How to Save Money » Frugal Living

How to own a smartphone for less

The next time you’re out in public, take a quick glance around and you might notice that the majority of people around you likely have a smartphone. Maybe you’ve considered getting a smartphone too, but have been scared off by the terrifying stories of the dreaded monthly cell phone bill.

Well, here’s the good news – you don’t have to spend an arm & a leg to own a smartphone.

How to own a smartphone for less

How to Own a Smartphone for Less

Don’t go for the latest and greatest

If you’re looking to purchase your first smartphone, consider a model that is less than the top of the line. Since the demand of popular devices are at the highest when it comes to the latest and greatest, you’ll have to pay the price. If you’re willing to settle for a couple of generations behind, you have the potential savings of hundreds of dollars.

Older models don’t necessarily lack functionality, and there are plenty of models that work just as good as newer models. There are also great “starter” smartphones that are much cheaper, and also a lot easier, for first-time smartphone users to navigate. Be sure to check out user reviews before choosing which phone is right for you.

Cheap Smartphones

Buy a used smartphone

Buying a used smartphone is the best way to own one for a fraction of the regular price. Yes, some people may find that it’s more of a risk than it’s worth, since the phone will not be covered by warranty, but if you’re able to find a good, working phone for a quarter of the retail price; it may be worth it.

It’s very important to test the phone in person to see if it functions properly. Ask to see the device during the day and make sure there is no visible (water or shock) damage. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions about the device and to haggle if there are imperfections. If you have a friend who is very knowledgeable about smartphones, ask for advice.

Unlock your phone

Depending on where your phone was purchased from, it may be “locked” to a provider. An unlocked phone can be used on almost any provider, and when your contract is over, you can look to move to another company that is cheaper.

Luckily, starting December 2nd, 2013, the new CRTC rules state that cell phones that are locked to a specific provider can be unlocked after 90 days, or immediately if they paid for the device in full.

Don’t be too quick to sign long-term contracts

The latest phone models can retail for up to $900 + tax, and cell phone companies offer you a chance to own them without paying as much upfront. In return, they ask for a couple of hundred dollars, and for you to sign a long-term contract.

The phone price will be discounted, but you will be locked into a contract for a couple of years. When deciding whether long-term is right for you, beware of hidden costs involved.

Calculate the yearly total of your cell phone plan to see if that amount is what you’re willing to spend. Remember that if you decide to break a contract, there will be a hefty fee involved that will make your deal much less affordable.

Negotiate your plan

What many people may not know is that even if you are locked into a 2-year or 3-year contract, you can negotiate your plan. Prices are constantly changing, and you may find that the latest deal is better than what you’re currently getting.

Just give your cell phone company a call and ask if you can make some changes to your plan. If they’re unable to fulfill your request, the worst they can say is no and you may receive a counteroffer.

Try a prepaid phone

Pay-as-you-go is great for people who aren’t heavy cell phone users. All you have to do is add money to your account and keep the balance from expiring. Depending on the company, the more you add to your account, the longer amount of time you’ll have before your balance expires.

There are many options, depending on what you use most. If you want a cell phone strictly for emergencies, you can choose to be charged per minute, text, and data usage. You can also add plans to prepaid accounts. For example, you can have a text or data monthly add-ons if you find that you use your phone more for those functions.

Prepaid is also great for those that don’t want their credit rating to be affected by their cell phone use. You’re only able to use your phone up to the amount that you’ve already spent, unlike post-paid plans. There are some companies that will give you a free SIM card, and all you have to do is add money to your account and you’re set. You can also switch phones easily by moving your SIM card to other devices.

Do not roam

When you’re traveling out of the country, do not roam (unless it’s an emergency). Your local plan will most likely charge you insane amounts of money just for talking for a couple of minutes. You’re better off paying an activation fee and adding a couple of dollars onto a pay-as-you-go account and using that for the time you’re out of the country.

This may not work very well if you’re moving from country to country, but if you plan to be in one country for your trip, this is a great solution – for example, in the US, T-Mobile offers unlimited talk, text, and data for $3 a day. You pay $10 for the SIM card, add $10 to your account, and that balance will last you 3 days. So you can stay connected for as little as $20 for 3 days!

iPhone While Traveling

Avoid overage charges

Overage charges on post-paid and prepaid plans are not worth it. Much like the way credit card interest works, overage charges are overpriced and not worth your money. It’s important to do whatever it takes to limit your cell phone use to ensure that you don’t end up paying more than you have planned.

You may even avoid a data plan because all the functions that can be used on data will work better on WiFi. You may not be able to use the internet while you’re out, but many restaurants and coffee shops offer free WiFi to customers.

Of course, it’s easier to purchase plans that provide you with more minutes, texts, and data than you may need. Buying more than you need versus less than you need is tempting, but try to set a limit. It will be challenging, but every couple of dollars saved can end up saving you a lot of money in the long run.

Protect your device

Whether you’ve purchased a brand new or a used phone, it’s a good idea to keep it protected to ensure that the phone does not get any exterior damage – or, internal damage from water or shock.

If you accidentally drop your phone in water, remove it quickly, turn it off, remove batteries, sd card, SIM card, and accessories, and leave it in a zip-top bag of uncooked rice for 24 hours. This trick works to absorb water from minor water incidents.

Keeping your phone in good condition will not only extend the life of it, but it will also keep the resale value reasonable.

Try an extended phone battery

If you’re hesitant to try a smartphone because of the poor battery life, consider purchasing an extended battery for your phone. Companies like Zero Lemon sell extended batteries that are compatible with select smartphones, such as select Samsung Galaxy models and LG Optimus G Pro.

These batteries provide amazing battery life, and in some cases, these batteries hold a capacity of more than 3 times the original stock battery. They will also save you from constantly trying to find outlets to charge your dying battery.

Save Money on my Phone

There are countless ways to find yourself some savings when it comes to owning a smartphone. I switched to a smartphone just over a year ago and I’m currently using a Samsung Galaxy s3 that I purchased used for $160 (through multiple upgrade purchases & resales).

I don’t use my phone to talk, so I have a prepaid plan that offers me 500 texts, 500mb of data, and 30 cents per minute, for $27 a month. It works for me.

What are some ways that you’ve saved money on your smartphone?


  1. Jen

    And always check with your employer or union to see if they have Employee Value Plans – many great deals and they’re often extended to family members! I also encourage any government/healthcare/schoolboard employees to call up Cell Providers as many have special promos for these group…

    • Samantha

      Thanks for the great tip Jen!

  2. Melissa

    Who is your plan through? I have a prepaid with Virgin Mobile, and when I lived in the States it was a great deal, but the price is much higher here and I’d like to switch to something more affordable like what you mentioned.

    • Samantha

      Hi Melissa,

      My cellphone provider is actually Virgin Mobile and I use prepaid. I barely talk on my phone and I only use it in time sensitive situations.

      I top up my account every month with $27 a month with auto top up and I get a bonus 10% ($2.70) in credit.
      -I was able to hold on to a 30 cent a minute offer (they’ve since raised the price to 35 cents a minute)
      -It costs me $7 a month for 500 texts (that’s the current price)
      -I took advantage of their offer of 500mb of data for $20 (regularly $25). It’s a limited time offer but it’s currently still available.

  3. Martine

    I too would like to know who is your provider, you have a great deal. Thank you

    • Samantha

      Hi Martine,

      Hi Melissa,

      My cellphone provider is actually Virgin Mobile and I use prepaid. I barely talk on my phone and I only use it in time sensitive situations.

      I top up my account every month with $27 a month with auto top up and I get a bonus 10% ($2.70) in credit.
      -I was able to hold on to a 30 cent a minute offer (they’ve since raised the price to 35 cents a minute)
      -It costs me $7 a month for 500 texts (that’s the current price)
      -I took advantage of their offer of 500mb of data for $20 (regularly $25). It’s a limited time offer but it’s currently still available.

  4. Lois

    In the spring, I upgraded to an old Samsung Galaxy Ace IIX just for phone calls & texting, but got the phone for free as I had upgraded my dad’s phone just to get a smartphone as he was happy with his old flip phone.. I’m on a plan where I share the minutes with my husband & just text, use the Checkout 51 for the rebates & read the free E-Kindle books, thanks Cassie for the great idea. I’m not on a data plan as I usually work from home or within 10 min of free wifi in Vancouver area. I do find the phone a bit slow sometimes as I need to uninstall some apps I don’t use & need to start deleting some Ebooks as I do find it takes up a lot of the battery.
    If you plan on buying a used phone, sometimes some of the larger corporations may have some of their used phones for sale when employees upgrade their phones, but still buyer beware.

    • Samantha

      Hi Lois, Thanks for sharing!

  5. Raquel

    Thank you for the helpful tips!
    I would suggest speaking with Retentions, when calling in to your cell phone provider. I am with Rogers, and pay $56.08 (that includes taxes and the silly Government Regulatory Fee!) for my iPhone- I do find it quite a lot, but at the same time I believe I have an awesome deal. I have:
    300 minutes
    Free after 6pm / weekends free
    Unlimited Network Calling with Rogers Home/wireless and Fido customers
    Caller id, voicemail, 2500 txt msgs
    6 GB if data

    I have considered downgrading the data, but the offer was $5 less for 500mb – which I heard can be easily reached, especially with technology advancing.
    I have also thought about going to other providers, but I don’t want to risk the chance considering I am happy with my service. I just wish cell phone plans were free! :-p

  6. Jan

    I would like to try your rebate coupons which are on cellphones. Can I use them without having a data plan or do you need data? As you can tell I don’t know much about cell phone plans as I just have bare minimum texting and some phone minyutes on Virgin Mobile for $25 per month.

  7. Kelley

    I actually bought my new phone it was only $29, after the upgrade fee and transfered all contacts and pictures I had paid $65 out the door

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