalent functions are in Settings>Apps, or you can restrict background usage across your phone in Settings>Data USage>Restrict Background Data.

Google

Apps don’t always update themselves. Sometimes Google Play gives them a push. To stop this happening, go to the Play store and select Settings>General>Auto-Update Apps, and turn auto-update off.

 

6: Insurance

Mobile phone insurance isn’t compulsory.

But you should definitely consider it. On average, a handset lasts 15 months before it’s lost, broken or stolen. The average mobile contract is two years, leaving you stumping up for a replacement if you’re not insured.

If you know you’re accident-prone, or you tend to lose your phone, you might want to insure it.

Before you spring for new insurance, check you’re not already covered.

Some home insurance covers accidental damage, so your phone would be covered if you broke it by accident at home.

Others offer ‘all risks’ or ‘personal possessions’ insurance which cover you much more comprehensively. Check your insurance documents to find out.

Premier bank accounts sometimes come with phone insurance bundled too, so if you have one your phone might be covered.

 

Key Points:

* Building your own mobile phone deal might be cheaper than taking a standard tariff.

* You almost certainly stand to gain by looking at your calls and data against your tariff.

* Most data problems are easy to solve by taking control of your data usage.

* If you don’t want a new handset you can radically slash the price of your mobile phone bills!

 

Now that you know the basics of saving money on your mobile phone bills, here's our ultimate guide to picking the right mobile phone deal based on your specific needs. It covers all the things you need to consider.

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