Mobile Phone Bill Shock is So Regular That We Don't Even Notice It
For most of us, mobile phone bills are a monthly inevitability, whether you’re on a prepaid SIM-only style plan or a contract with a shiny new handset. With the advent of direct payments made automatically from our bank accounts, many of us may not even notice when our bills being paid. Combine this with the fact that the vast majority of mobile plans these days come with unlimited standard national calls and texts and you'd think that the days of bill shock (where you open up your phone bill and draw your breath in so sharply that your cat rapidly loses some of its fur) were all but over.
Well, you'd be wrong. Recent finder.com.au research has revealed that just under one in four Australians (23.5%) have been slugged with a hefty mobile bill that they just didn't see coming. Of those affected, 35% were hit with a bill that exceeded $200, which is serious money in anybody's language.
What's really surprising here is that Australians have become effectively numb to these kinds of bill hits, as long as they're within a tolerance zone of less than four times their average monthly spend. In other words, we're so used to our bills being higher than they should be that we really only stand up and take notice when we’ve well and truly blown out our mobile costs.
Hang on, though. If most plans offer unlimited calls and texts, how is it that we're spending so much and so frequently? The answer, by and large, is data costs. Back when mobile phones had monochrome screens, the only game available was Snake and Twitter was something your unusual uncle did when he forgot his medication, data speeds were low and data usage was even lower.
In 2017, however, smartphones can access the entire Internet, from regular websites to social media to video streaming and beyond. And all of these activities use up data. Your mobile plan almost certainly contains a data allowance, typically measured in either megabytes or gigabytes. Stay under that usage and you'll pay no more for data usage, but clearly many of us aren't too keen on keeping track. Mobile plan providers are obliged to send warnings when you're getting close to your limit, but unless you're on a prepaid plan or you change your usage habits markedly, you'll simply sail past into the world of excess usage charges.
The good news here is that most carriers have settled on a pricing setup of $10 per extra GB of data used. 10 bucks doesn't sound so bad as a one-off, but bear in mind that a single episode of your favourite Netflix show can weigh in at 1GB. That's $10 gone right there, or anywhere between $120 and $240 for a whole series if you watch it as part of your daily commute.
Top tips to cut down on your mobile spending
1) Use Wi-Fi where you can. Public Wi-Fi is fast becoming commonplace in shopping centres, cafes and public libraries. If you can wait until you're using public Wi-Fi to check your social media feeds or upload that vital Instagram shot, you’ll be able to save big bucks. Bear in mind, though, that it is a public network and it may not be that secure, so don't do your online banking at the same time!
2) Watch out for those alerts. Telcos have to tell you when you're getting close to your usage quota, but those warnings can often come later than the actual rate of your usage. This means that you may already be over quota even if you’ve just received the alert.
3) Limit your mobile video watching. Video usage is a huge culprit when it comes to bill shock because it's very data intensive. Cut down your video watching, use Wi-Fi where possible or consider switching to a plan where video watching is included. For example, Telstra offers free AFL, NRL and netball streaming on mobiles to its phone customers.
4) Give data-hungry apps the flick. Even "free" apps come at a cost. Whether it's an ad banner that eats up your data or a video that starts streaming on your social feed when you scroll past it, data can be used up without you even realising it. Your phone can tell you which apps are using more mobile data. Consider uninstalling apps that chew up more than their fair share or limiting their access. Facebook's mobile app, for example, has an explicit data-saving mode that stops autoplaying videos, potentially saving you big bucks.
5) Make sure your plan makes sense. Been on the same phone plan for a while? Chances are that there's a better one out there with even more data. If you're off contract, consider a prepaid plan, where you can't go over your data quota without explicitly handing over more money upfront. If you're on a contract and always spending more than your cap, look at the data allowances of higher tier plans. You might pay more per month but save big on excess charges. It's worth comparing your current plan to what's available, because telcos are aggressively fighting for your business, which means that deals are always improving.
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