THE BLOG
04/24/2012 06:10 pm ET Updated Jun 24, 2012

The Last Free Upgrade

With the news of Verizon's decision to begin charging $30 for phone upgrades effective April 22, I've realized that I need to stop dragging my feet and upgrade my daughter's phone. Verizon is following the lead of AT&T and Sprint, both of whom already charge $36 for upgrades.

We have three phones on our family account, and have three very different needs. I have an iPhone. I resisted a smart phone for a long time, thinking that it was unnecessary and not wanting to pay for the data package. Now I cannot imagine life without it. I never knew what a convenience it would be to check email while I was on the run, or pull up a recipe at the grocery store so I'd know what to pick up for dinner, or check TeamSnap to find out where the soccer game is now that I'm already on my way there. I'm not even sure where my "real" camera is anymore!

On the other hand, my dad is 84 and lives alone. He keeps his cell phone with him all the time "just in case." Dad's not the most patient person when it comes to new technology, so when his cell phone died, the option of learning his way around a new phone was not ideal. A Jitterbug, with its large, easy to use and read buttons and simple design would be a great option for him. Jitterbugs are available for a very reasonable monthly fee with no contract -- but then I'd be paying for double service as we're locked into our current contract with his cell phone. My dad wanted to stay with the same phone, but it is no longer available through our carrier. That's when eBay came to the rescue. I was able to find a new phone identical to the phone that needed replacing. Dad took both phones to the store, they transferred his contacts over to his new phone and he was back in business. Of course, he got a flat tire during the time when he was without a phone!

My teenage daughter would like a smartphone, but I'm just not ready for that yet and she doesn't want one badly enough to pay for the data package herself. However, there aren't many basic phones out there that meet the "cool" expectations of a teenager. Usually your carrier will offer more choices online than in the store, but keep in mind that you are not confined to the choices on your carriers website. That doesn't mean you can go to a competing carrier site and get a phone, but you can get a phone from another source such as Costco. This time we found a great option for $9.99 at Costco, significantly less than it sells for elsewhere.

If you're considering changing plans, Costco is a great option. They don't charge activation fees for new service, which can become pricey as you add more lines to your account. Costco offers plans by AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile and they also offer free shipping and free accessories. The accessory bundle varies depending on the carrier, but generally includes a case and vehicle charger. Costco partners with Wireless Advocates, so if you purchase online you don't need to be a Costco member (you leave the Costco site to make your purchase). I do recommend that you know and be familiar with what you are purchasing. If you want to go to the warehouse and look at cell phones, you'll need a Costco membership.

Finally, a word about insurance for cell phones. Check into the actual replacement cost for your phone when making the decision about insurance. Upgrade phones are frequently offered for much less than the retail price -- but if something does happen, without insurance you may find yourself paying full retail for the replacement. On the other hand, if the phone costs less than $100, it's probably not worth the cost of the monthly fee for insurance along with the deductible. Deductibles vary depending on the carrier and the phone, ranging anywhere from $39 to $130, so read the fine print. The number of claims per phone per year is also limited. Insurance doesn't cover water damage, so if you are among the 19% who have dropped your phone in the toilet, having it insured would not have helped anyway!

Do you have any great tips for saving on your cell phone bill? Are you loyal to your cell carrier or would your throw them down in a hot minute if a better deal came along? How do you manage your upgrades -- do you upgrade at the earliest opportunity or "save" them for emergencies such as lost or broken phones?