Buying a phone
What do you need?
Go into a phone shop without planning ahead and you might walk out with the latest high-end phone (and a hefty bill) whether you need it or not. Think carefully about what you need from your phone, and compare different options online.
Make sure you read reviews and, if possible, try the phone hands-on: just comparing the features the manufacturer boasts about can be misleading.
Buy outright or pay monthly?
Getting a contract that comes with a ‘free’ phone can be an appealing option – but of course, the phone isn’t really free. You’ll be paying for it with a higher monthly charge — and you’ll normally end up paying more overall than it costs to buy the phone up-front. You’ll also be limited by the selection of phones that the network offers on contract, so you might end up with a more expensive phone than you need. The main advantage is that you don’t have to find the full cost of the phone up-front, so think carefully about whether this is worth it before you buy.
Don’t forget to check the cost of second-hand and refurbished phones: you may be able to get a better deal, and a second-hand phone that was expensive to buy new can be higher-quality than a brand new, low-price phone.
A phone you buy outright is also less likely to be locked to a specific network, giving you more flexibility to switch if a better deal comes along.
Pay-as-you-go or contract?
There isn’t as much difference as there used to be between the deals you can get on pay-as-you-go and on a contract. Many networks will let you pay for a bundle of calls, texts and data on a pay-as-you-go deal, and there are lots of 30-day rolling contract deals that mean you aren’t locked in for a long time like you would be with a conventional contract.
You might be able to get a better deal on a longer contract, but remember that you’ll be tied in for a long time – often two years. That means that if you see a better deal elsewhere, you won’t be able to take advantage of it.
Choosing a package
Getting the right package is very important: choose badly, and you’ll either pay extra for going over your allowance or pay for calls, texts and data that you aren’t using. This isn’t just a matter of working out how much you need to pay every month: you also need to think about which parts of the package are most important to you. For example, if you hardly ever make phone calls but you send a lot of texts, you might not need to worry about the minutes you get when comparing packages.
If you’re on a contract, it’s normally easier to move to a more expensive tariff than a cheaper one, so if you’re not sure then go for a cheaper option and keep a close eye on what you use for the first couple of months.
Make sure you compare deals across different networks: some may offer cheaper deals than others, or give you a different balance between calls, texts and data.
Keeping your bill down
Once you’ve found the best deal for you, there’s more you can do
- Keep an eye on your usage: you can end up spending a lot of money if you run out without realising it. This is especially important for mobile internet, since it can be hard to tell how much data an app is using: most phones will let you set up alerts and check how much data is being used by each app to avoid this.
- Alternatives to phonecalls and texts, such as Skype, Facetime, WhatsApp and Google Hangouts, can help you to avoid going over your allowance – but remember that making voice or video calls using mobile internet can use up a lot of your available data.
- Be careful if you go abroad: the cost of using your phone in another country can be much higher than you expect, especially if you use the internet.
- If you need to call a business, check that the number is included in your calls allowance: some numbers, such as 0845 numbers, might not be. Services like SayNoTo0870 can help you to find alternatives.
- If you’re using the internet on your phone, try to use Wi-Fi when you can to avoid going over your data allowance.