9 things we all forget when buying a mobile contract

phone contract advice

1. Forgetting how much we really use & what we really need

mobile what you really need

This is where most of us go wrong: we sign up and trap ourselves into a contract which doesn’t suit us and end up going over the limit every month, and get stuck with a huge bill. It’s easy to do: we’re getting reeled in with attractive offers, even if they’re not what we need. So while a salesman might catch your attention with ‘unlimited minutes’, think for a second: how often do you really make calls? Sometimes you’re offered ‘double data for the first six months’ on a 24 month contract - but what happens for the other 18 months, are you going to be using more data than your allowance gives you?

Figure out what you really need and negotiate accordingly – the easiest way to do this is to look over your past bills. If you consistently go over your data allowance but always have minutes available, look for a contract which reflects this, or barter by swapping what you don’t need for what you want.

Finally, although a contract with a low monthly cost seems ideal, it usually won’t be – you’re likely to end up paying more in the long run because the charges for exceeding your allowance can be VERY expensive. It’s better to get a contract that covers what you need, even if it costs a bit more.

Check out some discounted contract deals on our dedicated mobile deals page.

2. Being oblivious to how much data social media actually uses

Most contracts these days come with 4G data included – and it’s great. However, it’s meant that the mobile sites and apps we always use are now optimised for fast 4G and wifi, which means data heavy auto-play video on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can switch auto-play off if you want, and here’s how you do it:

  • Facebook: you can switch auto-play either ‘off’ or to ‘wi-fi only’ on the mobile or tablet version of the site and here’s how.
  • Twitter: you can also choose to turn auto-play off or to wifi-only like this.
  • Instagram: we all spend hours scrolling through our feed, but follow these instructions to stop you spending more than time on it.

If you’re still burning through your data and don’t know why, take a look at your app store. There’s a setting you can change so that you only update apps when you’re connected to wi-fi. You can find out how to change it on any phone here. Otherwise you’ll be paying for the pleasure of updating a weird game you downloaded two years ago and haven’t opened since - no one needs the latest version of Flappy Bird.

3. Forgetting holidays

holiday mobile expenses

It’s easy to do - after all, when you sign up you’ll be thinking of what you usually use. But roaming charges quickly add up so if you do go abroad a lot, it’s worth considering what your network offers. We’ve written an extensive guide to roaming charges, but one of the best value is Three’s Feel at Home service, which could work for international students too, as you can spend a maximum of three solid months abroad and still use your normal allowances.

4. Not paying attention to freebies

It's no secret that mobile companies will do almost anything to entice new customers to join them. As well as cashback (see below), there are a lot of freebies and extras you can pick up.

At the moment Vodafone are offering people taking out new contracts up to 12 months free Spotify, Netflix or NOW TV, - that’s worth £9.99 a month if you choose Spotify. If you’re someone who pays for these services anyway, that’s essentially knocking a tenner off your bill each month for a year - so could be a better deal for you than a similar contract that’s a tiny bit cheaper.

However, don’t get sucked in by freebies that you won’t use, or are poor value. Some mobile providers will offer you free consoles or TVs for signing up to certain contracts, but it’s not worth signing up for a £30 contract that would be £10 elsewhere because you get a free XBOX worth around £200 - do the maths. Over 24 months the £10 contract will cost you £240, but the £30 one will cost a whopping £720, £480 more than the one without the “free” XBOX

5. Forgetting insurance

mobile insurance

If you get a nice new phone, of course you should look after it. But if you know that you’re not to be trusted and you’ve washed/lost/run over your phone in the past, it’s definitely cheaper to buy insurance than forking out for a new handset.

Want to avoid student insurance mistakes? Check out our Student Insurance Ultimate Guide

6. Forgetting that cashback can really, really lower the price

mobile phone cashback

If there’s one time you need to remember to use cashback, it’s now. Mobile phone deals are a fantastic chance to score a huge cashback deal. Browse through TopCashbackand Quidco and you’ll see that it’s quite common to see phone contracts offering £80 or £90 back, offers that you wouldn’t get at all if you went in store, bought over the phone or signed up to online without clicking through a cashback site.

7. Forgetting to negotiate in store & on the phone

mobile phone negotiation

The golden rule of getting a new phone contract is to negotiate. Do your research online and find the best offers out there, use comparison sites, check out the free gifts you can get and write it all down. Then give your current provider a call or go in store if you’re brave enough, and tell them you want to leave, they’ll ask you why and you should tell them about all these good deals you’ve found. Chances are you’ll be offered a better deal, and if not, the worst case scenario is that you actually just leave and sign up for one of the better offers. Win-win! For more highstreet and online haggling tips check out our guide.

8. Forgetting that ‘SIM only’ contracts can be amazing

sim only contracts

Sim only contracts are some of the best value out there, they start at around £5 a month and can be great if you don’t need a new phone, or don’t want the commitment of signing up for a two year contract. If you can afford it, buying your phone upfront and taking out a sim only contract can be cheaper than a standard contract in the long run, and it affords you the freedom of swapping between contracts if your needs change.

One of the best sim only providers is GiffGaff, and you can change which Goody Bag you buy each month, so it’s perfect if you don’t know how much you’re going to afford each month.

9. Forgetting your contract length

Keep an eye on the time...

forgetting the time

...because if you forget when your contract finishes you’ll end up overpaying. Most providers automatically keep charging you the same amount each month, even when your contract is officially over. The amount you pay every month includes paying for part of the iPhone you got for free when you opened the contract, but from the date the contract finishes the iPhone is paid off, so why are you still paying the same amount?

Ideally you’ll arrange a new deal in the final month of your existing contract, so keep a note of when it ends. If you’re mid-contract and have lost track of it, call your network and they’ll be able to tell you when that is.

There are contracts available that won’t do this, like O2 Refresh, where they keep the amount you’re paying off for your phone and your data, texts and minutes separate, so if you want a new phone you can just pay off the remaining balance on your mobile, you won’t need to pay for the minutes.

Finally, don't forget to check out our Mobile Phone Deals Page for the best Student Mobile Offers!