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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 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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