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How to Save Thousands of Dollars on Your iPhone Bill

How to Save Thousands of Dollars on Your iPhone Bill

    Apple has manufactured the telecom’s dream: a phone that will rack up a massive bill all too easily.

    To begin with, we’ve got a phone that basically sells itself on its ability to surf the Internet and download data. If you’re with AT&T, you’re all good and dandy on that point (unless you’re on international roaming), but for most of us throughout the world—including the Australian company my phone is with, Optus—the included data is a joke and the price per kilobyte is exorbitant.

    Then there are text messages, which are arguably more commonly sent and received than phone calls. The iPhone’s user interface for text messages encourages chat-like conversation, shooting the number of back-and-forth “LOLs” and other noise sky-high. I hear that in the US that’s 15 cents a message (25 cents here).

    If the average number of text messages sent per user in a month is 188* (source) and we conservatively double that number for iPhone users, we have $56.40 on top of the bill.

    $56.40 for a few bursts of text.

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    *If that figure worries you, just be glad you’re not paying the bill for a Korean teenager (unless you are): apparently they send an average of 60.1 messages a day.

    And finally, we have phone calls. The interface is pretty slick and intuitive, so it’s not at all a hassle to whip out your phone and make a call. But on the iPhone, it’s also very easy to fall into some bill-boosting habits that simply aren’t readily accessible on most other phones. For instance, it makes holding your current call to answer another one a very easy and convenient option. Two calls ticking away at once, and you’re not even using one. Ouch.

    It’s a great phone, but it sure can run up your bill.

    Now for the “Glass Half-Full” Perspective

    But it can also significantly reduce the size of your phone bill in ways many other phones can’t if you’re smart about it. If you’re an iPhone user with a big bill problem, let’s look at paring that down.

    In this article we’ll look at three problem areas: calls, text and data.

    Cutting Call Costs with VoIP

    While there is no official Skype app for the iPhone (I’m hanging for one, but doubt they’d let it into the store), Fring is an alternative that lets you make VoIP calls that are much cheaper than regular cell call rates. Fring is an app, not a VoIP network, and serves as a mobile channel for:

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    • SkypeOut/SkypeIn
    • SIPNET
    • EuteliaVoIP
    • VoIPVoIP
    • VoIPTalk

    For most people, the SkypeOut/In option will be the most popular option. It’s certainly not as good as having free Skype-to-Skype, but still makes calling people a lot cheaper. You’ll need to:

    1. Jailbreak your iPhone. There are extensive instructions on this here, and don’t worry—it’s not as hard and intimidating as it seems. I did it for the first time the other day when I eBayed a first-gen for my wife, and it took about 25 minutes.
    2. Download the app using the Fring repository in Installer, which you can do by following these instructions.
    3. If you don’t already have a Skype account, get one. If you do, top up your credit.

    I’d much rather an option that lets you do free Skype-to-Skype chat, but we’ll probably have to wait until hell freezes over.

    If all you want is SkypeOut, there’s a web-based app called IM+ for Skype. It certainly is less of a hassle than installing an app, and has no SkypeIn, but it’s an option.

    Cutting Message Costs with Instant Messengers

    There are a variety of instant messengers out there and regardless of whether you’re using wifi or data, this is definitely the cheaper option. Of course, if you’re in America it’s the cheapest option no matter what because of the unlimited data (I’m jealous, if you hadn’t noticed).

    While I’ve noticed that many Skype users tend to open up the app only when they need to have a voice conversation (I’m one of those guys that keeps it open all the time), mainstream instant messengers are usually a different story. There are two main “camps” of instant messenging networks and each is covered by a different app.

    Palringo

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    The first camp is the MSN Messenger—er, sorry, Windows Live Messenger—and Yahoo! Messenger crowd. The demographic is usually pretty young, but I’ve met 80 year olds through these networks too, so who am I to generalize? If you’re an MSN/Yahoo user, this is the one for you, though it also supports AIM, Google Talk, Gadu Gadu, ICQ (people still use that?) and Jabber. Get it here (iTunes Store link).

    AIM

    I’ve noticed this “second camp” of IM users seems to circle around AIM and .Mac (now MobileMe), probably because they’re all integrated in iChat. If you’re an iChat user, you’ll be able to talk with your friends from the AIM network, MobileMe, .Mac, and ICQ using the AIM iPhone app. Palringo does support AIM, but iChat users will have a mixture of AIM and MobileMe/.Mac users in their contact list. Get it here (iTunes Store link).

    Smart Data Usage Practices

    Note: if you’re on an AT&T unlimited data plan, this section only applies to you if you’re roaming.

    The iPhone will always look for wifi first and cellular data networks second. Unfortunately, one of the common bits of advice to save battery life on the iPhone is to turn off the setting Ask to Join Networks, which means your phone will no longer actively look for new wifi networks to join.

    If there’s a wifi network where you are and you can’t see it because of this setting, you might be wasting money on cellular data. So decide what you want more: longer battery life or a shorter bill, and then decide whether or not this setting should be off.

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    Another tip for saving battery life that actually does save data usage is turning 3G off. Of course your phone will just jump onto EDGE or GPRS, but since those networks are slower it takes longer to rack up the same data charges, meaning that your frustration will be mixed with a nice dose of frugal satisfaction.

    If you travel overseas frequently, make sure you go into Settings > General > Network and switch off Data Roaming. Thankfully Apple included this feature in the 2.0 software—people have racked up thousands and thousands of dollars in data charges while travelling simply because this feature was lacking in firmware 1.0.

    Finally, keep a close eye on your usage (Settings > General > Usage). Knowing how much you are using with your current habits is essential to making better choices in the future.

    Enjoy your (hopefully) much shorter bill!

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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