Cellphone companies want you to sign up for expensive two-year contracts. Why wouldn't they? It's money directly in their pocket. They'll use every sales technique they can to get you to sign on the dotted line.
Sometimes, that contract winds up being a good deal, but there are several things you can do to make sure you're getting the best deal for the phone services you need. Here are five tactics you can use when negotiating a new contract:
Use multiple methods when shopping around. If you're at the end of your cellphone contract, the ball's in your court. You not only have the ability to choose the specifics of a new contract, you can also jump to a new carrier.
Cellular providers offer phones and contracts in a variety of ways - online, in retail stores and via flyers. When shopping around, don't just check out websites to compare deals. Visit the shops of the reputable carriers in your area.
A valuable tip: Before you start comparing carriers, use OpenSignal to figure out which providers have good coverage in areas where you're going to use your phone. There's no point in getting a cellphone for a good price if it doesn't even work in your area.
Include prepaid phones in your comparison. Many people overlook prepaid cellphones when they shop around and compare packages and prices. Prepaid phones are competitive in their price structures, and many prepaid providers are tied directly to larger providers (meaning they use the network of larger providers).
Check out the prepaid offers available on sites like Amazon, then research the providers so you know what kind of network they have. You may find a prepaid phone matches what you need at a much lower price - and without a contract.
Negotiate. If you do settle on an offer, nothing's keeping you from negotiating. You can simply tell the provider you're considering switching to their service - or that you're currently shopping around with other providers - and ask for some perks.
It's useful to come armed with comparable deals from other providers. Say that another provider has a particular deal, and ask if they can adjust the price on one of their packages to match it.
Remember, the worst thing that can happen is that they say "no."
Check for a professional discount. Many employers have arrangements with major cellular providers to give a discount on plans for their employees. For example, Verizon's employee discount program provides discounts for the employees of thousands of businesses.
Check with your employer to see if it has such an arrangement and, if so, use that as a part of your price comparison.
Ask to compare the plan you're considering with a no-contract version. If you're considering signing a contract in order to get an inexpensive phone, ask the provider for the cost of a non-contract version of the same plan. Generally, non-contract plans are significantly less expensive per month, but do not provide a discounted phone.
This gives you the freedom to find an unlocked phone, and use it (provided it's compatible with your provider) or use an older phone you already own. In either case, it can drastically reduce your monthly cost - and add up to a net savings - if you're willing to spend more at the start of the contract.
These tactics, when used in concert, can significantly reduce the amount you have to pay each month for your cellphone.
Trent Hamm is the founder of the personal finance website TheSimpleDollar.com, which provides consumers with resources and tools to make informed financial decisions.