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Lower Your Cellphone Bill, Part 1

2 February 2010 No Comment

cellphonesWEBD’ja ever notice that somehow, some way, no matter what you do, you always end up spending more on your cell phone bills than you expect to? No, this is not the opening to a Seinfeld routine (although I bet he has one on the subject!). But it’s a situation we’ve all become familiar with: The cell phone companies present us with “plans” that include free minutes, free chat, free internet – free! – but we somehow end up paying the same, or more, with each subsequent plan!

How could this be? Are “they” ripping us off? Not in my experience; as they say, the fault lies not in our stars, but ourselves. There are, it turns out, many pitfalls in the plans offered by the companies. They may be offering lots of “free” services, but the services they’re offering aren’t necessarily the ones we need. Meanwhile, the ones we really use aren’t included in the plan – so we end up paying for them, thereby increasing our “added value” (ie, our bill) to the cell phone companies.

For example: Many of the moderately priced cell phone plans will offer you lots of discounts on talking time, but severely limit you on services like SMS. One of my teenage kid’s plans, for example, includes lots of talking time included in the basic plan price (NIS 99 a month), but limits them to 30 text messages a month. Problem is, texting is much more popular among teens than talk is – so it’s nearly inevitable that I end up paying more than the 99 shekel basic price. Of course, I could instruct my child to limit their SMS usage – yeah, right!

Not that I can really blame the kid; texting is just too convenient, as are many of the other services the companies offer – and charge for. Of course, the cellphone companies are counting on our laziness, and our rationalizations – “it’s just grushim,” as they used to say at the bank when a grush was a piaster. But those grushim add up, and pretty soon you get shekels – lots of them.

The trick, it seems to me, is in eliminating as many of the extra, non-plan charges as possible – and fortunately, with the new wifi equipped phones that have been hitting the market recently, you can use a host of modern tools and applications that can, with a little effort, save you big money each month. At this point, cell phones have become a necessity (Go out and try to find a pay phone these days, much less a phone card!). But if we make an effort to keep costs down, we can make the black hole of cell phone expenses a little (maybe even a lot!) smaller. “Review and eliminate” will be your watchword, and this time and next, we’ll be reviewing some ways to get the services you now pay extra for, for free. To use our above example: If you’ve got more minutes than SMS messages, the trick would be to convert those minutes into text messages. Can it be done? Yes indeed (we’ll see how in part 2).

For now, let’s start with something easy – content. Your current subscription probably includes one (or more) “content packages,” consisting of “free” ringtones, games, videos, etc., that are costing you between NIS 25-40 a month! To be fair, the packages were “free,” in that they didn’t cost you anything, probably for the first three months of your plan. But they do now. Forty shekels for some ringtones and games – that you can get for free! Where? Try these sites:

  • Lots of free content: Everyone loves the “thrill of the new,” and the cell phone companies have found that people are willing to pay for that thrill, in the form of new ringtones, videos, etc. But why pay when you can get all that content, and much more, for free – at Zedge. If you’re looking for ringtones, including pop songs, rock songs, or even “funny” messages (they even have some Israeli songs) – not to mention games and themes (for every platform and phone), along with funny videos, movie trailers, wallpapers, screensavers, etc. – Zedge is the place for you. The site has thousands – make that millions (more than 3 million!) of downloads. The best part is that besides being free, you don’t have to use up your internet connection minutes to get to the site – you have the option of downloading everything to your computer and transferring it manually to your phone!
  • Free personalized ringtones: Zedge can supply you with all the ringtones you want, but if you want a very cool sounding, original one (as in “no one else in the world has this ringtone”), check out a site with the unlikely name of “the Kakophone.” Here you can create a ringtone using the site’s unique machine, based on the digits in your phone number and using settings that let you add bass, subtract treble, and interpret your phone number as it might be imagined in a hip-hop, rock, reggae, or other musical style. The site creates your ringtone (“no two are alike!”), which you can then download to your PC and upload to your phone. Do it as many times as you want, and spend nary a shekel building up your library of fun and interesting ringtones!

Pretty good for one day – but we’ve just begun! Next time we’ll talk about SMS alternatives, phone book backups (yep, you’re probably paying for that too!) and the cheapest ways to get your phone online!

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