Can You Afford Me Now?

Denise Trowbridge

I'm guessing your monthly cellphone bill costs a lot more now than it did when you got your first flip phone back in 1996.

Spending on cellphone service has risen 49 percent since 2007 for households earning $18,000 to $95,000 a year, according to analysis of U.S. Department of Labor spending data by The Wall Street Journal. At the end of 2013, the average monthly cellphone bill in the U.S. ranged from $120 for T-Mobile customers to $148 a month for Verizon customers, according to research firm Cowen and Company.

If you want to trim that bill, just follow these steps.

First, look at your current bill. If you're paying extra for services such as phone insurance, cancel it. "In most cases, the coverage isn't worth the money," said Logan Abbott, president of, a cellphone plan comparison site. Are you paying for any subscriptions that you forgot to cancel, no longer need or didn't authorize? If so, dump them.

Then, analyze your family's current usage. Log in to your account on your current carrier's website and see how much talk, text and data you're using. "You want to look at all the statistics: your average monthly usage, if it's trending up or down and the amount (of services) each phone is using," Abbott said.

Then, ask the big question: Does your plan still fit your family's needs? If the answer is no, use an online comparison shopping service such as, or to find a more affordable plan that better matches your family's actual usage. All carriers offer unlimited talk and text, so look for price and data limits.

Data overages are the No. 1 reason bills end up being more expensive than anticipated. "You have to update your data plan every time you upgrade your phone, because phones are more capable now and there are more and more ways to use up data," Abbott said. "If you use 48 gigabytes of data a month, look for a plan to accommodate that and that has padding so you have some wiggle room."

If that plan comes from another carrier, and you don't have a contract, there's nothing to stop you from making the jump. Most carriers offer prepaid, no-contract cell service for smartphones, and the plans are competitive in price, Abbott said. If you are still on an old-school-style contract, you're limited. Any change might result in a cancellation fee. Or, if your smartphone was bought on a monthly payment plan through your current carrier, you'll have to pay the balance due on the phone if you cancel service.

Don't be scared of stepping away from the big players such as AT&T and Sprint toward smaller players like Virgin Mobile or Straight Talk. Their service is just as good. "They just don't have a (big) advertising budget," Abbott said. Although, you might not be able to get the newest, latest phone through a small carrier the day it's released. "You'd have to wait a few months," he said.

No matter your plan, keep data fees in check by using data common sense. Make sure your phone is set to automatically use the Wi-Fi at home, the library or other places you frequent as soon as you arrive. Then you'll only be using the data plan for streaming content when you're out and about. Second, "go online and set up a notification so the carrier sends you a text when you reach 80 percent of your data limit during the billing cycle," Abbott said. "Then, at least you can tell the kids, 'Hey, cut it out.'"