September commences smartphone season, with manufacturers such as Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), Samsung Electronics Co. (KRX:005930), Motorola (NYSE:MSI) and Sony Corp. (NYSE:SNE) expected to introduce new devices. But with new devices come huge price tags, and often a push from mobile networks to get subscribers to sign two-year contracts. Everyone wants the latest device, but they also want the best value for their money. Here’s how you can get it:
Opt for an installment plan. Many carriers offer plans where subscribers pay off the value of their new device in monthly installments in lieu of a two-year contract. These plans tend to be cheaper month-to-month than a two-year contract and often don’t include activation or upgrade fees. Such plans include Verizon’s Edge plan, AT&T’s Next plan, Sprint’s Easy Pay plan and T-Mobile’s Simple Choice plan.
Subscribers do have to purchase a service plan in addition to choosing the installment plan for the phone; however, since such plans often don’t include the extra charges seen on two-year contracts, they end up being cheaper overall. Many carriers also offer early upgrade options with their installment plans.
Opt for a family plan. Carriers usually offer discounts on family plans so that the cost of each line is cheaper than the cost of an individual line plan. The more people there are on a family plan, the cheaper each line tends to be. Carriers like Sprint Corp. (NYSE:S) and T-Mobile US Inc. (NYSE:TMUS) allow as many as 10 lines on a family plan.
Opt for new service deals. Carriers like Sprint and T-Mobile are offering limited time plans at extremely discounted prices. Sprint’s new Family Share plan offers unlimited talk and text and 20GB of data to share for up to 10 lines; the plan will be valid through the end of 2015. T-Mobile’s limited time family plan offers unlimited talk and text and 2.5GB of data (totaling 10GB) for 4 lines; the plan will be valid through Jan. 2, 2016.
Shop for deals. September is a great time to take advantage of the deals offered by carriers and retailers. Early deals may discount smartphones between $20 and $50. Carriers like Sprint and retailers like Radio Shack also offer mail-in rebates, which can bring the price of a smartphone down by at least $50.
Recycle your old smartphone. If your old smartphone is in good condition, you can recycle it and use the money toward the cost of a new phone. The Wall Street Journal notes there are several different ways to recycle an old smartphone. Trading sites like Gazelle, NextWorth and Glyde offer cash for old phones. Traders can get the most money for their old smartphones on Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN), but would have to settle for payment in the form of an Amazon gift card. Retailers including Walmart (NYSE:WMT), Target, Best Buy and Apple also offer gift cards in exchange for old devices. Depending on the brand of the device and the service used, consumers can get up to $400 back when trading in a device, but typically get between $100 and $300.
Buy directly from a retailer. It's often cheaper to purchase a new smartphone from a retailer instead of directly from a carrier. Many retailers like Amazon.com, Best Buy (NYSE:BBY), Radio Shack (NYSE:RSH) and Walmart offer discounts on smartphones between $20 and $100. Wholesale retailers like Costco (NASDAQ:COST) also offer smartphones at significant discounts, but usually don't have new devices available until several weeks to months after their initial release.
Buy an unlocked device. Buying an unlocked device may seem like the pricey option, seeing as the off-contract prices for many of the upcoming smartphones will likely be well over $500. The real savings can be found depending on what kind of mobile network you choose. In bringing their own device to a carrier, consumers have the freedom to select cheaper plans, and even prepaid plans. Major carriers like T-Mobile, AT&T (NYSE:T) and Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) allow subscribers to bring their own devices, as do smaller carriers like Straight Talk, FreedomPop, Cricket, Voyager and Net10. Inexpensive plans can run between $30 and $50 per month. Customers will have to check to make sure their devices are compatible with these carriers.
Don’t buy the latest smartphone. Smartphone release season is often the best time to get great deals on older devices. Manufacturers, carriers and retailers trying to get rid of previous generations may discount devices between $100 and $150. For example, Verizon’s iPhone 5S sells for $99.99 with a two-year contract, down from $199.99. Walmart is selling the iPhone 5C for just 97 cents with a two-year contract, and Apple will probably offer it for free with two-year contract within a few months. Refurbished smartphone models can also sell at a major discount.
Don’t upgrade next month. September may be the month of the smartphone, but many devices start to see major sales and price cuts as soon as three months after release. If you can hold out long enough for a new smartphone, you can take advantage of discounts of $50 or more.
Switch to a carrier that pays early termination fees. There has never been a better time to switch carriers if your current carrier doesn’t have the prices you desire. Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T all have early termination reimbursement programs, in which the carriers will pay the cost of a customer canceling their contract with a competitor to join their network. T-Mobile and Sprint both offer to pay $350 in early termination fees, with T-Mobile also offering customers up to $300 off the cost of a new phone. AT&T offers to pay $450 in early termination fees and $250 for trading in an old device. This way, customers won’t lose a significant amount of money trying to chase current deals.
Register for a chance to win. Manufacturers and carriers often hold a preregistration period upon announcing a new smartphone where prospective customers can sign up for more information on the device. In doing do, customers are typically entered into a sweepstakes to win a free handset for a specific carrier. Though this option may seem far-fetched, somebody’s got to win.