Kill the Leech in Your Pocket

Beware of little expenses. A small leak will sink a great ship.
— Benjamin Franklin

Do you know how much that slick iPhone in your pocket is really costing you? You might be surprised to learn that it will run you thousands of dollars over its lifetime. That’s a serious drain on your finances.

Once you get bitten by the smartphone bug, though, it’s hard to go back. Trust me, I sympathize. I could get lost in my own living room, so I’d never find my way anywhere without the gps my phone provides. Plus it helps me make productive use of my commute time. I ride the subway, and can never get a seat, so using a laptop isn’t practical, but I can get a head start on the day’s emails with my phone on the way in. (Of course I’d never waste my precious time on something silly like playing games. Cough.)

So can you have your cake and eat it, too? Can you cut down your cell phone bill significantly while still enjoying all those smartphone goodies? Possibly.

Step 1: Assess Your Usage

Cell phone companies love to bundle together lots of services that you may or may not need. Go over your old bills and see exactly how many voice minutes, texts, and megabytes of data you’re actually using. It may not be what you expect. Most people tend to have a pretty good idea how many voice minutes they go through, but many are surprised to find how few data megabytes they actually use, and how many texts they go through. I know that was true for me.

Step 2: Find Creative Ways to Cut Back

The best way I know of to scale back your usage dramatically is to sign up for Google Voice. With Google voice, you can get a single number that will ring all of your phone lines at once. It also has native apps that will run on any computer.

So while at home, or at the office, you can make free voice calls and send free texts from your computer without burning those precious mobile minutes. Meanwhile, people can call the same number and get you on your cell when you’re out and about.

Skype is another option for making free voice calls, but doesn’t offer the single-phone-number feature, which is what really makes Google Voice a standout.

Give it a try, and see how much of your usage you can offload onto free services. It may be more than you think.

Step 3: Change plans

Now that you know your true usage needs, and ideally have scaled them back, you’re in a position to choose a cheaper plan. The original iPhone providers don’t offer much in this department, unfortunately, and they require expensive and onerous contracts in any event.

A relatively new player on the scene is Virgin Mobile. They use the Sprint network, which is pretty good in urban areas, but can be spotty in more remote locations. Their big selling points are that they don’t require contracts, and have great rates.

In particular, their base iPhone plane is $35 per month, and includes unlimited data and texts. It only include 300 voice minutes, but perhaps that will be enough for you after you’ve completed Step 2. If not, plans with more voice minutes are not much more expensive — $45 will get you 1200, and $55 will get you unlimited voice.

If their coverage is good in your area, they merit a look. If not, or if you’re stuck in a contract, you may at the very least be able to scale back to a cheaper plan with your current provider.

Consider Prepaid

If your usage is really low, you can do even better with a prepaid plan. That’s right, even with an iPhone.

Don’t Let Inertia Drain Your Bank Account

The iPhone was locked up pretty tightly during its early days, but there are a lot more options nowadays. Don’t let yourself stay stuck in an expensive plan indefinitely just because it’s what you’ve always done. Given the real cost of ownership of the smartphones we all love so much, doing a little homework is well worth the effort.


  1. In Australia there’s pretty much 3 mobile phone companies that have a triopoly on the mobile phone market. There are other companies, but they all just on-sell the big three’s network.

    Vodafone: Shocking… SHOCKING reception, service and data speeds – just Google “Vodafail” but cheap prices

    Optus: Slightly less shocking reception and data speeds but WORSE service and cheap to moderately priced

    Telstra: Quite good coverage and data speeds, again shocking service but ridiculously expensive

    I could cut both mine and DW’s phone bills in half (or more) but it would mean taking a massive hit on coverage and data speeds. We both use our phones a LOT and for quite productive things too (I don’t have a single game installed on my phone :P) it just sucks that here in Australia you either have a choice of “cheap with no reception” or “stupidly expensive and being able to use your phone”. Ahh to have the population densities of a normal 1st world country…

    Also, you should really get yourself an Android… 😉

    • Sean Owen

      Actually I just switched to Android myself. I like it so far, although frankly I don’t have a strong preference between it and the iPhone. All I use are google maps, email, calendar, basic web browsing, and the occasional game. (I spend roughly $5 per year on apps, for perspective.) I use the hell out of those, though.

      DW still has the iPhone. She’s just about to sign up for the Virgin plan I mentioned above.

      Oligopolies suck, don’t they? Last time I was in Australia (2011) I bought a cheap prepaid phone for something like $20. I forget which network it was on, but it worked OK. It was pretty primitive, though, and the minutes were steep.

      I actually used the Web browser on my O.G. eink Kindle to load Google maps and find my way around. No joke. Free 3g ftw.

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