How do you cut cellphone costs?

April 10 2009 by Ellen Roseman

My column last Wednesday on this subject drew lots of comments. This is one of my favourite hobbyhorses, since I now know (from my experience with Rogers) that you can get deals just by asking.

The Star’s new series, Personal Bailout, is about getting smarter with your money. So, my first contribution talked about whittling down your cellphone bills, which tend to be pure discretionary spending.

I got a few helpful suggestions from readers which I’m posting below. Now I want to hear from you about the best ways you’ve found to reduce those hefty monthly costs.

Have you switched from paying after you talk to paying before you talk? This is a big trend in the U.S. and there are deals to be had here at 7-Eleven and Petro-Canada stores.

Or have you switched from the Big Three (Bell, Rogers and Telus) to one of the low-cost brands? These no-frill carriers are stepping up their advertising, trying to scoop up frugal customers before new discount cellphone competition arrives later this year.


  1. Branden

    Apr 10 2009

    Take advantage of the free rate plan analysis offered by most carriers.

    While it sometimes may not feel like it, cell phone companies want you as a customer and should be happy to recommend the best plan for you, based on your typical usage.

    If you have minutes left over every month, it’s time to downgrade.

    Using over your limit? It’s time to upgrade.

  2. Bylo

    Apr 10 2009

    Ellen, the best deal in PAYG plans is 7-Eleven’s SpeakOut or Petro Canada Mobility.

    Unless you’re a heavy user or need to roam outside of Canada, they can’t be beat. And ironically they run on Rogers’ network.

    SO Official:
    SO Unofficial:

    These sorts of plans may not be a deal for those who need to have a cellphone implanted in their ear or who are CrackBerry addicts.

    There’s no reason for people who want the convenience of a cellphone to be forced into contracts that require them to spend upwards of $40 or $50 a month.

    With SpeakOut, for example, you pay a 99c/month 911 fee and 20 to 25c/min for airtime.

    And unlike the Big 3, local calling area includes all of Southern Ontario, area codes 416/905/519 (and their new overlays), as well as free caller ID, voicemail, etc.

    $50 buys some 200 minutes that last as long as 365 days, so this sort of package is ideal for occasional users or even just to stow in a car glovebox for emergency use only.

    Occasionally SpeakOut even offers a promo in which you get a free cellphone with the purchase of $100 airtime. That’s a super deal because it works out to ~$8/month in the first year, cellphone included and then as little as $2/month ($25/12) in subsequent years.

  3. RM

    Apr 10 2009

    You don’t mention my plan with Bell Mobility.

    My purpose is for incoming calls from temporary agencies, not mindless yakking. They charge $15 a month, with an option to automatically top up when $2 is reached. Connection fee is $35. You have to buy your phone.

    First two minutes is 35 cents each, then 5 cents a minute. Uploading photos is 50 cents a pop.

    If you use your phone for wise purposes, this is the plan to get. You can even access your voice messages for free from your land line by dialling your land number and pressing the pound key where otherwise you would press 9 to get into your own voice mail. Access from the cell phone to messges is a charged call.

    They don’t advertise this one. It seems you have to know about it.

  4. DW

    Apr 10 2009

    Admittedly I don’t spend my life on a cell phone, but my account with Fido is real low.

    After a friend got a deal, I phoned and wanted to know why, after 9 years, I was not offered the same deal.

    hey said OK and I was given a new phone and my bill was reduced to just $22.75 per month. That is for 400 minutes, any time of the day, any day of the week.

    I know it does a lot more than phone calls, featurs that I don’t really use, but I don’t think I could have a better deal than that.

  5. SE

    Apr 10 2009

    I came upon this site a few months ago, bought my cell (actually bought the time (the cell phone is free) and have never looked back.

    No three year plans with monthly costs or $300 cell phones to buy.

    We have a nice little flip phone (with camera!!).

    I think you might find the 7-Eleven cell phones very, very cost effective. I know that we did.

    As senior citizens, we only need a cell for very important or emergency calls.

    For young families, you could buy one phone (time) for each member of the family, together with the appropriate minutes (includes the phone & minutes) and let them know that once they’ve used up their minutes, they’re done for the year or, if you don’t want to draw a hard line, you can always buy more time.

    The costs amount to about 20 cents a minute; the phone is free.

  6. SB

    Apr 10 2009

    I have been with Rogers since day 1 (Sept./99 for moi) & have had various issues, such as billings errors, over the years that I have dealt with in the same straightforward manner as yourself & have always been successful in recouping my losses.(I refuse to allow them to take advantage of me.)

    However, I would like to relate to you & hopefully others on your site the little known (IMPORTANT) fact that Rogers will price-match plans that others offer.

    Story: A few years back, Bell was offering a year free if you signed up for a a 3 year term,

    I called up Rogers & inquired about this. The rep skirted my questioning until I literally asked if they would match the plan & only then did she readily agree. So you have to ask!
    More recently (fall/08), I had them match a plan ($35 a month + fees) that Solo was offering that included UNLIMITED FREE incoming calls (that I like !) early evening-wwwkends free, 100 Can.L.D. mins. & a $20 Com.V.Pk. which includes 1,000 texts. Yes!

    Needless to say, until the new cheaper plans from the upstarts in May happen, I won’t be looking around. Even then, this plan might prove hard to beat. (My recent bill, tax in: $48.08.)

    I feel you are partially to thank for this because whenever a consumer issue arises in my life, Ellen is sitting on my shoulder telling me not to let it go!

  7. Jim Johannsson, Telus spokesman

    Apr 10 2009

    Iain Grant’s suggestion that consumers should avoid contracts because better deals may be available in the future is a bit extreme and waiting could actually be a costly mistake for many consumers.

    As you know, contracts are completely optional, but we also know that consumers can save a lot if they are able to commit to a contract.

    For example, consumers can save $500 today on a brand new BlackBerry Curve from TELUS with a three-year term commitment. They don’t have to wait a couple of years before they can realize unproven savings from companies that may or may not meet their needs.

    Also, our customers always have the flexibility to change their rate plans with us within their contract term as their needs evolve. Contracts do not mean inflexibility.

    Some of the new entrants that Iain is promoting may not even have the products that Canadians take for granted today.

    Suggesting that consumers wait so they can pocket hypothetical savings on products that don’t yet exist is risky advice for consumers.

    For example, some of the new entrants may not have meaningful network coverage when they launch.

    It took us 25 years and billions of dollars to build out the thousands of cell phone towers that provide the national network coverage we have today.

    Perhaps some of the new entrants have a plan to fast-track construction of their networks, but it’s hard to imagine how they will shorten the time-lines for building permit approvals, public consultations, licensing and lease negotiations.

    It’s possible that some of the new entrants will launch their business with limited geographic coverage, in which case it might make sense for them to discount their services to align with the lower value they are offering.

    For example, a cell phone that only works in a couple of Toronto suburbs offers far less value than a cell phone that works pretty much anywhere in Canada, so you would expect it to be cheaper.

    Imagine if a new car manufacturer made the claim that they are bringing a car to market that costs less than $1,000 and gets a hundred miles to the gallon. They say it will be available within the next two years so please hold off looking at other cars because theirs will be a terrific deal.

    When they finally get to market, it turns out the car only seats one person, has no heater, a maximum range of 25 kilometres and if it breaks down you just throw it away and buy a new one. Not exactly what consumers were expecting but it was cheap!

    Obviously we expect consumers are going to be bombarded by messages from some of the new entrants over the next few years. Some of the messages may be helpful advice but some of the messages may be nothing more than marketing hype.

    As always, consumers need to shop around, evaluate their options and exercise their good judgement. Reputable companies with solid products and services won’t be using hype to market themselves, they’ll be using facts.

  8. RF

    Apr 10 2009

    Hi, you can check out my company

    I personally run any where from 3,000 to 6,000 minutes per month and I can call all over the USA and Canada.

    I pay $105 per month to Rogers for my basic cell phone service to Rogers.

  9. Cynthia

    Apr 11 2009

    I have PC Mobile: $25/every 2 mths. My phone is for emergencies and travel use only.

    When I use my phone in Ottawa, the cost for the calls is not that high compared to what I used to pay when I had Bell pay as you go.

    The System Access Fee was the big deterrent for me to go with a plan. I’ll stick with pay as you go until the companies change their pricing structure.

  10. JB

    Apr 12 2009

    I’ve (foolishly) been with Telus for over five years and have several months left on my contract. I have a great monthly plan (with taxes, about $25/month), but I only got this rate because I had so many issues with their phones and complained to the executive office.

    Cheap plans are available and I’m happy with the fact that my cell bill is pretty low. But, I’m still leaving Telus as soon as my contract expires and the new competition starts up (despite the warnings from the Telus spokesperson).

  11. brad

    Apr 13 2009

    I have had contracts with Bell and Telus, but will switch to Fido when my current contract expires. As far as I know, Fido was the first major cell service provider to waive system access fees, plus their monthly fees include basic necessities like voicemail, which are often extras with the other providers. For example, my monthly plan with Telus is supposedly just $20 a month, but that didn’t include voicemail. Once you add voicemail, system access fees, and taxes, I’m paying close to $40/month for my $20/month plan.

    I am also considering a pay as you go plan like President’s Choice. I mostly use my cell when traveling, and President’s Choice allows you to roam in the US unlike most other carriers’ pay-as-you-go plans. However, I sometimes travel to Europe and thus a GSM phone makes more sense; in that case your only choices are Fido or Rogers.

    I was hoping to use Yak Mobile, but it’s not going to be available in Québec, where I live.

  12. Lior

    Apr 13 2009

    I have Fido, and I get a decent deal compared to the other carriers. My activation fee was refunded to me and I also don’t pay that pathetic system access fee that they use to milk people out of more money. With that said, even though I have a decent plan, I’m hoping to see what the new smaller carriers will offer in the future.

    The best advice I can offer is stay modest. Don’t rush into buying these 3G phones and paying a fortune for the data plans. Remember, this is Canada, not the US. In Europe and the US the data plans are much cheaper and the penetration rate is greater. Here in Canada, as the wireless market is monopolized by three companies that have a monopoly on other industries as well, penetration for 3G services remains limited, as such it is more pricey, and that all means it’s a recipe for disaster as far as the consumer is concerned.

    These data phones will be a bonanza for wireless carriers because they are grossly expensive compared to similar plans offered down south, and for the uninformed consumer this means staying within your limits. I’m bemused every time I see young kids talking on a Blackberry. Why the hell would a fourteen year old need a Blackberry? This kind of phone is for business people and those with a really hectic schedule who require Internet and email on the go (heh, what has this world become? Now you can’t ever leave the office).

    I have a plan available from Telus through work, but I didn’t take it because of Telus’ pathetic customer service stories on the web (still!). However, there are a few employees who have signed up, so going through a subsidized plan through work or your union may be a way to save money but as with everything read the fine print. It doesn’t always mean you’re getting the best deal just because you’re going through work or the union.

    I think the answer you asked Ellen is best answered by when it comes to wireless, think about what you NEED as opposed to what you WANT. If you don’t need email or Internet browsing on the go, or to watch Fox News or NBC on your mobile, don’t subscribe to a data plan. What’s the matter? Can’t wait until you get home to email someone or watch the news? And the Internet in 3G speed, here in Canada it is not available everywhere. So you may end up subscribing to it, but depending on your location you may not be able to use it (your cellphone, though, will still work). And does the average person REALLY needs the Internet on the go? Hope you’re not browsing for pr0n on the subway.

    Now that we’ve eliminated the data plans for like 90% of humans out there, do the same analysis for your voice plan. Just how many day times minutes do you really need? Most carriers will now offer you free weekends and evenings with your plan. If your free evenings start a little later and the call is local, use your land-line phone and save your airtime. If you don’t have a land phone, for a modest fee your free wireless evenings can start earlier.

    Another helpful tip is sign up with a provider that gives you by-the-second billing. Fido, Koodo, and Solo offer this standard at no charge (Fido have always offered it on postpaid plans, even before being acquired by Rogers). With Telus, Rogers, and Bell, if you make a 12 seconds call, that counts as ONE minute. What a brutal way to waste airtime.

  13. moved on

    Apr 14 2009

    That’s easy! I saved over $6,000 by dumping Bell and I saved a lot more than just money!

    During the three years that I had them, they were routinely: rude, misleading, and very unprofessional about everything, and that’s not just the CSR’s. The family Bell bills were always higher than they should’ve been and it was always a hassle in getting them straightened out.

    The executive office was no better in getting our problems fixed permanently. They created more mistakes for my family account trying to fix the existing ones and it wasted more of my family time!

    What’s more is that they have a holier-than-thou accusatory tone with both me and my husband in addressing our concerns over the last three years.

    Like it’s our fault that my account wasn’t showing as bundled (for the 1,000th time) or more money was taken from my account (every time) or we mysteriously asked for more services to be added on to our account that they mysteriously don’t have a record of us requesting!!!

    Don’t be fooled by their commercials. They’re still a sad, pathetic, incompetent company and show no signs of how low they will go.

  14. robert burns

    Apr 18 2009

    have been utilizing for a few years. very inexpensive compared with bell’s long distance plans. look forward to your column.

  15. Apostille

    May 9 2009

    We should activate some scheme of low costs call or should make less calls.

  16. KCG

    Apr 20 2010

    Great article! I started off simply – I went over my bills and decided that the fees were just too high. I started shopping around and comparing what I needed versus what I could pay.

    I ultimately went with Net10 prepaid because the savings appeared to be huge. I’m really happy to find that Net10 put more than $65 a month back in my pocket and really cut down on my actual phone costs from $200+ to $79 – good bye IPhone.

    Best of all, since I don’t have a contract, I can switch minutes and phones whenever I need to without worrying.

    While I think Net10 is a great company for moderate users like me, big talkers and texters might want to upgrade to a higher plan with Net10, but the savings are still there.

  17. David

    Jun 2 2010

    I have been using M3iTelecom for a few months and come to conclusion that it can provide cheap long distance calls better than any other Telecom Industry