Cell phones have developed from modes of communication to becoming worlds of information with the internet at our fingertips. Many people use cell phones to attend business meetings, communicate with clients, and research information from anywhere. Having the right phone plan is also essential to staying in touch with those you love.

Cell phone technology has begun to advance at a faster pace. From the newest version of the iPhone to technological advances in battery life and camera quality, it seems like there’s always an advancement or upgrades available. Knowing which plan is right for you is important! However, finding the right plan can be difficult, especially if you’re not sure which factors to consider.

If you aren’t sure which cell phone plan is right for you, you have come to the right place. This article breaks down the main factors to consider when picking a phone plan, plus tips on saving money in the process.

Know your data needs

The biggest charge on your phone plan is data, so it’s understandably one of the biggest factors to consider when choosing phone plans. How much data do you need, and how fast do you need it? Luckily, as technology is getting faster and faster, cell phone companies are, too. Most well-known cell phone companies such as Verizon, AT&T, and Consumer Cellular offer data plans with 4G and sometimes 5G.

Here are some guidelines to help you figure out how much data you need.

Light, medium, and heavy data needs

Light data usage is anywhere from 1 to 2 GB per month. This amount of data is for someone who uses their phones for texting and calling when on cellular data. With this amount of data, you may still stream in HD or download content over Wi-Fi, but while on cellular data you mostly text and call.

Medium data usage ranges from 2 to 5 GB per month and allows a variety of activities. You can stream movies or shows over cellular data, scroll through apps, and send emails and texts. This should still be limited, and if you can use Wi-Fi, it’ll save your cellular data.

Lastly, a heavy data user may need 5 GB or more of data per month. Heavy data usage is for someone who performs many activities over cellular data instead of Wi-Fi. This is also great for a family that enjoys streaming, surfing the web, downloading and uploading content, and playing video games. 

Check your usage report

Checking your usage report is an easy way to learn how much data you need. This will tell you how much data has been used in the past month or two, and you can use this amount to estimate your needs for each month.

How often are you using Wi-Fi? 

If you’re scrolling through Instagram on your phone while you’re at home or in a public place with Wi-Fi, you actually aren’t using your phone’s data. Pay attention to the times you use your phone the most and if you’re on Wi-Fi or using cellular data. If you mostly use your phone when you get home from work, you aren’t using cell phone data. If you mainly use your phone to listen to music at the gym, during your commute to work, or running errands, you may be using cellular data.

If you’re trying to conserve data, always check if Wi-Fi is available in public places. Shopping malls, coffee shops, and even restaurants often have Wi-Fi available if you just ask. 

Also, check to see that you’re connected at your home and not using cellular service unnecessarily. While this may seem like an automatic connection, Wi-Fi can sometimes be finicky, so checking to be sure is always a good idea.

What activities do you use your phone for? 

It’s also important to consider what activities you do on your phone when you are using cellular data. For instance, if your main activities are sending messages or emails, you’re probably using a smaller amount of data than if you’re streaming HD movies, music and downloading material for a few hours per day. Depending on what activities you do and how often you do them on cellular data, you may need light, medium, or heavy data usage.

Pick a cell phone provider

Coverage 

When choosing a cell phone plan, you want to make sure that your cell phone provider offers good coverage for your area. The last thing you’d want to do is pick a top-rated cell phone provider only to find out their coverage doesn’t reach your home or street.

Most companies have coverage maps to help with this very issue. If you’re considering signing up with AT&T, check out their coverage map to make sure it’s in your hometown. If you prefer to go with Verizon or T-Mobile, make sure you’re on their coverage maps, too.

While using a coverage map, it’s important to pay attention to the volume of users in your area. Let’s say you check AT&T’s coverage map for your neighborhood. Even if their coverage is adequate, if there is a large volume of AT&T users in your area, this may actually mean service is inconsistent for everyone and can’t support so many devices. Coverage maps are wonderful tools, but it may be a good idea to do some more research.

Plan 

While choosing a cell phone provider, you’ll also want to consider what kind of plan you want. If you want a prepaid service, Consumer Cellular, Mint Mobile, Ting, or Republic Wireless may be a great option for you. If you have a lot of phone lines that use a large amount of data each month, it may benefit you more to go with a bigger carrier such as Verizon, AT&T, or T-Mobile.

Number of phone lines 

You’ll also want to choose your cell phone plan based on how many phone lines will be on it. While your cell phone plan is likely just you and your family members or those living in your household, you can add others to it if needed. Depending on how many lines you need, you can get an individual phone plan or a family plan.

Know your budget 

Picking the best phone plan for you is largely dependent on your budget. Having a budget gives you control over your money—you tell it exactly where to go and when. When making a budget, there are three categories of expenses to account for. These categories include fixed expenses, variable expenses, and savings.

Your cell phone plan falls into the first category. Fixed expenses are the items that you can’t live without. Since most are dependent on their phones for communication, cell phone plans are grouped with the essential bills. However, these plans don’t have to exceed your budget.

If you’ve never had a budget before, today is a great day to start. Try using the 50/30/20 budgeting rule. This rule says that 50% of your earned income goes to fixed expenses, 30% goes to variable expenses, and 20% goes to savings. Before signing up for a phone plan, calculate how much you can afford to spend on your phone plan per month and if this leaves room for your other fixed expenses.

2 ways to save on your cell phone plan 

The average cell phone plan costs $1,188 per year. While prices can seem overwhelmingly high, finding an affordable plan that meets your needs is not impossible. Here are two tips to save money on your cell phone plan.

1. Use a prepaid phone plan 

These plans typically do not have a contract and have more affordable prices than plans with a contract. Prepaid plans work by paying as you go. You can use as much data as you need and simply pay for what you use. AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon offer prepaid phone plans at as low as $15.

2. Keep your current phone 

Cell phone companies often group the cost of your cell phone plan with your phone payment. While this is convenient, they don’t always explain this, so you may think you’re getting a discount if you upgrade to a new phone when the costs are just grouped together. If you keep your current phone, you can save money on the added cost of integrating a new phone into your plan and keep your cost low.

Summary 

Cell phone plans can be expensive but finding an affordable plan that still offers you adequate coverage, data, and speed is not impossible. By knowing how much data you need per month, which providers offer coverage in your area, and the budgeted amount you can spend on a phone plan, finding the best plan for you can be easy.

For more information on picking the right phone plan, explore our tools and resources to help you save on your bills. We’ve done the hard work for you so you can focus on staying in touch with those you love.

>>SAVE: Compare cell phone plans