Save $200 a Year With Smarter Texting

Last Updated Feb 15, 2011 2:43 PM EST

A new survey finds that we waste an average $336 per year on our cell phone plans. We can blame "hidden fees" and little warning when when we're close to exceeding our monthly minutes. But for the most part, we ought to blame ourselves. As it turns out, cell phone customers are really bad at guessing. We overestimate how many voice minutes, texts and data we will use each month, according to savings Website BillShrink. Here's the average breakdown from the survey, which evaluated usage of more than 230,000 cell phone customers:
  • We assume we'll need 711 wireless anytime minutes per month. In reality, we use 651.
  • We think we'll use 2,566 text messages a month. But we only end up using 1,555, a 60% overestimation. (Which still sounds way too high to me...unless, of course, you're 14)
  • People guess that they need 54MB of data per month, but they actually use 81MB.
If only there was a 651 minute plan. I'm thinking cell phone companies are onto us, thus their uncompromising plans. Here's a rundown of the individual minute plans from the major carriers:
  • Verizon & AT&T: Both have plans starting at 450 minutes a month for $40. The next option is 900 minutes for $60 a month. After that it's an unlimited plan for $70 a month.
  • T-Mobile: 500 minutes cost $40 a month. The next tier is 1000 minutes for $50. An unlimited plan is $60 a month.
  • Sprint: 200 minutes cost $30 a month. The next tier is 450 minutes for $40 and then it's 900 minutes for $60.
Data plans don't offer much wiggle room, either. At Verizon, for example, if you have a Blackberry or iPhone, you have just one option of $30 a month. Where we have the most potential to save, I think, is in choosing and using a texting plan. At AT&T a 5,000 monthly text plan -- the biggest -- runs you $20. But sticking with a basic plan of 250 texts per month for $5, while taking advantage of certain applications to send instant messages for free, could save you close to $200 a year.
  • TextFree Unlimited: Compatible with the iPhone and iPad, this app lets you totally replace a text plan from your carrier. You can send and receive unlimited texts for free.
  • textPLUS 4: Similar to TextFree, this app lets you chat amongst friends for free on the iPhone and iPad.
  • Facebook or Twitter: Downloading these apps onto your phone can enable you to send direct messages to friends in your social networks.
  • Blackberry Messenger or BBM: This can be just as addictive as text messaging without the monthly charges. For your friends who carry Blackberries, exchanging messages via BBM, a free service, can totally replace the traditional text.
  • GoogleTalk and AOL Instant Messenger can also be downloaded for free. Friends with accounts can chat as quickly as sending texts.
  • Email: Okay, this sounds very 2006. But if you have a smart phone, emails work just as fast and more efficiently as text messages, since you're not limited to any number of characters and can include attachments.
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    Farnoosh Torabi is a personal finance journalist and commentator. She is the author of the new book Psych Yourself Rich, Get the Mindset and Discipline You Need to Build Your Financial Life. Follow her at and on Twitter at @farnoosh.