3. Use alternative services. Bypassing the carrier and using third-party services for texting and voice calls can be a money-saver. But there are trade-offs. Text messages, including a maximum 160 bytes of data, are outrageously priced à la carte by the carrier at 10 cents each. (Translated into data terms, that’s about $625,000 per gigabyte vs. the going rate of $8 to $40 per GB for wireless data plans.) International texts and texting while abroad can cost more—about 20 to 50 cents per message.
New apps such as Heywire and TigerText let you send text messages free over your data connection. Typically you use a special receiving phone number assigned to you by the service to avoid charges on your cell number. With most carriers, that means you won’t have to pay your carrier 10 cents a pop or $5 to $30 a month for limited-to-unlimited messaging plans. (Data charges do apply if you text using the cellular data network rather than Wi-Fi, but that should have little impact on your bill because texts contain so little data.)
We tried both services on Android phones. Heywire worked fast and intuitively, and it’s free—provided you accept fairly unobtrusive ads along the bottom of the message-thread page. But TigerText, whose selling points include private messages that self-destruct after a certain time, didn’t work for us.
Skype Mobile lets you make free voice calls to other Skype subscribers in the U.S. and worldwide using your smart phone. That’s especially helpful for international calls, which tend to be even pricier on cell phones than on landlines. Skyping uses your carrier’s data service, so such calls don’t count against your cell plan voice minutes, but these VoIP calls eat data at the rate of about 3 megabytes per minute. If you use Skype over a Wi-Fi network rather than on the carrier’s network, you don’t cut into your monthly metered data allocations.