30+ Cheap Mobile Tips
By Tara and Nick | Edited by Steve N Updated 25 Aug 2015
Whether your phone's superglued to your ear or you only use it for the odd call, the chances are you're massively overpaying for the minutes, texts and data that you use.
- 10 Top PAYG deals - incl Giffgaff, Ј10/mth
- 12 New. Ofcom tool to check mobile signal
- 19 The 'before you buy' checklist
- 30 Know your rights if prices are hiked
- 33 How to complain about your provider
If you're paying more than Ј15/mth, you're probably paying too much
How much is your mobile bill each month? If you're paying more than Ј15/mth, then you need to ask yourself why.
Ј15/mth is the key benchmark because that's how much it typically costs to get yourself a decent allowance on a Sim-only deal, though which one to get depends on exactly what balance of minutes, texts and data you want. See full details of all our top pick tariffs below, including discounted plans for those with certain broadband providers.
In our recent poll almost 25,000 of you told us how much you pay for your mobile. The results were eye-opening – a whopping 78% of those on contracts which factor in the cost of a handset (and 46% overall) shell out more than Ј15 a month, with an average cost of Ј27/mth, or Ј330 a year.
Of course, there are valid reasons why you may be paying more than Ј15/mth. These include:
- You're paying off the cost of a handset.
- You're paying more for 4G.
- You're paying more for a really hefty data allowance.
- You have a low credit score and so can't get a contract.
If one of the above applies, then at least there's a reason for your bill being higher – though you still may be able to save.
But if you just settle for the same deal, provider and price each year, then STOP. Mobile tariffs are deflating in price, so if anything you should be paying less each year, not more.
Before you look for a new deal, ask yourself whether you REALLY need a new handset
The biggest single factor affecting the cost of your new mobile deal is whether or not you'll be paying for a new handset as well. It's important to understand that even if you get a contract tariff where the phone itself is 'free' or relatively cheap, in practice you'll end up paying for it – and generally end up paying MORE for it – through the monthly tariff.
If you already have a decent handset in good nick, you'll get a far cheaper deal if you opt for a Sim-only deal. Here you simply get the Sim card with the tariff, but no handset. (See our top picks below).
How to find a new handset
If you DO want a new handset, first think about what features you want and will use. A useful site that allows you to compare handsets is GSM Arena. It lists the full specifications for each model so you can see at a glance if it has what you need.
Read reviews online and ask friends and family for advice on which handset might be best for you before you set your heart on any gadget. You might also consider buying a second-hand phone – check websites such as eBay* and Gumtree.
Check your current usage with a free matchmaking tool – then find the right contract
Knowing how much you use your phone and what you use it for is crucial to getting the best plan.
Match free mins, texts and data closely to your usage. If you don't, you'll go over and overpay for calls. Go under and you'll overpay on the package.
Some tariffs offer unlimited options for calls and texts, meaning unlimited calls to UK landlines and mobiles and unlimited texts to UK mobiles- other calls/texts and roaming outside the UK will cost extra. But only the heaviest users would need this amount of allowance.
The easiest way to check your usage is to simply dust off your last three to six months' bills, jot down what you use every month and then work out the average. Or if you ring your provider, it'll usually tell you – you may also be able to check online.
- Finds the best deals in the market. MobilePhoneChecker* is one of only two Ofcom-accredited mobile comparison tools (along with Billmonitor, see below). It's easy to use and the most comprehensive we've come across.
It's also recently introduced a bill monitoring feature that shows you how much you're actually using each month and recommends tariffs based on this – it works with BT Mobile, EE, Giffgaff, iD Mobile, O2, Talk Mobile, Tesco Mobile, Three, Virgin Mobile and Vodafone.
Is it safe to give MobilePhoneChecker and Billmonitor your login details?
MobilePhoneChecker and Billmonitor follow robust data security policies which are outlined by the telecoms regulator Ofcom, and encrypt all users' passwords.
- If you know what you want: Head to MoneySupermarket* where you can specify an allowance
of minutes, texts and data and it'll show you the cheapest tariff for that package. Crucially, you can also search by handset and filter by cashback.
Don't forget about cashback. The mobile market is rife with a variety of discount packages, so it's important to understand the difference.
How to claim discounts and beat the cashback trap
There are lots of different ways to claim cashback – see the variations below:
- Redemption cashback. The big discounts come in the form of a "cashback redemption" that has to be claimed from the retailer, yet they're notoriously unreliable.
- Automatic cashback. These are cashback deals where you're sent a cheque automatically without claiming. They usually don't offer as big a discount as manual cashback. Some deals can also be part manual, part automatic cashback – if that's the case, only count on receiving the automatic amount.
- Cashback via cashback sites. It's possible to sometimes beat the deals above with some powerhouse cashback offers, most commonly for Sim-only deals. However, don't think of this type of cashback as guaranteed – there are often problems. Read the Top Cashback Sites guide for full info.
Reclaiming usually involves filling in a form and sending it off up to five times during the contract period. Fail to do exactly this and you'll miss out on the whole discount. The main things to watch for are:
- Always read the small print. It's important to discover every hoop they'll force you through. Does each time you send a form trigger some payment? Or, as usual, is it a "send all or get nothing" scenario, so if you miss sending one form, the whole thing's invalidated?
- Call and check the timings needed. Never assume a cashback deal is simple. If it says "send your bill after three months", this may mean three months from application, three months from activating the phone or after you've received your third monthly bill. Call the cashback company and check.
- Be careful with addresses. The address you send claims from needs to be the address used to order with, otherwise the claim may be invalidated. So if you move house, let them know immediately.
- Are you keeping your old mobile number? If you port your existing number to the new contract then you might be asked to send, in addition, the very first bill you received showing the original mobile number you were allocated.
- Use the Tart Alert as a reminder. The Tart Alert is this site's free text message/email reminder service; it's mainly to remind people before their credit card 0% period ends, but you can use it as a reminder to fill in your rebate form. Enter the rebate date and you'll be sent a free text message or email (it's your choice) six weeks beforehand.
- Consider another form of cashback. Regardless of whether cashback is officially offered, there's a possible additional amount. Simply sign up for the phone via a cashback website.
These are special sites carrying paid links from retailers and if you click through them and get a product, they're paid. Importantly, they then give you some of this cash. It's nowhere near as big a deal as cashback redemption but could mean an extra Ј20 or Ј30. Find out more in the Top Cashback Sites guide.
If you do have cashback problems, always make sure you report the company to Trading Standards. If you've been treated unfairly, consider a small claims court action.
Choose the right type of tariff: contract, Sim-only or pay-as-you-go
The number of different mobile tariffs on the market can be baffling – there are thousands of different combinations and it can be tricky to compare them on a like-for-like basis.
Often better for heavy users, especially on calls and texts
You'll be locked in for 12, 18 or 24 months
No risk of running out of credit
Sim-only contract – if you've got a handset you like and want flexibility
There are two types of Sim-only deals – 30-day rolling contracts which you are free to leave each month, or fixed term contracts, usually lasting 12 months.
- Good if you have a handset or can afford to buy one upfront
- Rolling 30-day contracts offer maximum flexibility
- Often good for heavy data users
If you pay for your mobile via pay-as-you-go, you won't be tied into any contract – simply pay in advance for what you use via top-ups, online or on the phone.
PAYG doesn't require any credit check
Easier to budget