After a lot of headache and drama with our cell phone provider, it gave me an idea. Why not share a post with all of you, in the hopes that it will save you from some of the mistakes I made? From roaming charges, to surprise charges for "background data," to modifications in my cell phone plan that I didn't know about... I feel like I've seen it all. So I will share with you a few things I've learned since getting my very first cell phone in 2006. Hopefully it can spare you some of the hassle that I wasn't able to avoid.
#1. Buy Your Own Phone.
Something that hardly anyone seems to do, and yet is the best idea? Buying your phone, completely independently. Getting a phone from a cell phone provider is the number 1 way they trap you in a contract. Your contract is bound to outlive your phone. This means your options are either to buy a phone at a premium---which you were trying to avoid by getting a contract in the first place---or renew your contract early to get another phone, which keeps the cycle going forever.
To avoid this frustrating situation, either use a legitimate online source, or an electronics store to buy your own phone. The most economical way is to catch a sale. The one thing you have to keep in mind, is each phone has a SIM card, there are two different frequencies that SIM cards run off of, and so it may be best to check with the carrier you plan to sign on with to make sure the phone you have in mind will work with them. Otherwise you have to look at getting another phone, or another carrier. Overall, this is the most ideal situation. Generally you can buy insurance for the phone at the place you purchased it, if that's a concern. But buying your own phone gives you the ability to replace when you want, for whatever reason you want---whether it's broken, outdated, or you just decided the phone doesn't work for you.
#2. Shop Around.
Look at a lot of carriers, their rates, their plans, and their coverage. You may not find the perfect solution, but by looking at all of your options, you're likely to find something that's pretty close, at least.
Coverage is a big thing to consider. Smaller cell phone providers will not have as wide a range that is "in their zone." Which means when you use your phone outside that zone, you'll pay higher rates. If you never leave the city, a smaller cell phone provider is probably a great option, because they also offer lower rates. If not, move on and keep looking!
Look for a rate that you can reasonably afford, keeping in mind that unless you find a wicked plan (which isn't likely), you need to leave some wiggle room for months where you incur fees for extra services, such as when you go over your minutes, or end up roaming.
Last but not least, it is important to look for a plan that suits you. How many minutes do you typically use in a month, and what is the most you've ever used in a month? Do you need data or can you live with just using WiFi when you find an open connection? If you text message a lot, where do you text message to? Make sure you know the answer to these questions when you sign up for a plan. Personally, I signed up for a student plan that gave me 250 anytime minutes a month. That sounded like plenty, but I went over nearly every month, and the rates per minute when I went over were absurdly high.
#3. Do Not Sign Up for a Contract.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to avoid signing into a contract if you can. Signing up for a contract is like signing over your freedom, and your
power. Once you've signed that line, cell phone companies pretty much
cease to care about you. This means that when you have any issues with
your plan, they'll basically tell you, "Too bad!" Why? Because they know
you're stuck with them until your contract is up, since your only other option is to
pay a lot of money to buy out your contract.
Going on a month-to-month plan also means things will be worry-free if you decide to switch carriers, or if you move. Hardly anyone plans to make a move out of state, across the country, or even out of the country when they sign up for a contract. But a 2- or 3-year term is a long time, and a lot can change. Should any of your circumstances or your feelings about your carrier change, you will then have to worry about the headache and stress of buying out your contract. At only 1 year until the end of our contracts, the buy out for my husband's phone and my own would have been approximately $600.
#4. If You Do Sign Up for a Contract, Read It First.
Under the circumstances where you feel you have no choice but to sign up for a contract with a carrier, or if you really think it will work for you... My advice is: when the employee slides the contract over to you, hands you a pen, and looks at you expectantly to sign it without so much as a glance.... don't. Instead, take the time to read it.
When I went to the store of the cell phone provider my husband and I signed up for in 2011, I really had one big thing in mind. I send a lot of text messages in North America, so I mentioned this to the employee, and she told me of a plan that included unlimited text messaging for all of North America. Great! Well, fast forward a year and a half into our contracts, and I was getting several bills that were quite high. Looking at the detailed invoice, I noticed I was being charged for my text messages outside of the country. A call to the service provider, and I was informed they decided to start charging for any text messages to the US. Because this was an "optional" feature to my service plan, it did not violate my usage of the plan within Canada, and was therefore within my contract terms. So, basically, "Oh well! Too bad. Nothing you can do about it." They claimed Canada-to-US text messages were costing them so much, they were faced with no other option than to start charging their customers for those text messages. Go figure, when my contract finally went up a few weeks ago, they offered to give me back that feature, along with several others, to keep me as a customer.
So read all the fine print, and make sure everything that is an important feature to your plan is fixed, and cannot be changed.
#5. Look At Every Bill. If You See a Problem, Call Your Provider.
Last but not least, make a habit of looking at a detailed invoice of your monthly bill. You may find yourself catching things. It is helpful to see the patterns in your own behavior so you have the opportunity to adjust behavior to stay within the limits of your plan if necessary. Once in awhile, you may even spot things such as charges for features included in your plan, or new charges for changes to your plan that you didn't know about it. When this happens, be sure to contact your service provider immediately. Most service providers will put in your contract that charges are technically disputable for about 30 days, but after that period it is assumed you looked at your bill and agreed with all charges. So be on top of it. There are plenty of people out there who pay their cell phone bills, no matter how astronomical, without ever looking at a detailed account of their invoice. Take charge of your cell phone plan by making sure everything looks right with your bill, every single month.