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Six simple ways to avoid ending up with a massive phone bill

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With Australians using their phones for an average of 5.5 hours a day, it is important to stay within your data allowance, so your phone bills don't creep up over your monthly bill.

If you are regularly streaming shows, playing online games, uploading photos and Facetiming, you need to check if your plan's data allowance is right for you. Also importantly does it match your budget?

A competitive mobile phone market means there are phone offers with extra bells and whistles such as more data, extra calls and texts. There are also cheaper deals. Plus take advantage of strategies such as sharing a phone plan with your partner and family to get a valuable discount.

six ways to avoid phone bill shock

There are also several things you can do to make sure you stay within your data allowance to so avoid getting hit with an expensive bill.

One of the first things to do is to work out if your phone plan (pre-paid or post-paid) matches your actual usage. Examine how you use your phone. How many calls and texts do you make? How much data do you download?

1. Research pre-paid vs. contract

Compare pre-paid deals to ongoing contracts. Some pre-paid plans might have higher rates than contract plans but pre-paid means you can't get into debt. because you don't spend too much on your phone and you can stick to a budget. It is a good alternative for the children, so long as you can reliably stay in contact with them.

When you sign up for a pre-paid plan make sure that it really is pre-paid and excess data charges won't apply.

2. Promotional offfers

Be aware if your plan has a promotional offer for free services such as music streaming or sporting events.

Does it have a time limit for the services? When the time is up, you will be charged for using the services.

3. Watch out for excess data charges

Many post and prepaid plans will automatically add extra data to your service in 1GB blocks if you go over your monthly fixed data amount. If you are paying $35 for 10GB, for example, an extra 1GB might cost you an additional $10. If you exceeded your monthly allowance by 1.5GB, it would cost an extra $20 on top of your monthly plan price of $35.

Some mobile phone providers offer plans that do not attract excess data charges if you exceed the monthly data limit.

Instead, the download speed slows down once you go over the data limit.

Talk to your service provider if you have concerns about what happens when you exceed your plan's data inclusion.

4. Sign up for usage alerts

Mobile phone providers are required to provide you with usage notifications (also known as spend management alerts) when you reach 50%, 85% and 100% of your voice, SMS and data allowance, according to the ACCC.

Once you reach 100% of your allowance, your provider must also notify you of the charges to proceed with adding extra data to your service.

If you don't want to incur excess data charges, turn off 'mobile data' on your handset when you receive these notifications.

5. Understand data use for different activities

Knowing how much data different activities use — like emailing, browsing the internet, using social media apps, and streaming video or audio content — can also help you to keep your data use in check, explains the ACCC.

For more information, see the tip sheet on mobile data from the Australian Communication Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) website at accan.org.au

It explains how to turn off data-hungry apps on Android and Apple smartphones.

6. Reduce your data usage

Wherever possible, use Wi-Fi instead of mobile/cellular data services, recommends the ACCC. Set your phone up to automatically connect to Wi-Fi networks that you use frequently such as your home Wi-Fi and take advantage of free Wi-Fi hotspots.

Don't use apps or services on your mobile that use up a lot of data, like downloading or streaming video or audio, unless you're connected to a Wi-Fi network. You can often adjust the settings on your phone so that certain apps don't use cellular data services

Turn off apps or features on your phone that automatically use up data, such as push notifications. They use up data in the background and can easily be turned off. If your phone has a low power mode this will reduce background downloads and constant mail checking.

Manually shut down apps you use on your phone to make sure they don't keep using data in the background. Some apps keep running in the background even after you've exited out of them.

More ways to save on your phone 

Do you really need an expensive phone with bells and whistles? If you don't, you can save some serious money. If you only want to make a quick call and like an easy to navigate screen with simple buttons, there are some very affordable phones.

For example, older people or kids could be well serviced with a simple phone.

It is tricky to replace batteries in some phones and worth getting an expert to do it for you. Extending the battery life can save you money and the need to upgrade for another year, or even years.

Experts warn that regularly charging your phone to 100% can wear down and shorten the life of a lithium battery. People typically charge their phone overnight, so their phone is ready to go first thing in the morning.

Rather than leaving your phone charging after it is fully charged, unplug it. The ideal range varies depending on the battery and the device, but experts say it is somewhere between 20% and 80%. The downside is that you must charge your phone more often.

Use a quality charging cable and avoid cheap ones that don't comply with Australian standards as they can be inefficient and even dangerous.

When things go wrong

Contact the store where you bought your mobile phone, or your service provider. If you have a problem with your bill or network connection that you cannot resolve with your service provider, contact the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) on 1800 062 058 or through their website  tio.com.au

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Susan has been a finance journalist for more than 30 years, beginning at the Australian Financial Review before moving to the Sydney Morning Herald. She edited a superannuation magazine, Superfunds, for the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, and writes regularly on superannuation and managed funds. She's also author of the best-selling book Women and Money.
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