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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!

    More by this author

    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 July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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