By Rebecca Webber
It's not just you: It truly wasn't so long ago that a family got by with a single phone line, and expensive long-distance calls were brief special occasions that inexplicably caused your parents to shout into the receiver. Photo credit: Getty
Now you may have thousands of calling minutes on multiple lines, texting and data plans, not to mention a gazillion apps and ringtones, plus the opportunity to rent or buy songs, books, movies and anything else in multiple formats.
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Yes, you need to be reachable, but with a little planning and consolidating, you can pay a whole lot less-without feeling like you're missing out. "By reducing some of your overlapping services, you can probably cut those bills in half," says Michelle Singletary, author of The Power to Prosper: 21 Days to Financial Freedom. Here's how to lower your phone bill.
You better shop around. Mobile companies want your business, and since you can take your phone number to any provider, use the competition between them to your advantage. Stay on top of the offerings and promotions on company websites. And if you ever hear about a great promotion from the carrier you already use, call and see if you can jump in on it-you usually can, as long as you extend your contract another year or two. Finally, put your whole family on the same carrier: You can catch a considerable break by going with a family plan, as opposed to keeping individual ones.
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Buy for your chattiest month. Carriers make much of their money by charging hefty fees (roughly 45¢ a minute!) when people go over their plan limits. "It's sometimes better to pay a little more every month than have even one month of overages," says Ellie Kay, author of The 60-Minute Money Workout. Look over your recent bills, or ask your carrier's customer support department to help you pinpoint your highest usage months last year (your kid's first semester at college, perhaps), and sign up for a plan that covers you comfortably at your peak gab time.
Avoid the OMG factor. You can hope your teenagers will exercise restraint when it comes to texting (yeah, right) or you can accept that in their world, texting is the new talking and just get the unlimited plan. "It's not worth the mental agony when they go over-and theywill go over," says Kay...to the tune of up to 30¢ for each text.
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Reconsider your landline. These days, 88% of adults in the U.S. and almost as high a percentage of teens have their own cell phones. If you have good service where you live, the biggest adjustment to giving up your landline may be psychological, not practical. "Many millions of people have done it and they save about $600 a year," says David Bach, author of Debt Free for Life. About a third of all U.S. households are cell phone only.
Drop your extra services. If you're not ready to lose your landline (if it's corded, it would come in handy in a power outage), consider replacing voicemail with an answering machine, and losing your long-distance plan. Using the bare-bones service for local and incoming calls could cost you less than $30 a month.
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Talk free through your computer. Use Skype, Google Chat or, if you use Apple products, FaceTime-free programs that you download from the Internet. These allow you to speak to, and even see, the person you're chatting with using the camera, mic and speakers that are built into most computers and smartphones. (The video part of Skype and Google Chat is optional--you can turn it off if you've just rolled out of bed.) Using one of these options is a no-brainer if you regularly call overseas, because it can completely eliminate long-distance fees. And the other caller doesn't necessarily need to have one of these programs: Skype, for instance, lets you call cell phones or landlines from your computer for a few cents per minute. Reception depends on your Internet service-it needs to be solid.Explore a less expensive phone option. VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol. It isn't as pricey as a traditional landline because the sound is converted to a digital signal and transmitted over the Internet, bypassing the phone company and its charges. You can talk on your regular phone, which is usually plugged into a modem-like device, and the sound moves over your broadband connection. Whether this makes sense for you will depend on how reliable your Internet service is (one that cuts out a lot will continually drop your calls) and how much you use your landline phone to begin with. VoIP is also useful if you want to drop your landline, but prefer to use a regular phone rather than a mobile. Ask your Internet provider about bundling a VoIP service with your cable and Internet. Or you can go with a company like Vonage, which you've probably seen ads for, that's VoIP as well. You can get unlimited local and long distance in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico for about $25 a month. Traditional carriers like AT&T are also getting in on the action, so price it all out.
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Original article appeared on WomansDay.com.
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