Remember, a smartphone is a small computer, and computers are expensive. Even older-model phones can cost hundreds of dollars, never mind the $1,149 you'd have to pay for an iPhone X with 256GB, or the Samsung Galaxy S9, which costs upwards of $950.
In fact, there are phones that rival the iPhone and Samsung you may have never heard of before now. Click here for the 10 best smartphones in the world.
No matter the carrier, the freefall days of free and discounted phones are over, at least among mainstream providers. The pressure to own a smartphone is high, so how do you keep those expenses as low as possible? Here are five smart ways to keep that bill manageable.
1. Check out the secret carriers
“Secret carrier” sounds sketchy, but it’s shorthand for a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO). These are wireless communication service providers that do not own the wireless network infrastructure they use. Instead, they operate “virtually” on another carrier’s network.
MVNO will lease cell coverage and data bandwidth from one of the big carriers - AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon - and resell it to their customers. The reception is often just as clear and strong, because they’re using the same technology.
Many MVNO companies offer cheaper plans than what you will find with the big providers. Sign-up is usually simple, and with a low-commitment, you’re rarely subjected to a credit check, and there are many “a la carte” options and add-ons. Here are a few of the most popular options:
Virgin Mobile customers are using Sprint's nationwide 4G LTE network with one plan to choose from. It has no annual contract and no hidden fees.
The "Innercircle" plan by Virgin Mobile costs $50 per month for one line and comes with unlimited talk, text and 4G LTE data. You can add a mobile hotspot for $10 per month, phone insurance for $7 per month, and international calling for $5 per month.
StraightTalk Wireless uses all of the big four providers' networks.
With one line, it's $35 per month, and you get unlimited talk, text, and 2GB of data. If you want to bump your data up to 10GB, that plan costs $45 per month. Its unlimited data plan will run you $55 per month.
Boost Mobile uses Sprint's network and has 99 percent nationwide coverage with voice roaming.
If you have one line, it costs $35 per month for unlimited talk and text and comes with 3GB of data. For $50 per month, your data is unlimited and comes with 8 Gigs of hotspot. And if you want to stream HD video up to 1080p, it costs $60 per month, which comes with unlimited talk, text, and data plus 20 Gigs of a hotspot.
2. Use Wi-Fi whenever you can
Mobile providers sometimes offer unlimited data plans. However, many people choose to sign up for less expensive plans that have capped data amounts each month. This reduces the amount of data you can use, but if you spend most of your time in a Wi-Fi-connected environment – home or office – you don’t need all that data anyway.
Rather than looking for free Wi-Fi, put an app on your phone. Click here for the one I use that has a map of more than a 100 million free Wi-Fi hotspots worldwide.
3. Make sure you are not paying for insurance and any extras
One way to cut back on your cell phone bill is not to add insurance on your gadget. Think about how much you're paying for it over the course of a year.
A $15-per-month insurance plan would cost $180 for the year. If you have a family of four and insurance on each device, that would add up to $720 for the year.
Don't feel like you're missing out on a quality phone just because you didn't go with the thousand-dollar high-end device. There are some lower-priced gadgets out there that have all the essential features you'll need; you have to look for them. Click here for some extra cheap phones even iPhone users would crave.
In general, it’s wise to scan your cell phone bill to see everything that you're paying for. You might be surprised by what you find. Anything that you don't need (usual extras are enhanced voicemail or roadside assistance) should be canceled.
4. Set up data overage alerts
If you don't have an unlimited data plan and go over the allowed amount, you're going to have to pay overage fees. These charges add up quickly.
One way to avoid overages, on top of our Wi-Fi suggestion I spoke of earlier, is to set up an overage alert with your provider. All the primary providers have an overage alert feature that is simple to set up. You need to log into your account and search for overage alerts to find out how to set it up with your particular carrier.
Once you've set up the alert, you will receive automatic text and email alerts from your provider when you hit 75 or 90 percent of your monthly allowances for voice, messaging or data.
5. Go to a prepaid plan and check for discounts
Prepaid and no-contract providers often get great reception and many people like their flexible service. You can avoid credit checks and hefty fees, and you can switch off the service whenever you want. Companies like metroPCS and Cricket Wireless have reasonably priced monthly plans that won't break the bank.
For example, metroPCS offers a no-annual-contract plan for $30 per month that gives you unlimited talk and text and 2GB of data at up to 4G LTE speeds. If you need more data, you can pay $40 per month for unlimited talk and text and 5GB of data.
Its unlimited data plan costs $50 per month, and for unlimited data plus 10GB of a hotspot, it will run you $60 per month. All of these plan prices include taxes and regulatory fees, so you won't pay more than what the plan calls for up front.
Cricket Wireless plans are similarly priced. It costs $30 per month for unlimited talk and text with 2GB of high-speed data. For 5GB of data, the monthly plan costs $40, and for unlimited talk, text, and data it costs $55 per month ($50 per month if you sign up for auto pay).
If you decide to go with a no-contract provider, make sure to ask about discounts. Most of them offer multi-line discounts, so you would pay even less if you add your entire family to your plan.
What digital lifestyle questions do you have? Call my national radio show and click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet or computer. From buying advice to digital life issues, click here for my free podcasts.
Copyright 2018, WestStar Multimedia Entertainment. All rights reserved.
Learn about all the latest technology on the Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show. Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com.