It's anything but cheap to talk. Once upon a time we had a fixed-fee landline and we wrote letters to people who didn't live in the local area. These days we have to pay a landline rental, for national and international calling, mobile calling and data, and broadband internet and data charges.
Thanks to the fact that my mobile plan is about to run out, I started idly surfing telco websites one recent evening. Two TV programmes later I'd changed plans for mobile, landline and broadband, saving myself more than $60 a month on mobile, landline and broadband services.
Not everyone can make such big savings. I'm a big user of national and landline to mobile calls thanks to my job. And my resident gamers and YouTube addicts have voracious appetites when it comes to the broadband data monster.
I'd be surprised, however, if readers couldn't make some monthly savings using these 12 tips:
1. Bundle up. If you're willing to have your landline and broadband with the same provider you'll get a discount for buying a bundle. The bundles I looked at were $10 a month cheaper with landline and broadband combined than bought separately. Add mobile and/or Sky TV and there is a further reduction. Or you can buy a variety of fixed-fee packages to add to your existing service. For example Compass Communications offers a Mega Cap Mobile 100 bundle of 100 landline to mobile minutes for $11.95. That's 12c a minute compared to a standard rate of 40c. Many providers such as Telecom and Vodafone offer fixed prices for national and international call bundles, which are worth it if you talk a lot.
2. Be a telco tart. Shop around. Change providers when you see a cheaper deal - your landline and mobile numbers can be ported with you. Don't sign long contracts. Sometimes they're just not worth it. Talking is getting cheaper and you don't want to be stuck on a duff deal. Don't confine yourself to the big telcos. There are plenty of alternative providers, such as Orcon, Slingshot and Compass Communications. Or you can use alternative providers just for add-on services such as national or international calls.
3. Look for rollover minutes. More and more providers are offering rollover or "carryover" of your minutes or unused data at the end of the month. If you buy a monthly package for, say, 60 minutes of mobile voice calls or 20 gigabytes of broadband data, unused minutes and data may be carried over to the next month. You've paid for the minutes and data, so why not. Malcolm Phillipps, marketing head at 2degrees, says carryover minutes allow for peaks and troughs in your mobile phone usage so you don't get hit with a big bill if you have a busy month.
4. Go prepaid. I've always liked the convenience of being an on account mobile phone customer. However, I used Consumer's TelMe.org.nz search last week and found to my surprise that it would be $10 a month cheaper for me to switch to Skinny than any other provider. It will auto top up from a credit card, which makes the service seamless.
5. Find some best friends. If you do call the same numbers regularly you might want to register them with your provider as best mates and get discounted calls to them or pay a monthly fee for unlimited calls to those numbers. Telecom, Vodafone and other providers offer services such as this.
6. Use Voice over IP (VoiP) services. For even cheaper calls to friends find out if they use free services on their mobiles such as Skype or Viber, which route calls over the internet for free. Be aware, however, that calls do use your data minutes. Viber is interesting because it uses your contacts list on your mobile phone and direct-calls to other users' mobile phone numbers. You don't need a separate Viber alias.
7. Ditch your landline. It's also possible to ditch your ordinary landline completely and have a VoIP landline, says Mauricio Freitas, administrator at Geekzone.co.nz. Freitas has an adapter to convert his analogue phone calls to digital and pays just $10 a month to Xnet's Digital Home Phone Service (VFX). Two other "carrier grade" services Freitas recommends are iTalk from Slingshot and 2talk. It's possible to port your existing landline number to these services, so there's no need to change home phone number. If you're really clever you can set up the likes of iTalk and 2talk on your mobile phone to receive your landline calls, which only costs you the mobile data. Never miss a call from your landline. Woosh offers an innovative service that allows a smartphone to be used as an ordinary VoIP phone at home, negating the need for two phones. Another way to ditch your landline is to get a virtual landline through Vodafone or Telecom that is diverted to your mobile. On certain mobile packages this is free.
8. Tether your mobile. Your smartphone can be turned into a wireless hotspot for internet access. Instead of buying a second SIM for your tablet, use the data through your smartphone. The tablet connects to the internet wirelessly via the smartphone. It's easy. So why pay $20 a month or so for an additional plan when one can do the job for both devices? It does mean you always need your smartphone with you. But most Kiwis are joined at the hip with their phones anyway.
I also tether my laptop to my smartphone when I travel in New Zealand and overseas. Here in New Zealand I just use my mobile data. Earlier this year I bought a $2 Yes Optus SIM at Brisbane Airport and had local calls, data for my laptop and texts for $2 a day, compared to $25 a day from our accommodation provider, or the cost of a small mortgage if you're using roaming. I used Skype over the Yes Optus data to call home and check my Vodafone voicemail from time to time at just a few cents a minute. To pick up missed texts I put my New Zealand SIM back in once a day.
Another way of saving is with 2degrees' shared data plan, which allows you to share your data with up to five devices, such as tablets or the children's mobiles.
9. Connect to free Wi-Fi. When you're out and about with a mobile consider connecting into free Wi-Fi. Public libraries, Mobil On The Run petrol stations and the likes of McDonald's and Starbucks offer free Wi-Fi.
10. Turn your smartphone's background app updating off. It can cost a lot and isn't always necessary. When you download an app, don't check the "allow automatic updating" button.
11. Do the maths. It is very hard to compare apples with apples when it comes to telephony costs. Yet it's worth the effort. There's good money to be saved by finding the best deal. Set up a spreadsheet and list the details of your plans and usage and compare that against the available options. Or, like me, you might find it useful to use TelMe.org.nz or one of the other telco comparison websites to crunch the matrix of information.
12. Change your behaviour. Just because you make 100 minutes of mobile calls a month or use 50 gigabytes of broadband data doesn't mean you have to. Resist picking up the mobile when you could call later for free at home. Download your music and listen offline so that you're not eating mobile data every time you listen to a tune on Spotify or YouTube. And so on. It's all well and good to say "I've got free minutes", but you might be able to live with an even cheaper package if you thought more before picking up the phone.
Hit up your existing suppliers for discounts. In the case of two of the reductions I got I didn't need to change providers. I just hadn't been told that there was a better deal available. And while you're at it, shop around once a year for a better deal on your other utilities. That's my next task.