There's nothing quite like the feeling of firing up a new-to-you smartphone and diving headfirst into all of its features and functions. For most of us that feeling comes when we hit that magic upgrade eligibility with our wireless carrier, typically every two years or so.
The downside of that much-awaited event is the sticker shock. Those monthly installment payments can add $30 or more per month to your already outrageous cell phone bill. And if you're leasing through something like the T-Mobile Jump! On Demand program, you don't even own your device!
You may not realize it but there's another option. You don't have to choose between breaking the budget or suffering with an outdated, painfully slow cell phone. We'll tell you how to upgrade your phone on a budget - without sacrificing the tech you love.
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A New Way To Look At Phone Upgrades
Here's what you need to know about conventional device upgrade programs from the big four wireless carriers:
- They require an 18 - 30 monthly installment agreement, essentially replacing the extinct two-year contract.
- They cost you up to $1000 by the time your device is paid off.
- Advertised prices are based on credit approval.
- You may not be able to sell your phone at the end if you opt for a lease trade-in program unless you pay an additional lump sum to purchase it.
- They trap you in a cycle of buying new devices via early upgrade before your previous device is outdated or worn out.
- You may pay an upgrade fee and/or an activation fee.
If you think of your cell phone as you do any other piece of technology in your home - your smart TV, for example - you can see how it may be a waste of money to spend $1000 every one to two years just to replace something that works just fine.
In fact, according to tech experts at Techworm, flagship smartphones can easily last from four to seven years. That changes the perspective on the need to buy a brand new one every 18 - 30 months quite a bit!
Alternatives to Carrier Upgrades
If you're one of those people who are perfectly content using the same phone long term, that's a great option! You can bring your own phone to many wireless providers.
But maybe you're thinking to yourself "I don't want to keep the same phone for four or five years!" You want to keep up with the latest features and camera quality, so how do you do that without upgrading through your carrier?
Buying a Used or Refurbished Smartphone
You can save over 50% on the cost of your device by buying a used phone from a reputable seller. Yes, it'll cost you a little more upfront but the long-term savings are considerable.
Benefits of buying a used smartphone:
- Great prices on recent phone models including Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy, iPhones, and WIndows phones
- Reliable sellers with good return policies
- Warranty available from some sellers
- Flexibility to switch carriers if you find a better deal on mobile service
Here's an example of how much you save when you buy a refurbished or used cell phone rather than upgrading through your carrier:
New iPhone 8 via Verizon Wireless upgrade: $700 or $30/month for two years on a monthly installment plan
Used iPhone 7 via Swappa: $349
While it's a little more upfront, buying used takes considerable pressure off your future budget.
Where to Buy a Used Smartphone
There are several reputable online cell phone sites to consider. We've reviewed our favorites for you:
Related: Compare refurbished phone prices quickly and easily to ensure you get the best deal
Sell Your Old Phone
Don't forget one of the biggest advantages of opting against the automatic upgrade - you can get cash for your old device. Why sell your cell phone?
- You'll get more money than by using a trade-in program with your carrier.
- You'll make cash to put toward your "new" smartphone.
- You won't have a drawer full of unused devices or be contributed to electronic waste in the environment.
Related: Get the most cash when you sell your phone by comparing multiple offers in one place
Save More Money With an Alternative Carrier
Speaking of the best mobile networks, now that we've looked at how to save money on your smartphone let's explore options for cheap cell phone plans.
Switch to an MVNO
MVNOs - or Mobile Virtual Network Operators - are smaller wireless carriers that pay the big guys for use of their mobile networks. These companies don't have the same expenses as the major carriers so they can afford to give you cheaper cell phone rates - often more than half off retail prices.
Other benefits of MVNOs include:
- Service on the same 4G LTE networks that you know and trust
- Custom plans that let you choose what you want to pay for
- Highly rated customer support
- No contracts, no credit checks, and no early termination fees
- Freedom to keep your phone number and your device
- Easy online signup
How much can you save with an MVNO? Typically over 50% compared to the major carriers. Couple those savings with the great price you can get on a used smartphone and you'll save at least several hundred dollars over the course of a year.
Want to save money? Resist the temptation to commit to expensive phone upgrades. Instead:
- Compare prices on used smartphones from reputable sellers.
- Compare the best cell phone plans from MVNOs.
- Switch carriers whenever you want to get the best rate for your service.
Undecided on your next device? Compare smartphones to ensure you get the latest features at the best price.