Note: CUA does not advertise specific services. Therefore, we have not mentioned names of specific services in this article.
In 1986, you could have a telephone line for about $18 per month, not including long distance charges, and you could still get television for free. Today, the average consumer is spending around $100 per month on cell phone services, $123 on cable/satellite TV and $47 on Internet access. That’s $270 per month totaling a whopping $3,240 per year, compared to zero to $216 per year in 1986. These figures don’t even include extras like paying for other movie/TV show services, the cost of equipment, etc.
If you are not examining how you use these services, you are most likely paying twice to make phone calls, watch TV or access the Internet. But you don’t have to return to the dark ages to cut your costs. All you need to do is think about where you might be paying twice for the same service and/or cut back by changing a few habits.
Even though 73% of Americans own a computer with a broadband connection and 64% of Americans have smartphones, about a third of Americans mostly use their smartphones to access the Internet. (Pew Research data.) This means that many people are paying twice to access the Internet, through cell phone data plans and internet services, unless they are consciously using Wi-fi with their smartphones.
Also, 90% of American adults own a cell phone of any type but only 41% of American homes are wireless-only. This means that there are still many homes paying twice to make phone calls.
When you have that much less cash and you are living on a tight budget, you may also be carrying credit card debt that could have been avoided if you had that cash. That means you are also paying interest on that money.
What can you do to cut these expenses significantly, without losing the services you need? Start with these steps:
- Check to see how much data you are using on your phone each month
- Make note of how you are using these services over a one-month period. Pay particular attention to which device you use for each thing and which channels you actually do watch on TV.
- Find out if you already have access to some TV shows and movies through other subscription services you have or via the Internet.
- Note how many of your phone features you are actually using regularly.
Then, start cutting:
Cell phone data and calling limits
- Use Wi-fi as much as possible on your phone.
- Change your settings on app downloads and updates.
- Cut down on streaming music and video on your phone.
- Use your computer or your TV to access the Internet at home (to watch videos, use Facebook, etc.)
- Use your landline to make calls at home (see landlines below).
- Limit using your phone for car navigation. Know where you’re going before you go. Get directions.
- Replace your landline with a very inexpensive VOIP service (These services now have 911 registration capabilities but check that first) OR
- Eliminate your landline all together if you can make the cost work with your cell phone. It may still be cheaper to keep a landline (using VOIP) if you always use it instead of your cell phone when you are home. It depends on how much time you spend on phone calls. If you always use Wi-Fi on your cell phone at home, you don’t need the landline.
- Use the Internet to watch TV.
- Purchase lower-cost subscription services to watch TV shows (or use the ones you found you already have).
- Switch back to using only the free over-the-air channels if available in your area. You can still get antennas to do this.
- Switch back to the most basic pay TV and get your other content elsewhere.
After you have made many changes in your usage, go back and check to see how much data you used on your phone and how many features you used on your phone. Then, start looking for a new cell phone and plan (when your contract is up). Here are some things to look for:
- Cell phone services that allow you to use phone you already have or where you can purchase a phone outright.
- Flexible plans where you can change your plan any time you need to do so.
- A plan with data that fits with your new data usage. Don’t pay for data you don’t need/use.
- If you have a lot of access to Wi-fi, find a plan that relies heavily on Wi-fi.
- No-contract plans.
- Downgrade your phone to something that matches the features you actually use.
Consumer Reports always has great information on the best cell phone plans.
Although these are many steps to take, the time involved is minimal and the financial reward can be great. For example, switching cell phone carriers can save you $50-$100 per month and changing your landline to VOIP can save you over $40 per month. Eliminating pay TV and replacing it with other things can save you $100 per month. Downgrading your phone alone could save you hundreds of dollars each time you buy one.
You can still have all of what you use and need, while enjoying the extra cash you gain and even better, investing that money in college or retirement!