Cutting smart phone costs

Paring down smart phone costs takes smart shopping.
Signing up for unneeded add-ons can quickly add to your cell phone costs. Before you know it, your bill can soar to more than $100. According to cost-savings website BillShrink.com, 80 percent of Americans overpay for their cell phone service.

But there are ways to avoid being dinged by high smart phone costs. For example, some carriers now offer a la carte plans with lower rates. "You can pay lower smart phone bills," adds Nick Mokey, associate editor at the Digital Trends website. "You must think about how you use your phone."

Here are five tips that can help you save money.

Analyze plans at comparison sites

Smart phone plan costs are dipping. So, check out a slew of comparison sites where you can target recent deals.

For example, BillShrink.com helps you analyze plans by matching you with optimal ones that fit your needs. MyRatePlan.com also analyzes various wireless plans for you. Allan Keiter, president of MyRatePlan.com, suggests looking at lighter usage plans as a way to cut costs.
"For people only using e-mail or browsing a few Web pages, you can get away with it," he says.
Another strategy to save money is by shopping for the best data and text deals. For example, Verizon and AT&T offer $15-per-month data plans. T-Mobile's is $10. AT&T's text plan gives you 200 texts for $5 per month.

Usually, data is less costly than voice. The key is tracking usage so you don't get slapped with costly extra charges. One way to do that is to download free "minute tracker" apps for your iPhone. AT&T and Verizon also offer online data calculators that you can use to analyze usage to target the best plan.

"Once you start streaming game playing or downloading apps, data usage adds up quickly," adds Keiter. "Be careful."

Avoid costly add-ons to your plan

Smart phone add-ons can add up.

Take big expenses such as warranties and gadget insurance. Warranties can cost $4 to $6 per month, and there's usually a $50 deductible. Many smart phones already come with one-year warranties.

"You've usually got two weeks to 30 days to return something if you've got a problem with it," says Sue Ann Macomber, supervisor at Utility Consumers Action Network's Fraud Squad, based in San Diego. She adds that tech gadgets quickly become outdated after a year or two anyway.

And gadget insurance is also questionable. For example, iPhone insurance can run $12 per month, with a hefty $150-plus deductible. AT&T also offers detailed billing that breaks down monthly costs for $2 per month.

And the add-ons don't stop there. Roadside assistance service can cost you $3 per month.

Save your money for apps.

Prepaid service can pay off

You can save money with prepaid services because they usually cost less than contract plans.
"Prepaid has become more competitive," says Keiter.

But savings can add up. For example, Walmart's prepaid service Straight Talk offers unlimited voice, text and Web for only $45 per month. And Virgin Mobile offers a similar plan for $60. Verizon, Boost Mobile and Metro PCS also offer prepaid plans.

Make sure you look for rollover minutes and read the fine print. "Be careful what prepaid companies advertise," says Mokey. "They'll say unlimited Web, but it's not the same as data."
There is one caveat: The latest and greatest smart phones usually come with a contract.
Opt for VoIP
Stretch out your minutes with VoIP, or voice over Internet protocol, where you make calls or send messages via the Internet.

Google Voice and Skype are great VoIP options, says Nick Mokey. For example, by downloading a Skype app, you can make unlimited calls in the U.S., for a small fee, without using your phone's minutes. With Google Voice, you get free voice and text messages. "VoIP allows cheaper voice plans," says Mokey. "You'll use few minutes."

There is a downside, though: Some plans only allow one-way calling, he says.

VoIP is aimed at people with limited voice and data plans, and you don't have to sacrifice speed. People with iPhones can now use Skype or Google apps to make calls over the super-fast 3G network. T-Mobile offers free Wi-Fi calling that also can stretch your cell phone dollar.
Says Mokey: "As long as there's a hot spot, you're not paying from your pool of minutes."

Bundle-up smart phone uses

Think double duty to cut costs and save money.

One tactic is sending e-mails rather than texts, where you can quickly rack up fees. "Send as many texts as you want that way," says Mokey.

Another cost-saving move: calling people within your network where calls are free. Verizon offers a Pick 5 Friends plan, where you can talk to five people any time and for as long as you want.

"Look at your monthly bill and then pull out frequently called numbers," suggests Mokey. "They don't come from monthly allotments."