Slice Your Cell Phone Spending

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However many people are in your business, mobile phone costs can eat a serious chunk of your budgets. Reign in fees with these tips and suggestions for deeper bill analysis.

Save On Directory Assistance
I can't think of the last time I dialed 411 on my phone, given all of the Internet-based ways to answer my queries for free. But if you're out and have to make that sort of call, do it with a different number; mobile companies often gouge for their assistance.

Pick a free service, such as 800-GOOG-411 (800-466-4411). The voice-based system can get you the same information as regular directory assistance, even connecting you to the end number or sending you back more details as a text message. Or you can ask Google simple text message-based searches by sending them to 466453 (which spells "Google" on most devices).

Go Prepaid
Cancel your monthly bill by opting for a prepaid handset. This transition can save money and is best when combined with a phone forwarding service. Tools including Google Voice and Onebox let you give customers a single number that gets routed to any line you choose. So it doesn't matter when you change mobile numbers or even use more than one concurrently. Google voice is free, but currently part of a closed beta process, and Onebox costs about $13/month depending on additional services.

Change Plans Temporarily
If you only travel for an annual tradeshow, upgrade to more expensive service with free roaming only for that month. Or if your seasonal work spikes over certain months, boost your minutes for that period. Call your carrier to make temporary changes and be sure they don't tag you with hidden fees.

Call in an Analyst
How much of your voice plan do you actually use? Try to manually analyze and average about six months of statements, charting your average minutes. Also, keep an eye on text plans and other extras. Scale your plan back if you're not hitting that ceiling or using all those features.

Additionally, some online services will perform this analysis for you. Try the free BillShrink or Validas (about $2.50 per use). You'll upload a phone statement, then they'll compare your paid plan and actual use, even suggesting competitors in case your carrier isn't giving you the best rate.

Phone it in Before Making a Change
Finally, your mobile carrier likely wants to keep your business. If a competitor can get you better rates, ask the current company for a price break in order to stay. There's a good chance that you can haggle for an unpublished, cheaper plan with more minutes of coverage.

Zack Stern is a freelance writer and editor based in San Francisco.

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