13 tips for getting the best mobile phone contract
There are so many mobile networks and contracts to choose from these days, it can be hard to know if you're getting the best deal. We're here to help!
With so many different elements to consider in your phone contract – minutes, data, overseas tariffs, etc. – it's hard to know where to start, and finding the right contract to suit your needs can genuinely be a matter of saving £50 a month!
We're not here to tell you which contacts or networks you should be going for – that's for you to decide yourself once you've worked out what your needs are (and this mobile phone deal comparison might help you come to a final decision!).
We're here to remind you of all the things you should be considering when deciding which contract to go for, and how best to save cash in the process.
13 tips for saving on your phone contract
Don't just go for the cheapest deal
It can be tempting to just pick the cheapest deal you can find to save some moolah – what could possibly go wrong? Well, charges of up to 60p a minute if you go over your tariff. Yeuch!
It's really important to look at how many minutes and data you actually use so you get the right package. Otherwise, you'll be paying through the nose for no reason. Don't say we didn't warn you!
Don't forget data allowances
Like calls, going over your data allowance can lead to some hefty charges from your network. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, whatsapp… in fact any app that uses the internet to run will use up your data. Use the settings on your phone to establish which apps tend to use up the most data and avoid using them as much as possible.
You can also set apps to only work when connected to a wifi network – this will save you a bucketload if you're finding your data is flittering away.
But how much data is enough? Most users will find 1GB is more than adequate, but if you plan on streaming content or watching TV on your phone, go for an unlimited data deal or something that offers at least 10GB per month.
Get mobile insurance, but read the fine print
When you're carrying a £500 smartphone around with you everywhere you go, it's always good to know that if something happens to it, you could replace it free of charge.
Once you've dropped your phone down the loo a couple of times or smashed the screen to smithereens by placing it down lightly the right way up (seriously?!), you'll gradually warm to the idea of spending a bit of cash on insuring your handset.
Many phone insurance companies will sell you what they call a ‘comprehensive' insurance package for between £8 to £15 per month, but when it comes to the crunch, some firms will find all manner of excuses to avoid paying out.
Our advice? First of all, check whether your phone is covered under your parents' house or contents insurance before taking out a phone insurance policy.
If that doesn't cover you, read our guide to finding the best mobile phone insurance.
Be wary of contracts with cashback
Increasingly, contract resellers such as Mobiles.co.uk and e2save.com have started offer cashback deals with their contracts.
These deals aren't exactly a scam, but it can be really difficult and frustrating trying to claim your cashback, as often you'll find if you want to claim for cashback you need to send in monthly bill statements throughout their contract term. Ain't nobody gat time for dat!
It's much easier to get your cashback as a lump-sum by going through a cashback website (see our guide on using cashback sites for more details).
There's no action needed from you to claim this aside from clicking on the right link. You could get up to £100 cashback for iPhones, which could even foot the cost of your phone if you bought it second hand.
Think about the length of your contract
No one wants to be tied into a phone contract till they're sprouting grey hairs, but the fact of the matter is that in order to get a good deal, networks will expect you to be tied in for a set number of months (normally at least a year).
It's true that you can get rolling contracts with no commitment, but these are usually not a cost effective way of doing things, so we wouldn't recommend it.
Most networks will offer you the choice of 12, 18, 24 or 36 months contracts, with the prices getting lower the more of your life you sign away.
It's all about striking a balance; while cheaper is obviously more appealing, you don't want to tied in forever incase your circumstances change.
For example, if you decide to move abroad to do a postgrad for free somewhere in Europe, you'll have to continue paying for your phone contract each month you're away (or face a ridiculous contract cancellation fee).
Our advice is to stick to a 18 month contract and reap the rewards of a slightly cheaper contract whilst limiting your contract term to give you the flexibility if your circumstances change.
Will you be calling abroad? Check overseas tariffs
If you're lucky enough to spend much of your time abroad, beware that data roaming can cost way more than your usual tariff.
While the EU have introduced new laws to make charges abroad much less costly, data or calls outside of the EU can involve some hefty additional costs.
Same goes for if you're an international student or have friends and fam abroad – find out from networks what their charges are before you commit.
Consider SIM Only contracts
It's worth pointing out that while most phone contracts focus on you paying up for the shiny new phone in your pocket, there are ways round having to fork out this extra monthly cost.
If you've already got a decent phone and aren't that bothered about upgrading to the latest and greatest, there's nothing to stop you keep it and switching to a SIM-only deal.
If you do need a new phone but don't want to pay through the nose for it, another option is to head to eBay, where you'll find iPhones in great nick being sold for as little as £100.
The trick is to wait until a new fancy model has just been released, as people will be desperately trying to flog their current phones in place for something even smaller… no, bigger right?… more bendy?
Anyway, as you're not paying for the phone itself with a SIM-only contract, you can net some serious savings – some contracts are coming in at just a tenner a month!
Just remember, if you want to use your phone with a network other than the one you bought it with, you'll need to unlock it first (if it isn't already)!
Research your networks carefully
Networks may seem like much of a muchness, but there are a few things to look out for when assessing which network is best for you.
The most important thing to point out is that mobile phone signal varies hugely throughout the UK, and some networks offer much better signal than others in certain areas.
Ofcom have a mobile network coverage checker map that you can use to see which networks are working best in your area, but another option is to just ask around locally before you decide. Don't forget to ask friends at uni and your work too, as well as the union of course, since you're likely to be spending a bit of time there!
Contract ending? Time to haggle!
If your contract is coming to an end, it's likely you've heard from your network offering you an upgrade to a new phone (although they might not get in touch about this – best get checking if you're due one!).
You have a few options at this stage: either upgrade, stick with your current phone model and ask to switch to a SIM-only, or start thinking about switching to a different network altogether if you've heard of a better deal.
Whatever you decide to do, it's time to get some haggling on the go. Assess your needs, do some research, find out what's on offer with other networks and tell your current network what you want (within reason!).
You may shy away at the thought of haggling with them (although we have this great guide to haggling like a pro that will help you master the art!) but in reality, this is the prime time to make serious savings on your contract, so don't miss out on this opportunity!
Networks hate the idea of losing existing customers, so the fact you're about to reach a stage where you're free to walk away from your contract will fill them with fear.
Consider shopping online for it
Whilst it's always nice to be able to touch and feel your shiny new handset before you buy it, if you've ever been into any mobile phone shop on the high street it's likely that you've been preyed upon by commission hungry sales staff.
Whether they call themselves ‘advisers', ‘helpers' or ‘technicians' the fact is that these employees are trained to sell, and sell hard.
Shopping online can relieve you of any pressure to make quick (and sometimes wrong) decisions, and there are plenty of helpful websites out there to point you in the right direction (including Save the Student, of course!).
Occasionally our student deals page will have phone contract deals to check out too, so be sure to have a peak!
Use comparison sites
As with pretty much anything you can buy online, there are comparison sites out there to help you try and find the best deal.
Of course you can easily do your own research (and we would highly recommend doing that as well, since not all networks will appear on comparison sites) but there is no harm in paying a visit to comparison sites to see what they have to offer.
Luckily, we also have our own mobile phone contract comparison tool for you to try!
Try apps that help reduce your bills
So, this doesn't strictly apply to finding the best contract, but there are loads of apps out there that help you reduce the amount of texts, minutes or data you use, meaning you could potentially commit to a smaller contract.
Onavo extend is an app that compresses your data while you use it (developers say it can save up to 80% on your data plan, so definitely worth a try!), and messaging apps like WhatsApp can also help you cut down on the texts you send too.
Brave going with the little(r) guys
The mobile phone sector is filled with big players, but don't be afraid to step outside of the main players and go for a smaller network.
Most notably GiffGaff offer some great contract deals with the added benefit of not getting locked in, which can be good for students.
The key is to do your research, and work out what's best for you!
Got any more mobile contract tips you think readers should know about? Share in the comments section below!