This is tip #5 of the Save $1,000 in 30 Days Challenge.
Today’s tip is to optimize your cellphone bill. Many of us (including me) pick a cellphone plan, then never check to see if it’s the right one for us based on our usage. Because the average cellphone bill is about $50, that’s $600 per year of money you can optimize. Perfect.
Optimizing your cellphone bill — the easy way
First let me say, if you still have a landline, the easiest tip is to call your wireless company and bundle it all into one plan — or get rid of your landline altogether.
Anyway, when I went to buy a new cellphone a couple months ago, I picked the unlimited everything plan — unlimited voice, unlimited data, unlimited text. I also set a 3-month check-in on my calendar to go back and analyze my spending patterns so I could cut back on my plan if needed. This is a technique I use a lot: With any usage-based services (e.g., web apps or cell plans), I’ll pay a little more up front so I can monitor my usage, then downgrade to the appropriate plan after 3 months.
You should also know that, according to a recent survey by J.D. Power and Associates, “people who text message, e-mail, and download files on mobile phones spend $14 a month more than people who don’t.” Do you really need all that stuff? Could you try going a couple months without it?
It pays to look at your actual usage and switch to a plan that better fits your needs. If you’re only using 150 text messages, you can probably downgrade to the “200 text messages/month” plan. As you get used to the new limit, add a calendar reminder to check in on the 15th of each month and make sure you’re not wildly over for the first few months.
Optimizing your cellphone — the harder (but more rewarding) way
Cellphone companies have this wildly curious business model of acquiring tons of customers through very expensive means (e.g., national advertising), then churning through them by treating them horribly. Yet even they know that it’s cheaper to retain an existing customer than to acquire a new one. You can use this “customer acquisition cost” in your favor. Here’s how:
1. Find comparable plans for your usage on other cellphone networks. For example, I’m with AT&T, so I’ll investigate Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint by going to their websites. Write down how much they each cost, how many minutes you get, and any other benefits.
2. Call your current cellphone company. To make it easy, here are the phone numbers:
3. First, be nice. Ask them what better plans they have to offer you.
You: “Hi, I was looking at my plan and it’s getting pretty expensive. Could you tell me what other plans you have that would save me money?”
Them: Blah blah same plans as on the website blah blah
You: “What about any plans not listed on the website?”
Them: No, what we have is listed on the website. Plus, you’re on a contract and have an early cancellation fee of $XXX
You: “Well, I understand that, but I’d be saving $XXX even with that cancellation fee. Look, you know times are tough so I’m thinking of switching to [COMPETITOR COMPANY]. Unless there are any other plans you have…? No? Ok, can you switch me to your cancellation department, please?”
Note: What you really want is to be switched to their “customer retention” department, which is the group that has the ability to retain you by giving you a bunch of free deals. You can either ask to be switched directly to the customer retention department, or play a game and hope that by asking for “cancellation,” you’re actually transferred to retention. Play around with a few phone calls and see what works best.
When you get to the customer-retention department, ask for the same thing. This is when you pull out your competitive intel on the other services being offered. If Verizon is offering something for $10 less, tell them that. That’s $120 savings / year right there. But you can do more.
You: “Listen, you know times are tough and I need to get a better deal to stick with you guys. You know and I know that your customer acquisition cost is hundreds of dollars. It just makes sense to keep me as a customer, so what can you do to offer me this plan for less money?”
Notice that you didn’t say, “Can you give me a cheaper plan?” because yes/no questions always get a “no” answer when speaking to wireless customer-service reps. Ask leading questions. You also invoked the customer-acquisition cost, which is meaningful to retention reps. Finally, it really helps if you’re a valued customer who’s stuck around for a long time and actually deserves to be treated well. If you jump around from carrier to carrier, you’re not a worthwhile customer to carriers.
One final thing: People get scared that if they go to the cancellation department and try to negotiate, they’ll get their account canceled without really wanting to do that. There are two things to remember about negotiating your wireless bill: (1) You have a MUCH stronger position if you’re actually willing to walk away and switch to another plan, and (2) your account will never get canceled until you say the final word. You can negotiate for 3 hours and walk away if you want.
Use this technique on virtually any subscription you’re paying. Businesses want to keep customers and are willing to negotiate — but since most people don’t, they’re leaving money on the table.
Total savings: $20-$600
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